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  • 7 Must-Read Books For Game Designers

    [10.15.19]
    - Narek Aghekyan

  • 7 Must-Read Game Design Books

    Now let's cover the must-read books that I have selected for this article. The books are ordered by ascending difficulty, i.e. first books are very good for beginners, whereas the later ones provide with advanced or supplementary content.

    1) Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton

    Recommended for beginner and intermediate levels

    This is the best book to start learning game design for a couple of reasons. The author - Tracy Fullerton is a professor in the USC Interactive Media & Games Division and while reading this book there is a feeling that this is a textbook written for her students. The book is written in a very comprehensive language, it is well structured and covers the most important topics necessary for a game designer. It covers everything starting from game designer's role as well as game ideation phase, prototyping, balancing, working as a game designer and so on. In this book you will learn about:

    1. Formal elements. These are the elements that structure the game, without them game does not exist.
    2. Dramatic elements. These are the elements that give context to gameplay and engage the players emotionally.
    3. Prototyping your game correctly
    4. Playtesting your games, and analyzing playtesting results
    5. Working as a game designer

    Other extremely valuable things you will find in this book are the special sections called Designer Perspective. Those are a few page sections that present different designers, their works and advice. You will notice something unique in each game designer, and you will also see lots of characteristics that is common for all of them. And you will get the feeling of what it means to be a game designer. Plus you will get lots of references to other games, books, articles for your further investigation.

    2) The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell

    Recommended for beginner and intermediate levels

    This book is very similar to the first one in terms that it could be used as a textbook too because this book also covers almost every essential topic that a game designer needs to understand. This book is also very well structured and easy to understand, with very rich content but still suitable for beginners too. One peculiarity of this book is that it gives you 113 lenses. Every lens is a unique perspective to your game considering one particular aspect of a game. On each lens there are several questions that you need to ask yourself to understand if your game conforms to that lens or not, and how you can improve your game in that particular aspect. For example, lens #40 (one of my personal favorites) is called "The Lens of Triangularity" (see Image 2). Almost every good game has triangularity which is basically the balance between risk and reward that gives you a choice to risk for more reward or to play safe for less reward.


    Image 2: The Lens of Triangularity

    By the way, the lenses introduced in the book are also collected in a deck and are being sold separately. It is called "The Art of Game Design: A Deck of Lenses" and Image 2 demonstrates one of the lenses from that deck.

    3) Game Feel: A Game Designer's Guide to Virtual Sensation by Steve Swink

    Recommended for intermediate and advanced levels

    After reading the above mentioned 2 brilliant books, it is time to get in touch with more advanced content. Game Feel is an exceptional book and no other book covers what this book does. This book basically explains how the game feel forms when you play. It explains why two games can be very similar, but one can feel good and the other one can feel bad. You will understand

    1. how human perception works
    2. 3 building blocks of game feel (real-time control, polish and simulated space)
    3. 6 metrics of game feel (input, response, context, polish, metaphor, rules)

    Based on that 6 metrics the book will deconstruct several famous games and will explain why these games feel good based on that metrics. Thus, this book is an exceptional work that studies where the perceptions come and which things make us feel good in games.

    4) Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design by Ernest Adams and Joris Dormans

    Recommended for intermediate and advanced levels

    This is also an extraordinary and more advanced level book, though very different from the previous one. This book separates two types of games - games of emergence and games of progression. The book covers both aspects of game design nicely, but it is rather concentrated on games of emergence. These are the games that have relatively simple rules but much variation and the game's challenges and its flow of events are not planned in advance but emerge during play. Good examples would be Chess, Go, SimCity, The Sims, Sid Meier's Civilization, etc.

    1. Central statement of the book is that the game's outcome should be unpredictable. And there are 3 ways of doing so:
      • using chance (e.g. a throw of a dice or the twirl of a spinner in a board game)
      • choices made by players (e.g. any multiplayer game)
      • complex gameplay created by the game's rules (e.g. Chess)
    2. Complex gameplay created by the game's rules is the main topic of this book. The book explains that if we are able to make game mechanics so that our game becomes a game of emergence, it will become interesting and replayable just because of its mechanics (not because of its aesthetics, or story).
    3. The book introduces 16 game mechanics design patterns that could be used to make a game of emergence.
    4. It also introduces a game design tool named "Machinations framework" authored by Joris Dormans and teaches how to use Machinations to model game mechanics and see how their internal economies work. Now beta version of Machinations framework is available online for free here: https://machinations.io/ and while reading this book you need to learn and use this tool to fully understand the book's content.

    "Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design" introduces you to a new way of thinking and understanding game mechanics. It is a huge step forward into abstraction and formalization of building, testing and balancing game mechanics.

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