Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Textbook Review: From Blue Sky To Green Light

This is part of the series on book reviews.

"Game Design: From Blue Sky to Green Light" (Deborah Todd)

This relatively short book covers everything that happens in preproduction; it gives a reasonable treatment to game design documents and the iterative process, and it even has a section on pitching a game to a publisher. It also covers the creative aspects of game design that I myself am weakest at: storytelling, character design and level design.

Overall, the book delivers what it promises, and not much else. You won’t find a lick of material on technical game design, content development during the actual creation of a game, or anything like that.

The only real weakness of the book is that it’s extremely current and uses a lot of very recent examples (as of the time of publication). This means it is likely to obsolete itself in a fairly short time, as the games within become dated and the business of the industry (hopefully) moves beyond the developer/publisher royalty-with-advance model. Although perhaps that’s intentional, if the author hopes and expects to make new editions every few years.

Students: Odds are, the first project you work on will already be in full production by the time you’re hired. Preproduction work, concepting and pitching are usually reserved for experienced design leads (not always, but usually), so this will not be immediately applicable to your first job. That gives you time to read it after you break in to the industry, if you're the procrastinating type. But if you’re curious what the early stages of a game project are like, you’ll get a pretty good overview by reading this book. It’s also not terribly big or intimidating, so reading it while still a student might not seem like such a daunting task.

Instructors: This book is rather specific to the earliest phases of game development, making its use limited in most classes. If you’re teaching a practical game design course where the deliverables include a one-page game concept, a slightly larger game proposal, a game design document and a verbal pitch to a “publisher” (i.e. the instructor), this book will cover you. If the only practical development course you teach involves all of that in the first three weeks and then it’s straight into prototyping, you might not have enough time to make the book worthwhile as a required text.

Professionals: Designers in the industry are still very guild/apprentice-like. If you do indeed start your first design job in the middle of a project, you’ll probably experience a few preproduction cycles vicariously through your leads before you’re forced to do it yourself. Depending on how you look at it, that either makes this book redundant with your experience, or it will reinforce it. In any case, it’s probably worth a read just to see what others have to say on the subject. And if you happen to find yourself in a small studio where you’re thrown into the role of Lead Designer on your first job fresh out of college… then you should read this just so you have some experience backing you up (even if it’s not your own).

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