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Online Game Interactivity Theory
Author: Markus Friedl
Publisher: Charles River Media
ISBN: 1-58450-215-0
Purchasing: [Amazon.Com] - RRP US$49.95
Reviewed: 11th January 2003

Front Cover Shot:

Overview

Online games are big business currently, and they are only expected to get bigger. At the time of writing, games like Star Wars: Galaxies have entered testing - receiving huge interest from potential testers. Online frag-fests Quake and Unreal have been popular for years, Unreal Tournament seems to be heading for a yearly update - the market must be there.

So, in tune with other books in the Advances In Computer Graphics And Game Development series we have one of the first books dedicated solely to the design and theory of these types of games.

No Programming Allowed

This book is, as the titles suggests, theory. It is not about programming - there are no code listings for DirectPlay or WinSock. You can hope to learn fundamental lessons in how to design the programming libraries, but you're not going to learn the actual source code that does the job.

This is quite interesting as, to my knowledge, no books are currently in print that handle the practical side of this subject, and this is the first book to handle the theory. From my own limited experience of programming multiplayer games it is often the design that is by far the hardest part.

Creating a solid design for the online communication engine, and getting your game to correctly use it is paramount - but it is more about understanding the issues and theory than actually rushing out pages of DirectPlay9 source code.

Covers all the bases

The book is nicely divided (in the 2nd part) up to cover the major interactivity types - player:player, player:game, player:computer... It also covers the other necessary theory - tools and the development process. These are done well - it is useful to have it written-in-stone (so to speak) the alpha/beta/release cycle.

It also neatly covers the pure theory behind why humans play games in the "anthropology and playology" section. On face value, it's something you're more likely to see in a psychology/philosophy text book. It's not really a necessary topic, but it does provide an interesting extra-level to the theory presented in this book.

The only area that is a bit thin on the ground is that of transmission security, stopping cheats and maintaining a safe community/environment for honest & decent players. It's a potentially huge topic - one that could easily benefit from more attention; named examples and some usable strategies should have been discussed here. Instead we get more of an explanation of what can/does happen and not so much information about what we can do about it.

Known case studies

One of the best features of this book is the inclusion of examples. In the tools section there are several recognizable illustrations of recent popular games. These are also referenced in the actual text. It's amazing how much clearer a book on theory can become if you can relate the text to a real-world experience.

The other tie-in here is the brilliant 5th section of the book: interviews and opinions. You can think of it as being the place (after the author has had his say) where he invites other prominent figures to offer their views and experiences on the subject. It completely opens up the floor to the theory of not just one, but many individuals.

In Conclusion

This is an interesting book partly because it is the first of it's kind, and partly because it's a very well thought out and very well executed text. Not only does it go a little further with the fundamental theory, it opens up the floor to let other experience developers have their say on the matter. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants a more solid foundation in designing a multiplayer game, It may be the first of it's kind, but I don't think it'll be beaten for quite some time.

 

Good Things Bad Things
First book to do this subject justice Security is not covered brilliantly
Wide ranging theories discussed, from the basics up to the more complex. Case studies could be used better in some places.
Very clear about it will/wont teach.  
Well organized and put together  

 

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