On going book review : Game Creation and Careers

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With the new job I really can't have my laptop in and I'm limited to only http access, no ssh, telnet, ftp etc. However I do get a chance to read books in between calls or during breaks.

I recently picked up Game Creation and Careers by Marc Saltzman published by New Riders http://www.newriders.com and thought I could start to collect my thoughts for a review here. I will edit this post as I continue reading the book.

Contents
Pre-production
--Game genres and playing perspectives
--General game design
----action / arcade games
----strategy games
----sports, simulations, adventure games and puzzles
----role playing games and persistent online worlds
--Creating characters, story boarding and design document
--Master design document template
--Level design
--Puzzle design
--Mission design
Production
--Programming theory
--Artificial intelligence
--Game art and animation
--The all-important user interface
--Sound engineering
--Music and games
Post-Production
--Proper game testing
--Technical support and customer service
--Public relations and marketing
How to make it happen
--Doing it yourself and the shareware revolution
--Breaking in to the industry
--Game agents and head hunters
--Design schools and courses
--Game design resources on the internet
--Key concentions, organizations and awards
--Biographies
--Index

Book Style
It appears that Marc Saltzman has interviewed some of the biggest names in the Gaming industry. Then he has chopped up the interviews and arranged them in to topics. This normally would make was dis-joined reading since each contributor normally has 1 to 2 pages each on a particular topic.

I found this style difficult to read in one hit. As the author has keep the contributors original style it changes from contributor to contributor. Reading while at work in short bursts of 2 to 8 pages at a time I found it ok.

Chapter Thoughts
1.Game genres and playing perspectives
This chapter is the basics of genre and prespectives for those that are new to computers / gaming. That is my option anyway.

2-4.General game design
A few interesting insights to some big name designs and producers of game. Many of them have a set of guide lines which is pretty similar between all of them. A few of them applied their rules against their own games.

5.General game design - role playing games and persistent online worlds.
Re-enforces that RPG and online games are the hardest to make. We should put some of Richard Garriots quotes in a wiki about the evils of online games

6.Creating characters, story boarding and design document.
This was an interesting chapter. Some developers believe a good character is the result of a good overall design. Others spend months fleshing out characters. Others use paper thin characters. It was interesting to hear the behind the scenes stories on how characters were created.

7.Master design document template
This chapter is written by Chris Taylor (responsible for such games as Dungeon Siege and Total Annihilation) He has provided his game design template which explaination. This is something I've wanted to see for some time. There are a number of questions this template asks which help flesh out game design.

8.Level design
Some good points are raised about level designers. Knowing basic architecuture, texture, geometry and lighting. Tested the levels to ensure AI handles it ok. Leveling pacing making sure that its not surprise after surprise but idle time in between to lull the player into false sense of security.

9.Puzzle design
This is a short chapter which boils down puzzles to a few useful points. There is only a few examples and it could have been longer or given a few more examples.

10.Mission design
Another short chapter, again with a few important points and examples. A very good quote parapphrased "You do not write a mission, you design the goals and setting. The player writes the details"

11.Programming theory
A long chapter with some good examples of programmers coding features which were pointless. ie AI to jump over holes were if the bad guy was too to slow to make the jump it would stop go back and get a run up to do the jump. Problem was this all happened off screen so the player never got to see it. A few of the contributors had examples from their own games which was good to see.

12.Artificial intelligence
A 5 page chapter which is just to short. It only has a few contributors but at least they gave some good examples, just no example code.

13.Game art and animation
Some very good points in this section. Most of the artists tend to say its best to know how to be an artist with pencil or paint before trying your hand at computer graphics. I would agree, knowing the tools doesn't help if you don't know how to draw. Some good real world examples of animation and art. Also some story boards for introduction animations. This chapter covered 2d, 3d, animation and motion captuer.

14.The All-Important user Interface and Game control
A good chapter with the repeating messages. Keep it simple and a bad UI will kill a good game. Its an interesting chapter because a lot of the contributors explain UI design issues with their games and why they went with the solutions.

15.Sound Engineering
This was a really interesting chapter for me. It high lighted many issues with sound and music which I had not really thought about. I was guilty of thinking about sound / music as something which is bolted on to the game. Aspects of the sound and music must be thought about during the design of the game.

16.Music and Games
A short chapter which doesn't discuss music styles or techniques all that much. It more about driving home the point that music should be thought about during the early design to ensure that it matches the game and enspires the correct feelings from the players and staff.

17.Proper Game Testing
A good chapter which stresses the importance of testing and getting quality feed back. The chapter provides some good examples of basic testing tools.

18.Technical Support and Customer Service.
A good chapter which points out why even shareware authors need to provide support. Provides a few rules. Have a good database, be a good listener and set the expectations.

19.Public Relations and Marketing.
Most of this chapter would be for companies with a budget, however there is a very good ideas in there for the shareware authors.

20.Doing it yourself and the shareware revolution
Some pretty good advise (which I view as common sense) on starting your own company. It also touchs on some game design ideas, using the internet for registering and added features to your games etc.

21.Breaking into the industry.
Here some big names give advise on how to get in to this industry. I found it a bit distrubing that some of the veterans claimed they started out working 6-7 days a week 10-14 hours a day.. and are still working those sorts of hours 10+ years later. Aside from that the core is really about being a good person, have a well rounded skill sets with a specialalist skill. Have interests and hobbies out side of computer games so you can bring extra persective to games. And do anything to get your foot in the door. Once in it will be easier to collect experience and make a name for yourself. Tips for getting your foot in the door, resume is second to a portfolio / demo which shows off your skills and shows you can create ideas and follow them thru to completion which needless to say is very important.

Justin "LordFire" Baldock
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