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10 Best Video Game Design Books to Read in 2023
Table of Contents
Today, games have become a proper profession and yield major profits rather than just being for entertainment and fun purposes.
Through this article, we will know about the books that will kick-off your career in gaming and help you become a professional game designer. If you wish to try coding a game, read our article on how to code a game to get the basics right.
Why Do You Need Game Design Books?
Some games are fun to play; then there are those that actually creatively challenge you, entertaining and informative, and some that are not so great. What makes some games too good and some only average?
A lot of effort goes into building a good game – graphics, feel, art, aesthetics, concept, and much more. Many people who played games started getting curious about how these games were developed and what goes into building a whole new game from scratch. This led to the addition of game design as a discipline in the early 2000s.
Many of these books are academic books, used by universities and colleges as textbooks and references. Whether you are at the beginning or middle of your career, all the below 10 game design books will help you enrich your knowledge and build creative and captivating games.
These books cover the fundamental concepts and tell the difference between why some games are more popular than others and what constitutes an engaging game: play, tips, tricks, and strategies to build a game that users love to play all the time.
Top 10 Game Design Books
We have arranged the books based on the levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
Beginner Level Books
1. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses
This is one of the finest books for learning game design fundamentals. The author gives various game design perspectives to understand the strategy behind board games, card games, athletic games, video games, etc. This book follows a practical approach, and you can work along with reading the book.
- The book provides a good balance of theory and practical examples of game design.
- Well organized in its approach and covers various aspects of game design – not just purely academic material.
- There are a lot of brainstorming tips throughout the book.
- The step-by-step approach helps you observe mistakes in your game and lets you iterate and improvise.
- The difficulty and challenge level keeps going up through the chapters, and you will thoroughly enjoy it as you go through each level.
2. Games, Design, and Play: A detailed approach to iterative game design
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
A step-by-step, process-oriented book helps readers get familiarized with game design concepts and start building their own game that’s challenging and engaging to the users. The book helps to choose your genre and understand core play design elements like goals, rules, actions, play-space, players, and objects. You will also learn how to use prototypes for playtesting designs.
- The book helps you think like a professional designer and understand the practical elements of game design.
- If you are a beginner, Games, design, and play will be a good start for your gaming career. If you have some experience, the book will greatly enhance your knowledge and provide a fresh perspective and other aspects like goals, challenges, strategy, chance, decision, storytelling, etc.
- Well-structured book where Part I focuses on core concepts, Part II explains the process and design values, and Part III is dedicated to the practice and helps you brainstorm, prototype, playtest and evaluate your game.
- It also covers the best practices and principles to follow for game design.
3. Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design
This should perhaps be your first read if you are fond of not only playing games but understanding how to create them. This book is great for young minds and adults alike. It can be a casual read – like an introduction to the world of gaming, or good introductory learning on fundamental game design concepts, design documents, and hands-on tips.
- A light introductory read which will awaken your curiosity and raise your interest in gaming and the science behind it.
- Very useful for beginners, and in some cases intermediate level game designers as well, as it contains many practical tips and solutions to common issues.
- Great illustrations with personal stories and humor by the author that add to the fun element in the book.
- A much-needed book for those who want to include artistic elements in their games like level design, forms, etc.
4. Game Feel: A Game Designer's Guide to Virtual Sensation by Steve Swink
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
As the book's name indicates, the book introduces you to the concepts of adding feel to game designing. This book is for beginners to intermediate-level game designers who want to add the right sensations and involvement in the game. A game’s success depends on its feel and how it connects to the players, and this book explains exactly that.
- Very detailed and thorough explanations of the role of sound, metaphors, perception, and feel.
- Readers also have access to ready-made tools for playing around with the palette, change settings, and learn more through the website.
- If you have never developed a game before, this would be a great start to understand game design better.
- The author doesn’t spoon-feed you; he provides a lot of information and leaves open questions for you to think and ponder.
5. Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
As a beginner, this is one book you must have on your rack. It covers everything about game theory, prototyping, conceptualizing, testing, tuning, iterating, and making your game perfect. This is a successful attempt to create a book that is not too technical but furnishes every detail required by a newbie to writing their own game. The book gives a solid foundation and acts as a stepping stone for a professional gaming career.
- Step by step approach, with insights and tips from top game designers in the industry.
- No verbosity, the author is very crisp yet detailed with the explanations.
- Part I covers the basic concepts and elements of game design, and in Part II, you will actually design a game. Part III covers how you will be placed as a professional game designer.
