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The Zen of Direct3D Game Programming
Author:
Peter Walsh
Publisher: Prima Tech (Now Premier Press)
ISBN: 0-7615-3429-6
Purchasing: [Amazon.Com] - RRP US$59.99
Reviewed: 29th May 2002

Front Cover Shot:

Nice Title

First impressions of this book are good - almost simply based on the title. If you have a good look at the list of books reviewed on this site you'll very quickly notice that, whilst the titles all accurately represent the content, they aren't usually the most imaginative book titles ever to grace this planet.

"The Zen of Direct3D..." - instantly an interesting title, and definitely much more likely to grab my attention if I were in a bookstore at the moment.

However, beyond the cool title, this is fairly simply another everything-you-need-to-know-about-Direct3D8 type book. Not that there's anything hugely wrong with this, up to a certain point, the more books on a subject the better for the book-buying public. So, what does this book have that sets it apart from other books on Direct3D?

Start from the top

This book basically starts from square 1, with the only prerequisite being your ability to program in C/C++. Unlike many similar books, it doesn't waste pages trying to teach us the C or C++ programming language - all the better for it: if I wanted to learn C++ I'd buy a book about that in particular! There is a slight concession to this though, the first appendix deals with the more general features of C++ with respect to a 'C' coder who wanted a quick crash-course.

The book is a fairly large tome, weighing in at 840 pages covering 5 parts and 16 chapters (plus two appendices). Given that 'Zen' (in layman's terms) is being at 'one' with with your environment/situation, this book is going to need all the pages it can get. I'm just wondering, is it possible to be completely at one with the Direct3D API? it's an interesting idea...

Leave no stone unturned

This book doesn't go the full distance as far as Direct3D is concerned - it stops at about the point where you start diversifying into general programming algorithms, special effects, shaders etc... however, up until the point where it finishes, it really does dig deep and leaves no stone unturned.

The book starts with standard Win32 graphics programming - which once you've learnt D3D isn't a whole lot of use to you really (apart from maybe making tools). However, it does serve as a useful stepping stone if you're completely new to the whole Direct3D/DirectXGraphics experience. If you're a veteran of 'normal' windows programming then this will either be below your level, or at best will serve as a brief refresher course in windows graphics.

Once you've finished the Win32 graphics section its straight onto the wonderful world of Direct3D8. Part 3 is where you first properly meet Direct3D, yet it's initially limited (until part 4) to 2D graphics only. This is quite a clever strategy - jumping straight into the deep end with 3D graphics requires you to also cover vector and matrix math's to a certain level, which is what often makes the learning curve considerably steeper.

Learning 2D graphics in Direct3D is pretty much as simple as learning the initialization process and then the basic rules of triangle-based geometry (although this book leaves this till part 4) and the rendering process. This book takes it one step further and covers custom font engines, consoles, sprite classes and GDI interaction. Whilst each individual component is relatively simple, the sum of them all makes for a fairly in-depth analysis of 2D graphics programming.

3D graphics is a fairly similar affair - although it has a hefty dose of 3D math, vector and matrix theory before you get onto any applied discussion. Most of the 3D graphics is left until we develop a simple graphics engine ("Zen 3D engine") - which is used as a case-study / worked example through which you can finish off your learning.

Limitations

Unfortunately there are a few limiting factors for this book, the most obvious one will be the lack of depth at the more complicated end. This I can live with, asking one author to cover absolutely everything in one book would be very difficult and probably a foolish idea. 

However, as far as 'Zen' goes, there are a few little things that the author seems to have skipped that I only picked up on because I've got plenty of experience with Direct3D. Namely that of triangle 'ordering'. As far as the author is concerned a triangle is defined by 3 vertices, full stop. But, as you may know, there are several different ways of encoding (and hence rendering) triangle data - lists, strips and fans in particular. I covered this topic in the 3rd tutorial in my Direct3D8 series, have a quick look at this part to see what I mean. Technically you can get by without this bothering you - and maybe as a learning aid it's better, but sooner or later it will catch you out. If you turn culling off (such that vertex-order doesn't matter) you'll kill performance, as well as using only triangle-lists will not allow you to hit top-speed in your engine. Sooner or later you're going to have to come back to basics and learn it all - so why isn't it included here?

My final gripe with this "area" is that loading of textures is pretty much brushed by - the majority of hardware requires (and all hardware prefers) textures to be a size 2n - 64,128,256 etc... but this isn't mentioned at all! only that Direct3D will handle these things internally. hmm... 

Where it's good, it's very good.

When this book does a good job and properly covers an area it is very good - second to none. However, it's lack of long-term detail (this is strictly a beginners book) and a couple of minor omissions that I just mentioned scores against it for anyone looking to go far with Direct3D.

Good Things Bad Things
• Well structured chapters and sections. • Doesn't take things very far, and doesn't offer many references for extended reading.
Nice chapter headings/titles. Misses a couple of essential parts required for your long-term sanity :)
Covers all the bases as far as getting started is concerned did we need 150 pages of Win32 graphics programming?
Plenty of background theory and explanation  
Doesn't make the mistake of spending precious pages on teaching us C and/or C++  
A good CD included, although not the best one in the series.  

 

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