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Programming Role Playing Games with DirectX
Author:
Jim Adams
Publisher: Premier Press
ISBN: 1-931841-09-8
Purchasing: [Amazon.Com] - RRP US$59.99
Reviewed: 14th May 2002

Front Cover Shot:

Overview

Role-Playing-Games ("RPG's") seem to be going from strength to strength at the moment, from what was once a very 'geekish' pastime to one of the biggest forms of entertainment is quite impressive (even if all those ork's, goblins and wizards still make some of us cringe!)

A couple of months back I was reading the Edge (games industry magazine) Japanese special-edition, focusing entirely on, funnily enough, Japanese gaming. RPG's are huge over there - the Final Fantasy series being almost a house-hold name for anyone who's owned a playstation console. RPG's are now penetrating the mass market in Europe and the America's, and tend to be big business, with often huge teams and huge budgets. Therefore, it's not too surprising that many people want to try their hand at writing their own Role Playing Game!

I also believe that this book is going to be of particular interest to the VB community, whilst I have no interest in programming RPG's myself, it does seem to be a very popular genre for VB-Gamers. Maybe this is due to it not (usually) requiring impressive 3D and physics engines (which are rarely written in VB!), or maybe its something else... I don't know!

Yet Another 'Premier Press Game Development Book'

By my estimation, this series is not that "old", a couple of years at most. However, there is already an impressively large catalogue of top-quality books; making this series really worth the paper it's printed on. Some series tend to run things into the ground, but at current standings this is not going to happen for a considerable amount of time for this series.

This review will be the 5th book in the series that I've reviewed, and I haven't found anything (in general) to complain about. The format, page design and structure have been pretty much identical throughout (a useful standard to have), so there's not much I can really say that I haven't said 4 times before. But for those of you who haven't read the previous reviews, the outlook is good.

All of the books in this series are divided into several "parts", each subdivided into a number of chapters; whilst each of these parts acts towards the general aim/goal of the book, they do often work as separate entities covering their particular topic(s). Page-setting is well done, with sections clearly marked, plenty of diagrams (where appropriate) and "TIP", "NOTE" and "CAUTION" box-outs breaking up the text and drawing attention to important points. Another crucial aspect to appreciate is that the design indicates an almost informal approach - some books on this (and similar) topics read too much like text-books and are therefore not much fun to read. Whilst its impossible to make a general statement on the writing style across the series (different authors have different styles) they are almost always an enjoyable read.

Content

Enough Generalization! A quick run down of the facts and figures:

1056 pages in total
21 Chapters
6 parts
5 Appendices

It comes across as an impressive tome, and is clear from square-one that the author knows what he's talking about and intends to tell you as much as he can.

There is quite a clear division in this book between RPG-background and theory (story writing, character creation etc...) and the technical programming; as the title suggests, this book is weighted towards the technical programming and design areas. First up, this may well be exactly what you want, or only half of what you want - other books do exist on the theory side should you be primarily interested in that.

Programming is aimed squarely at Windows and DirectX programming, so don't expect much discussion of cross-platforms or any other API's (OpenGL for example). Approximately 1/3rd of the book is dedicated to the learning of DirectX, some 330 pages. This will not teach you DirectX 8 programming, this is not the book for you to learn the API from. However, don't be put off by this - if you've never touched DirectX 8 before you wont be lost, there is enough material in here to allow you to get to grips with the foundations. Assuming you want to continue you're "career" then it would make sense that you do some further research/reading online or in other books to properly learn the DirectX API inside-out.

The majority of the book is geared towards the programming of RPG's - in particular scripting engines/design, data representation, storage and processing. Whilst it may sound boring on face-value, it is actually all there is to the technical side of RPG programming, pen-and-paper RPG's (the original RPG's from decades ago) were pretty much a case of random numbers, and statistics written down on paper - apart from multimedia features and a slightly different interface format, nothing much has changed. If you want to program a successful RPG then these are the areas you'll be spending your spare time learning.

As I previously said, I don't have much interest in RPG's (Deus Ex being the only RPG to date I enjoyed), and for that reason I've never even contemplated writing my own. Therefore I have to trust Jim Adams (the author) to tell me everything I need to know, and hope he hasn't missed anything. I don't have the time to test this theory, but from having spent several hours reading this book I will happily put money down saying that I could now write an RPG. Probably not the best one ever to grace the PC, but this would still be an achievement. This book, if I read every single word, would take me from my current newbie status to one where I actually know what I'm doing. I doubt there is any stronger statement in favor of this book.

Backup Resources

The book is the main feature obviously, but it is always important with these technical manuals to provide a supporting CD with source code, sample programs and tools etc... I have only reviewed one book (in 14) that hasn't had a CD with it and it suffered because of it.

As with the layout and design discussed above, all of the premier-press CD's use the same browser and have the same user interface. They also all follow a similar format.

Due to the focus on DirectX 8 in the main text, the SDK has been included on the CD, which is going to prove very useful to some. We also get no less than 6 sample programs:

GoldWave 4.23 - audio editing/creation program
Truespace 5 - excellent 3D renderer that doesn't cost a fortune
Poser 4 - a great 3D authoring tool for creating people/humanoid meshes
Milkshape 3D 1.56 - another 3D authoring tool that's a favourite amongst developers
Paint Shop Pro 7 - second only to photoshop in my opinion, and at a fraction of the cost

All of these are trial/evaluation programs, so (unless you buy them) aren't much use after the first 30 days, but at least they'll allow you to test out the content of this book.

The last two features that make up the CD resource are the complete source code and support files, and a few sample games to play/break.

All things considered, this is on par with the other premier-press CD's and at least equal to the best of the rest.

Some Minor Let-Downs

As with many game related books available, this book is entirely in C/C++; which is of little problem if you're multilingual or you program in C/C++ anyway. However, if you're a VB-only programmer (this is a VB site remember!) then it gets difficult. Up until fairly recently I've been mainly a VB-only programmer, but as I progress further on it's been necessary to use/learn C and C++, which I urge other VB'ers to do as well. You will be missing out on this, and many other, fine books due to this silly language barrier.

This language difference is about all I can complain about really, and even then it isn't a complaint more of a warning to those reading this review.

In Conclusion

Until there are other competitors, this book is crowned king.

If you're serious about your RPG programming then this book will be a great companion and an interesting read. If you're not so serious about your RPG's, and are just curious then this is also a good book for you, however for $60 you'll probably want to be at least serious about giving RPG-creation a good go first.

Good Things Bad Things
• Well Structured, chapters and parts well organised • Entirely in C/C++, which may be a drawback for VB developers.
Covers the technical side of RPG-creation brilliantly Doesn't cover the theoretical aspects to any significant depth.
Excellent writing style  
Stays true to the current high standards of other books in the series  
Good quality CD included, with a good selection of software  

 

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