For a quick introduction to the basics of game design, try Basic Game Design and Creation for Fun and Learning, by Nanu and Naveena Swamy. The book is intended to teach foundational game design by having readers design their own simple games, accomplished with the help of a bundled application, Game Maker 6.1.
The games you’ll make are simple 2D educational games (e.g. The DNA Factory, Bug Invasion, The Gravity Game), which range from action-puzzle games to a simple platformer. (If you’re looking to design 3D shooters, this isn’t the book for you.) The games are relatively simple, and the workflow you’ll learn is fairly specific to Game Maker, but the underlying design process is representative of an actual commercial project.
The book’s intro includes some general discussion of the nature of gaming, and there are some similar sections in the appendix, but by-and-large this book presents a practical, hands-on approach to game design. Read on for play-by-play specifics.
After a quick primer on the Game Maker software, the authors begin with an introduction to the world of object-oriented game design. In the first tutorial, you’ll learn key design concepts such as creating game rooms and game events, understanding object lifecycles and actions, working with collisions, and keeping a running score. You’ll also take a foray into image asset management, and do a little graphical work with sprites and text in the software’s image editor.
Next up is a more detailed look at object technology, including the core components of an object, an introduction to object hierarchies, and a number of more advanced topics such as behavior encapsulation and polymorphic responses. Armed with this new knowledge, you’ll then create a series of games that teach you to assign keyboard controls to various objects, dynamically change the appearance of an object based on cursor actions, and integrate projectiles into your games.
By midway through the book, you’ll be working with multiple levels, keeping track of player health, and tallying a running score. Who knew game design could be so easy?
The book gradually moves into more advanced territory: the importance of inheritance, the use of simple in-game physics (e.g. gravity and friction), leveraging paths and timelines, and including user variables. There’s a chapter dedicated to the art and science of debugging, and another that discusses the finishing touches which round a game out, such as title screens and background music.
For the grand finale, the authors explore the world of platform games – and you can’t help but enjoy creating the Mario-like tutorial game, called “The Color Game.” You’ll also find some tips and tricks for designing games in other genres, such as side-scrolling shooters and driving games, for which the CD-ROM includes a number of examples.
Simplistic but Effective
The major drawback to a book like this is the obvious one–Game Maker is not what commercial designers use to create their games. The design experience in this book is fairly particular to how that software application runs, and this makes for a design experience that is simplified. For this reason, we don't see this one being used in game design colleges, but it could certainly be useful in more introductory classroom situations, such as high schools or junior colleges.
Still, this is a sound introduction to the principles of game design, and as the underlying design principles do reflect what you’d find at the commercial level, there’s certainly value to be found here. So if you’re willing to give this book one a shot and learn the ins and outs of Game Maker 6.1, you will indeed find this book both an educational and enjoyable introduction to game design.