If you design video games, if you hope to become a game creator, or if you work for a company whose lifeblood is creating and maintaining successful video games, you need to read this excellent book.
Tynan Sylvester provides a comprehensive overview of the design processes that are the heart of successful games. And he describes the day-to-day actions necessary to keep game projects on track to completion.
“A game can’t just generate any old string of events, because most events aren’t worth caring about,” Sylvester contends. He is a veteran designer who has worked on everything from independently produced games to big-studio blockbuster games. “For a game to hold attention, those events must provoke blood-pumping human emotion. When the generated events provoke pride, hilarity, awe, or terror, the game works.”
Unlike screenwriters, novelists, or choreographers, game designers do not focus on creating events, Sylvester explains. “Instead of authoring events, we design mechanics [the rules for how a game works]. Those mechanics then generate events during play.”
In his view, “The hard part of game design is not physically implementing the game. It is inventing and refining knowledge about the design.” And successful game creation involves “inventing mechanics, fiction, art, and technology that interconnect into a powerful engine of experience.”
His 405-page book also shows why you should not try to spell out everything up front before beginning work on a new game. It is too easy to overplan, he emphasizes. But it is also easy to underplan. So you should aim for a process in the middle: iteration, “the practice of making short-range plans, implementing them, testing them, and repeating.” And that loop-like process is applied not just to the overall game. “We can iterate on a level, a tool, or an interface. On larger teams, there should be many different iteration loops running at the same time.”
According to news accounts emerging from the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, much of the video game creation business is now gravitating toward independent developers and game companies with 10 or fewer employees. And the main focus within that movement is on creating games for tablet computers and smartphones–platforms with lower barriers to entry. But powerful new video game consoles are expected to appear soon, and they likely will drive the creation of new games, as well as upgrades for some successful existing games.
Whether you work alone, in a small shop, or on intercontinental game-development teams within big companies, you can learn important insights, processes, and skills from Tynan Sylvester’s Designing Games. And if you are now in the process of trying to find a design job somewhere in the video game industry, you definitely need to read it.
– Si Dunn