There are many ways to get in the games industry and there is always more to learn on the job, even for the most seasoned professionals. This post aims to highlight six sources of design that provide timeless knowledge for little to no cost, complementing an industry where quality is key and time is of the essence.
Do note: there may be some glaringly obvious omissions from this list. However, it is compiled from my personal experience and doesn't reflect the quality, or lack of, missing suggestions.
1. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Jesse Schell
If you were to only own one book on the topic of game design then look no further than this. Each chapter is well written, digestible and provides knowledge for all levels of competency. Additionally, there are a series of lenses which propose a wealth of questions for designers to answer during the development process.
2. A Theory of Fun, Raph Koster
A Theory of Fun is the go to book for a better understanding of what fun is, how it can be leveraged and why we should leverage it. It provides more food for thought than answers whilst being a lighter read than my previous suggestion due to numerous hand drawn images, often provoking a sense of nostalgia.
3. Method, Mark Cerny
Back in 2002, Mark Cerny presented "Method" at the DICE summit. Method was created to change the philosophy of how big budget games were made with an emphasis on iteration, quality and innovation. It led developers to focus on the 3C's, core mechanics and a few polished levels before deciding to continue with the rest of the game. When first introduced, these radical insights were way ahead of their time and still remain industry standard practise today.
4. One-Page Designs, Stone Librande
Stone Librande's 2010 GDC talk blew my mind. In an industry where information not documentation takes precedence, this presentation discusses how ideas can be presented in a consistent and engaging manner whilst clearly outlining the scope. Inspired by Lego instruction manuals and architectural blueprints, it provides an insight into improving the flow of information across teams of all sizes.
5. Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Shigeru Miyamoto
It's no surprise that the first game that appears on this list comes from Nintendo but whilst Mario may have been the choice for many, Ocarina of Time is still my all time favourite. The pacing, scope, variety of abilities, well designed challenges and memorable characters set the template for the rest of the games industry to follow. It's a masterpiece that has stood the test of time.
6. Magic The Gathering, Richard Garfield
Magic The Gathering is last but no means least. It's a tactile trading card game with an abundance of strategies which have been honed and expanded upon since it's inception in 1993. The frame work from which it has been created allows designers and players to propose crazy ideas for new additions, so long as they adhere to the mana costs imposed on each card. Dominant tactics are often nullified by the power of other cards rather than being handicapped but they also rely on a solid balance of skill versus luck.
There is no fast track to becoming a game design expert but analysing and implementing the knowledge taken from the above sources will set you well on your way or may even throw up a few curveballs. Whether it be printing off your own paper game, applying a series of lenses to a core feature or analysing how often a new ability should be introduced, there are gems to discover for all manner of scenarios.