Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Top 5 Game Design Blogs

Back in the dim mists of time, I named my top 5 games journalists: which in a field notorious for attrition now only has 2 survivors (the rest consumed by PR, consulting and comics). Since I've not been able to do much long form writing recently, I figure I should link to my personal top 5 game design blogs, so you can slake your thirst elsewhere.

Putting together a top 5 of game design blogs is challenging, to say the least. To qualify, you have to write regularly and you have to write specifically about game design. This simple criteria excludes the most well known video game designers who blog, people like Soren Johnson, Clint Hocking and Dan Kline, because the industry is so notoriously secretive and full of NDAs, that they simply cannot talk about what they are working on, except for brief bursts during the press period of their latest game. Then there are promising bloggers like Jon Shafer, who has recently appeared on the scene, but hasn't written enough to develop his own distinct voice.

So my list is full of brilliant mavericks, outside geniuses (genii?), and crosses plenty of boundaries. You also don't have to agree with them to love what they write about and the passion they write with.

Without further ado:

1. David Sirlin
2. Anna Anthropy
3. Zak S.

I would say more, but I'm confident each of these three's (possibly NSFW) writing will win you over. Less than coincidentally, each of the above bloggers has a book you can buy (Playing to Win, Rise of the Video Game Zinesters and Vornheim: The Complete City Kit) which by all accounts, you should own (I'm only 1 for 3 so far, but with a plan to fix that).

4. Gevlon

Sometimes the best game designers are actually players. Not, as in, you should recruit the guy to design your next game, but as in, there's a game you think you designed, and there is the game that is actually being played by people, and you hope they are the same thing, but mostly they are not. Gevlon has, as far as I am aware, forced at least two different MMO developers to release patches because the game he was playing wasn't they game they wanted it to be.

5. John Harris

There is a certain kind of reportage that is my guilty pleasure in game design reading: a domain expert, who is content on one level to catalog a particular type of game, but also draw you attention to say 'here is something interesting and worth exploring', but also, 'this may not be as good as you want it to be, but you should try it anyway' and more importantly 'this new big release has forgotten the lessons learned in these obscure titles'. Emily Short does it with adventure games, Bill Harris with sports games (although not a niche genre), Leigh Alexander did it with erotic games, and John Harris did it with roguelikes (and a great series of top 20 game design essentials, at Gamasutra).

Not coincidentally, three of these four bloggers were artfully curated by the wonderful Simon Carless at  the now defunct GameSetWatch. So not only is this blog post actually an impassioned plea to try to get John writing again (just savor his column slowly enough to ration yourself in the mean time), but it is also a plea for someone to put together a new place for these sorts of writers and go out and find them.

Honourable mention: Dan Cook


Andrew Doull said...

Kind of depressing foot note:

Do you remember that bar that played genre X before everyone else did, and you went there religiously every Thursday night and had a million stories to tell and first heard Y who is now dead/famous (delete one) and closed down after something happened?

That is what GameSetWatch feels like in the game-o-blogosphere...

Ido Yehieli said...

I feel the best of Dan Cook is actually on google+ rather than his blog:


Andrew Doull said...


Kevin Wells said...

"So not only is this blog post actually an impassioned plea to try to get John writing again"


Also thanks for these links, my reading list just grew a ton.

Andrew Doull said...

If you enjoyed John Harris' work, you may enjoy mefi's own JHarris on a recent Diablo 3 thread: http://www.metafilter.com/115940/Evil-is-Back

Joseph said...

I am definitely a Harris fan. Just figuring out he's the also frequently on Roguelike Radio.

I really dig how he defends Deadly Towers, the NES game. Most people hate it. It's hard, and hard to get into, but definitely worth a look.

His breadth of game knowledge is also impressive. He's got a good handle on the complexities of the classic abstract boardgames, as well as more modern board games and classic computer games. Even more impressive is his knowledge of the pre-3D computer games. That little known computer game era from the mid/late 80's to, well, Wolf3D/Doom.

I'm enjoying his D3 statements now. I do agree, but I think he does not adequately address the social phenomena. People want to kill stuff, in a simple way, with lots of BOOM, along side their buddies. So for me D3 scratches that WoW itch. And scratches SOOOOO much better.

I also think the issue with permadeath in Diablo (hardcore mode) is not that Diablo is too long for permadeath to be fun, but rather it's too repetitive to make restarting any fun at all. Random terrain/architecture but with the same linear story line and quest goals does not 'replayability' make (that sentence surely has awkward but I think you get my meaning).

-Note: Sorry this comment has so little to do with your original post.