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Game Design Books

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Does anyone know of any really good books on game design? I'm looking for ones that actually delve into the complexity of designing a game and don't just offer surface principles that would be obvious to anyone who attentively plays their games. I got copies of "Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach" and "The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses" from the library. They seemed like nice introductions for anyone who either hadn't played many games or had played a lot of games without thinking much about what goes into them, but other than that they seemed pretty basic.

I'm looking for books that don't just tell you what game balancing is, or the most abstract ideas of how to do it, but really go into detail. How do you balance the different magic systems in the Elder Scrolls series with each other and with physical combat? How do you decide how many grenades the player could manage to have at one time in a gritty FPS while keeping it both challenging and fun? I've always been fairly attentive to the games I've played and how they worked so I'm wondering if there are books that go really in-depth from the design perspective. For instance I have a book on film directing which is a compilation of interviews with various famous directors and goes through how they handle each aspect of the process (pre-production, shooting, actors, editing, etc). I'm looking for equivalent sort of game design books which assume you already know what game design is and the basics of how it works and really talks about the actual design. I wish there were two different terms for those.

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Here's the trouble--we've only recently begun trying to formally teach game design as a discipline. The Art of Game Design is one of the two or three worthwhile textbooks you will find on the subject. It sounds like you're looking for the formula for how to fine-tune an experience and no book will really tell you. It's a process that you have to learn through experience.

What you want to focus on is Playtesting. Good game design is treated as a science experiment. You construct an experiment--your game or mechanic or tidbit of gameplay in a way that you can put it in the hands of a player as quickly as possible, whether it's a board game or a quick prototype thrown together in an engine or something else. Then you give it to someone and you watch what they do. You take careful, meticulous notes about how they react to anything you put in and figure out which reactions you want to keep and which reactions you want to fix. If, for example, they're using a certain form of magic exclusively, maybe you don't want that. If they run out of grenades, maybe you don't want that either. Then you go back to development and implement the changes you think will change the player's reaction in the way you want it. Then you repeat the experiment until you have an experience that you're satisfied with the reaction from players.

It's a long and arduous process, but it yields results and it's the driving design philosophy behind today's most successful games. The more experience you gain with it, the more you will learn about how to evoke what emotions and reactions from a player from your statistics, effects, everything.

Hope this helps.

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I agree with Ralewyn. You won't find much stuff in books because not only the video game industry is young and constantly evolving, but game design itself is an art and an empirical process. You might find some tips and techniques, but that's it. I suggest you look instead for game postmortems, you can learn a lot from those.

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Thanks guys. That's exactly what I was wondering about.

I think in film I've found the best approach is two-fold. In the understanding of film some amount of the psychological and philosophical theories on how we perceive film is helpful. In the making of film I find "making of" books and interviews with various artists to yield the largest amount of information. I have books of interviews with directors, production designers, cinematographers, composers, and so on. I also have "making of" books for various films and plays, and I always look for the special edition dvds with the nice documentary and commentary features. That's a big part of why I'm here is for the opportunity of seeing game creation in progress.

I've found a couple of "making of" books for games. I believe there's one for Halo, a couple for Star Wars games, some "art of" books here and there that seem fairly revealing, and even the production diary of the guy who made the original Prince of Persia. I also did see a couple of books on a more theoretical understanding of games, and I already study narrative theory for writing. Does anyone have any favorites for either "making of," "art of," or game theory books?

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It sounds like the other responders know more about this topic than me, but I do want to say this.

There's a very good chance you've seen it already, but have you seen the Extra Credits episode with a list of books any game designer should have? I can't remember which episode it was in, but I'm watching some episodes as I write this and I'll tell you which one it is.

Or you tell me if you know which one, because I'm curious now.

Edit:

I'm a fool. I forgot that this is the age of the internet and things are searchable. Videos may not be searchable, but the text people have written about videos which are popular certainly is searchable.

It's Mailbag #4. It's actually the next video I was about to watch anyway, so we would have found it either way. Here's a link:

http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/mailbag-4

I hope that helps, but seeing how it's already been said that the book you're looking for does not exist, maybe not.

Edit:

The time is 2:38.

Edit:

Here's the list:

The Art of Game Design (which you already own)

Rules of Play

Designing Virtual Worlds

On Game Design

Game Feel

The Design of Everyday Things

Understanding Comics

Flow

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The book that taught me the most about game design and creativity in general was Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, believe it or not. Kick ass book.

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