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Six Sources of Design

by Jamie Smith on 03/05/14 08:26:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


There are many ways to get in the games industry and there is alwaysmoreto learn on the job, even forthe most seasonedprofessionals. This post aims to highlight six sources of design that provide timeless knowledge for little to no cost, complementingan industry where quality is key and time is of the essence.

Do note:there may be some glaringly obvious omissions from this list. However, it is compiledfrom my personal experience and doesn't reflect the quality, or lack of, missing suggestions.

1. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Jesse Schell

If you were to only own onebook on the topic of game design thenlook no further than this. Each chapter is well written, digestible and provides knowledge for all levels of competency. Additionally, there area series of lenses which propose a wealth of questions fordesigners to answer during the development process.

2. A Theory of Fun, Raph Koster

A Theory of Fun is the go to book for a better understanding of what fun is, how it can be leveraged and why we should leverage it. It provides more food for thought than answers whilst being alighter read than my previous suggestion due to numeroushand drawn images, often provoking a sense of nostalgia.

3. Method, Mark Cerny

Back in 2002, Mark Cerny presented "Method" at the DICEsummit. Method was created to change the philosophy of how big budget games weremade with an emphasis on iteration, quality and innovation. It led developers to focus on the 3C's, core mechanics and a few polished levels before deciding to continue with the rest of the game. When first introduced, these radical insightswereway ahead of theirtime and still remainindustry standard practisetoday.

4. One-Page Designs, Stone Librande

Stone Librande's 2010 GDC talk blew my mind. In an industry where information not documentation takes precedence, this presentation discusses how ideas can be presentedin a consistent andengaging manner whilst clearly outliningthe scope. Inspired by Lego instruction manuals and architectural blueprints, it provides an insight into improving the flow of information across teams of all sizes.

5. Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Shigeru Miyamoto

It's no surprise that the first game that appears on this list comes from Nintendo but whilstMario may have been the choice for many, Ocarina of Time is still my all time favourite. The pacing, scope,variety of abilities, well designed challenges andmemorable characters set thetemplate for the rest of the games industry to follow. It's amasterpiece that has stood the test of time.

6. Magic The Gathering, Richard Garfield

Magic The Gathering is last but no means least. It's a tactile trading card game with an abundance of strategies which havebeen honed and expanded upon since it's inception in 1993. The frame work from which it has been createdallows designers and players to propose crazy ideas for new additions, so long as they adhere to the mana costs imposed on each card. Dominant tactics are often nullified by the powerof other cards rather than beinghandicappedbut they also relyona solid balance of skill versus luck.


There is no fast track to becoming a gamedesign expert but analysing and implementing the knowledge taken from the above sources will set you well on your way or may even throw up a few curveballs. Whether it be printing off your own paper game, applying a series of lenses to a core feature or analysinghow often a new ability should be introduced, there are gems to discoverfor all mannerof scenarios.

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