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Developer Talk #3 - Books for inspiration
Saturday , 15 April 2017

There’s a trend that I’ve noticed in those who are passionate about miniatures and games – a severe lack of storage space! Figuring out the best solutions to organise board games, models, paints, tools and other hobby stuff can become as time-consuming and carefully planned as choosing and painting our next army! We struggle to fit more Kallax units into our homes, to hold growing game collections, we carefully display our minis in cabinets, we purchase custom laser-cut paint racks and storage boxes, we fight against our hobby gear’s growing ambition to fill our homes.

Another trend that I’ve noticed in those who are passionate about miniatures and games – we add a lot of books into that already hefty amount of storage space we need... It hardly seems fair! My bookshelves are stacked and eclectic, but that never feels like a reason for me to stop adding things to them, even if there might be quite a few unread books already sitting on them.

If I had to pick a word to describe the overall tone of my collection I think it would be “designy”… Which is not an actual word… but you know what I mean! There are novels aplenty, of course, but there are a lot of books on the various aspects of design – I guess it’s something that’s always fascinated me – the processes behind it, the people who undertake them and the end results they create.

I imagine that many Infamy fans might share my love for books and that's why, in this Developer Talk, I'm going to briefly look at some of the tomes on my bookshelves that have been most important to me as I’ve developed my company and the Big Smoke.

Arty stuff

Let’s get the pretty things done first! There are beautiful art and concept portfolios that act as my inspiration, opening my mind to the numerous ways I can approach the world-building and character design in my projects. Sometimes an individual image will plant the seed of an idea that I can then build on and make my own, sometimes just seeing the approaches and styles used by others will lead me on my way.

Honourable mentions go to Out of The Forests: The Art of Paul Bonner and The Art of Bioshock Infinite, but there are three books that really stand out for me.

The Art of Blizzard Entertainment - No book could be large enough to contain all the awesomeness Blizzard have created over the years, but this one does its best to! It's packed with incredible concepts and finished pieces of art from a studio that really understands art design - they hit the right notes time and time again, create incredibly memorable characters and design games more addictive than beef jerky seasoned with crack cocaine. Even if you don't like a single Blizzard game (which would be odd, but not impossible) there's no way to flick through this beast of a book and not find things to admire and inspire.

Illustration Play: Craving for The Extraordinary - This book contains nothing directly related to fantasy worlds, games, or anything along those lines. It's a collection of creative, mixed-media art from people across the world and it's one of the most inspiring books on my shelves. If I'm ever feeling stuck for ideas or needing inspiration it's really useful to flick through the pages of something different to the genre you're struggling with, see how many options to approach things exist, and return to your own problems feeling fresh and flipped. I seriously cannot recommend this book enough!

Massive Black: 1 - A piece of art by one of of Massive Black's artists has probably been a wallpaper on your computer at some point, even if you haven't realised it! Their studio creates incredible art and concepts, for a ton of different projects, and it's never short of breathtaking. This collection of their assorted works is like a system overload of pretty pictures, different styles and approaches, and covers genres from fantasy to sci-fi and all things in between. 

Broader background stuff

Some books don't so much showcase art as showcase a broader idea of the worlds people have created. These are the closest things to the Big Smoke Background Book (only currently available to Kickstarter backers, but that's soon to change) and stuff like The Discworld Atlas and The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia fit. But what stand out are...

Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual - This has been in my collection for a good while and is one of the first such books that I saw (there were probably loads before it, mind you) that took the concept of an alternate world and presented it as real, focusing on an aspect (the United States Colonial Marine Corps from the film Aliens) and going into it in great detail. It's not as polished and glitzy as many similar books that have come since, but I think that's maybe why it works better for me. It feels right, in keeping with the tone of the film and the Marines in it.

White Dwarf magazine (Issue 129) - "This is my White Dwarf. There are many like it, but this one is mine!" I couldn't make a list like this and not include the only issue of White Dwarf that is sill in my possession. 129 was the first issue I got, so my critical capacity may be somewhat dulled by the glorious sheen of nostalgia... but it really is the best ever issue (though the issue where the Dwarf got fatter, with the Mike McVey Warhammer Quest diorama in it, is a close second). It has a run through of the different Space Marine armour variants and Chapter markings, an advert for Games Day '90 (tickets £2), a gallery of painted Chaos champions, an article about Ork Painboyz with amazing art by Paul Bonner... basically a load of the staples of what make GW GW! Not only does this issue remind me of the start of my hobby times, it helps me to never forget my heritage, it shows me how even established companies can keep on growing and developing, and it shows me that sometimes the good-old-days really were shiny and great. But there is some shite in here too. I'm looking at you boring old Bretonnians!

Game design

I've got quite a lot of books on the specific aspects of game design - some of these are quite loose and easy-going, others are much more hardcore texts that you’d end up buying if you pursued general design theories at university. Some are far more specific to video games, others focused on board games, but they've all been useful in different ways.

Challenges for Game Designers offers up a lot of interactive exercises to try out and is really worth taking a look at. 

The Game Inventor's Guidebook - This book is important for one major reason (one that I managed to ignore too many times as I developed Infamy) and that is just how important it is to be realistic in your goals and your expectations when creating something. It isn't exactly groundbreaking stuff, but reading the words of various industry leaders and seeing that many of them are really keen to stress just how many failures and difficulties you'll encounter is actually quite reassuring! Hey, I keep failing, I must be doing something right! ;)

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses - This is as complete and inspiring/informative a guide as you could possibly hope to see about game design. If you read it cover-to-cover, or dip in where you feel most appropriate, you're going to learn something. It's kind of focused on video games, but just about everything is transferable. The 'lenses' in the book's title are 100 sets of criteria that the author suggests you can apply to your game to critically assess how successful it is. Even if the cost of the book seems too steep, these can be downloaded (for free) as an app and are well worth a look. I'm currently throwing some of them at the Big Smoke.