80 Level Digest: Great Books for Aspiring Game Designers

In today's list, we've collected over 10 books suitable for from-beginning-to-advanced game designers that can improve your knowledge and creativity.

Playing games has been a significant part of humanity for thousands of years. However, only not long ago that games have become considered not only a form of entertainment but an entire industry where people can have proper professions.

If you want to become a part of this industry – either creating your own indie games or finding a job at a games studio – you'll have to learn about game design. Certainly, to create a good game, you'll need to know a number of aspects – from making fascinating storylines and attractive characters to creating animations and visual effects.

Game development is a pretty complex topic, but you should get started somewhere, and learning what a game designer does will allow you to understand a little bit of everything as a game designer is a person who is a creative driver of bringing a game to life and a person who becomes a cross between a writer, artist, programmer, etc.

While learning game design, you will discover how to develop game systems, including how to design, what to design, and when to design each feature, learn the theory of what makes something fun, and understand how all the systems work together.

For a long time, there was not much literature that could help future game designers. However, things have changed and now there are plenty of available books on game design. Today, we've collected several great books that we hope will be helpful on your way to becoming a professional game designer.

The first book of today's list is Games, Design, and Play: A detailed approach to iterative game design. This book will be great for both game design students and from-beginning-to-intermediate game designers as well as will be especially useful for indie game designers.

It covers a number of topics – from core elements of play design and creating design documents and schematics to collaborating in teams on a shared design vision and improving designs by making playtesting feedback. The authors will guide step by step through all the processes game designers need to know to build their own game that will be challenging for players and engage them in the game.

Games, Design, and Play focuses on practical details of game designers' work and can help you think like a professional designer who is able to create virtually every kind of game including cooperative and competitive, chance-based and role-playing, and many more.

Next up is this great book by Tracy Fullerton, game designer, educator, and writer who is also a Professor in the USC Interactive Media & Games Division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Director of the Game Innovation Lab at USC.

The book is a must-read for those who are starting their way into game design as it covers everything about game theory, prototyping, conceptualizing, testing, tuning, and iterating. It uses a non-technical approach to game design so you won't need to know how to program or have artistic experience.

Game Design Workshop provides a cohesive explanation of the formal and dramatic systems of game design and tells you about time-tested methods and tools for prototyping, playtesting, and revising your own games.

The next book on our list was written by Steve Swink, an independent game developer, game designer, author, and lecturer who contributed to such games as Off-Road Velociraptor Safari, Splume, Jetpack Brontosaurus, and Minotaur China Shop.

Game Feel will be suitable for beginners and intermediate-level designers who would like to add the right sensations and involvement to the game. The book will tell you about the role of sound, metaphors, perception, and feel that influence players' game experiences.

While the author doesn't provide a detailed guide to game design processes, it will certainly be helpful to aspiring game designers who wish to create good-feeling games and will construct an understanding of how to measure, master, and create exemplary game feel.

What's more, in addition to the book, Steve Swink also suggests using a companion website where readers can find playable examples that will allow them to experience the ideas discussed in the book. The website also contains interviews with various game designers who share their ideas on the subject of game feel as well as their experiences in game design.

Fundamentals of Game Design was written by a consultant and a senior lecturer at Uppsala University's Department of Game Design Ernest Adams. The book has a whopping 576 pages where the author shares a number of tips and tricks for the game design processes.

It's a classic book on game design that can help you learn the basics of concept development, gameplay design, core mechanics, user interfaces, storytelling, and balancing as well as includes the latest developments in the game industry. The book will be suitable for intermediate-level game designers who are sure they want to make game design their profession.

Fundamentals of Game Design will be a huge reference guide for game designers who do not know where to start, especially those who are creating indie games. It will also be helpful for basically any profession in the games industry as it is written in a structured and engaging way and can help everybody understand what makes a great video game. In addition, the book contains free worksheets and exercises that will help you develop your own ideas.

Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman

In our next book, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, readers can look at game design through a series of perspectives such as games as a storytelling medium, a site of cultural resistance, a system of emergence and information, and more.

Its authors, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman who are both experienced game developers who have served as professors at top institutions like DePaul, MIT, and Parsons School of Design, offer a unified model for all game genres – from board games and sports to computer and video games – and attempt to establish a proper framework for game design.

This is a well-structured book that can be a great source of knowledge when it comes to concepts and methodologies. It can help you learn to create games that would feature a lot of interactive elements, aesthetics, and culture, as well as teach you how to keep the user base.

Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design by Ernest Adams and Joris Dormans

Up next, we have a book for those who already know the basics of game design and consider themselves intermediate or advanced-level designers. Written by Ernest Adams and Joris Dormans, this book explains how to create the mechanics for complex games and use novel prototyping techniques to develop and simulate games. 

The authors thoroughly detail at what stages to prototype, test, and implement mechanics in games as well as tell you how to visualize and simulate game mechanics to create better games.

The book introduces 16 game mechanics design patterns that could be used to make a game of emergence (games that have relatively simple rules but offer much variation and challenges, with the game's flow of events not being planned in advance but emerging during gameplay). In addition, Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design introduces a tool dubbed "Machinations framework" which is authored by Joris Dormans and teaches how to use Machinations to model game mechanics.

Another great book that would be great for intermediate and advanced levels is Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster, the lead designer of Ultima Online and the creative director behind Star Wars Galaxies. It's a small but effective book that has a number of illustrations and examples.

While the book doesn't provide direct tools that you can apply to your next game, it thoroughly explains how the human brain works which can help to learn what players want from a game, and features a deep examination of modern video games helping you understand why or when games become boring.

The book can help you understand how to create attractive, challenging, and, most importantly, memorable games. Theory of Fun is easy to read as it's written based on Raph Koster's personal experience and can be a great supplement book for those who wish to learn a bigger picture of what game design is.

Challenges for Game Designers is a brilliant book that not only covers game design techniques and methods but also gives some cool tips on how to grow as a game designer and get better with every project. 

It has a wide range of topics important to game designers as well as contains a number of challenging but enjoyable exercises that do not require art or programming skills but can help you apply the material you learned from the chapters, expand your knowledge and develop as a professional.

How Games Move Us could be great supplementary material for those who wish to learn more about the culture of gaming and the audience it targets. This book written by games designer and researcher Katherine Isbister describes qualities that distinguish games from other media and explains how game developers build upon these qualities, in both single-player and multiplayer experiences, using avatars, non-player characters, and character customization.

It's a useful material that provides readers with information about the most popular games, explains how they managed to provoke strong, positive emotional experiences in players, and helps you understand the emotional side of game design.

More Books on Game Design

In addition, we would like to recommend some literature that we've already talked about before when we offered a list of great books for aspiring game developers. For instance, as a beginner game designer, you should definitely check out The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell. This book helps designers think about the psychology, gameplay, usability, storyline, and what makes a game fun as well as offers over 100 challenging design questions that force you to think about how other people would see your game.

Another great book that can help you on your way to learning game design is Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design from the Pac-Man World, Maximo, and SpongeBob SquarePants creator Scott Rogers. It will be a great choice when it comes to picking one of the first books about game design as it presents the material in an engaging yet instructive way.

More experienced game designers should also check out The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design by Flint Dille & John Zuur Platten. The book offers readers advanced techniques and knowledge that are necessary for integrating a story into any game. You can learn more about these books here.

These were our picks for the great books on game design. We hope this list will be helpful for both beginners and advanced specialists who decided to make game design their profession. Do you agree with our list? What books would you have added here? Share your thoughts in the comments below and don't forget to join our Reddit page and our Telegram channel, follow us on Instagram and Twitter, where we share breakdowns, the latest news, awesome artworks, and more. 

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