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References, Readings, Resources

So now you've read the above articles. It's a lot to absorb at once, so feel free to go back and read them again in a month or as you start to design specific parts of your game (i.e., when you start working on hero graphics, go back and read Charbile's hero graphics section). This section of the article is for those of you who want to read more. I'm only listing the places I actually use or intend to use, and so don't view this as an authoritative list, it is a pragmatic list: it lists what I find to work, and nothing else.

The following goes into each category, but in a pattern. The pattern: there are two basic ways of learning about any creative field. The first is by seeing what others have created, the second is by seeing what others have to say about how to create. Each category below thus has two parts corresponding to this.

-Games in General-


Read game reviewing/news/journalism websites and magazines.

From here you can read about opinions on the quality of (usually commercial) video games. These are targeted toward the game consumer: the game player, not the game creator: the game designer. But they are useful, for all game designers are game players as well.

After you read a review of a game, you might want to play that game if it looks interesting to you. You will particularly want to keep a close eye on games that are very good, and games that are similar to games you are working on (for most of us, that means all console and PC based RPGs of merit, and often most non-RPGs of merit). Keep in mind that most reviews are foolish. A lot of game 'criticism' isn't really that. Example: both Warcraft II and Starcraft got 'average' or 'bad' reviews when they were first released. They were greeted with 'ho-hum, another strategy game, nothing special', and then went on to be very large hits in the marketplace. It seems, for some reason, that the very good gameplay of these games wasn't appreciated by the game reviewing community. There are countless more examples of this, and this leads me to believe that most game reviewers can't review and most miss the point of reviewing.

Workingdesigns.com's RPG Critic  is a truly excellent reviewer, he reviews games with depth and thought. Very unlike most reviewers out there. He doesn't only review the games of Working Designs (and when he does, remarkably they usually get lower than average reviews), he reviews all RPGs on all non-PC consoles, hundreds of them, going back to the NES and Sega Master System.

GameFAQs has millions (almost) of reviews by normal gameplayers (that is, people who don't normally review games). It is interesting to see what actual non-full time game players think of games, as opposed to game critics like the one in the above paragraph above. Even though less thought and attention goes into the review (and often, the game), there are still original things here that you won't find in those with the practised game eye.

IGN has a lot of info, particularly on new games. It's more journalistic, however. It's reviews are abysmal, even in comparison to some of the ones on GameFAQs, but it's the first place to go when you need to find out about just-released games X, Y, and Z and what's in them. Just beware of commercialisms and shallowness, though.

RPGamer has a lot of reviews on RPGs, a lot of in-depth editorials (interesting because they are written by RPG fans and not game designers), and a lot of talk about RPGs in the daily Q&A column (with archives, in which you can see many questions by myself if you are a keen observer, although they are often not 'signed' correctly).

The GIA is a similar site to RPGamer, and in many ways exceeds them (and in many ways does not). In other words, keep updated on both of them.

Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) is the leading game review and news magazine on the market, and for good reason: they're competent, and often go beyond the ordinary.

Avoid GamePro (targeted at very stupid kids), Nintendo Power (used to be great, but now is sick with diseases of type boring), and GameFan (used to be good, but the new management is now seemingly targeting at abnormally immature adolescents).


Read game design websites, magazines, and books.

These often have a collection of game design articles in diverse topics of interest. Look at the names of these articles, and if any seem interesting, read them. 

Gamasutra is all around alright, although to get to all of it you need to be a member (which is free last time I checked). It has some foolish parts, but on average is an excellent and large site on game design, even if some of it is probably useless to you (talking about specialized 3D engines and such).

The Art of Computer Game Design is the first book on game design, and is available online, free.

Other good sites:

flipCode - Game Development News and Resources







Look at graphics in other games.

These are a great aid. Play a lot of NES games, a lot of SNES games, a lot of Genesis games, and lot of Gameboy games. Pay attention to how the artists of those games creates specific things. Notice how shadows work. Simply by looking at how other people make graphics, you'll get better at it. Choose a game or several games that you really like the graphics of, take screenshots, or take a sketch pad (or 3x5 inch cards) with you while playing, and draw things from the game. Examine everything in those games, tile by tile, sprite by sprite, if it looks better than what you can do, find out why.


Art tutorials are everywhere.

There are also art classes. Pixel art tutorials are particularly relevent. A good one is
So You Want To Be A Pixel Artist?



1) Read a lot of short stories and novels, watch a lot of movies, read/watch a lot of plays. 

There are online books here.

Another good resource is fanfiction; there are tons of fanfiction sites. Even though their quality is often suspect, simply reading about characters seen in video games is often useful.
has a good amount, and is where I go most of the time.


2) There are literally tens of thousands of books and websites out there on story writing. Playwriting, screenplay writing, short story writing, and so forth, all can apply to videogame stories with some modification. For example, narration and description are not often seen in video games, so you can ignore those parts. Do pay particular attention to parts on dialogue, since most of the story presentation in videogames is done through dialogue and action, similar to movies and the theater.



1) Play lots of games. Not only actual video games, but games in any form at all. Javascript games, board games, anything.


2) Writings about actual game design are few and far between. Start out with Moogle's article in this issue, and then go to Moogle's other articles. Then there is Chris Crawford's book (lined to above). But learning about gameplay theory per se isn't often covered as much as game design and development.



Listen to a lot of music.

In particular, midi music, since independent game designers are most likely to have to use midi music (or some format that is convertable to and from midi music) in their games. Game music websites can be found all around, but don't neglect the actual main source: the games you own. When you play a game, listen to the music, and note how a particular effect is achieved. You may not (yet) know anything about C major scales vs. C# minor scales, and may not even be able to tell a banjo from a basoon, but at least you can tell which music works, which entertains, which you like. And that is important to develop, from there, skilled music writing (and its lazy twin, skilled seletion of public domain and ripped music for your game) takes form from. 

Keep in mind that you can't actually be sued for taking another game's music and putting it in your game unless you sell your game or the company somehow loses money from your game. That also goes for graphics, of course, but no one wants to play a game with graphics from other games (but, as someone on the Zantetsuken message boards once said, they'd rather play a game with ripped music than a game with horribly unskilled original music).

Videogame Music Archive is the best all around place for game midi music. Go there at all costs (except, as Charbile noted, the cost of death).


Writings about music and how to write it are easily found on the web and in books.

In fact, there are so many books on music that they can fill libraries (and do... go to a music college library once to see for yourself). So since there are so many you may be confused as to where to start. This is solved by starting randomly. Look up 'music composition' on Google.com and go on from there.


You have come to the end of the references and resources and readings section. Next we'll see perhaps the most interesting (and certainly the most speculative) part of this article.

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