2021 Game Design & Development Reading List
A print of a medieval copyist copying ancient tomes

As 2021 drew to a close without a single substantial blog post, I felt it pertinent to collate a series of articles that have been most influential this year on my development of Mnemosyne and other games. In fact, I hope that software developers and game designers of all stripes can find something useful here.

In no particular order:

  • Are Behavior Trees a Thing of the Past? -- As the law of headlines goes, the answer is a shaky "no", however this article makes an excellent case for Utility AIs as an efficient and highly-maintainable alternative to behavior trees. This article convinced me to implement Utility AI for Mnemosyne, as opposed to the alternative I was using prior, which I call "lots and lots of if/else and switch/case statements". Hat tip to the MUD Coder's Guild for sharing this one with me.

  • How to Write a Game Design Document -- This article was important but also disliked. It turns out that I do not like writing game design documents! However, writing one and having it critiqued proved to be necessary for getting ideas about Mnemosyne out of my head and onto paper, where they first resembled game design soup. Since doing so, the mechanics and themes in the game have been streamlined and distilled such that they now compose a fine bisque. I'm hungry. Hat tip to Phanx Games for recommending this article.

  • Fast-Paced Multiplayer (Part I): Client-Server Game Architecture -- While my games are often not fast-paced (especially Mnemosyne, which despite being multiplayer relies on turn-based sequences), this article series was helpful in wrapping my head around some best practices for architecting game servers and clients.

  • Look Out Hideo Kojima, Someone Else Is Making A Strand Game -- Xalavier Nelson is an absolute brain genius when it comes to game design. This interview with Kotaku is a treat, where he lays down the idea of a genre based on mechanics from Death Stranding, which I admint I have not played. For me, this was influential in terms of the concept of an open-world, semi-cooperative game. One where players may not even cross paths with each other, but can still help each other out, and improve the experience of the game for each other. Caught this one on Xalavier's Twitter feed, which I recommend following.

  • Value chains – A method for creating and balancing faucet-and-drain game economies -- I'm going to be totally honest here, I'm only halfway through this one, but I can tell it's a beast. Fair warning, it is about 30 pages long but it starts with a description of what value chains and faucet-and-drain economies are and then lays out why and how you can implement them in your game, even getting a bit into the philosophy behind why people play games in the first place. Found this gem in the MUD Coder's Slack a couple of days ago.

  • What Small Towns and Niche Internet Communities Have in Common -- In a way, this post (and blog site in general) got me to create this blog. Full disclosure, Andrew "Zig" Zigler is an online pal of mine and occasional accomplice in the realm of Ranvier. This post specifically nails down some interesting thoughts on the parallels between niche online communities and small towns along the way of explaining why he chose to model his MUD (online text-based roleplaying game) on a small town. I feel similarly in terms of the benefits of an intentionally small online "space" as opposed to the massive, open virtual worlds of big-name MMOs. Find more musings about the web, games, and community on Zig's blog.

  • How Virtual Worlds Work -- Another article series, I highly recommend reading at least the first one to get a taste of how virtual worlds are constructed, then diving deeper as you wish. Koster is an expert in MMOs, being one of the creators of Ultima Online, and I would also recommend grabbing a copy of Bartle's Designing Virtual Worlds if you want to dive even deeper than this series of article, albeit in a way that focuses mainly on MUDs. Picked this up from Raph Koster's Twitter feed.

  • we've messed up and how we can fix it -- "Doc" Burford specializes in long-form, analytical articles about games and their design, though this is one of his shorter ones and also touches on design in society at large. It's one of his shorter essays but still feels sprawling and touches on a lot of intriguing points about fitting mechanics to a game's fantasy as well as game design techne and metis. A worthwhile read, as is Doc's Twitter feed.

Alright folks, it's time for the ball (and me, and this "article") to drop. Here's to 2022 and the hope that I'll produce some writing worth linking to next year. Hit me up on Twitter if you want to let me know what you thought of this aggregation of wisdom.