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Game Development Resources

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Terry Greer

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Game Development

 

I've started teaching part time as a HPL (Hourly paid lecturer) at Worcester University lecturing in Game Design. This is the first year I've put together more than one or two lectures, so as I'm creating them and digging out resources/links I thought I may as well stick the best of them up here as well.

 

I'm not going to stick every reference I'll use up here as I'm not planning on this getting particularly large. Instead the plan is to keep it to the major influences that I've encountered, exceptionally good reads and really useful sites that I go back to again and again.

 

If anyone thinks I've missed something off that REALLY should be on there let me know - but I want to keep this select and useful as a set of start points rather than just a massive list of links and publications.

 

In addition, no matter what your level of skill or experience in game development, I can heartily recommend my friend Kaye Elling's  '100 things every game student should know' for lots of distilled wisdom in one blisteringly funny pdf.

 

Note the following is work in progress - and is still being expanded.

 

BooksGame DesignThese are books that I've found particularly useful over the years - or which I've recommended to others. I've put a short note against each and a link to Amazon in case anyone is interested.They are not in any particular order.A Theory of FunDespite it's jokey presentation, or perhaps even because of it, it's really quite a good introduction to most aspects of game design. While I personally have a lot of issues with the idea of 'fun' being core to all games, putting that aside makes this a quick, fun and interesting addition to the way game designers need to think. Koster, R., 2013. A theory of fun for game design 2nd ed., O’Reilly Media.Rules of PlayMore scholarly than Schell's book, Rules of play is a comprehensive introduction to game design theory and is highly recommended reading. Tekinbaş, K.S. & Zimmerman, E., 2003. Rules of play : game design fundamentals, MIT Press. The Game Design Reader A companion book to Rules of Playe and more a course textbook, which collects an exceptional number of key and hard to obtain papers and articles around game design. A damn fine book packed full of meaningful insight.This cannot be recommended enough. (Though for those on a budget most of the papers in here can probably be sourced off the web somewhere nowadays - having them all here in one place though is great). Tekinbaş, K.S. & Zimmerman, E., 2006. The game design reader : a Rules of play anthology, MIT Press. Chris Crawford on interactive storytellingCrawford is one of the earliest and most iconicaly unique game designers of all time (and founder of GDC). He has struggled for decades to develop procedural narrative systems, and this book distils his theories, approach and beliefs in the power and importance of narrative in games. definitely a must read - but needs to be followed up by catching up on his reflections on his work and what he thinks now via his websiteCrawford, C., 2013. Chris Crawford on interactive storytelling, New Riders The Art of Game Design: A Book of LensesI wasn't too keen on this when I first started reading it, I initially found the concept of 'lenses' twee and thought it was full of the bleeding obvious. But I was wrong. I've warmed to it considerably over time. I now think it's probably one of the best introductions to game design and game development process there is - and I'm not sure why I didn't like it from the start.It's an easy book to read, but you'll probably find it more useful to dip into frequently rather than absorb at one sitting. It's full of case studies and thoughts, and why it may not deeply affect how you think about games (unless you're a beginner or student) it's sure to provide lots of little insightful (and useful) ideas, and it's a good way of broadening how you think about game design.(I've even warmed to the lenses concept) Schell, J., 2014. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses 2nd ed., A K Peters/CRC Press.  Level Design Architecture: Form, Space and OrderThis is a long-standing architectural studies primer, and you can find it in lots of different covers over the years. Any edition is worth picking up.It's a great look at architecture throughout the ages  and across the world, but it's main use is that it's a really useful book for learning about how to partition space and guide users (or in a game context - players) through a building ( i.e. level).Anyone who has any interest in level design will gain hugely from reading this and absorbing it's concepts.Highly recommended for repeated browsing.Crawford, C., 2013. Chris Crawford on interactive storytelling, New Riders Game Art, UI and interfaceThe Skillful HuntsmanThis is an awesome piece of work that every Game and Concept artist should see.It is effectively a documentation of the