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  • Ask the Experts: Books and Blogs for Game Design

    [01.14.08]
    - Jill Duffy
  •  Dear Experts,
    I'm currently nearing the real world and really want to get into a position in game design -- even if it starts at entry-level. I've been going to your site and have found it very helpful in directing my attention to ways that I can get into the industry.

    However, I find that I'm still lacking in knowledge as to the nuances of game design. Could you recommend any books or blogs that I should read that would help me?

    Thank you for your time, and I appreciate the help.

    Sincerely,
    Another Industry Noob

    Dear Noob,
    (I usually avoid using the word "noob" because it's overly colloquial -- and worse, it sounds too close to "boob" -- but I suppose it's time I accepted it. For those of you who are brand spanking new to game dev slang or live in a non-English speaking region, "noob" is short for "newbie," an industry fledgling.)

    Do you know why you are lacking in knowledge about the nuances of game design? Because you don't have years of hands-on experience designing. Much of what you'll learn as a designer will come from doing, not reading. While we can (and will!) give you a list of books and blogs to read, be accepting of the fact that no amount of reading will fill in all the gaps.

    "Getting into the game industry has its own catch 22: you can't get into a game company until you have industry experience and you can't get industry experience until you get a job in a company," says Mike Moore, chair of the game department at DigiPen Institute of Technology. "What you need to break into the industry isn't necessarily additional theory -- it's a proven ability to design games. Once you take your game designs to completion, your knowledge is tempered with a maturity that allows you to better understand theoretical aspects."

    It takes a Zen attitude, but try to be at peace with the fact that you will always have questions, and some of your questions won't have answers at all.

    The Overwhelming List of Resources
    I asked two industry experts for some help in putting together a list of books and blogs to recommend: Marc Mencher president of GameRecruiter.com, Inc., and a contributor to this site, and Mike Moore of DigiPen. Between the three of us, we came up with a massive list, so I'll try to parse it out into three sections: books, blogs of notable game designers, and general web sites or web-based articles.

    The resources appear at the end of this article (see page 2).

    The Shortlist
    One of the tenants of GameCareerGuide.com is to give you aspiring game developers advice you can actually use, and to be honest, the list of resources we've put together is wonderfully comprehensive, but it's also completely overwhelming.

    In the interest of making our advice more manageable, here's a shortlist of the books and web sites where you might want to start. Just bear in mind that we're not disregarding the other books, web sites, and articles; we're just trying to give advice that you can actually use, rather than a list of 10,000 pages of reading that makes you feel stopped in your tracks.

    You might start with Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design. It's very readable, as long as you aren't turned off by the cheeky cartoons that fill literally half the pages. The soft cover book retails for about $23 (from O'Reilly), and you can knock it off in one or two sittings. The book seeks to explain why the most common actions in video games (such as "collecting items") are fun. Koster doesn't give a very deep and thorough analysis of every topic he approaches, but I think he gives enough for you to think about it further on your own and debate some of the arguments he raises.

    For a good analysis of rules of game design, see Noah Falstein and Hal Barwood's running list The 400 Project. The rules are turned into a column that is published in Game Developer, the professional trade magazine of game developers (which is owned by the same company that owns GameCareerGuide.com).

    I adore Tom Sloper's (www.sloperama.com/) approachable demeanor, as well as his nerdy persona. Sloper has so much good advice for beginners -- see his "School-a-rama" section, which isn't exclusively about schools but is more about entry-level game development. You can tell by his tone that he sincerely cares about helping noobs find their way in this chaotic maze of cobbled disciplines that we call game development. Sloper also keeps a list of recommended books for game designers. For more opinionated perspectives, I like Greg Costikyan (www.costik.com/weblog).

    Good luck, Noob, and thanks for reading!

    Continue to page 2 for the comprehensive resource list.

    Ask the Experts is a biweekly column on GameCareerGuide.com, written by Jill Duffy, the site's editor. If you have a question you would like to see answered in the column, send it to theexperts(at)gamecareerguide.com.

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