OpenGL ES 2 for Android – A fine quick-start guide for new developers – #android #programming #bookreview

OpenGL ES 2 for Android

A Quick-Start Guide
Kevin Brothaler
(Pragmatic Bookshelf - paperback)

Yes, the timing might seem a bit strange, releasing an OpenGL ES 2 book in early July, 2013, barely a month before the August release of OpenGL ES 3.

However, OpenGL ES 3 is backward-compatible with OpenGL ES 2. And the steps and techniques you can learn in this Open GL ES 2 book for Android are forward-compatible to OpenGL ES 3. Many also are applicable to iOS WebGL or HTML5 WebGL.

This “quick-start guide” assumes you have some experience with Java and Android, and it quickly jumps into creating OpenGL applications for Android. You install software tools such as the Java Development Kit (JDK) and the Android Software Development Kit and create a simple test project. Then you dive into developing and enhancing a 3D game project —  “a simple game of air hockey” — for the remainder of the book.

OpenGL ES 2 for Android is nicely illustrated, well-written, and cleanly organized with short paragraphs and short code examples that clearly have been tested. It is a fine quick-start guide, particularly for developers looking into OpenGL for the first time.

Some math skills are required to develop the air hockey game. But the author does a nice job of explaining and illustrating the math examples, as well.

Kevin Brothaler has extensive experience in Android development. He founded Digipom, a mobile software development shop, and he manages an online set of OpenGL tutorials for Android and WebGL: Learn OpenGL ES.

Si Dunn

LEGO Bonanza — Stack ‘em up: 3 hot new books for LEGO builders – #bookreview

No Starch Press recently has released three new books aimed at the world’s millions of LEGO™ builders:

  • The Unofficial LEGO™ Builder’s Guide, 2nd Edition
  • The LEGO™ Adventure Book, Vol. 1
  • The Unofficial LEGO™ Technic Builder’s Guide.

Here are short reviews of each.

The Unofficial LEGO™ Builder’s Guide, 2nd Edition
Allan Bedford
(No Starch,
paperbackKindle)

Allan Bedford’s popular how-to guide has been updated, and all photographs and illustrations are now in color.

The well-written 221-page book starts at the absolute beginner’s level, showing and explaining the various LEGO pieces, which range from “bricks” to “plates” to “slopes” to “tiles” and numerous others. From there, it shows the best ways to connect pieces for successful construction.  Then it delves into three different, progressively larger, sizes of LEGO constructions –minifig, miniland, and jumbo – before briefly going smaller, to microscale.

Bedford explains how to design and build structures and characters from LEGO elements and also shows how to put together several projects, including a train station, a space shuttle, a mosaic, a game board, and a sculpture of the Sphinx.

His book’s Appendix A offers a helpful “Brickopedia” that contains “a selection of more than 275 elements, from basic bricks, slopes, and plates, to specialized elements, arches, and even decorative elements.

The pieces included represent the most common and most reusable elements in the LEGO system,” Bedford notes. The parts’ specifications are given, and helpful notes are included, as well.

Appendix B, meanwhile, shows how to download and use design grids to plan complex LEGO projects before you build them.

The LEGO™ Adventure Book, Vol. 1
Megan Rothrock
(No Starch, hardback 
- Kindle)

Megan Rothrock’s book is the debut volume in the new “The LEGO™ Adventure Book series” from No Starch Press.

Subtitled “Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs & More!”, Volume 1 presents excellent color photographs of nearly 200 intriguing models crafted by LEGO builders around the world. Ms. Rothrock’s 200-page book also features “brick-by-brick breakdowns” of 25 models that range from a medieval village to T. Rex and a British Railways steam engine.

The constructions are shown step by step in close-up, so even inexperienced builders can duplicate them. Some are simple, such as a small bridge “that can be added to any scene” in eight steps. And others are more involved, such as a mecha named “Counterblast” that is well-armed with big guns that requires more than 50 steps to complete.

