When John saw my bookshelf filled with game development books, he suggested that I write a blog post about them. At first, this seemed like a daunting task -- there are a lot of books, and different books are useful for different people. Which ones should I talk about first? However, after looking through them some more, I realized that I have two books that I can recommend to everyone: Rules of Play and Game Engine Architecture.
Rules of Play presents a theoretical framework that includes all games, from hopscotch to Deus Ex. The authors discuss (in great detail) important questions about what games are, why we play them, and how they interact with the rest of our lives. I found this book really helped me to take a step back and see the broader perspective of what games can be. It's really easy to get caught up in current trends, like realistic shooters and retro platformers, and lose sight of all the other options!
This book is very long and academic, and much more about theory than practice, so don't pick it up if that's not what you're looking for. However, if you're interested in a strong and broad theoretical game design background, this is a great resource!
Game Engine Architecture is a great complement to Rules of Play -- it is all about practice and not about theory. It presents a technical overview of every element of modern game engine design, including memory management, asset pipelines and multithreading. There are many books on this subject, but this one is the most modern and comprehensive that I have seen. It was written by a programmer who really knows what he is talking about, having worked on AAA projects from Hydro Thunder to Uncharted 2.
With such a broad scope, it's written at a fairly high level, so it won't walk you through the implementation details of every individual feature. However, it's a great way to compare what you are doing to what the huge studios are doing, and make sure you aren't missing anything important.
Do you know of any other good books on these subjects? Are there any other subjects you would like book recommendations for? Please let me know in the comments!