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Pad Happy:
The Amazon-Sponsored (not) Bookshelf Edition

Vol. 2, Issue 11
February 10, 1999 
 

For a more practical look at the games industry, "Game Design: Secrets of the Sages" (1998), edited by Marc Saltzman, is a great book which pools together a lot of information and advice from numerous big names about many different aspects of game production. There are chapters devoted to every field you could imagine, from programming and art to GUI and level design - and the book is still very up-to-date! It's also refreshing to read a book which acknowledges there are often multiple solutions to the same problem, rather than just advocating one person's opinion. My only gripe would be that the focus tends to be on PC-style games, but then what do you expect from me!? A more serious, technical book is "Game Architecture and Design" (Rollings & Morris, 1999). Less user-friendly and more practical than Saltzman's book, this is a better buy for those of you already working in the industry, or those who want to know more about the realities of game planning and production and less about the theories of design (it's also pretty much hot off the presses, so you're guaranteed up-to-date info).

For the more affluent gamer, the pretty-boy coffee table book of choice has to be "re:play" by Liz Faber. Subtitled 'Computer Game Graphics', this book is essentially a graphic design portfolio using game graphics as source material. Blown up and presented on high-quality paper, many of the in-game images are quite striking. Personal highlights include full-page screens from various vector graphic coin-ops, a montage of (quite beautiful) explosion frames from R-Type, and an overblown version of the original Sonic sprite. Some of the accompanying text is a tad banal, and the more "experimental" design work often obscures the beauty of the original image, but - minor niggles aside - re:play is probably the strongest validation of the videogame as an art form available.

With all the flak the games industry is getting right now about violence, you might want to read something which takes a more objective look at the situation than the various defensive, ranting posts and editorials you'll find online. "From Barbie to Mortal Kombat" (Cassell & Jenkins, 1998) makes a point of examining the gender imbalance still very present in the gaming demographic (with a chapter by our very own Stephanie "Bobbi" Bergman, natch). "Video Kids" (1991) by E.F. Provenzo is a dated (but still interesting) analysis of the possible psychological effects of game-playing on children, paying particular attention to aspects such as sadistic imagery, stereotypes and gender roles. Finally, "Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill" (1999) is Colonel Dave Grossman's treatise on the role videogames play in the behaviour of America's violent youth. Seeing as this guy is the most high-profile critic of the games industry in the world, describing first-person shooter titles as "murder simulators", you might want to read what he has to say and make up your own mind.

Finally, if you want to read about games and be told a good story at the same time, I highly recommend "The Beach" (1998) by Alex Garland. If you haven't heard of the book, you've probably heard of the film (which stars Leonardo DiCaprio). Suffice to say, the story features a Gameboy-playing backpacker who makes various game-related references throughout the course of the novel (an element that features prominently in the film, apparently).

Well, I hope you found the above enlightening. If you check these books out on Amazon, you'll find that there are a lot of good links to similar titles in the "Customers who bought this book also bought..." sections. I find most of the customer reviews on Amazon helpful in making my decisions, but if you want some more tips on good books visit Lionhead's site (http://www.lionhead.co.uk) - they have a section where various staff members have recommended a wide range of titles, from books on programming methodology to their favorite graphic novels!

 

- Nick Ferguson will write about consoles next time. Hey, go read "Game Over"...

 

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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Dan Zalkus. Pad Happy is © 2000 Niick Ferguson. All other content is © 2000 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, so watch it - we know kung fu, gaijin.