Here are some of the best, most insightful game design articles I’ve found by other designers, game developers, and even some people outside the industry. All are highly recommended.
5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying To Get You Addicted
This surprising article explores a number of psychological techniques at play in modern video games that are uniquely effective, and yet may at the same time be eroding some of the medium’s foundations. The article is somewhat more thoughtful than the title suggests.
10 Game Design Pitfalls
A comprehensive look at common game design process failures, with good advice for solutions and for avoiding these problems in the first place.
40 Ways To Be A Better (Game) Designer
A short-but-invaluable compilation of game design best practices.
50 Tips for Working with Unity (Best Practices)
This is a gold mine for Unity users, from beginners to seasoned veterans. Well worth your time.
A Deeper Look Into The Combat Design of Uncharted 2
A more-expansive-than-usual analysis of the design choices of a major AAA title.
A Series of Rants
This is really just a short list of bullet points intended as an accompaniment to a GDC 2010 rant, but — somewhat unfortunately — they’re all very salient arguments.
About the Ego
Corvus Elrod of BoRT nails the game designer’s role in the industry.
All For Games: An Interview with Warren Spector
I have a great deal of respect for Warren Spector’s work, and it really comes from just one game: Deus Ex. This is a wide-ranging and in-depth interview filled with great little nuggets, but chief among them is Spector’s idea of “linked sandboxes”.
Avatars Aren’t Tokens
An astute observation of the psychological and subliminal effects of avatar design on player behavior. Discussed through the lens of an MMO, but applicable to any character-driven game.
Basics of Effective FPS Encounter Design
This article looks at FPS encounter design in great detail, through the lens of F.E.A.R. and F.E.A.R. 2. It’s a subject I rarely see covered with such a direct focus, which is odd considering the contemporary popularity of the genre.
Caring for Your Introvert
Not strictly game design-related, but I’m a game designer, and I’m an introvert, and every word of this article is true three million times over.
Carmack Talks Rage, Other Stuff
This is a series of video interviews with John Carmack and Polish games magazine CD-Action, made known to me (and now you!) via the excellent Rock, Paper, Shotgun. When I say “interviews”, I really mean “John Carmack blabs about whatever the hell comes to mind for half an hour, and it’s totally awesome”.
Cleaning Bad Code
A practical look at what to do (and what not to do!) when you’ve just inherited a steaming pile of crap.
Coelcanth: Lessons From Doom
LeBreton’s assessment of Doom as a 2D SHMUP is pretty eye-opening. The article contains a number of other interesting insights regarding this classic game.
Constructing Artificial Emotions: A Design Experiment
Explores methods for evoking complex emotions across a wide spectrum, building from a most-fascinating experimental game concept through a variety of scientific sources.
Check and Mate: Critical Moments in Roguelikes
GameSetWatch @Play columnist John Harris analyzes the key roguelike design tenet of “critical moments”, those situations in which the wrong move will be your last.
Designing Story-Based Games
Veteran game designer Jordan Mechner provides 11 timeless tips for designing story-based games.
Designing the Solution Space
Applies the concept of “solution space” in machine learning, to game design. A short article, but densely-packed with information and lots of helpful visual aids.
Fixing Online Gaming Idiocy: A Psychological Approach
As Bill Fulton so succinctly puts it: “Some gamers are fuckwads.” This in-depth article explores how to address that problem, by explicitly designing social experiences.
Fun Is Had When Your Time Flies
Psychologist Jamie Madigan explores how perceptions of the passage of time may be linked to the experience of fun.
The Fundamentals of Game Design
An older essay in which Koster deconstructs game design into components, atoms, and even math problems.
Game Design Accessibility Matters
This is an extremely insightful article. Accessibility is often discussed in terms of control complexity and tutorial effectiveness, but Adam Saltsman argues effectively for several other perspectives that have not previously been part of the debate. A must-read.
Game Design Essentials: 20 Difficult Games
The first in Gamasutra’s “Game Design Essentials” series. Analyzes and provides design lessons for 20 particularly-difficult games.
Game Design Essentials: 20 Open World Games
The second in Gamasutra’s “Game Design Essentials” series. Analyzes and provides design lessons for 20 open-world games.
Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes
The third in Gamasutra’s “Game Design Essentials” series. Analyzes and provides design lessons for 20 games with unusual control schemes.
Game Design Essentials: 20 Mysterious Games
The fourth of Gamasutra’s “Game Design Essentials” series. Analyzes and provides design lessons for 20 games in which exploration and discovery — the uncovering of the mysterious — play a pivotal role.
Game Design Essentials: 20 RPGs
The fifth of Gamasutra’s “Game Design Essentials” series. Analyzes and provides design lessons for 20 role-playing games. This article is incredibly detailed, dauntingly voluminous, and super-awesome!
Game Design Sketchbook: Testing the Limits of Single-Player
Jason Rohrer tackles the problem of why classic games like Chess and Go are infinitely replayable, while modern single-player video games are not, and proposes a solution by way of integrated competition.
