Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design Kindle Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0470688670
ISBN-10: 047068867X
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Want to design and build cutting edge video games?  Not sure where to start?  Or just want to tweak the projects you're already working on?
Then this is the book for you!

Written by leading video game expert Scott Rogers, who has designed the hits; Pac Man World, God of War, Maxim vs. army of Zin and SpongeBob Squarepants.  This book is full of Rogers' wit and imaginative style which demonstrates everything you need to know about designing great video games.

Level Up! has been written with all levels of game designers in mind.  From beginner level through to the more experienced game designer.

It covers the entire video game creation process, allowing you to learn:

  • How to develop marketable ideas
  • What perils and pitfalls await them during a game's pre-production, production and post-production stages
  • Creative ideas to serve as fuel for your own projects from game theme and environments to gameplay mechanics

All in all it's an indispensible guide for video game designers both 'in the field' and the classroom.

Other topics covered:

  • Understanding what gamers want
  • Compelling character design
  • Working with player actions
  • Techniques for non-human characters
  • Camera techniques - the camera as a character
  • Designing UI and HUD
  • Use level design to tell game's story
  • What game designers can learn from theme parks
  • Combat, puzzles and game mechanics
  • Fun and UNFUN
  • How to make the world's greatest Boss battle (and why not to do it)

and tons more - including the business of design, creating design documents, the pitch and more.  The book also contains templates to create your own pitch and design documents.

Tips for Creating Virtual Easter Eggs
Amazon-exclsuive content from the author

Spring is here! The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming and the bunnies are doing what they do best… hiding Easter eggs. Video game designers hide Easter eggs too, but not the kind of Easter egg that you smell in September if you don’t find it in April. In fact, in video games, the term Easter egg has less to do with the egg itself, and more to do with it being surprises hidden within a video game for the player to find - like a virtual Easter egg hunt. The first Easter egg appeared in Adventure (Atari, 1979) when programmer Warren Robinett hid his in-game credit behind a secret wall. This kicked off a tradition of developers putting themselves (and loved ones) into their games. Can you find the developers in Doom II, Maximo: Ghost to Glory, Saints Row 2 and Drawn to Life? (I’ll wait.) Easter egg cameos aren’t limited to real people. Players can discover Yoshi in Mario 64 (Nintendo, 1996), battle Reptile in Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) or play as Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy Tactics. (Square, 1997)

Easter eggs come in all shapes and sizes - from hidden images, music tracks and secret encoded messages to full blown additional game experiences. Blizzard, for example, has a fine tradition of Easter eggs in their games. Diablo 2 features an entire level filled with killer cows while World of Warcraft treated their subscribers to a literal Easter egg hunt for eggs filled with virtual candy and costumes. The Metal Gear series is infamous for its Easter eggs including ones where you can shoot Nintendo’s mascot Mario, battle zombies and spy on scantily clad women.

Not all Easter eggs are filled with delicious candy; a few rotten eggs have spoiled the basket. The most infamous Easter egg is “hot coffee” a sex themed mini-game in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. (Rockstar, 2004) The mini-game was “remmed out” by the game’s developer before release but was accessible by hacking the game’s code. Despite the fact that the average consumer could not access the mini-game, its discovery caused the ESRB to change the game’s rating to an AO - the gaming industry’s equivalent to an X rating. Retailers refused to carry the game, all copies were pulled from store shelves and the entire stock of the game with the hot coffee code removed had to be reprinted. Here’s a few more tips what to do (and what not to do) when creating Easter Eggs for your game:

1) Use common sense
Don’t create your Easter egg from pornographic or copywritten material. A programmer was fired because of a mature themed Easter egg added in SimCopter (Maxis, 1996) and an entire print run of Tiger Wood 99 PGA Golf Tour (EA, 1999) was recalled because it housed an unauthorized episode of the cartoon South Park. Instead, think about what your audience would want to find. Will what they find be worthwhile to player? There’s nothing sadder than an Easter egg that isn’t filled with candy.

2) Foreshadow
Participants on a real Easter egg hunt know they are looking for eggs - your player should too. Drop clues throughout your game levels to let the player know there are things to find. Use hidden messages, character dialogue or world geometry to let the player know there is something to look for. The aforementioned cow combat level in Diablo 2 started as a series of running jokes in Diablo and Starcraft. Players were expecting a cow level even before it came out. Reverse psychology works well too - a sign in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas reads “There are no Easter Eggs here” even though there are several Easter eggs hidden throughout the game.

3) Hide in plain sight
Just like in Poe’s classic detective story “The Purloined Letter”, players never expect Easter eggs to be hidden in a “logical place”. They will search in the most unobvious places, using unusual methods of detection because they are looking for a “hidden object.” But while hiding objects can be a battle of wits between the designer and player, I prefer to err on the side of the player. Players love to experience that “ah-ha!” moment when they find your Easter eggs - after all, that’s why you created them!

When all is done, I’ve always found that watching players discover Easter eggs is just as much fun as hiding them. Just remember to be fair; make it fun for you as well as the player and give ‘em the “good candy” for their reward! (And not that ribbon candy your Grandma buys.)

