Jiituomas (jiituomas) wrote,

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Book Review: Elämäpeli

(I was supposed to review this book elsewhere, but that plan was canceled, so here is an expanded version of that text, in English.)

Elämäpeli: Pelintekijän maailmat is the new book by Ville "Burger" Vuorela, on the subject of being a game designer. It's a thematic continuation to his handbook for game designers, Pelintekijän käsikirja (2007), but much more personal in tone and content. I found that earlier one very annoying due to a combination of haughty tone, inflated credentials (which I now know weren't his fault) and lack of talk about creative content, but others - both reviewers and other readers - have liked it quite a lot. So I approached this opus with mixed feelings, having loved Stalker, the game he published between these two, but still seeing Pelintekijän käsikirja as just a game-design version of a "how to write a master's thesis" manual.

Well, this book had in it all of that missing stuff which I wanted from the previous one, plus some extra. It's very logical in its procession, detailing inspiration, development procedures, production, management and so on, and yet at times drifts from one subject to another without nearly any warning. Burger is often kind, but at other points quite harsh. He openly admits that he wants to be both honest and polite (and not burn any bridges within the design community), so the text has a strange feel to it. As strange as it seems, I found myself missing his normally arrogant tone, as it does bring with itself a certain sense of authority and consistency. On the other hand, I liked the commitment and self-critique which were present. And there's no denying that when an old hand at tabletop game-mastering like Burger describes a scene, you can really clearly picture all of it, regardless of tone.

The result is therefore a book which seems to give a very credible first-hand report on the realities of (electronic) game design, particularly in Finland, and one which sounds very familiar to me from reports by other people whom I know from within that field. There is stuff here and there showing critical insight into many phenomena, with pointers (and language) drawn also from management training and experience. One really sees the way ideas develop into games - or end up discarded due to one reason or another.

Despite the critique within it on academic / formal game design training, I'd make this book mandatory reading for all future Finnish game designers and add it to the list of university coursebooks on the subject. It works both as a guide book and as a warning for the too optimistic. I really enjoyed reading it, but it is not something that I'm likely to pick up ever again (and that problem may be a bit of a problem as far as sales and visibility are concerned), but it is a solid contribution to game design literature nevertheless. The author is certainly capable of writing even stronger stuff, both style- and content-wise, but I think he has sought a balance here which precludes a more pointy approach. And it works.

All in all, a nice book, worth four stars out of five, and one I will force a couple of friends to read as soon as possible.
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