creative thought process in designing for entertainment through the work of three talented student artists. Guided by their instructor, they created original design solutions for the environment, characters, props and much more all based around interpretations of a Brother's Grim story.Unlike most 'art of ' books this really nails the complete creative process from beginning to end and is a must read.Kang, L., Yamada, M. & Yoon, F., 2005. The Skillful Huntsman: Visual Development of a Grimm Tale at Art Center College of Design 3rd ed., Design Studio PressThese three books by Edward Tufte provide a series of well described examples in how to show information of all types on the printed page or a TV screen, and how not to do it. I've found them invaluable for helping define the important elements of game UI design. The Visual Display of Quantative informationFocuses on numerical and quantative data (such as charts and graphs). In particular it introduces the concepts of 'chartjunk' and Data-ink ratio which he uses to show how information can be more clearly conveyed.Tufte, E.R., 1997. Visual explanations : images and quantities, evidence and narrative 1st ed., Graphics Press Envisioning InformationConcentrates on how to show richer information visually (such as maps, diagrams and scientific results).Tufte, E.R., 1990. Envisioning information 1st ed., Graphics Press USA. Visual ExplanationExtends this into more complex information and even time/narrative and scientific representation.His work preceded the recent increase in the use of infographics, and I consider his approach and ideas about how information should be displayed still superior to most current infographic designs.Tufte, E.R., 2001. The visual display of quantitative information 2nd ed., Graphics Press. While They all cover fairly similar ground in many ways, the focus of each (and the examples) are sufficiently different that each builds upon the others and it's highly recommended you check out all three.Writing Hamlet on the HolodeckWith a title inspired by technology in Star Trek Janet Murrey has created a very good introduction to interactive narrative and in particular how it currently stands and what horizons need exploring. This is a book about the possibilities of interactive narrative rather than a discussion of how to actually implement it. Despite its age it still has a lot to say on the basics of interactive narrative, with some good insights. But it does lack a modern context. Murray, J.H., 1998. Hamlet on the holodeck : the future of narrative in cyberspace, MIT Press. Also available at: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/hamlet-holodeck [Accessed April 12, 2017].Save the catAn entertaining, and mainstream,, book on scriptwriting.Some good insights and very readable - but compare with into the woods (especially with regard to games) - which is much more informative and useful. Snyder, B. 2005 : Save the Cat: The only/last book on screenwriting you'll ever need.  Michael Wiese Productions (2005)Into the WoodsA surprisingly easy read, with some true insights into episodic and tv serials construction which is hugely relevant to game narrative. possibly the biggest insight however is the fractal nature of stories. With the same structure repeating at ever smaller (or larger) scales. Highly recommended for that alone. Yorke,J.(2013) Into the Woods, PenguinQuestsAn interesting book that proposes the concept of the ‘quest’ as a bridge between agency and narrative. This is a potentially good approach that also ties into attempts to use Cambell’s mythic structure within games. Howard, J., 2008. Quests : design, theory, and history in games and narratives, A.K. Peters.The Hero with a Thousand FacesWhat seems to be a seminal book on storytelling. It has (though via Vogler) become hugely influential in game development. Certainly most games are built on a quest btheme and this ties really well into Howard’s ‘quest’ concept. Campbell, J. (1949), The hero with a thousand faces. 3rd edition New World Library (2012)The Writer's journeyVogler’s redrafting and simplification of Campbell’s original theory has been the basis of many game narratives Campbell, J. (1949), The hero with a thousand faces. 3rd edition New World Library (2012)The Writer's TaleA superb and unique look at the creative writing process from the guy who reinvented Doctor Who for the 21st century. Very readable and a great insight into how one scriptwriter approaches writing - told from an exchange of emails over a 1 year period. Davies, R. (2010), Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale. 2nd edition. BBC Books (2010)Game Writing Narrative Skills for VideogamesAlthough old, and out of print, this is still a relevant title as it’s structured as a series of essays on specific topics and theories/methodologies on everything from interchangeable dialogue to non-linear narrative and characterisation - all from working game developers, authors and academics. A very highly recommended starter book Bateman, C.M., 2007. Game writing : narrative skills for videogames, Charles River Media.

