I have been making video games for about 7 years and have reached the top technical position I can at my company. So I wanted to learn some more about game design.
I bought 3 books on game design. The first, I discarded after 5 minutes of browsing as full of common sense and no real meat. (Be warned - there are lots of books on game design like that out there.)
Here's really where I think this book is different. I devoured this book in one siting. It's interesting and thought provoking, and I honestly came away feeling like I had some more insight into making games.
* Some interesting theories (or perhaps opinions masquerading as theories, but I mostly liked them all) about what is at the heart of a good game. Why do people "play?" Why is interactivity so important
* Lots of examples of games he felt had good design, and some analysis of what made them good.
* A list of common mistakes people make when trying to make games.
* A list of game ideas! He has a list of game ideas he's had that he's never turned into games.
* Plenty of war stories about how some of his games came into being, including the political battles and the evolution of ideas.
* PLENTY of strong opinions. This guy is opinionated. He either likes it or he hates it. I didn't agree with everything he said, but I enjoyed the way in which he pursued his arguments.
* An eye-opener as to just how narrow our industry really is, versus the range of games that we could be making. This, to me, was the most inspiring. He basically says that we've dug a hole for ourselves, and will have a hard time climbing out of it and becoming a mass-market medium. He says that video games we make are primarily making "candy" or "cartoons" to use food or television analgies. But where's the sandwiches, vegetables, salads, the olives, or the sitcoms, mysteries, dramas, or chick-flicks that would be consumed by a more mature and diverse audience? I think a light bulb came on for me and I realized how we are all fighting to see who can get the most piece of this little tiny pie, when there are so many other pies.
He's a bit bitter with the industry, and angry with the path it has taken - he basically says that nothing new has ben done in video games in the past 10 years, which consist of an endless stream of doom-wanna-bes. As I'm starting to become a more veteran person and some of the newness has worn off and I'm seeking new challenges, I can see how this happened to him.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The one negative about this book, is that he is coming from a time when everything was new and games were a lot simpler. To make a hit game, you took one key idea and ran with it - and the entire game was SO focused on that one idea. I mean it really was very simplistic. But that's where the rubber really hits the road, isn't it? Let's ignore graphics, sound, etc. The average game today is FAR more complicated than those simple games of 10 years ago. Even games like SimCity, Civilization, the Sims, Half Life, or GTA3 - which take a new idea and run with it - they are really deep and involved games. Almost all of his examples are 5 or 10 years old - which sort of makes it hard to apply to today's market. This is where I think his book leaves you hanging. Of course, the other design books I've read all suffer from this flaw of putting a bit too much stock in old games and forgetting that with modern games, the devil really is in the details. Buy this book for inspiration, not for practical advice.