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Game Development Books

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The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses *****

The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses By Jesse Schell
Published August 2008
List Price: $65.95, Your Amazon.com Price: $47.10

Amazon.com Sales Rank: 91,277
Availability: Usually ships in 24 hours

The fundamentals of designing classic games from one of the world's top designers.

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The Art Of Game Design (subtitled A Book Of Lenses) is a different sort of game design book.

First, I actually purchased this book. It's not a review copy that I got free. No, really. That's how impressed I was with the author during a couple of his talks at the Austin GDC last year.

Second, it's not focused on "how this game solved this problem" rather than "how you can solve this problem". If you've attended one of those "How To Design A Game In Two Days" seminars at a conference like the GDC, you've probably seen the process - come up with an idea for a game (computer or otherwise). Prototype the game using sticky notes or buttons or whatever else is available. Playtest your results. If the results are great, move on. If the results stink, prototype further and try to fix the results. Repeat until you have a good game or you die.

I think the point of The Art Of Game Design is to eliminate the "or you die" step from the process by giving you some mental tools to help you build an iterative design more intelligently and creatively without falling into the same rut you fell into with your previous design. It does that with a method called "lenses", which are introduced throughout the book. There are exactly 100 lenses (which is something that always scares me, because such a convenient number always suggests that the number was truncated or padded to fit the result, but I digress), and they're grouped by topic in each chapter. Each lens is just a sentence or two of text and some questions to ask yourself. For example, Lens 63 in the chapter about what comprises interest is the following:

Lens #63: The Lens Of Beauty

We love to experience things of great beauty. Use this lens to make your a game a joy forever by asking yourself these questions:

  • What elements make up my game? How can each one be more beautiful?
  • Some things are not beautiful in themselves, but are beautiful in combination. How can the elements of my game be composed in a way that is poetic and beautiful?
  • What does beauty mean within the context of my game?

This particular lens would be one that you would apply late in your design process and is itself presented late in the book.

The lens is a collection of "what are good questions for me to answer to get me unstuck from my particular rut" pieces that can get you moving on improving your design. And the lenses aren't intended to be followed in order. They're intended to be followed more-or-less randomly within their own topic to help you fix a problem in your design. And while "form follows function" is the norm in design, there are aesthetic issues (like the lens of beauty) that can bring about decisions that work their way back to the function in your design and. . .hopefully, be that "one thing" that your design needs to coalesce from an almost-game into a game or from a good game into a great one.

And, following the "almost random" nature of following the lenses, the book also makes available an optional "Deck Of Lenses", which is a 100-card deck, each card containing the text of an individual lens as well as some custom "lens" illustrations that illustrate the concept. While the deck itself is pretty overproduced ($20 for a deck of 100 cards that you could make yourself by copying the lens-text from the book on index cards), it does make for a useful tool in the iterative design process. If you have a piece of your design that needs improving, you can grab the related cards (they have icons to denote "suits" of topics), shuffle, and ask yourself a hopefully enlightening random question. In this sense, the deck is not unlike Roger Van Oech's "Creative Whack Pack" products that were intended to take your thinking 90 degrees to bring about a creative solution.

BTW, the Amazon picture doesn't show the actual cards. There's a better picture here.

The Art Of Game Design is a necessary part of your arsenal if you intend to design something that requires creativity. And if your design is more complex than "Let's knock off Space Invaders, but make 'em red", it probably will

I love this book, reading it right now and can't wait to finish.