“Designing Games: A Guide to Engineering Experiences” by Tynan Sylvester; O’Reilly Media

If there is one thing that becomes clear when you read this book, it is that game design is even more complex than you might imagine. When you play a game that has been well designed, there is an illusion of simplicity, you may think that the design elements are clear and obviously, but there are numerous gameplay elements, knowledge, and effort required to create the design that you are just not visible to the player. This book provides an insight into game design decisions, game play elements, and and the design process that reveals the complexity behind the designs of successful games.

The book is divided into three major sections, engines of experience, game crafting, and process. The engines of experience provides an insight into how game mechanics and game events produce and change emotions in the player, and how these effects can be utilised to generate experiences. The second section provides descriptions of crafting game play elements together with examples of success and failure in these designs from actual games. Topics covered include skill range and development, narrative and pacing, decision making and flow, balance, multiplayer behaviours, motivation and fulfilment, interface and interactions, marketing. The final section on the design process describes the day to day activities that are necessary from game design and development. Topics covered include the pitfalls of over-planning and over-confidence and the importance of iteration, testing methods and common mistakes, dependencies and development priorities, and knowledge creation. This section also discusses the impact of leadership styles and organisation culture on the effectiveness or otherwise for creative teams such as game designers.

The book is very clearly written and very easy to read, despite being very text heavy. Although the book contains much personal experience from the author, it is also well researched and contains examples and advice from other experts to back up the opinion of the author. This book is not really a “how to” of game design, there are no list of rules to follow or exercises to complete. There is however a wealth of examples and descriptions of the different elements that make up a game, and how each of these needs to be considered when designing a game. Having a great idea for a game is not enough, each of these elements must have been thought about, tinkered with, tested, balanced, and iterated  to ensure that the game actually works to provide a great experience for the player. This book provides real food for thought on the complexity of game design and the challenges that need to be overcome.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in how games are designed, or who are new to game development. The third section on game design processes contains good descriptions on issues for team working, design, and development that are relevant and familiar to most teams working in software development.

See the O’Reilly product page for more information.


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