From the Author

After delivering a well-received talk at the 2009 Game Developer's Conference, I was fortunate enough to be asked by Wiley & Sons to write Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design. Having helped design many video games, I tried to include all of the advice, tips, amusing stories and tools I had picked up over my years of game development.

My intention was that Level Up! could be the book that new and experienced game designers would carry around in their "back pocket" (At over 500 pages, you'd have to have a pretty big back pocket!) to pull out whenever they hit a bump on the road of video game production. I hope that those readers would ask themselves "Let's see what Scott has to say about this" and find my advice helpful and inspirational.

Happy Gaming!
Scott Rogers
P.S. Try the chili recipe - it's really good!

Product Details

  • File Size: 11367 KB
  • Print Length: 515 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 047068867X
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (September 29, 2010)
  • Publication Date: September 29, 2010
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046REX10
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #737,687 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Laddie on October 5, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are serious about making fun and successful videogames you will buy, read, and learn from this book. Whether you're just starting out or a seasoned professional, putting the information from Level UP! into practice will make your games better.

How do I know? Not only have I read the book, I was also Scott's boss at THQ from 2009-2010 when I worked there as Director of Creative Management. I was PAID to write his job reviews then, now I'm offering this review to you gratis.


Scott was our department's heavy hitter when it came to nuts and bolts game design. He was a lifelong gamer (pen and paper as well as video game) who had been in the business from the early days. He'd seen and played it all, but more importantly he studied it. He had a detailed understanding of the underlying mechanics, psychology, and technical aspects of game design.(While I still haven't forgiven him for making Maximo (Capcom) too difficult early in his career) Scott was the go-to guy in the company for making good games better and "troubled" games shippable.

He also put together a little booklet on game design basics that got passed around the office and among some of the developers who we worked with. It was full of silly drawings and lots of great information - video game design 101 stuff that many people thought everyone in the business "should already know." It's been my experience that most people working professionally in business don't know, or simply ignore this stuff and this is why a large number of the commercially released games fall short of reaching their potential.

Level UP! was created when Scott finally decided to "put on his daddy pants" (his words, not mine) and turn his booklet into a full-fledged book for the masses.
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As an aspiring game designer, I've bought a whole lot of books about game design. Scott Rogers' book definitely stands out among the pack. Not only is this guy super knowledgable about game design, having been in the industry for many years, but he also makes the information he presents really fun and easy to understand. The key is the little drawings that adorn almost every page- they get the point across more easily than a block of text. The book is a wealth of information and tips for game designers, and what's more, it's actually something I would read for pleasure as well as for the nuggets of wisdom it contains. A definite must-buy!
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This book is accessible to all levels of people interested in video games. I loved all the artwork - the comic book style illustrations really make this fun to read! And all the humor hidden in footnotes - snicker!
This is an author obviously comfortable with his subject, and he is having a good time telling his audience about it. I would recommend this book for people in the industry as well as anyone who has ever played a video game and wondered how it was made.
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This book shows the miserable state of the AAA game industry, where all games are either shooting or platform games. This is no where near a "great guide" to game design as it focuses on two or three genres that the industry is flooded with currently, and doesn't even touch on the importance of concepts like iterative design. If you want a better game design book, buy The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell: The Art Game Design lenses
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I purchased this based on the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, a prominent university publishing company. What I received was a book for high school teens with quite a bit of repetitiveness. Obviously, the writer loves his work and makes the subject matter "fun," but I am not sure a how to book is in his repetoire at this time. He discounts university titles for their "stuffiness" on the different aspects of game design, yet often fails to deliver any real level of substance himself. My issues with this book include, but are not limited to:

1. The writer assumes the reader has a working knowledge of older game titles, yet without that basic knowlegde, readers may feel left out of the instruction being offered.
2. Some of the advice is cryptic such as: remove all the un-fun parts of your game and what you have left is fun. However, as the writer so aptly points out that after the umpteenth time going through your designed game, "Who knows if it is fun!"
3. The writer makes assumptions that new game ideas are a dime a dozen and goes through the 'example' that children's stories are great for game ideas, then recants his one page suggestion of little red riding hood making that whole section irrelevant.

To understand my measuring stick, titles like Dave Perry on Game design or Swords and Circuitry by Neal and Jana Hallford are high on my list. I felt these titles had more direct and helpful tips for budding new game designers. Swords & Circuitry is a "fun" book written by a "guy in the bus," yet is able to give some very savvy advice. The Perry book is simply hefty with hands on suggestions for the various aspects of game design.
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How a video game is "written" is a largely misunderstood concept to many people. The mechanics and level design tend to outstrip what's written in the dialogue for making a great game. Level Up explores the basics of game design and does so in an entertaining and highly accessible fashion.

The most notable aspect of this book, even from the briefest flip through the pages, are the cartoons the author uses to assist his points. Not only do they add to the humorous tone of the book, they do a better job of illustrating the book's concept than any number of screen caps could.

A certain amount of the info in the book looks to extend beyond the realm of video games. More than a few of the examples in the book come from movies and some of the points made, such as how to design levels to set certain moods, could apply to any form of visual storytelling.

If video games and their creation is of any interest to you, grab a copy or Level Up. It's informative, entertaining and covers a broad swath of subject matter in good detail.
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