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Tricks of the Windows Game Programming Gurus
Author: Andre' LaMothe
Publisher: Sams Publishing
Published: First Published October 1999
ISBN: 0-672-31361-8
Purchasing: [Amazon.Com
] [Fatbrain.Com] - RRP US$49.99
Reviewed: 31st August 2001

Front Cover Shot:

(nb: this image is a little faded because my copy of the book has been sitting in the sun for too long!!)

First Impressions

Okay, first impressions are of a very complete book - weighing in at 1005 pages and including a CD of everything in the book - there's plenty of material to dig your teeth into here. The book truly does cover pretty much everything you need to know to get started with game programming - with the only exception that there almost no mention of 3D graphics, but we are promised that this is to be covered in volume 2 of the series. The book is divided into 4 main sections:

Part 1 - Windows Programming, this covers the basic facilities provided by windows for multimedia programming.
Part 2 - DirectX and 2D Fundamentals, this gets stuck into the low-level high-performance multimedia programming.
Part 3 - Hardcore Game Programming, this covers AI, physics, data handling and then a final game example
Part 4 - Appendices and reviews, covers some FAQ's and an intro to maths and C++ required for game programming.

If you further explore the contents pages you will quickly see the huge depth of this book - the contents take up 12 pages of this book; there really is that much in here.

Going Deeper, Analysing the content

There is one thing straight away that may cause problems here - all code examples are in C, which is fair enough really as it is probably the most popular game programming language; but this is a visual basic site - and the chances are that you are a visual basic programmer. Personally this doesn't actually bother me, as if you are a competent programmer in VB then you can almost always work out whats going on with the code in this book - and you can quite often transfer it to VB with little change. It is definately advisable to have at least read a C programming book, or be familiar with the language - otherwise you may well miss out on a lot of this book. The language difference has one other problem for VB programmers - pointers! C/C++ programmers live and die by using pointers, and hence this book is filled with them - but as you are probably aware, visual basic has no such things (well, technically you can emulate them, but they aren't proper). This means that some code samples are very difficult to rewrite because you have to try and rewrite it without the pointers.

The other important factor, and I believe this is one of the most important factors for a technical-based book - writing style. Andre' LaMothe has an excellent writing style, it really is a joy to read. Unlike some technical books, which have the reader-friendliness of a large dictionary, you get the feeling that Andre' LaMothe is actually explaining it to YOU, he may as well be standing there explaining it to you really. This is all important as I will explain later, because some of the content is quite complicated and advanced.

Now what about the stuff I'm going to learn - I here you ask! Well, there are a lot of things in here to learn - as is shown at the end of the book, it is more than possible to write a complete game using only what was learnt in this book (Andre' LaMothe uses an asteroids clone as a worked example). The AI and physics sections, whilst being only in 2D are still all relevent - and will remain relevent (physics rarely changes that much!!), and whilst Artificial Intelligence is always progressing at dramatic rates the old stuff is still perfectly expandable, usable and acceptable (There is a nice section on Fuzzy Logic, which is still quite a recent technology, and an introduction to Genetic algorithms).

The first section of the book is an interesting read (particularly the history section), but it's particularly aimed at C programming/Win32 programming. Whilst you can very very easily use Win32 techniques in VB (just use the API-Viewer to find the relevent functions), a lot of it isn't incredibly useful unless you plan to use C/C++ as well as VB.

Technology in action

As far as the technology used in the book is concerned, well, it's starting to show it's age considerably. It is by no means useless, as it is still perfectly possible to learn from, but with most people now working with 3D graphics, or wanting to...

There are large sections of the book that are all about triangle rasterization and using 256 colours/8 bit palettes - all of which is quite interesting to read, isn't too important if you're writing a game using 16/24/32 bit DirectDraw / Direct3D - as it'll handle 90% of all that. Again, we are promised that the second volume will delve into 16 bit/32 bit and 3D acceleration - but that's the second volume, which (at time of writing) isn't out yet.

Also, the book has a large section on using DirectX - which is good, but it uses the much older versions, which aren't supported in visual basic officially, and anyway are pretty dated now (we're talking about DirectX 6.1 and below here). Whilst many of the functions used still have equivelents in DirectX 7.0 it's a completely different world to the current DirectX 8.0... on top of that, it's all in C again, which whilst similiar is a bit more complicated than in visual basic (VB hides alot of the complicated stuff for us).

With all this considered, if you are planning on making a game (especially if it's 3D) using some more modern concepts/features then this book probably wont cover them; even simple things like the A* path finding algorithm, whilst mentioned, isn't covered at all. Whilst it's to be expected, most of the clever stuff is mostly with respect to 2D games - no 3D algorithms are present really.

Finishing things off

I've now covered the important aspects of this book, but there are a couple of things that I need to cover before letting you decide whether you want this book.

The CD included with the book isn't just a dumping ground for all the source code (it is all there though), it also has the DirectX 6.1 SDK and VC++6.0 trial version - not of huge interest to most VB programmers, but you never know. What is interesting however, is the online digital books - both about 3D graphics, whilst neither of them were written by Andre' LaMothe himself, they are still worth a read. Again they aren't the most technical 3D books ever written, but they're still of good quality, and cover alot of what you may need to know when diving into the world of 3D graphics.

Then there are the appendices - as well as being a good all round book, Andre' LaMothe has made it an excellent resource as well - there is a section on Maths, whilst it aint gonna teach you maths its great if your a little rusty on the intermediate/basic level stuff. There's also a primer to C++, which again is only brief, but will give you an overview of what you need - should you need more you can then go onto a proper C++ book.

Now then, I dont want to give this book (or any others that I read) a numerical score, a number of stars or anything stupid like that. As I see it, what I judge as 80% (for example) is worth 99% to others, and 10% to a few. Thus I will provide you with a summary table of what I think is good, and what is bad - and you can make the choice yourself.

Good Things Bad Things
• Lots and lots and lots to read • Uses C/C++ for all code examples
• Excellent writing quality/style • Starting to show it's age with respect to technology
• Covers pretty much everything you need • No real coverage of 3D graphics
• Will teach you a lot about how *real* games are made. • Quite a few sections not at all relevent to visual basic game development
• Not very expensive for the amount of content (US$0.05 per page) • Some code is difficult to port over to VB due to language differences
• Includes CD • Uses a version of DirectX that isn't available for visual basic, and is very very different to the new versions of DirectX (v8+)

 

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