As a fan of Minecraft, I've been looking forward to this one -- A year with Minecraft behind the scenes at Mojang by Thomas Arnroth. Based on the pers...moreAs a fan of Minecraft, I've been looking forward to this one -- A year with Minecraft behind the scenes at Mojang by Thomas Arnroth. Based on the personal experience as an invited journalist inside the Minecraft makers Mojang, the book covers the crucial year 2012 (I think, see negative comments in the following), right after Minecraft became an IGF sensation, earned over 50 million players, and just as Mojan was voted the ``world second best game studio in the world by influential game magazine Edge.''
Overall, the only thing saving this book is that it's about Minecraft. Other than this, A year with Minecraft is too short, is too badly written, and adds too little material to the official documentary Minecraft: The Story of Mojang (2011). Did I mention there is not even a reasonable interview with the members of the crew or Markus "Notch" Persson? (What did Arnroth do the whole year?! Just watched the news, the tweets, and the documentaries others made?! Only picked up 1-2 quips, while being in the studio, to be churned into interviews?)
On the positive side, there is a history of Mojang (hint: Wikipedia and MinecraftWiki have enough about this), a history of Minecraft (hint: there are better sources online, both written and video), a description of Minecraft uses in education and for humanitarian reasons (this was really nice), and some high-level information about programming and other technical issues. There is also some material on the other projects of Mojang, including Scrolls (and the related trademark fight against Bethesda -- legal fights are the bane of tech these days, so this was useful) and the elusive 0x10c.
On the negative side, although I was turned-off primarily by the low amount of interesting (new?) material, I will mention here the presentation. The book is edited by Paradox Books, who did less of a passable job in editing it: the timeline is all mixed up, the quality of English is rather poor, the translation of idiomatic Swedish expressions into English is incomprehensible, and the similes are often broken. For me, the most insensitive moment is when Arnroth picks up a quote from the Internet, comparing the ``hundreds of thousands, or rather millions of young game loving people wanting to express themselves and their gaming through videos'' to ``the lost boys of L.A.'' . Perhaps Thomas is not aware that, after Peter Pan, ``lost boys'' has become a term for refugees in Sudan, many of whom have been orphaned by war and also been forced to fight from an early age. Anyway, the presentation is very poor.
 Arnroth, Thomas (2013-06-26). A Year With Mojang: Behind the Scenes of Minecraft (Kindle Locations 185-186). Paradox Interactive. Kindle Edition.
The making of Prince of Persia is a continuation of Jordan Mechner's first memoir, The making of Karateka, covering the period from 1985 (the publicat...moreThe making of Prince of Persia is a continuation of Jordan Mechner's first memoir, The making of Karateka, covering the period from 1985 (the publication of Karateka) to January 1993 (the aftershocks of licensing Prince of Persia for a large number of platforms). As for the first part of the memoir, there's a combination of Jordan's thoughts and feelings and game development, but this time Jordan is more mature and there's much about the actual business of making games. Plus, a traveling Jordan describes his adventures around the world (read: Europe) and his incursions into other media (read: script-writing and film-making).
Overall, I liked this second installment of Jordan's memoir way less then the first. I still enjoyed the game design, but reading such a personal memoir led me to start judging, and ... there's too much too much twisting around principles until ensuring the largest gain, too much misanthropy, too much of Jordan showing off I guess.
The design part is more mature than in The making of Karateka; after all, Prince of Persia is a much more refined game than Karateka.
Among the numerous bits and pieces of self-praise (really, Jordan!?):
Oddly enough, this makes me more psyched to do the new game. It reminded me why I’m good at this – of what I can do that others can’t, or won’t.
Mechner, Jordan (2011-10-14). The Making of Prince of Persia (p. 23). . Kindle Edition.
OK, I'm going to end this review here (I don't want to present the negative aspects in more detail), but there's so much in this book that I can still recommend it to everyone who cares about the birth of a medium -- the early days of game design. (less)
The making of Karateka is the memoir of Jordan Mechner (better known as the guy who made Prince of Persia). Chronicling the period 1982-1985, this boo...moreThe making of Karateka is the memoir of Jordan Mechner (better known as the guy who made Prince of Persia). Chronicling the period 1982-1985, this book starts when Jordan is about to start the design of Karateka and ends with the aftermath of its publication. (There's no doubt he will finish it, especially for 1980s gamers, so no spoilers in this description.)
Overall, I liked this book very much. It's not the best of writing, it's at times as superficial as a journal written only for yourself can be, and perhaps you may not like Jordan's personality (rather dark, very materialistic, and self-centered), but the journal sounds true, the depiction of life as a young student is funny, and overall the book makes me remember my own days creating games (not one as successful as Jordan's). The best part? The guy is 18, and bits and pieces of his logs sound like it; he's also a good game designer, even at this tender age.
I liked how Jordan picks apart his mood swings (expected from a Psych major, but even that is not so certain after a point):
I often quit now mid-game. Is it the effect of an achievement-oriented attitude (it’s not worth it if I can’t break my high score)? Is it the effect of playing similar games with the same themes, over and over again? Or is it me?
Mechner, Jordan (2012-11-27). The Making of Karateka (p.42-43). Kindle Edition.
There's also much about the psychology of creating and selling games, such as:
I wish I could work on the game like I did at the beginning — innocently, happily, without this stomach-churning anxiety and rush to get it finished, make it good, get it out, get rich off it.
Mechner, Jordan (2012-11-27). The Making of Karateka (p. 104). . Kindle Edition.
