First of all, who is this book for?
When I first bought this book I thought I was in for a mind breaking tutorial or insight into game development, and considering all the great reviews, I think these expectations were completely normal. Reality is: the book will only teach you very, very essential stuff. So, if you already have any sort of experience in game development, or you have been a hardcore gamer looking to become a game developer, you probably know this stuff already. This book is great for teenagers who would love to become game developers or professionals in other areas looking to cross over. Still, if you are knowledgeable in gaming or game development, you may want to buy this book for formalize your knowledge into comprehensible data sets in your mind (this is how this book has served me the most), for the writing is clear, easily digestible, and the presentation of the whole deal is beautifully done.
What does this book talk about?
A lot of things! And this is one of the very best features of the book: it will guide you to every detail of game development, even if offers very little information on some topics, so you won't stay completely ignorant with this book. It talks about: the target market, history of games, gameplay, storytelling, characters, marketing, development process, the development team, etc... By the end of this book you will feel good about your understanding of games, even if it is at a small extend, because now you fell that you have your feet on the ground. This is another great feature: it never talks about game development as something easy. Actually, on the ending chapters, where the author talks about the development process, she makes a clear point on how crazy the whole deal can be, doing justice to those people who thought they were in for an easy way to make money.
The book has lots of "developer side notes". Some are really bad, coming from developers completely oblivious for me: they teach only what is obvious, and sometimes repeat what the author has already taught. But then again, some are brilliant, coming from either random guys or very famous developing houses like: Infinity Ward, Ensemble Studios, Obsidian Entertainment, etc. This little side notes offer guidelines on what to avoid, pursue or do while creating or thinking a game.
What I disliked.
Game Development Essentials Second Edition teaches its topics viewing gaming mostly as business and not as art. This was very disappointing for me. It constantly talks about knowing your market, and creating a good game for them. They always try to teach you to see games as a product and not as a creation to deliver a message. For a person who loves all games (me) that try hard to be art, or at least, to get a message across, it was hard to come to terms with all this (gaming as art is what inspired me in the first place).
Moreover, when the author talks about the importance of storyline in some games, she really bashes linear storytelling, saying games are supposed to be non linear. It weird but she stresses that the best games have non linear storylines and she creates this feel on her text that linear stories are a crime. But I asked myself, what about: Halo? Half Life? Gears of War? Max Payne? Metal Gear? Grim Fandango? The Longest Journey? Resident Evil? Killzone? Resistance? Silent Hill? Most of my favorite games tell linear stories! I believe that creating a linear story is a better way to developing characters; very few games have offered non linear storylines without making characters of such game look generic. But what bugs me is this: she openly talks about how great the story for some these games is, but nearly in the same paragraph she bashes linear storytelling. I think the author should rewrite that whole chapter, explaining which storytelling methods work better with the different genres in games.
All in all this is a great book, and definitely the best intro to game development. While it has a share of short comings, most of the time you'll be entertained and impressed by the learning scenario that author has created. She is not exhausting, she never punishes the learner with tons of questions, and the technical stuff is kept to a minimum. If you are looking to get into the business, look no further, this book will do you great justice indeed.