For 3D modelling I strongly recommend CGTalk, and once you are confident then take part in the "Hardcore modelling challenges" for excellent experience. However, if you are doing games then don't neglect your low-polygon skills - sculpting is cool, but they need to be built from an efficient low-poly base model to be used in games. I personally use Silo and Blender, but either 3dsMax or Maya is a fantastic choice career-wise. Just remember its your knowledge of the 3D modelling process that is important, and not so much the tool you use...that only becomes an issue when fitting in with a group. For example, I preferred Maya over Max, but was willing to learn it to help out some friends...
For a good, beginner friendly, guide to building a game character then I recommend "Game Character Development" by Antony Ward. He takes you through the creation of a Forest Troll to be used in a game, and although it uses certain packages it is written in a way that does not require them - so you can use whatever packages you like so long as they support the basic features.
Game design. Hmmm. I recommend looking to anything on Software Development and Interaction Design. Not only does your code need to be written according to a plan and be reliable, your programs also need to consider your target users.
Not sure what to recommend on Software development because it was covered in my degree(Open University) so they provided their own books. For Interaction Design...go with "Interaction Design - Beyond Human-Computer Interaction" by Preece, Rodgers & Sharp. The subject itself is a bit abstract and at first you will think "what a load of psychological bollocks!" but its good food for thought and explains, for example, why products like the under-powered Wii could still compete with technologically advanced consoles such as the 360 and PS3.
Anyway, I hope that helps and best of luck!