videogame books
April 24, 2011 4:24 PM   Subscribe

What are some good books by or about videogame designers?

I'd like to read a long form description of making a game or series of games while I play them. I think it would be fun. Something like reading Masters of Doom while playing... Doom.

I'm looking for books similar to the post-mortems at Gamasutra but more in-depth, maybe more personal. Not a history of arcades or of a particular publisher, not art-books, not walk-throughs. A text that illuminates the playing of games I might have put down or never heard of.

Don't worry about the format for now.
Any recommendations?
posted by kittensofthenight to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I adored The Official Book of Ultima back in the day, although the games are old and not easy to run on modern computers. (There are some good hacks out there, but it's not like you can buy the games in the store these days.)
posted by restless_nomad at 4:35 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second the recommendation for The Official Book of Ultima. I read and re-read it many times in high school, and it's the reason I got into computer programming.
posted by ambulatorybird at 4:41 PM on April 24, 2011

Richard Bartle wrote Designing Virtual Worlds, an excellent study of MMORPGs throughout their development. Bartle was a co-developer of MUD1, one of the first MUDs, and is more recently known as a game researcher.
posted by fatbird at 4:44 PM on April 24, 2011

I really enjoyed The Art of Computer Game Design (full text available as PDF) by Chris Crawford.

It's old (written in 1982) but is somewhat fun for that reason: It talks about games that are now considered "classic" but were then merely popular, and it's always entertaining to hear people talking about a "48K disk-based environment" having "plenty" of resources.

Also, Crawford was one of the first people to try to talk seriously about video games as art, while simultaneously regarding their interactivity as making them fundamentally different than, say, a movie or a book.
posted by jcreigh at 5:25 PM on April 24, 2011

Wow, that Ultima book sounds great. I'll try to find it at the local used book emporium.
Let's say I'm ready to start playing Ultima. Which game would you start with?
posted by kittensofthenight at 5:26 PM on April 24, 2011

I can't speak highly enough of Raising the Bar, about Half-Life and Half-Life 2 (mainly the latter) - it's packed full of early designs, concept art, reasoning for their design decisions and so on. Unfortunately, reading that Wikipedia page, it's out of print and selling for almost $200 new, $80-ish used. If you can track down a way to read it one way or another, though, it's well worth it.
posted by emmtee at 5:31 PM on April 24, 2011

Ultima IV is a classic, but I could never get into it - the controls were just too antique by the time I got my hands on it. The two Ultima 7s are my favorite for sure, followed by Ultima Underworld. But if you can find them all, you could certainly start at I and work your way up and at least get a sense of the progression - if you're reading the book that's definitely the way that will be most fun.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:38 PM on April 24, 2011

Trigger Happy by Stephen Poole - available as a free PDF.
posted by Artw at 5:58 PM on April 24, 2011

You also probably want to check out EDGE magazines Making of series - excuse the crappy search URL, I wasn't able to find an index.
posted by Artw at 6:02 PM on April 24, 2011

I would honestly start at Ultima I and work your way up, if possible. Definitely don't skip IV or V, those are my favorites! Here is a page with the text from the manuals, they're really classics of the genre. Heh. Gosh I wish I could find scans with the illustrations! Anyway yeah I came in here to recommend the Ultima book that others have been touting. It's fantastic.
posted by capnsue at 7:29 PM on April 24, 2011

My friend Harold Goldberg just published his new book, "All Your Base Are Belong To Us: How Fifty Years of Videogames Conquered Pop Culture". It's chockful of interviews and behind the scenes stories, and it's been getting rave reviews.
posted by monospace at 10:57 AM on April 25, 2011

Invasion of The Space Invaders by Martin Amis (yes, that one) has a healthy collectors value.
posted by rongorongo at 1:26 PM on April 25, 2011

Those are some good recommendations.
I think I'll have to give Ultima a go. I tried playing underworlds a couple years ago, and I couldn't get past the controls, but the original series looks pretty interesting. I think I'll start with IV.
posted by kittensofthenight at 1:12 PM on April 29, 2011

Trigger Happy looks good too.
posted by kittensofthenight at 1:14 PM on April 29, 2011

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