I had the opportunity to go to GDC in 2012 and Austin GDC in 2008 and had a great time. If you’ve never gone you should give it a try, as it is very motivating to meet your fellow developers and see what they are up to. If you get a full access pass you get a year’s access to the GDC vault which has thousands of great lectures from past conferences.
Below are some short reviews of the design books I own.
Game Feel by Steve Swink
Of all the books I have read, this one goes the deepest into the gritty details of game design and polish. It’s filled with useful illustrations and diagrams and is easy to read. It should be a great resource for any designer and a good wake up call to beginners who have no idea of the complexity and subtleties of game design.
Universal Principles of Design by Lidwell, Holden and Butler
One of my favorite design books, it covers many disciplines including architecture, psychology, industrial, graphic, and software design. It has text explaining a principle of design on each page and illustrations on the adjacent page. The layout and construction of the book itself is a great work of design, as it’s easy to navigate, entertaining, and feels good to the touch.
The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell
This one mainly goes over the theory of game design and contains a lot of Psychology. If you have studied Psychology it will be a good review, and seeing it tied directly to game design is very nice. The main point of the book is to approach game design from many different angles or lenses. This is a great way to study design and also be more creative. The only downside aside from the price is that the format of the book is a bit repetitive. I started to miss the interviews and articles by other authors that do a nice job of giving other books variety. The strength of the book is that it can be of great benefit to beginners and experienced designers.
Level Design for Games by Phil Co
A well rounded book in that it goes over theory as well as practice. It also has tutorials for Unreal Engine 2 and comes with a CD. It’s easy to follow and comes with lots of helpful diagrams and pictures. Ranges from beginner to intermediate skill level. The book has not aged well because of the now dated Unreal Engine 2 tutorials.
Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping, and Playtesting Games by Fullerton, Swain and Hoffman
Nice fat book that details the beginning to end of the game design process and is filled with interesting articles and interviews from many famous game designers. The book is aimed at people getting started in game design but can be a good review for all designers. The interviews should be enjoyable for everyone. The main message from this book is to not limit yourself but to explore all genres and types of games.
Designing Virtual Worlds
Overly wordy and academic, this book was the least fun to read. In its 739 pages there are only a handful of charts and diagrams and little or no illustrations or screenshots. For most of us, video games are a visual medium so this makes no sense. However, it’s not that surprising as the author was mainly involved in designing text adventures, the history of which he goes into painful detail. There is plenty of good stuff in the book but it will take a while to get through.
Mastering Unreal Technology: The Art of Level Design by Busby, Parrish and Eenwyck
A huge reference book for Unreal Engine 2 ranging from beginner to highly advanced. Very informative but a good deal of it is out of date now as much has changed in Unreal Engine 3 and 4. A newer edition is called Mastering Unreal Technology Volume 1: Introduction to Level Design. Only thirty dollars for almost a thousand pages is a great value if you can pick up one for the latest engine.
Game Testing All in One by Schultz, Bryant, and Langdell
Textbook that goes over the theory, process and tools used in game testing. A great deal of testing goes into level design so I learned a few useful things. The main lessons I took away were to approach design and testing scientifically and with a plan so I can be as efficient as possible. There is a great deal more that goes into testing than most people think and it is nice to have a better understanding of the process.
The Hows and Whys of Level Design by Sjoerd De Jong
A shorter book than the rest but nice in that it comes with many attractive color screenshots that keep you interested. Easier to pick up and read on the go than the larger textbooks. Covers mainly the theory and aesthetic side of level design and has a good deal of useful tips for the beginner and intermediate level designer. Also contains a couple of level postmortems and interviews.
The Hows and Whys of the Games Industry by Sjoerd De Jong
A solid resource for people trying to get into the game industry. Easy to pick up and read and well organized. Also contains many interviews on how people broke in to level art and design.
Master of the Game by Gary Gygax
A little book I picked up for a few dollars that approaches game design from the perspective of a GM in a pen and paper RPG. Parts of the book are more useful than others and dated for a video game designer, however most of it can be translated and is still relevant. Gygax goes over rules systems, setting up and managing campaigns and scenarios, and running a newsletter among other things. One important lesson is keeping the connection with your players or audience which is key in successful entertainment business.
Masters of Doom by David Kushner
A very entertaining and funny book that goes over the early days of id Software. You get an insider’s perspective from many of the famous developers before the start of the company up until about 2001. The book was created from many hours of interviews and it feels like you were right there throughout the entire process. It’s fascinating to learn about the developers and to feel more like you are a part of it as you bring up your old memories of playing their games over the years.
The Making of Doom 3 by Steven L Kent
Another great book that has lots of interviews from id Software but focuses on the creation of Doom 3. Filled with beautiful screenshots and artwork as well as quite a bit of storyline that was cut from the final release of the game. A great reference for game artists, level designers and fans of id Software and the Doom series.
A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster
This book goes over a wide variety of game design topics but does not go into great detail on any of them. Each page has a new topic and illustration to go with it so it’s easy to pick up and put down any time. It’s entertaining and filled with a lot of game design knowledge.
101 Things I learned in Architecture School
Coming from a level design background and being interested in architecture this is another one of my favorite books. Its layout is similar to the Universal Principles of Level Design with concise text and illustrations alternating on each page. It’s filled with zen-like quotes and design wisdom that should be memorized by designers and is great to flip through any time.