How do you design video games from scratch? In this post, I’ll share some of the best game design books & other resources I’ve found that’ll help you turn your creative vision into reality.
These game design resources cover most of the basics – including the beginning skills needed – to more advanced topics, such as play-testing, creating addictive game elements, team organization, and more.
Contents (click to jump sections)
1. Best Game Design Books (Some personal favorites)
Game designers need to make big decisions.
How do my control mechanics work? What’s my story – and how will I tell it? What experience do I want to give players? And so on.
Every serious game designer inevitably faces these kinds of questions. And – let’s be honest – there’s a lot to stress over. Especially if you’re working solo or in a small development team with a tight budget.
Thankfully, over the years, I’ve managed to read quite a few awesome books about game design that have helped me tackle such choices with better ease. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still very much a noob, but at least a little wiser.
I hope you’ll find these books useful, too!
Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design
Some video game design books bombard you with dry descriptions and technical know-how.
Not this one!
Packed with fun illustrations, Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design is among the best game design books available. Author Scott Rogers eases you into how to design video games from scratch, and on a professional level.
The chapters are well-organized, covering topics that encourage you to brainstorm ideas, plan your characters, build your world, and execute other game design elements.
I personally loved the section on battle mechanics. This part of the book breaks down the qualities that make a fighting system shine. This was really useful to me, since I enjoy creating such video games the most.
In addition, the book’s core tips apply to both mobile and console game designers. The key focus is teaching you how to make video games that keep people hooked, whatever the platform.
Scott himself is an experienced video game designer, having created Pac Man World, Maximo, and SpongeBob Squarepants, among others. This adds credibility to his advice, seeing as he speaks from having first-hand industry success – and failure.
Video Game Storytelling
Many great games are held together by strong stories. At times, even arcade-style games can benefit from telling an exciting narrative with solid characters.
This is where Video Game Storytelling is truly a gem. Game writer / producer Evan Skolnick shares a treasure trove of storytelling advice, ranging from explaining narrative structures to exploring game character writing.
Moreover, the middle sections also discuss the importance of team-cohesion. Specifically, Evan details how every team member is key to the overall storytelling process, producing a dynamic workflow. This was my favorite part of the book.
Overall, Video Game Storytelling is a must-read for game designers keen on breathing life into their own original stories.
The Art of Game Design
The Art of Game Design is one of the most insightful books about game design. Author Jesse Schell dives deep into principles of game development, describing the links between gaming elements, themes, and ideas. Best of all, he presents you with many self-reflective questions, all in an effort to help you make good game design decisions.
He filters everything through the lenses of psychology, architecture, visual design, puzzle design, and other diverse fields. All of this helped to expand my thoughts on my own games into previously unexplored areas.
Overall, The Art of Game Design is an excellent workout for your imagination. It pushes you to focus on different but equally important aspects of how to design video games that are fun-filled and cohesive.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels
Creating your own video game from the ground-up can be a very daunting and oftentimes lonely journey.
This is where Blood, Sweat, and Pixels really helped me.
The book isn’t about game design per se. However, it shares many behind-the-scenes true stories about video game development. Even the hard stuff is kept in. I found myself riveted by accounts about deadline crunches, technical nightmares, and much more.
From the loving creation of Stardew Valley to the high-pressure completion of Dragon Age: Inquisition, this book is a true homage to game designers from all walks of life. It’s also a perfect companion read if you ever need a bolt of inspiration to keep going.
Indie Games: From Dream to Delivery
Don L. Daglow – veteran creator of Neverwinter Nights – offers a true masterclass for all indie video game designers.
The beauty of this book is its early emphasis on “What you want to do?” before moving on to detail how you can do it. For me, this is crucial in helping me stay true to my original vision. The tips within also teach me how to implement core business ideas, without sacrificing development goals.
Indie Games: From Dream to Reality brims with insightful anecdotes, written in a relatable way. Most indie game developers will easily identify with some of the tough challenges Don describes. He also offers viable solutions, nudging us to keep an optimistic attitude and make fewer mistakes.
Overall, I think Indie Games is easily one of my favorite game design books – a true motivational manual.
The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design
As a classic, The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design works its way through key moments of most game design cycles. This includes discussing story structure, character building, play mechanics, and much more.
Compared to other books, authors Flint Dille & John Zuur Platten take a more technical approach to their advice, which some readers may prefer. Despite a few editorial errors, many of their timeless tips still hold true in today’s indie game market.
However, I want to stress that the bulk of the book revolves around game writing. Less time is given to other design aspects. Regardless, I find the book to be a great read that’ll no doubt encourage you to adopt productive development habits.
Other Good Game Design Books
Game Design Workshop
This book covers the whole nine yards of game theory, story conception, prototype testing, fine-tuning, and more. Very well loved among many game designers, including myself!
Discusses the more intangible parts of game design. This includes teaching you how to create the right ‘feel’ for your video games via a strategic combination of sound, color, and metaphors. One of the best game design books out there!
Game Design: Theory & Practice
This book really fuels your balance of diverse game design elements, creating a holistic player experience. Also very easy to digest, thanks to succinct writing.
2. Game Design YouTube Channels
Besides the best game design books, there’s also plenty of in-depth YouTube channels that explore key concepts and ideas.
Here are a few of my favorites!
Game Maker’s Toolkit
I absolutely love Game Maker’s Toolkit!
Created & hosted by Mark Brown, this YouTube channel publishes commentary videos on a great number of design topics. Game balancing issues, camera angles, boss fight planning, and so on are all discussed in entertaining detail.
