Unity in Action: A top-notch how-to guide for game developers – #gamedev #programming

Unity in Action

Joseph Hocking

Manning – paperback

Unity, the cross-platform game development environment, is easy to download and get running. But it definitely is not easy to learn without some help.

Fortunately, Joe Hocking’s Unity in Action makes it reasonably straightforward to learn how to develop games in 3D, as well as with Unity’s new 2D capabilities. The book takes the reader from “Hello, World” all the way to “Putting the parts together into a complete game” and then “Deploying your game to players’ devices.”

Even with this fine book, however, game development can be hard and complicated work. There are many different elements to consider, such as “Adding enemies and projectiles to the 3D game”, “Developing graphics for your game”, “Adding interactive devices and items within the game,” and putting sound effects and music into your game. Hocking’s book does a good job of showing how to handle these tasks, plus many more.

You may have heard Unity described as a game development environment where you don’t have to know how to program. Yes, you might be able to create some games without programming skills. But, “to produce commercial titles” using Unity, you definitely need some programming experience, Hocking emphasizes. In this case, you should have some knowledge of C#, but a background in some other object-oriented (OO) programming language will be helpful if you are new to C#, he adds.

Hocking’s book has many examples, illustrations, headings and subheadings. But step-by-step listings are sparse. Therefore, be prepared to read the text closely and, if necessary, develop lists of steps yourself. There is nothing wrong with this approach, and it is not really a criticism of the book. Game development, after all, is not something that you can, nor should, just dive into and speed through, step by step. It requires a lot of careful planning and thought before you start.

Unity in Action wastes no time. It gets right to the essential stuff you need to know. And it can get you into action reasonably fast as a game developer. But “reasonably fast” in this case must be defined by how quickly you personally can learn to handle Unity, plus the myriad tasks of planning, creating, testing, revising and distributing a game.

Si Dunn

 

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Realm of Racket: Learn to Program, One Game at a Time – #Racket #game #programming #bookreview

Realm of Racket
Learn to Program, One Game at a Time!

Matthias Felleisen, David Van Horn, Conrad Barski, M.D., Forrest Bice, Rose DeMaio, Spencer Florence, Feng-Yun Mimi Lin, Scott Lindeman, Nicole Nussbaum, Eric Peterson, and Ryan Plessner
(No Starch Press – paperback, Kindle)

Formerly known as PLT Scheme, Racket is an offshoot of the Lisp/Scheme family of programming languages. (Lisp, which was first specified in 1958, is the second-oldest high-level programming language, behind FORTRAN).

The (numerous) authors of this 294-page book call Racket “a friendly mutation of Lisp” and tout it as “perfect for all, from those who want to launch their education in computer science to those looking to expand their knowledge and experience in programming.”

Lisp has a long learning curve, so the writers have taken special pains to try to make Racket (“a weird-looking programming language,” they concede) approachable and fun by using comics and games built from short code examples.

Their well-written book is aimed at college freshmen readers. But they emphasize “that doesn’t mean you should drop this book if you are a sophomore or an industry professional.” Nor if you are still in high school or simply like to tinker with programming languages for fun and challenge.

“Regardless of your programming background,” they state, “many of the topics in this book will be new to you, and much of what you’ve learned before will appear in a new light.”

Realm of Racket is structured so that you start out programming very simple games and gradually tackle games that are more complex, while learning about such topics as functions, recursion, lambda, lists, structures, loops, testing, and more.

If you are interested in developing special-purpose computer languages that require specific knowledge of specialized fields, Realm of Racket’s  final chapter briefly delves into the field of language engineering. It notes that Racket “makes it particularly easy to create new programming languages, including special-purpose languages.”

Not surprisingly, some people who program in Racket call themselves Racketeers. The open source language and its program development environment (PDE), DrRacket (“Doctor Racket”), can be downloaded from http://racket-lang.org. “Racket can run on Windows, Mac, and *nix* systems,” the authors note.

Realm of Racket can be a fun, challenging book for computer-savvy teens nearing the end of high school or in their first years of college to study computer science or gaming. Younger readers likely won’t stick with it unless they have some helpful, patient guidance from knowledgeable older siblings or adults. Wait until they’ve gotten reasonably good at another language, such as Python, Ruby, C#, or Java, first.

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

Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress – How to build and fight your way into this complex game – #bookreview

Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress
Peter Tyson
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $19.99;
Kindle edition, list price $15.99)

Many gamers agree with this book’s tagline, that Dwarf Fortress is “…the most complex video game ever made.”

For that reason, they have avoided taking it up or have tried it, stumbled over its steep learning curve, and walked away.