Megan Rothrock is well-known in LEGO builder circles. She is a former set designer for the LEGO Group, and her models have been widely displayed, including at ComicCon and LEGO events in Europe. She is now a freelance toy designer in Denmark.

LEGO builders frequently claim that they can build models of “almost anything” with LEGO parts. With books such as The LEGO™ Adventure Book, Vol. 1 helping guide and train you, you definitely can learn to build lots of different types of models.

The Unofficial LEGO™ Technic Builder’s Guide
Paweł “Sariel” Kmieć
(No Starch, paperbackKindle)

The LEGO™ Technic system lets you build LEGO models that move. The system includes motors, gears, pneumatics, pulleys, linkages, and other devices designed for LEGO constructions. But working with Technic can be complex at times.

Fortunately, Paweł “Sariel” Kmieć has excellent credentials for showing and explaining how to construct Technic models and make them operate. He is described as “YouTube’s most popular LEGO Technic builder, a guest blogger for the official LEGO Technic blog, and a 2012 LEGO Ambassador.”

His 333-page book is packed with illustrations, photographs, explanations, and tips on everything from simple “pins” (which “keep bricks and beams together”) to wheeled suspension systems and using a subtractor to get better steering of a tracked LEGO vehicle that has two motors and is radio-controlled.

While most of the focus is on details of how to use specifics Technic parts, he also shows some amazing and inspiring powered models that he has built from LEGO pieces and LEGO Technic devices.

Whether you are new to Technic or an old hand, you likely will want to build many things that move, once you have this book. 

Si Dunn

Enterprise Games – How to build a better 21st-century business with game mechanics – #business #bookreview

Enterprise Games: Using Game Mechanics to Build a Better Business
Michael Hugos
(O’Reilly, paperbackKindle)

Can 21st-century games and gamers attack and destroy the top-down, assembly-line thinking that still keeps many businesses firmly rooted in the previous century?

 Michael Hugos’ compelling new book makes a solid case that they can. Game mechanics, he argues, can reshape how workers work, how organizations are managed, and how business goals get accomplished in today’s volatile global economy.

“Games and the associated technology we currently refer to as video games offer us more than just a diversion and escape from difficult times,” contends Hugos. “They offer us field-tested models to use for organizing companies and performing complex and creative tasks. They offer clear and compelling examples for how people can work together, build their careers, and earn a living in rapidly changing and unpredictable environments.”

Hugos, principal at the Center for Systems Innovation, offers his well-written views in a 199-page book “loosely divided into three parts.”

Part One focuses on “ideas and case studies to illustrate how games can provide operating models to follow for redesigning work.”

Part Two presents “a discussion of games and game mechanics that are relevant to the way work is done.” He includes “specific examples, pictures, and case studies to show how game techniques and technologies can be applied to the design of new business systems and workflows.”

Part Three “describes business and social impacts of combining technology from video games with in-house corporate systems, consumer technology, and cloud computing. The book concludes with a discussion about where this is all going and what it might mean for the future of work.”

During the coming months, Enterprise Games may spur many discussions and arguments at all levels of enterprise. And these may lead to some business-model reorganizations not only in Corporate America but elsewhere in the interconnected global economy.

For these changes to happen, however, many company leaders will have to stop thinking “top down” and learn to adapt “the four traits of a game…goal, rules, feedback system, and voluntary participation” to how they to structure and operate a business.

“We all have a sense of what a game is,” Hugos notes. But most of us also have been taught that “play” is not “work.” Enterprise Games shows how the two concepts can be brought together in ways that can make companies more competitive and more profitable in these uncertain times.

Si Dunn

Super Scratch Programming Adventure – Kids can learn programming without typing code – #bookreview

Super Scratch Programming Adventure
The LEAD Project
(No Starch Press, paperback)

Scratch is widely popular, free educational software for children ages 8 and up. And its simple, graphics-based programming language has a dual mission, says Professor Mitchel Resnick, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Scratch Team. The MIT group helped develop the software in partnership with The Learning through Engineering, Art, and Design (LEAD) Project based in Hong Kong.

