Don't know what to put on your Christmas list? Got no idea what to get a game designer pal of yours? Let us help, with this bumper collection of gift ideas for gamedevs!
A big thanks to Ipsy Kyatric, David Arcila, and Steven Lambert for their suggestions!
For Game Designers
Games aren't just art + code; there's a whole field of design that goes alongside them. These resources will help you master that craft.
The Art of Game Design
This book takes a look at game design in general terms, without being tied down to a specific platform - indeed, one section of the book recommends building some physical board games or card games, to get to the heart of what makes game mechanics work.
I can't praise this book highly enough. It's fascinating and fun to read, as well as being packed with practical information. By the end of it, you'll be able to say, "I am a game designer."
A Theory of Fun for Game Design
Another excellent book on game design that's not tied down to a platform. This book centres around one concept - that the fun in games comes from the player attempting to fully understand a pattern - and explores it in depth, with a ton of examples and illustrations.
Take a look at the early comic form of the book to see whether it's the sort of thing you'd enjoy.
David Arcila highly recommends Game Seeds. In fact, he wrote a whole article about this deck of cards!
As he explained, Game Seeds lets you design a game by playing a game. It's an excellent tool for workshops because of the unique way it develops group discussion and collaboration. (There is a two-player mode as well, though!)
Rory's Story Cubes
Another recommendation from David; these little dice are printed with hieroglyph-style images, rather than numbers, to spark ideas for stories. With 54 images between the nine dice, there are over 10 million combinations you can use as inspiration!
Kyatric recommended these based on David's suggestion of Game Seeds. Rather like Rory's Story Cubes, the dice feature something other than pips to help you write a story. Unlike Rory's, these cubes are printed with words: but, so, and, or, as, if.
Check out the official guide to see how they work!
Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design
Steven Lambert recommended this book. It's not for beginner's: this is aimed at advanced game developers and dives into the craft and science of creating gameplay mechanics. It's not just a passive textbook: fittingly, it includes hands-on lessons and exercises.
Challenges for Game Designers
Another recommendation from Steven; unlike the previous, however, this one is suitable for newbies. As the name suggests, the book is based around a set of challenges which help you hone your skills in several areas of game design by making you build (non-digital) games - no coding required.
For Game Coders
Just like the bulk of the tutorials on Gamedevtuts+, these books are platform-agnostic, so will be relevant regardless of your programming language.
Artificial Intelligence for Games
This book offers a broad yet comprehensive look at AI techniques used in modern games, while somehow managing to be more than a cookbook: it explains why certain techniques are used, and explains them well enough that you could implement them from scratch.
Make sure you put a decent chunk of time aside to read it!
Essential Maths for Games: A Programmer's Guide
You can't get away from mathematics if you seriously want to code games. This book covers core topics (vectors, matrices, and so on), 3D rendering, animation, and basic physics. Like AI for Games, this isn't a cookbook: the origins of the equations are explained so you're not just copying by rote.
Buy Essential Maths for Games: A Programmer's Guide on Amazon
Learn Something New
This is a great time of year to decide to learn a new platform: you've probably got some time off during the holidays, and it's also a fun New Year's Resolution. With that in mind, here are the best beginner books for four different gamedev platforms, according to our How to Learn articles:
Learning XNA 4.0
This is an introduction to XNA that takes a fairly theoretical approach. It teaches 2D game development and then 3D game development, in the context of building games. Part of the book is devoted to explaining how to export your games to Windows Phone 7 and Xbox.
For more XNA resources (including a beginner's book with a more practical approach), check out How to Learn XNA.
AdvancED Game Design with Flash
There are a lot of books and tutorials specifically about Flash game development, but it's tricky to find one that uses good practices without assuming too much prior knowledge. I think this book is the best in that category - you should be able to understand it as long as you've got to grips with AS3.
For more Flash and AS3 resources, check out How to Learn Flash and AS3 for Game Development.
Unity 3.x Game Development Essentials
For more Unity resources, check out How to Learn Unity.
UDK Game Programming
David Silverman says that this is a great book for getting into the code aspect of UDK as it deals specifically with UnrealScript, the proprietary scripting language used by UDK. If you are looking to make a full game or dive right into making entirely new weapons and game modes, he recommends this as a good place to start .
For more XNA resources, check out How to Learn UDK.
Let's Get Physical
As a developer, I think it's good to step away from code and vectors and actually build something with your hands once in a while. These kits let you do that - while still keeping one foot in the digital world!
LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0
This is a LEGO set that lets you build robots and then program them as you please.
I'm not sure I need to say any more.
Arduino makes it much easier to design and build electronics. This means it can take programming away from computers, and into the physical world.
It's worth buying this with the Getting Started With Ardunio book and associated components - these will give you a good head start.
A Raspberry Pi is a similar gift idea; check out this blog post for information on the differences between the two.
MaKey MaKey bills itself as "an invention kit for everyone". Basically, it lets you make almost any object - a banana, a blob of Play-Doh, a pencil drawing - into a keyboard key, which in turn means you can use those objects as a gamepad, a piano keyboard, or a camera shutter. It's really simple to use: just connect stuff together with alligator clips.
Watch the video and visit the website for more information.
I may be biased, as an editor, but I feel it's important to keep handwritten notes. I hate sitting down to code without having sketched out the algorithm beforehand, and that goes double for any design work. You probably don't need all of these gadgets, but I'm sure there's one that'll suit you perfectly.
