Picked up a bunch of game design-relevant books, in order to find some good reference material for the design department. Managed to convince the company to pick up copies of Understanding Comics for everyone, since it’s a book I think every designer should have their own personal copy of. Got a bunch of books for myself, and I figure once I get through them, I’ll either have someone on the team (whoever needs the information the most) read it, and summarize it for the rest of the team, or if they’re as good as Understanding Comics, get the book for the individual designers.
Right now, I’m about halfway through Chris Crawford on Game Design, which is alright, but in the sort of second tier. While Crawford is a respected figure in the industry, and he has a lot of good insights, the book, and his experience, is somewhat out of date. His examples stop in 1990 or thereabouts – almost 20 years ago at this point. While the fundamentals of design haven’t changed all that much, the fact that half the book is stories about him developing his games makes them feel less relevant than they should.
The good part is that the fundamentals are still quite good. He talks a lot about designing the *game* first – not designing to technology, but ensuring that the core mechanics are the most important thing. Unfortunately, though he goes into some detail when discussing the pitfalls of his development work on certain games, without the game itself, it can be hard to understand how this stuff presented itself.
Another problem is that Crawford’s got a bit of an ego. That’s fine – he’s an industry luminary. But it also makes it hard to gauge how realistic he’s being about certain aspects of his work. Whether it’s intended to be ironic, or he thinks he’s just being honest, I can’t really tell – but he pats himself on the back a *lot*, and it makes me wonder (not having played the original games (though I do remember seeing Balance of Power & Guns & Butter on the shelf at the Egghead Software I used to hang out at as a kid (me = nerd))) whether he’s able to assess his own work properly.
There are indications that he can – he’s quite critical at times. But again, the phrasing makes it difficult to tell, and that’s a problem.
Next up is The Design of Everyday Things, which I’m enjoying quite a bit, though I’m not very far in. Like Understanding Comics, it’s one of those books that isn’t at all about game design, but any game designer will instantly recognize that it TOTALLY IS. I’ll need to get quite a bit further to say whether it remains so, but the core precepts are obviously good, and the examples re: control mapping on objects is so relevant to one of the current issues I’m dealing with at work that it boggles the mind. 🙂
And on a slightly related note, I picked up (buy 2 get 1 sale), Jeanne D’Arc (PSP), Endless Ocean (Wii) and Conan (360). So far only played Conan. It’s a shameless God of War ripoff – the combat’s reasonably satisfying (though nowhere NEAR as polished/visceral as GoW’s), but the storytelling varies between sloppy and horrible, and the game itself is really rather unpolished. Still, it’s relatively entertaining, and hews more toward the book/Busiek comic version, rather than the Schwarzenegger movie version, which I’m glad for.
Still, the recent comics had Conan as a relatively noble soul in a rough-and-tumble world – his nobility was the thing that was surprising. In this, he’s mostly just a brute – I’m hoping that as the game goes on, we’ll see more of the depth of the character, cause it’d be a shame for him to remain this shallow throughout. Still, it’s a Nihilistic game, which doesn’t give me a lot of hope. Their last game (Marvel Nemesis) was one of the worst games of the last generation. This is a huge step up, but it’s still a long ways from great.