Game Theory Applied to Game Design
Analyzes the place of rock-paper-scissors mechanics in game design.
Goodbye Handcrafted Levels
An unconventional argument against the traditional level- or mission-based structure of games.
Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs
This article details Bartle’s classic taxonomy of gamers: Achievers, Explorers, Socialisers, and Killers. Focused on MUDs but adaptable to many other genres and styles of gaming.
How to be a Better Game Designer
This article is a must-read for all game designers, but especially for those in a leadership position. It’s focused on teamwork, not craft, and I can say from my own personal experience with AAA design leadership that it is absolutely, 100% on-point.
How to Destroy the Book
While it’s not directly about game design, the copyright and licensing issues that Cory raises in this talk (transcribed) are as valid for games as for any other medium, particularly now as the games industry is rapidly embracing digital distribution.
Indie Game Design Do’s and Don’t's: A Manifesto
A 24-point manifesto — by Edmund McMillen of Gish, Time Fcuk, and Super Meat Boy fame — on the type of mindset you need to have to be a satisfied indie game designer.
Juice It Or Lose It
This video presentation by Martin Jonasson and Petri Purho is a must-watch if you’re involved with game development in any capacity. It explains how to make your game feel “juicy”, responsive and alive. It’s an incredibly well-presented example of the importance of polish and its ability to make even dull gameplay interesting.
Know When to Stop Designing, Quantitatively
This is not explicitly a game design article; rather, it addressed the broader topic of human interface design. Specifically, how to quantify the efficiency of an interface, and use that information to improve it. It’s absolutely brilliant, and with a little lateral thinking, is easily applied to nearly all aspects of game design.
Less Talk, More Rock
A concise, brilliantly-illustrated manifesto on preserving aesthetic coherence in games.
Love Transcending Death: Challenge Versus Story in Calamity Annie
A design analysis of Anna Anthropy’s indie game, Calamity Annie, and its unique combination of punishing difficulty and fluid, engaging story. Presents the idea of decoupling a game’s story from its formal rules, to prevent these elements from cannibalizing each other.
Make Your Logs Interactive and Squash Bugs Faster
A concise implementation walkthrough for an interactive HTML logging system.
The Making Of: Deus Ex
Because Deus Ex is one of my favorite games ever, on any platform, here’s a brief-yet-fascinating making-of on that game. Imagining some of the locations and plot points that they cut is particularly interesting. There could’ve been a moon base!
Modular Level Design
This article focuses on building highly-detailed levels using a modular approach, based on the level design strategy employed on Unreal Tournament 2003/4.
No More Wrong Turns
Presents a detailed taxonomy of level design techniques for effectively guiding players through the space.
On Will Wright’s Team, Would You Be a Solvent, or the Glue?
An interview with Will Wright from the New York Times, discussing team-building and the personal and social side of management.
Played Meaning (Concerning the Spiritual in Games)
This heady article by Proteus composer David Kanaga explores the relationship between games and music, and how both use play and performance to enable meaning.
Post-It Note Design Docs
An interesting alternative to the traditional game design documentation process, explained in detail.
Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked
MIT professor Henry Jenkins addresses eight common myths about the highly-politicized but ill-supported “negative effects” of video games and game culture.
The Role of the Game Designer
A very insightful look into what a game designer actually does (and doesn’t), based on an observation of student group dynamics at the Utrecht School of the Arts.
Ten Ways to Improve Developer Efficiency
Joe Ludwig succinctly outlines ten things to ensure rapid iteration in game development. Speaking from experience, from working with none of these to working with most of them, I have to say his analysis is spot-on.
Teaming Up With Halo’s AI: 42 Tricks To Assist Your Game
This high-level technical review of AI design principles at work in the Halo series succinctly highlights a wide variety of surprising, sometimes counterintuitive techniques for creating compelling shooter AI behaviors.
Things You Should Never Do
Joel Spolsky explains why the massive code rewrite you’re so tempted to do is probably a very bad idea.
To the Right, Hold on Tight
A very insightful and extremely deep analysis of the level design of Super Mario Bros. World 1-1. If you think it sounds too simple to be useful, think again: Anna’s analysis highlights numerous design choices that were so elegant you would never realize they could have been done any other way.
Using Graphs to Debug Physics, AI, and Animation Effectively
A straightforward walkthrough of an implementation for continuous event logging and graphing.
The Valve Manifesto
This feature from Develop magazine explores the unusual and inspiring way that Valve manages its business and projects. I want to go to there.
Video Game Climaxes
Richard Terrell classifies and analyzes several types of climaxes for video games: how to build them up, how to deliver them right, and what it means for the overall game experience.
Ways To Make Your Virtual Space More Social
Koster makes the case for downtime in virtual worlds and MMOs as an enabler of socialization, and then provides numerous concrete examples of methods for increasing the frequency and quality of social interaction among players.