I enjoyed the numerous bits about game design, such as:
Most games just have a static view – PacMan, Asteroids, Space Invaders – that they keep for the whole game. But cinematic techniques have been used as far back as Lunar Lander – that game had not only tracking to follow your LEM, but also a cut to a close-up when you start to land. There have been subjective-POV games like Night Driver, Star Fire, Tail Gunner, Battlezone. But nobody’s really played up the cutting. Karateka is the first game to do cross-cutting.
Mechner, Jordan (2012-11-27). The Making of Karateka (p. 144). . Kindle Edition.
I've already mentioned what I dislike about this book. (less)
You is a coming-of-age book, described from the eyes of a boy in his thirties. However, this book is much more about the gaming industry: how games ar...moreYou is a coming-of-age book, described from the eyes of a boy in his thirties. However, this book is much more about the gaming industry: how games are produced, designed, developed, demoed, and advertised to millions. Overall, it was long and childish, but well-documented and interesting. Your choice, but there's also Ready Player One, Microserfs (but not other Douglas Coupland books), Gamers at Work, Reality is Broken, and Richard Bartle.
I don't think this book is about its story. This is why, spoiler alert, I can tell you that the story focuses on how the main protagonist learns about being a lead game designer and product manager---the big creative boss in charge with producing a game---for the company created by his high-school best-friends. In the process, he remembers everything, discovers himself, and falls once again inlove with his ... well, the girl he fancied throughout high-school. He also saves the company in the process.
The characters are also not something to be concerned about. They're mostly stick figures with gamer profiles: OCD, ADHD, you name it. But they can code and play.
The part about the gaming industry is good, but very long. Tens of pages about debugging are enough to make this reader cringe. Perhaps the highlight of this story element is the E3 demo, where the entire gaming world gathers to see the finished games of the entire industry; the context is well and realistically described, and the demo scene is memorable.
I found that the main strength of this book to be its quality of writing, which combines ingeniously the academic treatment of the topic (thorough, analytic, prescriptive) with the generally light flavor of the topics. Somehow, the authors of this book make enjoyable the reading of a comprehensive treatise on gamification. Perhaps a lesser achievement, but nonetheless important, is this book's ability to really collect into one volume all the necessary knowledge for understanding and starting to use gamification. In particular, the authors have added numerous use cases to learn from, to the already known theory.
TODO + background on use of gamification + related theories, especially serious games + asks the right questions, including 'which gaming technique(s) to...moreTODO + background on use of gamification + related theories, especially serious games + asks the right questions, including 'which gaming technique(s) to use for a particular learning objective/player type/player skill level/etc.?' - the author spend most of the time on computer-based gamification - many assumptions and unproven claims, rapaciously about effectiveness of one technique or another. in particular, Knapp favors narrative, complex story, and role-playing. how would one teach Computer Organization or Java Programming 101 focusing on these, one can only speculate... - the chapter by Nathan Kapp and to some extent also the other 'invited chapters' are rather weak, unacademic, and chaotic(less)
Valve's Handbook for New Employees is a wonderful company work statement in an extremely competitive industry (computers, software design and engineer...moreValve's Handbook for New Employees is a wonderful company work statement in an extremely competitive industry (computers, software design and engineering, entertainment software, computer and video games). Valve is a leader of the PC gaming industry, with its own excellent games (Half-Life, Portal), great support for modders (Counter-Strike) and the indie community, and innovations in the gaming industry as a whole (esp. distribution channels such as Steam for PC games). With this booklet, Valve presents a refreshing statement of how big business in creative industries can be organized. The main message is that a flat organization, carefully managed and with a focus on top individuals who may be friends or rel, can deliver excellent results. A must-read for startups in the gaming industry.(less)
Gamers at Work is a collection of interviews with top people from the video and computer gaming industry. The interviews are loosely structured around...moreGamers at Work is a collection of interviews with top people from the video and computer gaming industry. The interviews are loosely structured around the establishment and challenges of gaming studios, the creative processes, and the struggle to remain afloat as the industry changes.
I really loved this book. The people interviewed here are usually heads of game studios or leads of the creative part of the business, but otherwise span a broad range of interests, backgrounds, and capability. There are many excellent interviews, including of: Wild Bill Stealy (the business side of MicroProse); Tony Goodman (the process guy at Ensemble Corp/Studios and Robot Entertainment); Feargus Urquhart (great interview on processes, Interplay/Fallout, etc.); John Smedley (EverQuest); Lorne Lanning (a bit shambolic but overall great stuff, Oddworld); Tobi Saulnier (client-centric game developer); and Christopher Weaver (Bethesda Softworks, The Elder Scrolls + professor at MIT).
Here are a few things I've learned: * The gaming industry is only for people who love games. The high risk and relatively low return of this hit-driven market are otherwise not worth the personal investment. * The size of a sustainable studio is 40-50 people, with 3-5 production pipelines active at all times. Anything above 100 people is bound to crash as the industry twists and turns. * Gaming studios must consider all possible valorization channels, including leveraging their technology in serious gaming and technical simulators, and doing games that extend somebody else's franchise. * Intellectual Property (IP) really counts. Building and populating entire worlds is preferable to creating small games that are independent of each other. * Building strong portfolios and strong IP protect a studio from poor contracts from publishers. * The game designers and producers rarely win as much as publishers and other channel owners. * Publishers and distributors have a stranglehold on industry and even creativity: their choice decides the going of the industry. * Indie gaming is tough, running a studio is tougher. Giants like EA and Sony Online Entertainment produce mostly games in long franchise lines. * etc. etc. etc.
Overall, a must-read for anyone interested in the gaming industry, especially wannabe indie game developers.(less)