“We designed Scratch to help young people prepare for life in today’s fast-changing society,” Prof. Resnick notes in this book’s foreword.

“As young people create Scratch projects, they are not just learning how to write computer programs. They are learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively—essential skills for success and happiness in today’s world.”

Super Scratch Programming Adventure deftly combines comics and programming tasks with the steps necessary to create “projects inspired by classic arcade games that can be programmed (and played!) in an afternoon.” The book covers version 1.4 of the software.

One thing you definitely don’t do in Scratch is go to a command line and key in some code. The book notes: “Scratch was designed to prevent common beginner pitfalls like misspellings and errors in consistency. Instead of typing commands, programming in Scratch is performed by dragging and joining programming blocks.”

And this isn’t just “Hello, world!” stuff. Soon after meeting the program’s graphic characters and seeing how to operate the program, kids start working at the x-y axis level to control movements by Scratchy the Cat. They also learn how to adjust the speed of Scratchy’s maneuvers and save their file.

From there, the book continues forward in 10 chapters that are organized as increasingly challenging stages. And most of the stages involve creating a new, simple game.

For example, in stage 2, the chapter focus is “Learn how to design new costumes and program a sprite’s movements, reactions, and sound effects.” By stage 7, the focus is: “Learn how to design an interactive maze with a guard, booby traps, and treasure!” By stage 10, children have learned how to upload their own Scratch projects to the Scratch website to share with others around the world (with their parents’ permission, of course).

Many kids may be able to pick up this book, open the program, and figure out everything on their own. But the laudable goals of Super Scratch Programming Adventure are best served when teachers and parents stay involved as mentors.

Besides, you might learn a few new things from Scratch programming, too.

Si Dunn

Tap, Move, Shake: Turning Your Game Ideas into iPhone & iPad Apps – #bookreview

Tap, Move, Shake: Turning Your Game Ideas into iPhone & iPad Apps
By Todd Moore
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $29.99; Kindle edition, list price $23.99)

If you have some game ideas and a little coding experience, this well-focused and well-written book can show you how to get started as a developer of iPhone and iPad game apps.

The author notes: “Most games are typically controlled using a directional pad, analog joysticks, and various buttons. The iPhone and iPad give us a new form of input—Multi-touch. We can track up to 5 individual touches on the iPhone and iPod touch screens and up to 11 individual touches on the iPad. This opens up a whole new genre of games that previously did not exist. This is why [in this book] you are going to learn right from the start how to handle multiple touches on the screen.”

Moore’s 254-page book, which includes a foreword by Steve Wozniak, is organized as follows:

  • Preface – “Whether you are racking up points hitting a ball with a paddle or fragging your friends in a 3-D immersive world, the overall game elements are the same.”
  • Introduction to XCode – How to register at the App Store as an Apple Developer. (Also see App Store chapter at end of book.) How to get the iOS Dev Center program and download the latest version of XCode. How to build a simple game while you learn various aspects of XCode.
  • Hello Pong – How to create a Pong-like air hockey game called “Paddles” as you “learn how to implement multi-touch controls, animation, collision detection, and scoring.”
  • Graphics – How to create graphics and use them in your game.
  • Physics – How to “improve the paddle controls and create a realistic puck animation” for the “Paddles” game.
  • Sounds – How to “create realistic sounds for your game.”
  • Computer AI – Shows “how to create a computer player that can play a decent game of air hockey” and includes adding a title screen for the “Paddles” game, “so the player can choose to play against the computer or play the two player mode that has already been implemented.”
  • App Store – The author walks you “through the process of submitting your application to the App Store.” He also discusses the necessity to take “a lot of different screenshots, making sure to show the unique parts of your game.” The idea ultimately is to “help the customer make a buy decision” for your app.

