BOTW: Postmortems From Game Developer

My Book of the Week this previous week was Postmortems From Game Developer by Austin Grossman. Although he writes little of the content himself. Instead he plays the role of a silent researcher who seeks out professional game developers and designers, eliciting their thoughts on projects.

I expected the book to be a collection of essays from different people in the game industry. But I was wrong.

The Interesting Structure

Postmortems From Game Developer—and no I am not misspelling the title—presents its content in an interesting format. Each chapter represents the story of a specific game. But they are not packed together haphazardly. The book organizes its chapters into the following sections:

  1. Startups
  2. Sequels and Sophomore Outings
  3. Managing Innovation
  4. Building on a License
  5. The Online Frontier

This format highlights the common problems faced by games from startup companies, games based on high-profile franchises, online games, et cetera. It also demonstrates the overlap that takes place across these boundaries. It turns out that the difficulties faced by Red Storm Entertainment when creating Rainbow Six are not absolutely different from those of a startup with a fresh IP.

As I said, each chapter focuses on a specific game, but they also follow a rigid structure. One or two developers and designers act as the authors for each chapter. They begin by setting the context for the game’s development so that the reader has a proper perspective. From there they dive into the meat of the chapter, which always covers two lists:

  1. What Went Right
  2. What Went Wrong

Each author provides five bullet points for each list, with explanations for all ten in total. Not only is it interesting to see a person heavily involved in a game reflect on both sides of the coin, it demonstrates common successes and failures that take place within the industry. For example, many authors praise new teams as a source of fresh, creative input. And those same people often admit that their inexperience caused them to grossly underestimate the amount of time it would take to complete their project.

What makes the book even more engaging is the games which it covers. This is not an examination of niche games you’ve never heard of. Here is a sample of the games it examines:

  1. Age of Empires
  2. System Shock 2
  3. Diablo 2
  4. Unreal Tournament
  5. Black and White
  6. Thief: the Dark Project
  7. Deus Ex
  8. Asheron’s Call

Maybe you’ve heard of some of those? I bet so.

Postmortems From Game Developer is full of wonderful insight. Gamers and want-to-be-designers alike will find a brutally honest appraisal of game development within its pages. By the time you reach the end you will have a new perspective on game development, and very likely a greater appreciation for the art as a whole. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves video games.

Next Book of the Week

Algorithms and Networking for Computer Games by Jouni Smed and Harri Hakonen.

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