Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some Worthwhile Reading for Indies

The last couple years saw me reading books and blogs which really helped provide a foundation of knowledge and inspiration for the indie games plunge. So I thought I'd share some of the more worthwhile finds with others who might be contemplating the indie route.

When looking over the list, you might notice a particular slant towards design, writing, and business, and that's not coincidental. For most of my salaried life, I've been a combination of artist and programmer. A web developer/designer in my early years, and a technical artist in my BioWare years. That, coupled with personal projects and a physics degree, gave me considerable exposure to the art and engineering aspects of game development. So what follows are my meanderings through some underdeveloped bodies of knowledge.

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses - Jesse Schell
Probably the only book I immediately started re-reading after first finishing it. The breadth and depth of this book was exactly what I was looking for when I went in search of a complete discussion of game design. Schell's tone is inviting and encouraging, and his delivery informed and intelligent. As I read through each chapter, I couldn't wait to apply his lessons to my own designs.

FREE: The Future of a Radical Price - Chris Anderson
Around the time I started seriously investigating the business side of small games, I came across this book. I had  read a considerable amount about the Asian free-to-play gaming boom, and the coming age of microtransactions. I wanted more perspective on these business models, so I turned to Chris's book. Much like Schell's book, FREE covered quite a range of examples in a good amount of detail. And there's a handy list of 50 free business models to spur your imagination at the end.

The Design of Everyday Things - Donald Norman
A book found in almost every game studio (not to mention web development, graphic design, and industrial design studios), this is a must-read for anyone designing a product to be consumed. Learn valuable skills such as objectively measuring the complexity of use of objects, how to test them for ease-of-use, and see valuable examples of how object design has failed.

Hamlet's Hit Points - Robin D. Laws
I happened across this accidentally while in a boardgame and tabletop game shop in Montreal. I had been interested in story structure and pacing for a while, and this book provided beat-by-beat breakdowns of three well-known stories: Hamlet, Dr. No, and Casablanca.

Seven Elements of Good Storytelling - Ken Ramsley
This one I stumbled upon at a long time ago, while looking into what makes a good story for video games. It's since found a new home, but the essay lives on in an expanded collection at Ken's site. It was a nice breakdown of and intro to story elements for me, and I was immediately tackling questions I hadn't considered about my characters and their motivations.

How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method - Randy Ingermanson
Another source of writing technique, Randy does a nice job of making novel-writing an achievable task in this article. By breaking the process of writing a novel into manageable, progressive chunks, he makes the prospect of writing much less daunting. It is a method not unlike good drawing practice: start with broad shapes and overall composition, then gradually work your way into finer details.

A nice interactive glossary of cinematography terms. It's not only quite comprehensive, but the Study Material section seems to lead the reader from topic-to-topic in a natural way, much like surfing Wikipedia.

Sloperama - Tom Sloper
I haven't read all of his material here yet (believe me, there is a LOT). But the material I have read is good, solid, sobering stuff. It covers quite a range of game design topics, and is frequenty addressed at the aspiring or indie developer.
One of my inspirations, Farbs resigned from his job with a flash game and became an indie game developer. I periodically check in with his site to see what he's up to, as his "Captian" series of games are both fun and have a lot in common with some game ideas I'd like to try one day. He also has videos of his talk about being an indie developer at GCAP '09.

Indiegamer Forums
An indispensable source of info for all things indie. I particularly enjoyed reading the "indie life" section when
 trying to research how indies live day-to-day. But really, every section of this forum is a solid resource for those making their own games. You'll find business and design advice, monetization techniques, contract artists and audio professionals. And you can even receive feedback on your game! There's no excuse not being a member of these forums.

These certainly aren't the only things worth reading out there. One presentation I would link to in an instant if I could find it is IGS 2008's "A Tale of Two Kyles" by Kyle Gabler and Kyle Gray. It was positively instrumental in my decision to go indie. Similarly, there are a host of things out there I have yet to discover. I welcome any suggestions, if you have them!

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