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  • 7 Must-Read Books For Game Designers

    [10.15.19]
    - Narek Aghekyan

  • 5) A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster

    Recommended for intermediate and advanced levels

    This is a brilliant book by Raph Koster. While reading this book I was shocked how unique and powerful this book was and how many important things it contained for a game designer. I wouldn't say this book is very practical though. This book will not give you direct tools for you to apply to your next game, but it will teach you:

    1. the essence of who is a game designer,
    2. how the human brain works, who are the players and what they want
    3. why and when games are becoming boring.

    So it is more about the philosophy of game design and the psychology of human beings as game players that every game designer needs to understand. Though, it is not giving you direct tools, it widens your perspective on games. It can help you while designing game levels to suggest players always something new and interesting and so on. So don't consider this book just a pure and useless theory. It will definitely make you more powerful as a game designer.

    6) Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design by Scott Rogers

    Recommended to read as a supplementary material after the above listed books

    As the book's title says it is mainly a guide. It is structured more like a reference book - a directory. If it talks about something it describes all possible types of that thing. For example, all possible camera types, all possible camera movements, all possible UI elements in HUD, all cliché video game themes, all possible enemy types and so on. Because of this, honestly, this was quite hard for me to read but it has an immense value. During game design brainstormings very often you will notice that some ideas flesh out in your mind that you have read in this book. So definitely, it is a very useful book to read for a game designer to enrich your bank of game concepts. Plus you will definitely find lots of good advice on how to design your levels, game object sizes, jump heights, and many other things. I mean it is not just a guide, it is much more than that.

    7) Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull

    Recommended to read as a supplementary material after the above listed books

    Ed Catmull was a former president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios and this book is basically his life story and the history of Pixar. This is clearly not a game design book. Then why do I think this is a must read book for a game designer? Because game development, and, particularly, game design is a highly creative field. Usually people don't like boring and routine tasks, and they want something more creative. But when they are faced with a creative task, they start to complain, that the task is not clear and they don't know what exactly needs to be done. And this book is for such situations. This book teaches that creativity is about creating something new and useful. And when you do something new, you can't be sure what is the right direction to move. Hence, creativity is always accompanied by uncertainty. And as a game designer you need to have your vision and be able to make decisions within that uncertainty. You need to be able to embrace the uncertainty and move forward within that darkness. Other very important things that you will learn in this book are:

    1. How to face challenges
    2. About the metamorphosis of an original idea into something beautiful and mature at the end of the project
    3. You should believe that team has an intrinsic power of creativity. And with the right approach you can unleash that potential or suppress it.
    4. You will learn that failure is not bad, if you do something new, you will fail, and fail many times. You will be safe from failure, only when you do something you have done many times and mastered it - which has nothing to do with creativity.

    This book is full of good advice, exciting examples from the world's most successful and creative companies such as Lucasfilms, Pixar and Disney. It will give you lots of sense how great products are created which is a very good addition to your arsenal.

    Bonus Material

    Recommended for amateurs and professionals

    In 2018 https://www.masterclass.com presented 21 video lectures from Will Wright. It is called "Will Wright Teaches Game Design And Theory". This video course is an amazing inspirational and informative material, that I would definitely recommend not only to professional game designers, but also to people who love games. He is talking about specific problems he has encountered when he was working on The Sims, SimCity, Spore, and many other games. Will Wright tells exciting details and on specific examples he teaches how a game designer should think, should approach to problems and gives practical tools to solve them. Watching a game designer of that caliber for about 4 hours is a great opportunity for every professional game designer.

    Final thoughts

    Game design is a fairly new discipline - only 20 years old. And there are so many things in the future that game designers and game scholars will invent, study and share with the community. Although it is a very young discipline, still there is enough knowledge accumulated in forms of books, articles, etc. I have listed 7 must-read books that will allow you to start from scratch and then bring you to the next level as a game designer - a professional who has enough tools to analyze other's games and create his own ones.

    Again, please note that only reading will contribute very little to your skills if you would not put together enough practice. People learn by doing (and, ironically, by teaching :) ). So you need to gradually apply all the precious advice you have learned in these books in your prototypes and games and strive to make every other game at least a bit better than the previous one.

    References

    1. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182?fbclid=IwAR0Xu8aiviBpd9bKaUqi0mMllUcFt7YvoXxpNY9c8EghK8aBLt3A2kW8368
    2. https://www.bmigaming.com/videogamehistory.htm
    3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_Developers_Conference
    4. https://www.digipen.edu/about/our-history
    5. Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Fourth Edition by Tracy Fullerton
    6. https://gamedev.msu.edu/
    7. https://www.gamedesigning.org/schools/utah/
    8. https://www.kotaku.com.au/2008/01/wanna_study_game_design_in_japan_heres_how-2
    9. https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2018-12-20-to-be-a-good-game-designer-you-have-to-be-a-good-designer-first

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