Author: Ernest Adams
Imagine a book that was called "Fundamentals of Driving". Now while you might not expect it to actually teach you to drive you might think that it would discuss the use of pedals and some road craft. Now imagine that when you open the book it starts to tell you about the philosophy of driving, why we do it and what types of car and road are possible and so on. You might begin to think that the author had never actually driven a car but only watched others do it and had been motivated to write something - anything about it.
Publisher: New Riders, 2009
Aimed at: Hands-off designers
Pros: Not actually misleading, comprehensive
Cons: Boring, unmotivating, too keen on being comprehensive
Reviewed by: Mike James
The back jacket praise for this book says it provides "encyclopedic coverage ..." Is this necessarily a good thing?
Now this is very much the situation we find ourselves in with respect to this book on game design. It tells you absolutely nothing about how to create a game. It rambles on about theoretical game design without discussing the tools the challenges and the languages. It doesn't even discuss graphics.
This is a book that treats games as some sort of anthropological study which is fine if you are looking to establish an academic course with the emphasis on the academic. If you are tempted to do this then all I can say is you are very lucky to have so much time to waste, but it is a shame that you consider wasting so much of your students' time.
The book starts off with the amazing "What is a game?" and moves on to consider "How video games entertain". The author then moves on to consider the structure of a game, game concepts, game worlds, character development, story telling, user interfaces, game play, core mechanics, game balancing and level design. Not much of what is said is wrong - it's just obvious.
When we do get to something technical - the look at randomness for example - the discussion is very "hands off" and it is if it is being described to someone who really only has to know that the ideas exist rather than acquire a deep understanding, or even any understanding. There is no hint anywhere in the book that the reader or the student might actually do anything.
Part II of the book is an extensive and intensive catalog of different types of games. Each starts off with a "what are" section, "features", "core mechanics" and so on. This is stamp collecting without too much purpose. Again it's not wrong but it is mostly pointless. If you are interested in games then you will recognize the genres and if you don't then what are you doing reading a book on games design.
It is true that modern games design needs creative people who don't have the skills to actually implement their ideas - although why they just don't get off their high horses and learn these skills is another question. But to be of use these creatives have to be bright, intelligent and, yes - creative. Not dull boring and able to spend time reviewing the obvious and studying lists of possibilities and classifications that enumerate rather than create. It is as if a book on fundamentals of movie direction classified every type of movie genre to help a director make a block buster.
You can tell that I disapprove of this book and consider my time reading it as a complete waste. If you are looking to set up an academic course on games that insists that the student abstracts till there is nothing of reality left, this might just be the book you are looking for but if you have a grain of practical ability move on.