I've been catching up on my backlog of unrelated-but-kinda-academic gaming articles from the past two weeks, and this one from Gamasutra caught my eye - the topic is game design, but a very nuts and bolts description of the two basic approaches to designing games (that usually get blended to some degree or another). From concept to core to verbs and back again, via mechanics and context (wheeee!), it's a nice explanation of the various stages of design and how the relate to each other. Despite liberal use of the prefix 'meta-,' it's really an interesting article on putting it all together that's not particularly inaccessible - I always like to see the theories behind (actual) game design and structure, since it usually bears an uncanny resemblance to things I'm much more familiar with:
Examining complex processes is never an easy task; thus, approaches that try to divide such complexity into smaller parts that can be more easily understood are necessary. This is called analysis. Analyzing the game design cognition process is a critical part of developing a deeper understanding about how such process works.
Therefore, we propose [a]layered view as a breakdown of the game design cognitive process, where each layer corresponds to a generalization or abstraction of the layers below it, and a specialization or concretization of the layers above it.
It's shortish and well worth a read through if you have the time and inclination.