 

 

Links (Web Pages and other useful sources)

Game EnginesA small select list of the engines I've used and can recommend for personal use or education.This list is neither exhaustive or intended to imply superiority over other engines that I may not have tried. Unity (Mac and PC)https://unity3d.com/Unity is probably the perfect all round game development platform for teaching both 2D and 3D game development. It uses C# or the java-like unity script for programming and is very approachable. It's also feature-rich, has a massive user base and is easy to extend.The main downside is that while the personal edition is free it unfortunately costs around £100 per educational copy. Not only that but these copies are tied to specific machines, which makes it very expensive unless you build the entire course around Unity, and always use the same Lab.This really annoys me as I'd love to use it, but the logistics (especially for occasional use in a class environment) just aren't there.However, for anyone wanting to start programming and game development on their own it's highly recommended.Unreal4 (Mac and PC)https://www.unrealengine.com/blog/welcome-to-unreal-engine-4The 'Gorilla' in the room is Unreal. For 3D worlds and excellent physical-based rendering capabilities it's pretty hard to beat. C++ for coding and Blueprint visual scripting mean you can do anything you want 3D wise relatively easily and (just as with unity) the pipeline for getting assets in is easy.I've used Unreal since before the first Unreal title came out, and it's changed hugely over the years. UE4 is a full rewrite.Recently they've added paper 2D which, again as with Unity, fakes 2D within a 3D environment.UE4 is totally free to download and use - it's more suited to 3D than 2D (Paper 2D is still in development) but overall it's a perfect art-centric way of learning an engine (it's also heavily used across the AAA industry, so any skills picked up are useful in the hunt for a job.Godot (Mac and PC)https://godotengine.org/A fairly new kid on the block, and open source, Godot has a Python-like scripting language.A big advantage of Godot is that it's free and seems relatively straightforward, though it's scene based approach is a little idiosyncratic, and more resembles a prefab like system, though it's powerful and promising.Probably more ideal as a 2D and animation engine than 3D - and it's nowhere near as comprehensive as Unity. It can handle true pixel-perfect 2D as well - which is nice.The big disadvantage is that the engine is still young and the user base is still relatively small, but it is growing fast and there are lots of very good tutorials.For simple projects, and to give students a grounding in basic game development it could be an excellent choice.Cryengine (Mac and PC)https://www.cryengine.com/One of the best looking environmental game/world editors is now free.I've used it a little in the past and loved the world editor - but I've had no end of login problems and not been able to actually get this to run yet - though it does look interesting from a 3D world perspective, has good asset pipelines and now use C# as a scripting language (along with a visual flow graph programming system).There is also a rewritten and altered version in an early state called Lumberyard (which I also couldn't get to work) now available from Google which may be worth a look as well (also free). It seems to lack some of the standard Cryengine features - but has others to compensate. I suspect it will improve rapidly.Potentially this could be really good as a teaching tool especially for an art-centric course, but the bugs and support need to be ironed out first. I need to revisit this at some point.Ren'Py (PC and Mac)https://www.renpy.org/A really excellent little Visual novel/adventure engine.Easy to use but powerful enough to do something really good on a short timeframe.Uses a Java-like scripting language. This could be a really good engine to use for a course on narrative writing and storytelling.OthersWhile the above are the main ones I've tried - there are a few others that  are also worth a look - even if they are a bit more specialised and restricted. Gamemaker (PC and Mac)http://www.yoyogames.com/gamemakerAn excellent drag and drop game maker - ideal for teaching basic logic and simple game design.It's more aimed pretty squarely at 2D games, and has its own scripting language (GML - based on C), and is capable of far more than is usually assumed. It can even build mobile apps for iOS and Android along with consoles, windows and HTML5.Twine (PC and Mac)https://twinery.org/A  simple easily learned ( a few hours) interactive fiction engine that's a perfect way of introducing students to basic logic and interactive fiction. Twine is freeHero Engine (PC only)http://www.heroengine.com/It's been a while since I looked at this. It's a cloud-based SDK for creating MMOs (well any type of game really - you could create an FPS with it for example - but it is more geared toward large open worlds). I enjoyed the time I spent playing with it.While not as technically brilliant rendering and feature rich as Unreal or as versatile as Unity it has a lot going for it and a fair bit of built in technology