In addition, Mark always relates his points to actual games, citing real-world references to illustrate core concepts. This is great for aspiring game designers who want to pick up important dos and don’ts, based on industry experiences.
Moreover, Game Maker’s Toolkit has a huge online community of both gamers and game designers. This gives you and me the chance to meet other like-minded people, making the learning experience all the more enjoyable.
Game Developers Conference
The official Game Developers Conference YouTube channel releases speech videos from international game designers & developers. Each video is about 15-30 minutes long, filled with tons of first-hand insights.
Many big topics are covered, including both the aesthetic & technical aspects of game design. Less-often explored ideas, such as how to evoke players’ emotions or creating franchise loyalty, also make for great binge-watching.
Like Game Maker’s Toolkit, Snowman Gaming offers an insightful analysis of the design choices that make some video games great.
What I love the most about this channel is its balanced attention to both mainstream and indie releases, across different platforms (mobile, console, and PC). All of this is tied together by highlighting the little nuances and game design choices that create overall player enjoyment.
I also enjoy Snowman Gaming‘s list videos. These have introduced me to many under-the-radar games I would not have otherwise known about!
Game Dev Underground
Indie game designer Tim Ruswick shares tons of behind-the-scenes thoughts in a very relatable and easy-going style.
He brings us on his own game design journey, giving a candid look into even his stress-filled moments. In this way, Tim moves beyond pure textbook theories, offering instead practical advice that relates to his real-world experiences.
Moreover, Tim doesn’t limit his content to just the game design cycle. He also puts out videos that, for example, lists mistakes to avoid during game launch. I found such content to be incredibly useful in helping me make better planning choices.
Overall, Game Dev Underground succeeds at teaching us how to make video games in ways that maximize engagement and efficiency.
Of late, Extra Credits’ creators have mostly branched into sci-fi and history related content. However, for me, the best parts of their channel are their fun and informative videos on game design, organized into convenient playlists.
As game designers themselves, the hosts definitely speak from experience. Their tips are always easy to grasp and thoroughly explained, thanks to well-planned videos. Lots of topics are also covered (e.g. simple vs challenging game mechanics, etc.), all presented via light-hearted cartoons.
Ask Gamedev is an awesome YouTube channel by Matt, Derek, and Tudd. These professional game devs focus on sharing game industry insights, creator tips, and other useful video content.
Their videos go pretty deep into major game design concepts and theories. However, everything is presented in a neat, accessible way via quality explainer animations. Each video lasts about 10-15 minutes, perfect for watching during lunch-time breaks!
In addition, I also enjoy their list videos covering other gaming-related stuff (e.g. their series on Best Solo Game Creators). A fresh alternative to their usual design content!
Overall, Ask Gamedev is a fantastic source of inspiration for game designers, especially beginners such as myself.
Other useful YouTube channels for game designers
Focuses mostly on the technical side of game development.
Perfect game design resource for Unity-engine creators!
A long-time and prolific YouTuber with a huge collection of excellent game design videos. Binge-worthy!
3. Other Game Design Resources
There are just so many good resources on how to create video games. So many that it’s quite hard for me to include every single one in this post.
However, here’s a few more that I found really useful, especially when it comes to outsourcing certain tasks beyond my expertise.
for the tasks that are harder to do on your own.
UpWork is a great game design resource when you’re looking for freelancers to help you out a little, particularly if you work solo or in a very small team.
For example, I’ve actually hired people from UpWork to play-test my own indie games. I do this because my friends might sometimes be a little biased, and I’m always looking for the most objective opinions.
For yourself, UpWork can be a rich resource for finding individuals who can assist you with voice-over work, music, or whatever game design elements you may not be the best in.
You start by posting a job listing for free. Here is where you should try to be as detailed as possible in what you’re hoping to get done. Many freelances will then apply to assist you with your task.
However, my advice is to practice patience. Just like any job interview, you’ll need to take your time in sussing out who’s the best fit for your task. Be sure to browse their portfolio and read past clients’ reviews. Doing this will improve your chances of hiring a quality freelancer.
I’ve used other similar sites before (e.g. Fiverr.com, Freelancer.com). However, I feel that UpWork has the best overall interface design and feedback system. The site also seems to have a good number of experts who have actually worked in the video game industry. A big plus!
Chewy Bits –
for quality, original video game music.
I’m not a songwriter nor studio producer. So I always need a little help when it comes to creating high quality video game music.
Here’s where I always turn to Chewy Bits! I first discovered these video game music composers via a random Google search. After hearing their past works, I decided to reach out to them.
The Chewy Bits team is really communicative and passionate. They make the effort to actually care about my video game projects, asking me questions along the way. We’re thus able to work together in composing original video game songs that, in my opinion, greatly enhance the player’s experience.
In addition, they offer fair pricing plans with different packages to suit your specific needs and budget. You’ll ultimately get good quality work for a reasonable amount that won’t break the bank.
Memorable theme songs are a must-have for any indie video game. And Chewy Bits have never disappointed me.
However, if Chewy Bits’ electronic / synth style isn’t what you’re looking for, you can also try SoundBetter to source for other game music composers. I once used the site to hire someone to write a mini orchestral score for me. Great experience!
Like UpWork, you’ll want to take your time on SoundBetter, just to make sure you’re hiring the best songwriter for your video game design needs. Don’t rush into things!
I’ll keep updating my list to include more of the best game design books, YouTubers, and other resources. Hope you found this post useful! Please drop me an email if you have a resource you’d like me to add. I’ll be happy to include it!