2. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses
I first heard of Jesse Schell after his prophetic presentation about the future of gaming at DICE 2010. I make a conscious effort to watch it three or four times every year.
Schell's book, The Art of Game Design, approaches the same topics as competing books: level design, player agency, goal setting, and user interface, among others. They're addressed with Schell's signature quirkiness (the good kind) and his incredible talent to make you think differently.
What pops into your head when you hear the word “architecture” as it pertains to games? Do you think of Mass Effect's Citadel hub? How about the bulbous, whale-like Covenant battle cruisers from Halo? Whatever comes to mind, you wouldn't be out of place thinking of some sort of city or wonderfully misshapen tower or something. Schell approaches architecture as a device:
“The primary purpose of architecture is to control a person's experience.”
“If all the experiences we wanted to have were to be found easily in nature, there would be no point to architecture. But those experiences aren't always there, so architects design things to help us have the experiences we desire. We want to experience shade and dryness, so we put up shelters. We want to experience safety and security, so we build walls. We build homes, schools, malls, churches, offices, bowling alleys, hotels, and museums not because we want to look at those buildings, but because there are experiences we want to have that these buildings make possible.”
If nothing else, Schell's book can show you a different way of thinking about game design. You may agree with him or you may not, but he has a lot to say, and if you love games, you need to read it.