Peter Tyson, however, has been writing Dwarf Fortress tutorials for gamers since 2009, and his new 230-page how-to-play it guide has been getting some good reviews from players and newcomers.

The game’s “baffling complexity and Dwarf Fortress’s infamous and seemingly impenetrable ASCII graphics can be extremely offputting to new players,” Tyson concedes. But his new book “aims to help you overcome these challenges and to guide, comfort, enlighten, and hopefully inspire the inner Dwarf Fortress player in us all.”

His approach is to focus on the game’s simulation mode and have you first  build an underground dwarf fortress. After you learn how to build and maintain the fortress, you can start tackling numerous other challenging assignments, such as gathering and managing dwarf resources, growing (and defending) crops above ground and below ground, maintaining a healthcare system and justice system (while dealing with a few rogue dwarves who turn out to be vampires!), and creating and training a militar with dwarves and war animals. 

You will also learn how to expand your fortress and protect it with a wild array of traps, machines, and powerful weapons. 

“If there’s one thing all Dwarf Fortress players should be prepared for, it is losing,” Tyson cautions. “You will lose your first few games, and probably quite quickly. But do not fear! There’s a good chance that your losses will be quite amusing.””

“Once you are familiar with Dwarf Fortress,  you may feel like creating a more challenging world,” Tyson says. “Adjusting the world creating settings to produce a world with higher savagery is the easiest way to increase the difficulty as more locations will have dangerous and aggressive animals and creatures to face. This will necessarily force a change to your embarkation strategy–and traveling equipped for battle is advisable when deploying to a particularly dangerous area.”

Sounds  like a viable strategy, too, for the real world outside Dwarf Fortress. 

Si Dunn

 

Oh, say can you C? Learning to program with Head First C – #bookreview #in #programming

Head First C
By David Griffiths and Dawn Griffiths
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $49.99)

 Long ago, in a universe now very far away, I was an ABC programmer: assembler, BASIC, and C. I learned C from a book popularly known as “K&R,” after its authors, Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie. (Their classic work is now available in an updated second edition.)

But I had no mentors, so I struggled to figure out and apply many of the basic concepts that were not quite spelled out clearly enough or illustrated well enough for me in K&R.

I really wish I had had a book like Head First C, instead. My geeky logical side often is ruled and frequently overruled by my unstructured, illogical artistic side.

For learners like me, O’Reilly’s “Head First” series makes effective and entertaining use of graphics. It also addresses readers with a conversational style that avoids lecturing. And it focuses on trying to make sure you understand and can apply each new element.

Thus, Head First C does not try to be a complete C language reference guide. It shows you how to work with C’s major concepts, and you begin using them right away, so you can start understanding the process of becoming an effective C programmer. After that, if you are motivated to continue, you can push on into other books that do attempt to be complete C reference texts.

This “brain friendly guide” shows how to download free C compilers for Linux, Macintosh, and Windows machines. And, the authors assure: “All the code in this book is intended to run across all these operating systems, and we’ve tried hard not to write anything that will only work on one type of computer.”

Another positive for this book: You don’t have to key in or wade through dozens of lines of code to get to the few lines you are really supposed to be studying. “Most examples in this book are shown within the smallest possible context, so that the part you’re trying to learn is clear and simple.”

And, the book has been given a thorough technical review. So the code examples that are intended to work generally will work.

The book’s 12 chapters focus on the following topics:

  1. Getting Started with C
  2. Memory and Pointers
  3. Strings
  4. Creating Small Tools
  5. Using Multiple Source Files
  6. Structs, Unions, and Bitfields
  7. Data Structures and Dynamic Memory
  8. Advanced Functions
  9. Static and Dynamic Libraries
  10. Processes and System Calls
  11. Interprocess Communication
  12. Sockets and Networking
  13. Threads

About midway through the book, you are presented with your first lab exercise. You write some C code and hook up a few hardware components to create an Arduino-powered plant monitor that lights up an LED and repeatedly sends the string “Feed me!” to your screen if a plant needs to be watered.

In the book’s second lab exercise, you write C code that lets your computer and its web cam act as an intruder detector. You do this with help from OpenCV, “an open source computer vision library. It allows you to take input from your computer camera, process it, and analyze real-time image data and make decisions based on what your computer sees.”

In the third and final lab exercise, you use your new C skills to write a video game called “Blasteroids,” with help from the Allegro open source game development library.

Head First C is a first and foremost a very good book for beginners, especially those who have at least a little bit of programming experience. But it delves into some advanced-level topics, too, such as multithreading and network programming.

If learning C is your goal, Head First C can help you stay focused, stay entertained and happily soak up the things you need to know.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir. He is the author of an e-book detective novel, Erwin’s Law, now also available in paperback, plus a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

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.”

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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.