including SpeedTree, Facegen, Umbra (occlusion culling) and Awesomium (HTML UI engine).It's also ideal for collaborative projects - with every user capable of sharing and working in the same world - no matter how remote. This alone makes it unique.One downside however is that it doesn't support FBX (yet) but you can import Max and Maya Models.Another potential downside is that it uses its own scripting language HeroScript (HSL). This has advantages in that it's been designed to be game-friendly, but it means that there's no direct carry-over to other languages (apart from the fact that it teaches logic, functions, classes etc - which is still useful). Compared to other engines there's less users and therefore less online help.They do charge for it, but their pricing model is reasonably fair when scaled up to class/team sizes, and it offers a lot.Well worth a look. I'd really like to give it a go one day as a teaching resource for a team/class-based project. Having all the heavy lifting for the MMO/server/backup/collaboration dealt with, and a lots of basic systems in place, it would in theory allow a team to hit the ground running and create something very playable quite quickly.  Especially if the project was mainly art-based and concerned with modifying and reskinning interfaces/assets rather than building them from scratch.Papers, articles and online texts (work in progress)Useful Postmortems/development accountsFTL - GDC Postmortem 2013 - an excellent account of how the game was created, and in particular the developers (Subset Games) used iteration to refine the game from it's initial concept, through to it's kickstarter and release stages.This section is a bit of a mess and needs tidyiing up - currently it just has a few really good postmortems (well worth checking out) and some of the research links into game narrative I've been looking into.Diabalo - GDC Postmortem 2016 - Postmortem of the classic Diabalo from its earliest concept.A list of useful papers and references (from a narrative perpective)Dunniway, T., 2000. Using the Hero’s Journey in Games. Gamasutra. Available at: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131527/using_the_heros_journey_in_games.php [Accessed April 16 2017]. Klepek, P., 2015. How Until Dawn Ended Up With A 10,000-Page Script. Kotaku, p.1. Available at: http://kotaku.com/how-until-dawn-ended-up-with-a-10-000-page-script-1732405938 [Accessed May 5, 2017]. Kuchera, B., 2014. Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system is simpler than you think, and should be stolen - Polygon. Polygon. Available at: http://www.polygon.com/2014/10/13/6970533/shadow-of-mordors-nemesis-system-is-simpler-than-you-think-and-should [Accessed March 19, 2017].  Rushdie, S., 2016. Video Games and the Future of Storytelling - Video | Big Think. big think. Available at: http://bigthink.com/videos/video-games-and-the-future-of-storytelling [Accessed February 22, 2017].Salman Rushdie acknowledges the impact and potential of interactive narrative.  Minsky, M., 1975. A Framework for Representing Knowledge. Cognitive Science. Available at: http://courses.media.mit.edu/2004spring/mas966/Minsky 1974 Framework for knowledge.pdf [Accessed April 13, 2017].A very useful model for thinking about how knowledge is stored and accessed. Considering areas in a game or scenes as ‘Frames’ helps enormously  when trying to partition events in a narrative. The frame consideration is also helpfully modular and ready-primed for parametisation and fits situations where domain knowledge is important. Delmas, G., Champagnat, R. & Augeraud, M. (2007), Bringing Interactivity into Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, pp.187–195. Available at: http://www.academia.edu/17109372/Bringing_Interactivity_into_Campbell_s_Hero_s_Journey [Accessed April 16, 2017].Has tentative ideas for using Campbell’s mythic structure procedurally in interactive narrative, but potential ideas for how this may be implemented are lacking.   Mateas, M. & Stern, A., Façade: An Experiment in Building a Fully-Realized Interactive Drama. Available at: http://www.interactivestory.net/papers/MateasSternGDC03.pdf [Accessed May 10, 2017].A really interesting experiment and probably the best realisation of a small constrained storyworld ever created. However a big undertaking and not easily expandable or commercial into other areas. FacadeFacade - A hugely interesting and influential game. Limited by its domain knowledge and not easily scalable, it is ultimately a brute-force dead end, but it’s value lies in showing how relationships can become the cornerstone of much procedural narrative.Mateus, M. & Stern, A., 2005. Facade. Available at: http://www.interactivestory.net/download/. Useful websites (TBD)Adobe CC Crib and shortcut sheets (PDFs) https://forums.adobe.com/thread/1960448?sdid=Y2KRH14SAssets - free and paid (TBD)TBD

 

 

Tutorials

Oh - and I've got to learn After Effects over the next year - so I plan to create a few tutorials using it as well. I hate most video tutorials as they're hard to follow and take far too long to tell you the little bit that you want to know - it'll be interesting to see if I can do any better or make an equal hash of it.