The difficulty you’ll have when it comes to buying a book on game design isn’t finding one, but finding the right one.
There’s a sea of them to wade through, and it’s such a broad topic that you might find you need a book just to help you figure out which book(s) you need to get started.
This could be that book.
The designer’s choice
What game designer Nicholas G. Pendriis has attempted to guide you toward in So You Want to Make Video Games? is making a first step.
That doesn’t mean it’s purely for the absolute beginner. It’s as valuable to coders or artists or even other game developers who are looking to set out on a new path, but it does start from the viewpoint that you know nothing.
It’s more about understanding the concept of the games business, as much as mastering the business itself.
Structured much like his game design method, the author eases you into the process by presenting a simplified and broad overview of the industry, and then gradually tunnelling down into its more essential aspects.
He begins by breaking down the creative process from conceiving an idea, to designing it, assembling a team and all the way through to enlisting the media to promote it after launch. But he manages to reduce the number of steps between these ends of the lengthy gaming spectrum into just a few easily digestible pieces.
The result is a very comfortable read. It can be tackled during coffee breaks without losing track of where you are on the noobie’s ladder, and never leaves you feeling like the end goal - creating a game - is out of reach. And there’s not a word of jargon to be seen.
The games business
So You Want to Make Video Games? isn’t intended to teach you any coding, or to improve your artistic skills or management techniques. Well, the latter aspect certainly wouldn’t be harmed by thumbing these pages, but it’s more about understanding the concept of the games business, as much as mastering the business itself.
He tackles the stumbling blocks like finances by looking at the impact each stage of his design process will have on funds, rather than trying to offer some manner of universal budgeting.
This is a theme that crops up throughout, and while the specifics of your situation are unlikely to be given direct answers, the book arms you with the right tools - often via checklists or useful inputs from a host of established gaming dignitaries - to begin solving more personal problems on your own.
Inspiration for invention
A pleasant surprise to be found in So You Want to Make Video Games? is its efforts to deliver inspiration.
While this most certainly won’t be the last game design book you’ll read, it should probably be the first.
Anyone who’s read a book about how to become a writer (for example) will be used to such efforts at overcoming a blocked imagination, but it seems quite unique to offer that same service to aspiring game designers.
Pendriis accomplishes this by looking around the emerging markets, future trends and new technologies to help his readers further refine their intentions. This includes some intelligent and unbiased hints and tips on subjects like virtual reality, or outlying systems like the Raspberry Pi and Ouya.
None of these are fully dissected, in keeping with the book’s style, but he gives you enough to seed your thoughts and decide whether to continue your own research, or whether certain technologies can be safely ignored.
While So You Want to Make Video Games? doesn’t go into overly great depth in anything it covers, this is ultimately to the book’s advantage. By remaining broad and accessible, the book becomes a collimator (device that narrows a beam of particles or waves) for any previously unfocused game making desires. It encourages you to ask yourself the right questions to coax out a refined answer, and helps you feel ready to begin the journey.
After you’ve finished, you’ll feel far better equipped to head back to the bookshelf where you first discovered it and pick up a more specific and involved tome on creating games.
So while it most certainly won’t be the last game design book you’ll read, it should probably be the first.
You can check out our list of recommended mobile games business books via our regular Reading List features.