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  • On Game Design: The Designer

    [05.29.07]
    - Jason Weesner

  •  More References

    Books: Rivaling the near infinite scope of the internet, probably the largest source or reference for video game design is the printed page: literature, comic books, art books, strategy guides, etc. Literature can provide not only a plethora of ideas, but also great examples of how those ideas can be communicated: language, characters, dialogue, composition, plot progression, etc. It's important not to be limited to just one genre (like science fiction / fantasy for example), but to pull inspiration from other genres of fiction as well as non-fiction.

    Graphic novels and comic books are great sources of reference and inspiration: just about anything by Alan Moore ("Watchmen", "V For Vendetta", and his entire line of America's Best Comics: "Top 10", "Promethea", "Tom Strong", etc.), Warren Ellis ("Transmetropolitan" and the "Ministry Of Space"), Garth Ennis ("Preacher"), Grant Morrison ("The Invisibles") and Robert Kirkman ("Walking Dead") are all current favorites for the team I'm working with. If you're new to comic books and want a great place to start, there are two books I can highly recommend: Scott McCloud's fantastic Understanding Comics (a graphic novel that describes the history of comics as a form of communication for entertainment and education) and Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art (a series of lessons on a variety of topics from storytelling to composition and application).

    Understanding Comics starts with Scott McCloud describing the book to a friend: "...it's more an examination of the art-form of comics, what it's capable of, how it works. You know, how do we define comics, what are the basic elements of comics, how does the mind process the language of comics..." Will Eisner begins Comics and Sequential Art with a similar approach: "This work is intended to consider and examine the unique aesthetics of Sequential Art as a means of creative expression, a distinct discipline, an art and literary form that deals with the arrangement of pictures or images and words to narrate a story or dramatize an idea." Do you notice a common theme in both of those quotes? It's something we touched on earlier in this article as a fundamental concept of video game design: communication.


    Excerpt from Understanding Comics

    Y'know when that Electronics Boutique salesman tries to get you to purchase a strategy guide with the game you just bought? The simple answer is "no", but don't be so quick to turn down the offer. Most people skip over strategy guides in lieu of FAQS (Frequently Asked Questions) and other online resources, but strategy guides are a great reference for level layouts, enemy placement, item progression, etc. In many ways, strategy guides are like high level design documents, but instead of representing what's needed to make a game, they represent what exists in the finished game. Some examples of good reference strategy guides are: Prima's Metal Gear Solid VR Missions (an invaluable source of stealth setups and enemy behaviors), Piggyback Interactive's Tomb Raider Legend (yeah I worked on the game, but this strategy guide is a terrific source for level design), and Bradygame's God Of War II (an impressive selection of concept art, enemy designs, and level layouts).

    Internet: The internet encompasses everything we've just talked about with reference. There's not much more I can say about it except to offer one caveat: the internet is filled with inaccurate information. For example, Wikipedia (one of the best websites for research and reference) clearly explains in its own entry as an "ongoing work to which in principle anybody can contribute."

    There are probably large portions of this article and other articles in this series that could be portrayed as inaccurate depending on your point of view. So, what does this mean? It means that the internet, at the least, should always be considered a jumping off point for further exploration of ideas rather than a means to an end. A coworker once described the internet as the "world's biggest high school yearbook." Everyone signs their name on it and makes a little remark. With that being said, the modern video game designer is incredibly fortunate to have resources at hand like Google, Wikipedia, Gamasutra, Alta Vista's Babel Fish, and a ton of other websites. At my own grand old age, I marvel at how easy students have it today compared to the days when we all had to scour library card catalogues and microfilm for relevant facts! Anybody remember the Dewey Decimal System?

    All these forms of reference relate back to one of the original points of this article and that's the ability to communicate design. Even though we haven't gotten to the formulation step of the process yet, all of these sources of reference are not only good for inspiring ideas, but communicating ideas. When an abstract idea can't be communicated with just words and gestures, a representation of an idea can be clearly communicated with reference.

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