- Focuses on the play-centric process of design and iteration and covers the latest techniques, perspectives, and ideas to approach professional game design.
Intermediate Level Books
6. Fundamentals of Game Design, Third Edition byErnest Adams
This book is a kind of primer for the Game mechanics book by the same author. If you plan to make game design your profession, this is a great text and reference for you. It discusses everything from game development concepts, introduction to game mechanics, interface, balance, motion-capture gameplay, and much more.
- The book is not too technical but covers all the essential concepts in detail.
- The writing style is very engaging and well-structured
- The author follows a very scientific approach for problem description and problem-solving without being verbose.
- The book guides you step-by-step from choosing a genre, expressive play, character development, storytelling, user experience, gameplay to mechanics and level design principles.
- The author also covers a few common design issues for online gaming.
7. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (The MIT Press)
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
A one of its kind book, Rules of Play, is the first book that attempts to establish a proper framework for game design, which was missing whatsoever. It offers a unified model for all game genres and is a great textbook or reference guide for game designers, developers, and professionals. It is exhaustive in its content, clear and meaningful in its approach.
- Authors cover in-depth knowledge of game design, frameworks, and design principles and discuss a lot of techniques, design issues, and other aspects of game design.
- Well structured book with a lot of insights and inspirational content, especially about the expectations of a game, game culture, and strategies.
- Intense and technical, sometimes dry read, suitable for those who are looking for professional game design and learn completely about gaming.
- After reading the book, you will be able to create games and create them with a lot of interactive elements, keeping the user base, aesthetics, culture, vocabulary, and emotional quotient in mind.
8. Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design by Ernest Adams and Joris Dormans
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Game Mechanics is a thoroughly written, detailed book on how to create the mechanics for complex games and use novel prototyping techniques to develop and simulate games. This is a purely technical book covering many concepts with examples to build a strong foundation and help you build games regardless of the genre you select.
- Great book for professionals and those who have some experience in game theory and design.
- Very detailed and covers each concept in-depth, needs a lot of time and dedication to understand and work on each concept.
- This is the only book covering game mechanics in detail. (including machinations and design patterns) and explains why having good mechanics is important.
- The book is a great academic read as well as a guide and reference.
- The book starts with basic definitions so that you can skip those pages, but the book's real power starts from Chapter-5, Machinations.
9. A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster
The book has many illustrations and examples, and the author’s style is humorous and witty. The ‘fun’ he mentions in the title is apt because you will explore a different definition of fun – problem-solving, learning, and understanding different game design perspectives. Though it’s a short book, the author covers a lot of unusual facts and projects.
- This book won’t cover fundamental foundational concepts, but it is useful to build a game design career.
- Very captivating book, and the author focuses on how you can make your games attractive, interesting, and challenging for a larger audience.
- No long texts, no verbosity, everything is written with a personal experience and hence very relatable, and the drawings add weight to the reading.
- This book is not sufficient if you are looking for a detailed book on concepts; it is a must-have supplement with any other academic book you buy.
- Very nice analogies to explain how the brain works and how different people react in various situations.
Advanced Level Books
10. Foundations of Game Engine Development, Volume 1: Mathematics 1st Edition byEric Lengyel
This is the first book from the series of books on Game engine development and covers the math required for game design. The book starts with basic concepts like algebra, geometry, and transforms and then thoroughly explains more advanced concepts like vectors, matrix, advanced algebra, projective geometry, etc. The book is interesting and increases its level from very basic to highly advanced concepts.
- The code examples are in C++, but you can understand them whether or not you know C++.
- The math concepts are covered from a gaming perspective and don’t contain regular examples – the learning is specific to game development, although.
- The author follows a very simple, easy-to-understand language with a well-organized learning approach.
- There are a lot of practice exercises at the end of each chapter.
- You should be familiar with calculus, trigonometry, and working with floating-point numbers before starting this book.
- Volume 2: Rendering is an equally amazing book that covers real-time rendering in modern game engines.
If you have no idea where to start, start with LevelUp or Game design workshop; both are amazing books for beginners. Games, design, and play are great books to further your knowledge and move to the next level of game design. Advanced books like Rules of play and game mechanics will help you delve deeper into game design and shape your career as a professional game designer. Try these courses compiled by Hackr.io to complement your learning. Let us know which books you would like to play with today!
Prefer to start with a video-based course with an expert in the field? Will Wright, the legendary designer behind SimCity, The Sims, and Spore, teaches a game theory class at MasterClass. Otherwise, we also found this 85-hour beginner-to-expert game design and coding course at Udemy.
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