Todd Moore founded TMSOFT “to create unique smartphone applications and games.” He is one of the few developers who have had “two apps in iTunes’ Top 20 Paid Downloads.”

#

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer and a former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.

Gamification by Design – Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps – #bookreview

Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps
By Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham
(O’Reilly, $24.99, paperback; $9.99, Kindle)

Many companies which sell us products and services are rushing to try to adapt successful videogame strategies to their sales techniques.

This well-written and adequately illustrated book encourages companies to view consumers as “players” rather than “customers” or “users.” In the co-authors’ view: “By thinking of our clients as players, we shift our frame of mind toward their engagement with our products and services. Rather than looking at the immediacy of a single financial transaction, we are considering a long-term and symbiotic union wrapped in a ribbon of fun.”

“Gamification,” the writers emphasize, “…is the marketing buzzword of our time,” and it “can mean different things to different people.”

In their book, it means “the design strategy and tactics you need to integrate game mechanics into any kind of consumer-facing website or mobile app.”

The co-authors also state that their overall goal is “to help demystify some of the core concepts of game design as they apply to business” and that they have structured their book from “the perspective of what a marketer, product manager, or strategist would want to know.”

They define game mechanics as “the tools used to create games,” and game dynamics as “how players interact with game experiences.”

The two writers, both gamification experts, stress that gamification cannot fix core problems within a business. And bad products or products that don’t fit well into a particular market will not get a sales boost if game mechanics and game design are applied to sales campaigns. One hypothetical example they cite is trying to create “a world where your consumer’s avatar is chasing gremlins with an AK-47 in order to save the spaghetti sauce your company is trying to sell in outer space.”

Gamification by Design is not about showing you how to create actual games. Instead, it is more about using gamification to enhance customer engagement and loyalty to your products or services.

The chapter line-up shows the scope of this 182-page book:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Foundations
  • Chapter 2: Player Motivation
  • Chapter 3: Game Mechanics: Designing for Engagement (Part I)
  • Chapter 4: Game Mechanics: Designing for Engagement (Part II)
  • Chapter 5: Game Mechanics and Dynamics in Greater Depth
  • Chapter 6: Gamification Case Studies
  • Chapter 7: Tutorial: Coding Basic Game Mechanics
  • Chapter 8: Tutorial: Using an Instant Gamification Platform
  • Index (12 pages)

Once the basic game mechanics and structures are introduced, the reader is presented with more information on how “[p]oints, badges, levels, leader-boards, challenges, and rewards can be remixed in limitless ways to create a spectrum of experiences.” And the book moves into deeper discussions of game mechanics and game dynamics.

Feedback, for example, is the process of “returning information to players and informing them of where they are at the present time, ideally against a continuum of progress.” In the toolbox of game mechanics, “[f]eedback loops are essential parts of all games, and they are seen most frequently in the interplay between scores and levels. As scores increase during an experience, they provide clear and unambiguous feedback to the player that she is heading in the ‘right’ direction.”

The book includes case studies focusing successful use of gamification by Yahoo!, Nike and Quora. It also offers up some examples of bad efforts at gamifying a website.

While Gamification by Design keeps its focus away from actually designing and creating games, it does give the reader the architecture and code needed to gamify a basic consumer site. It also shows how to use “mainstream APIs [application programming interfaces] from Badgeville,”

Noting that badges have motivated military warriors and Boy Scouts for hundreds of years, the co-authors contend that offering electronic badges as rewards and status symbols on websites “are [for game designers] an excellent way to encourage social promotion of their products and services. Badges also mark the completion of goals and the steady progress of play within the system.”

This is a fine standalone book, but it also can be used in conjunction with O’Reilley’s Gamification Master Class and with “the supplemental videos, exercises, challenges, and resources available at http://www.GamificationU.com.”

Si Dunn

#