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3D Game Art f/x & Design
Author: Luke Ahearn
Publisher: Coriolis
ISBN: 1-58880-100-4
Purchasing: [Amazon.Com
] [Fatbrain.Com] - RRP US$49.99
Reviewed: 13th October 2001

Front Cover Shot:

Overview

From the outset this looks to be an interesting book - it's well presented and has a CD with lots on it. It is also part of a comprehensive and rather large series of books from Coriolis - Generally they're creative books range, and more specifically it's part of their "f/x & Design" series. In the catalogue alone lists 46 books for the general series, with probably many more to come in the near future. The other obvious point to make here is that none of them are about programming, or anything programming related; it may now seem strange that I would be reviewing these books. But bare with me...

The main reason I am covering these books is that they are applicable to the general development process - every game and every multimedia program is likely to need some artwork, maybe some music, and probably some sound effects. You may well be the most amazing programmer on the planet, but can you hold your own in a paint program? There's the counter argument to this as well - "Thats what Artists/sound engineers/musicians are for!", well if you are part of a small team (or even working solo), then you're going to need to be at least capable with the relevent programs. Which is where this series comes in handy.

Not all of the books in this series are relevent to game/multimedia development - the books on "QuarkXPress" and "Dreamweaver" are hardly going to be of any direct use to a game designer (unless you want to make manuals, or a webpage that is...); however, the series covers several of the staple programs for game development. Where would many people be without good old Photoshop? (or it's cheaper rival Paint Shop Pro), what about 3D Studio Max? If you keep an eye on the commercial game development industry and read the articles on GamaSutra.com you will probably be aware that the programs just mentioned are the de-facto standard for creating game art.

Now, onto the review.

The book that I have lined up for review today is title "3D Game Art f/x & Design". This book aims to give a broard overview of the tasks involved in creating 3D graphics and resources. A lot of the book hinges around the creation of textures for 3D environments, which, as many people will be aware, can make-or-break a good game/multimedia application. The rest of the book focuses on world creation - design, lighting, texturing etc...

One of the most interesting aspects of this book, particularly from the programming point of view, is how they (the artists) go about making or acquiring textures for game media. I wont lie and say I'm a good artist, but I was fairly aware of how they went about their work; and whilst this book doesn't intentionally give an overview for dummies like myself, you can (and do) pick up a lot about the techniques of an artist just from reading it. I would fairly safely say that you could, after reading this book, go about collecting and processing game-quality graphics for yourself.

The book itself is very easy to read - the text content is broken up by headings and sub-headings such that it doesn't feel like you're reading page-after-page of dense boring text. There are also plenty of images to explain what the author is talking about (including a section of glossy colour plate prints in the middle of the book), one good example of this is at the beginning of chapter 2. Here he goes about explaining how to convert a picture of a real-world location into a virtual 3D-World (it only discusses textures at this point though). The text describes the finer details, and then there is a double page showing the original photo of the real-world location, the base-textures generated from that picture, the basic simple 3D world (geometry only), and then the same scene again but using all of the proper generated textures; perfectly illustrating what was said in the text.

One of the later chapters in the first section discusses menus and the user interface; this makes for interesting reading - artist or not. So many times have I seen good games have ugly and difficult interfaces, whilst this book doesn't offer the perfect solution, I would be more than pleased if some developers took at least a few of his ideas onboard. It offers many little gems - such as the initial "Ten Usability Principles". The author uses "Unreal Tournament" (A game many will be familiar with) as a continuous case study of user interfaces, which is understandable as it does have a very good user-interface system. Whilst you may think of the user-interface as being a primarily programmer-related task, it would actually be much better suited to the artist/designer, as is shown in this particular chapter. Towards the end of this chapter the author goes about a unique example of his own - which again, is very interesting to read through - showing someone elses work is one thing, but explaining the process from start to finish is sometimes a much better approach.

The included CD is a bit of a treat as well; with most computer books I've reviewed and/or own you tend to get a CD with 10 or so folders with 100's of files dumped in them. If you're lucky you get a readme file, if you're very lucky you get a little browser program to look through. Not with this CD though, it has a browser a readme file, a bonus chapter from "Photoshop 6.0 in depth" (all 142 pages of chapter 3), and a large image library of textures and base-textures for you to experiment with (and all the work-in-progress files for relevent chapters). The CD also contains a full version of the Genesis engine/library which is important, as the entire second section of the book is based upon it's usage (it would of been pretty stupid of them not to include it on the CD!). This CD isn't just something tacked on at the end of the book, it could be considered to be part of the book even - as it makes working through the book so much easier.

Where Does it Fall Down?

No book is going to be perfect, although some will be better than others. The only limitation to this book is it's audience really. Being a programming website I am assuming that I am mostly talking to programmers, or programming related persons - therefore, not necessarily interested in becoming a 3D games artist. Having said that, the book isn't really aimed at programmers - it's aimed at artists, and for them, it is a very good book. Even if you aren't a dedicated artist as such, and just dabble with art/graphics when you need them you will get a lot of information from this book.

The other thing that disappointed me was the required basic skills. As I've said, I'm not an artist - and for that very reason, I found it quite hard to follow what was going on at times. One example that stuck out to me was when he went over converting a photo of a sign (taken with a digital camera) into a usable texture. It may not seem too hard, but I would not of been able to repeat it. The sign was taken at an angle, and it had a slight light-flare on it, so the author says (as captions to 4 pictures), "Straighten out the image", "Remove the light flare", "Done". Now those two major steps of straightening out the perspective on the image and removing the light flare aren't explained - and I dont know how to do that!

The last negative point I can think of for this book is about the software - As I already said, Photoshop is pretty much the de-facto standard software to use for digitial media creation these days. This whole book uses photoshop, the effects that are explained, are explained with direct relation to photoshop - so if you dont own photoshop (it's quite expensive) you're a little stuck. I've found the cheaper "Paintshop Pro" to be more than a match for some areas of photoshop, and it will probably perform the same effects, but you'll be improvising. On top of that, even if you own photoshop, you'll need to be fairly competent when using it - Whilst I prefer the book as it is without 'newbie' help, if he says "Turn the layer tiling filter on" you need to know how to do that, he doesn't always explain things such that a complete newbie to the program will understand them. My only solution to this would be to buy a book on photoshop - should you really want to get into game art.

In Summary

I've said pretty much all that I have to say about this book. I enjoyed reading it, and I'm sure you'll enjoy reading it - it's whether you actually NEED this book (for the generally curious individuals it may be worthwhile hiring it from a library rather than buying it). Take a look at the following breakdown of key points, and make your own decision.

Good Things Bad Things
• Well written, very easy to read • Aimed at artists with a little experience already under their belt.
• Most points are clearly illustrated with step-by-step pictures. • Assumes knowledge that not many beginners will be in possession of (it is aimed at intermediate-advanced readers though)
• The accompanying CD is well done. • Requires that you have certain software, and at least some minimal experience/knowledge of that software.
• Will almost certainly give you new insight into making game art.

 

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