Do you get your best ideas in the shower? Well, now you can write them down without having to dry off. Aqua Notes is a pad of waterproof paper that sticks to your bathroom tiles.
Evernote Smart Notebook
Evernote is an excellent note-taking service, with apps for every platform out there. I've stored hundreds of ideas, sketches, and web page clippings in there over the past four years, and it just keeps getting better.
This Moleskine notebook is designed specifically for Evernote: you can use the included stickers to tag your notes, and then take a picture with the (iOS-only) app to save it in your account. You'll then be able to search for the handwritten text to find your notes later.
Slap this over your walls and they become dry-erase whiteboards. The paint comes in three colours: black, white, and clear (so you can choose your own style).
I have a wall-mounted A1 whiteboard and it is fantastic for sketching out ideas. If I weren't renting, I'd paint all my walls with this.
Boogie Board Rip
This is an e-writer - the complement to an e-reader like the Kindle. Jot your diagrams down on this, then press a button to clear your screen for a new one; you can download all your images to your computer later on.
It seems that this product is still pretty early in development; common complaints include the inability to make a small correction (as opposed to clearing the entire screen) and to view previous images on the device itself. It may be worth waiting for the next version... but it's a cool idea!
The Evernote Moleskine lets you draw on paper and take a picture to save it to your computer; the Boogie Board Rip lets you draw on e-paper and transfer it to your computer; this pen does both. As you draw on the special paper, it records your motions and then transfers the resulting images to your computer via Wi-Fi.
The pen also has a built-in microphone, so it can play back what was being said as you wrote a specific word or drew a specific diagram - perfect for recording meetings!
Wacom Bamboo Splash
Before the iPad, this is what people meant by the word "tablet". This essentially replaces your mouse with a pad and pressure-sensitive stylus, letting you handwrite notes or draw images directly in Photoshop, Illustrator, or any other software.
The Bamboo Splash is Wacom's entry-level graphics tablet, and is pretty impressive for its price. I still get great use out of the Graphire 2 I bought about ten years ago, so I can vouch for Wacom's quality!
General Gamedev Interest
You might not be able to write these off as business expenses, but I suppose that's not really in the spirit of the holidays anyway.
The Making of Prince of Persia
Steven recommended this book as well - I guess he has the same nostalgic feelings for prince.exe that I do.
In case you're not familiar with PoP beyond the recent 3D games (and maybe the movie), the original was a 2D side-scrolling platformer released in 1989. (For reference, Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985.) The creator, Jordan Mechner, kept a journal during the four years he worked on the game; this journal is now available in blog format and book format.
Masters of Doom
Steven and David both recommended this book - although David pointed me towards the audiobook version, narrated by Wil Wheaton. Masters of Doom covers the lives of John Carmack and John Romero - the creators of Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake - and the creation of their company, id Software.
Jacked: The Outlaw Story of GTA
Jacked is the unauthorized biography of Rockstar Games, the makers of Grand Theft Auto, and is written by the same author as Masters of Doom. It starts off an an interesting look into the beginnings of R*, GTA, and the people behind them, but as it progresses it puts more and more focus on the infamous Jack Thomson and his attempts to shut down the video game industry.
As a Brit, I actually found the latter half of the book (which deals mainly with the Hot Coffee controversy) quite surreal - it seemed to pass us by on this side of the pond.
Rather than begin a book about game design, this is a book about applying lessons learned from game design to other experiences, like work or school. There's a lot of buzz (and a lot of misinformation) about "gamification", and this book attempts to set that straight with solid research.
For years I carried my computer in a cheap old laptop bag that looked awful and hurt my shoulder. Splashing out on a decent bag felt like overspending on a luxury, and the amount of choice was paralysing. I'm very glad I got past that to buy a Timbuk2 D-Lux (pictured), because now I take it everywhere. It carries my shopping, it has a Napoleon pocket for my Kindle, it's my in-flight bag when I go on aeroplanes... I love it.
Like I say, there's a lot of choice available -- take a look at Rands' excellent post on choosing a bag to see what I mean -- but this might make it a perfect gift.
Michael Brough recommends this as a great introductory game for people that aren't familiar with games, so it can be a cool way of sharing your hobby with friends and family. As he puts it: "A pleasant agrarian setting, an intuitive tile-laying mechanic, rules that can be explained within a minute, a good balance between accessibility and depth, a comforting level of randomness, and a nice cooperative feeling of 'we're building a castle together' with more than two players."
Check out his whole list, and the reasons behind his choices: Playing games with people who don't play games.
This is like a mouse that's designed for navigating in 3D space; push, pull, tilt, and slide the controller to move with six degrees of freedom. It also looks plain cool on your desk.
If you plan to buy this, make sure you do your research: for example, in theory it's a great gift for Unity developers, but in practice you'll need to buy a plugin to make it work. (This one is $15, but only works on Windows; this one is $75 and cross-platform.)
Indie Game: The Movie
This documentary charts the lives of Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (Super Meat Boy), Phil Fish (FEZ), and Jonathan Blow (Braid) as they work on their games. Hugely inspirational for all indie game devs. If you haven't watched it yet, buy or rent it; if you have, well, there's the upcoming Special Edition...
I hope that's helped inspire you this Christmas! Don't forget to check out the other Tuts+ sites for their gift guides over the next few days.
If you've got any other gift ideas, please share them in the comments!