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Keywords: Game design and development
Title: Gameplay and Design
Author: Kevin Oxland
Publisher: Addison Wesley
Verdict: Overall a fine, easy to read book
In Gameplay and Design, Kevin Oxland describes the essential elements required to create compelling game design. Published by Addison-Wesley , the book is divided into two parts that span a total of 368 pages. The first part of the book defines essential terms and techniques used by game designers. Starting with the basic principles of game design, Oxland emphasizes that good design follows a well structured approach that is consistent in delivery. To reinforce this, the text starts with a simple game concept idea, an adventure game called Norbot that features a robot with a missing hand, and layers in subtle and more complex elements to help illustrate the usage of many of the topics discussed.
The progression of Norbot's development follows logical steps: first deciding on genre, core game idea, and a unique selling point - then various game design elements that support the core idea. While more game design elements are presented than used in the game idea, Oxland does a great job providing examples and illustrations in other published games. It sounds simple, but in such a creative field as game design, there is room for a lot of variety.
Once the core objective is established, it is important to consider a host of other factors critical to design. The book moves from more abstract concepts such as player motivation to more concrete elements like level design and progression considerations. Oxland writes in a casual and familiar tone that is easy and enjoyable to read. Sprinkled throughout each chapter are game design axioms that are not always easy to spot. The book takes a much more narrative approach to each subject instead of presenting information analytically. Overall, I found the progression and presentation to be well done.
The second part of the book describes translating game design ideas into documentation suitable for a production team or publisher to understand. Often during the documentation phase, additional details are refined and improved upon prior to beginning production. While it'd be easy to dismiss the last half of the book, I've seen many good ideas fail to garner support due to the designer's inability to successfully convey their thoughts to teammates or decision makers. Providing good documentation also reinforces the main theme of the book by formally structuring an idea for others to consider.
Also, a description of various skills and characteristics typically required of workers in the game industry is provided as well as a chapter of references for those seeking to receive formal training in the field. Obviously this information has less value to those already in the industry and belies the book's target audience: those interested in becoming or already in junior game design roles.
With a focus on organization and a layered design process, the book is an enjoyable read that does a fine job covering many of the facets encountered in practice. While it may have less value to those already in the industry, I'd highly recommend this book to anyone seriously considering becoming a game designer.