Book on the shelf

6 books to help you master game design

The profession of a game designer is one of the most controversial in the sense there is still no classical education for game designers, even in the US and Asia, where gaming industry has long turned into an independent branch of economy.

Nowadays game designers pretty much play the game, which does not exist yet. The main goal of a game designer is not to just test the game before the official release but to create a full-fledged gaming world. And in order to able to do so, one needs to be an engineer, an artist and a screenwriter all at the same time. We’ve collected a short list of books, which can help you get acquainted with the basics and nuances of game design. And here is a quick summary of what these books might teach you.

1. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses

The author of the book is Jesse Schell, a former designer, programmer, manager at Disney and a chairman of the International Game Developers Association. He also teaches game design at the Entertainment Technology Center of the Carnegie Mellon University.

The book does not have any general information about programming or the history of game design. The author rather gives out more practical advice on game mechanics, the process of accumulating experience or developing a character. Jesse Schell also talks about certain “lenses”, which are mentioned in the title of the book. “Lenses” are the selection of leading questions, which help the developer to make the game much more thoughtful. These questions are collected from various fields from psychology and music to architecture, cinema and mathematics.

“The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses” itself is similar to a video game. It starts with the basics and gradually becomes more complicated and interesting. If you are a complete beginner in game design, this is a chance to see how strange things can be put in a logical structure. You will also learn how desktop, card and sports games form an approach to computer games.

A book cover with a magnifying glass

“The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”

2. A Theory of Fun for Game Design

The book author Raph Koster is known as the leading designer at Ultima Online and a creative director at Wars Galaxies. He considers games to be somewhere in between entertainment and education because games bring pleasure and give the player skills that are useful in life. Raph even came up with a unique term for this – edutainment.

“A Theory of Fun for Game Design” will not give you any comprehensive information on design. But it will tell you why games attract so many people and explain the relationship between behaviorism and gaming systems. The book starts with a question “What are games and why are they important?” While answering it the author talks about the concept of a game, what fun is, how games can be used in training and how people interact with them. He eventually encourages seeing games as a part of contemporary art. This is a very useful book, especially for beginners. Plus it is pretty short, so you can read it in a matter of a day.

A book cover with a piece of paper

A Theory of Fun for Game Design

3. Game Design Workshop

Tracy Fullerton is a game designer, a lecturer at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a director of the EA Game Innovation Lab, where such projects as Cloud, flOw and Darfur is Dying were created. In 2004 she released “Game Design Workshop”, which is a fundamental book that helps the future game designers to acquire the necessary knowledge in this field. Tracy consistently analyzes technical and dramatic gaming systems. The theory is supported by examples from popular games, useful exercises and descriptions of design methods.

The book consists of three parts: Game Design Basics, Designing a Game and Working as a Game Designer. The first part contains the basic concepts and terminology. The Designing a Game section talks about how to apply gained knowledge on practice: from concept and prototype design to testing and feedback analysis. Working as a Game Designer section includes a brief overview of the industry and practical recommendations for game designers on how to get a job, build a team, communicate with programmers and defend your ideas.

Green book cover

Game Design Workshop

4. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals

The book authors Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman are simultaneously good at theory and practice. Katie is a head of research and design at the Institute of Play. While Eric is a founder and a CEO of Gamelab, as well as a lecturer at Parsons School of Design and New York University.

In the book “Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals” the authors talk about tasks, rules, terminology and other important elements of game design. Therefore this book will be especially useful to those who are just starting their career as a game designer. At the same time, this book is also an excellent tool for structuring the already existing knowledge. For instance, the authors describe 18 schemes, which are used to build as classic board games as well as MMORPG.

The book consists of four sections. The first one presents the basic concepts and the three others describe the pillars of game design: rules, game and culture. Authors did not include any information about dramaturgy, so you might need to supplement this book with additional sources about, for example, screenwriting.

Blue and yellow book cover

Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals

5. Challenges for Game Designers

Book author Brenda Brathwaite is a game designer, screenwriter and a level designer with over 30 years of experience and many awards. Brenda has worked for Atari, Electronic Arts, Sir-Tech Software, and became famous due to the Wizardry series. The co-author, Ian Schreiber is a creator of Playboy: The Mansion. He has developed educational games for two companies from the Fortune 500 list and now teaches game design and programming at Ohio University and Savannah College of Art and Design.

The book itself consists of 21 chapters, each of which includes practical tasks with increasing complexity. The text is easy to read, the chapters are pretty short, yet informative. Each of the sections is devoted to a separate topic, for example, puzzles or casual games. This book will be a great challenge for not only game designers, but also for those who look for non-standard solutions.

A book cover with people playing a game

Challenges for Game Designers

6. Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design

The book author Scott Rogers, who has also designed God of War and Pac-Man World, decided to compile everything he knows about his profession. And here is how “Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design” was created.

This book does not boast with theory as traditional textbooks. But it has a lot of practical tips: how to create a boss, what elements to use or where to place the camera. Scott describes the development process: from a raw idea to marketing an implemented project. Each new chapter is based on information learned previously and ends with a selection of “universal truths”. This is a worthy book on the shelves of any beginner game designer.

Orange colorful book cover

Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design

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