There is certainly no shortage of ideas and opinions about game making. As a matter of fact, there are entire conventions about the subject including the upcoming Game Developers Conference and the L.A. Games Conference. There are also hundreds of books on the subject. The problem is that game design, like filmmaking, means a wide variety of things and includes a number of very different jobs. A number of software tools can be used to make games and each of these programs and scripting languages has books to help master it. Tynan Sylvester’s Designing Games isn’t a technical book and is really more about the big picture.
Sylvester first started designing games almost 15 years ago as an indie developer and recently spent four years on Irrational Games’ Bioshock Infinite. Tynan states “that much of what we think of game design grows from the metaphors we use to describe it.” It is this philosophical approach that is communicated most clearly in Designing Games. If you’re looking for the soul of game design as described by someone who loves games, this is the book for you. Many AAA titles like Bioshock, Grand Theft Auto and Diablo are referenced throughout the book to illustrate his points.
Divided into three main parts, Designing Games starts with “Engines of Experience.” This discusses how emotion and experience are manipulated through narrative and gameplay. The ideals of immersion and flow are also described. If this sounds a little too cerebral, the author does a good job of speaking plainly and using examples that most people familiar with gaming could understand. If you’re not familiar, the examples serve as a good list of titles to research before getting involved in game making.
The second part of Designing Games is titled “Game Crafting.” This is not the actual process of game creation as much as it is the part where you develop the game’s overall concept. Anyone familiar with gaming knows that it is hugely diverse and there is plenty of room for a wide variety of genres. A good number of these various game types are discussed, allowing the reader to glean the relevant insights. Equally important is the final chapter of the section which discusses market opportunities and how to target the appropriate audience.
The final section of the O’Reilly-published book, titled “Process” is the real nuts and bolts section, in which Tynan Sylvester shares some of his experience in the actual production of games. He shares common pitfalls of the process and ways to overcome those perils. Starting with the planning phase, he gives his best practices that mostly involve communication. Without open communication, the designer doesn’t have all of the information needed to be able to make the design decisions that will shape the game.
Designing Games isn’t the only book you’ll need if you’re looking to get into the game design business. There is a long road ahead of you to be sure, but if you’re looking for a plain explanation of flow and how to create immersion, it is probably one of the first books you should read. There is actually a suggested reading list at the back of the book that will help you explore the topics even further. Even if you know the intricacies of crafting narratives or have experience in designing games, there is probably at least some value to reading the author’s creative and process oriented experiences.