Since getting horribly sick last night means I couldn't finish my next blog on design theory, I want to focus instead on an important practice for my own development: seeking out new perspectives and lessons on design. I try to either read or listen to new content every week. It sharpens my skills, and also keeps me inspired by hearing the insights of others.
For today's post I want to point at a few of the resources I've found helpful for shaping my own thoughts about design.
Game Design Workshop by Tracy Fullerton. This book is pretty much a classic of game design. It is used as a core text in several design programs for good reason: it covers all the essential processes of design, accompanied by useful exercises throughout. If I feel stuck in my revision or design process, I often start by reviewing this text.
The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell. This book introduces some solid fundamentals to design, then guides you through looking at your game through a multitude of elements, for example player motivation, how chance vs. skill is used, different aspects of balance, aspects of interfacing with a game, etc. By the end of the book, it has covered nearly all the core aspects of gameplay. There is also a free app called the "Deck of Lenses" which provides a short summary of the design aspect and asks relevant questions to guide how you think about it for your design. While the book is primarily targeted at video games, the fundamentals it focuses on can be useful for any type of game.
101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick. I find looking at design in spaces unrelated to gaming can reveal a lot of design fundamentals that expand my thinking when it comes to games. This book provides concise insights on aspects of visual design. For example, one of the lessons is "our experience of an architectural space is strongly influenced by how we arrive in it," and the lesson continues to discuss ways to use contrast to create different impressions. These lessons clearly translate to level and visual design in video games, but I think the lessons also extend to psychology of perception, something that can also become relevant in game experiences in general.
Magic the Gathering: 20 Years, 20 Lessons Learned by Mark Rosewater. As head designer for MTG, Mark oversaw the design of a staggering number of Magic cards and releases. In his GDC talk, he provides an entertaining and insightful overview of lessons learned while keeping Magic interesting and fresh over two decades. I listen to this talk at least once a year. Each time, it helps me shift my thinking on a current problem.
The Failure Workshop at GDC. Each year at GDC a group of people give a presentation on a failure or major mistake made while developing their game and what they learned from it. Hearing designers talk openly about mistakes is helpful in itself; this is often an industry full of impostor syndrome meets shiny perfect front, that means we don't always share honest stories about our mistakes. Every talk is different; every mistake is different; every year I've learned from these presentations.
Antichamber: An Overnight Success 7 Years in the Making: It is really easy to see the success of a game and think "why them" or "why can't it be that easy for me?" or "how do I make that happen?" When I first watched this speech, it stood out to me because it dove deep into the sacrifices, labor, and prolonged investment that led to the success of Antichamber. Rewatching it after spending years on my own game, it now stands out as a point of solidarity and shared understanding. Game design is hard. I think a lot of us know that. But it's still worthwhile to share the stories of what we invest into it.
The Prototype that was Banned from Halfbrick: They made a prototype that was so addictive and divisive they had to shut it down. For some developers, that's the dream: a game people cannot stop obsessing over. In this talk, the designer reviews what happened, explores what features made this game (and similar ones) so addicting, and raises questions about ethical design.
Legal Battle Royale. A group of lawyers for the game industry review some of the current big topics in game law and then take questions from the audience. Okay, I might have just enjoyed this because I almost became and lawyer and like legal logic because it's basically a puzzle box. But I also think it can be useful to listen to information that affects the games industry outside of design. The speakers are entertaining and provide a good balance of legal detail while still being accessible.
Designing Path of Exile to Be Played Forever. Chris Wilson reviews PoE's progress from the early days to their current success and highlights several important lessons learned. It reminded me in some ways of Kevin Crawford's advice (of Stars Without Number fame) on production schedules for TTRPG's and own style of iteration around the same core. If someone wants to think smart about the business of building and maintaining player interest, this provides some useful advice.
The Big Television Debate. A group of actresses (Ellen Pompeo, Emma Roberts, Gina Rodriguez, and Gabrielle Union) discuss issues of equal pay and race in Hollywood. It might seem like Hollywood it worlds away from the game design space, but a lot of the same issues exist in game design. One of the big points they make I've practiced and found true in design freelance work: talk about how much you get paid with other freelancers. It's harder for to cheat people if we all share a common understanding of fair pay.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.