Friday, September 21, 2007

Textbook Review: Fundamentals of Game Design

This is part of the series on book reviews.

"Fundamentals of Game Design" (Ernest Adams, Andrew Rollings)

This book covers the core concepts of the field of game design, and for good measure adds an in-depth look at a large number of currently-popular genres and the design elements specific to each.

I love the structure of Fundamentals; the topics flow nicely into one another, and the exercises at the end of each chapter make it easy to design lessons around. The coverage of game genres may be unique to this book; on the other hand, as new styles of gameplay are invented and others lose favor, this book will eventually date itself.

As for the content itself, the majority is (more or less) the sole opinions of the authors, and as such should be taken as a set of theories – not scientific laws. Like a programming code or religious text, this book is meant to be interpreted and discussed, not blindly followed.

Students: This book is absolutely worth reading once you’ve already studied the basics of game design and want to get into specifics. Do not read this as your first book; you’ll be tempted to assume that everything in here must be taken as gospel, and it has the danger of tainting your own artistic vision for years until you un-learn it. But as your study advances, you can properly see this as one approach of many, and the content will give you a valuable perspective.

Instructors: The worst way to use this book is to lecture directly from the text in an introductory course. I have great respect for the authors, but our industry does not need a new generation of Adams and Rollings clones; it needs creative people who can think for themselves. My preferred use of this book would be in an advanced, conceptual class where students already have a foundation in conceptual and practical game design; class time would consist not of lecture, but of moderated discussion. Everything in the book is subject to heated debate (even from the beginning with the definition of what a “game” is) and the debates in an advanced class would be wonderful.

Professionals: Experienced game developers will probably get little out of this book. If you have always been highly specialized and want to learn more about other areas of design then this book can help you, but that’s about it.

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