Author: Franz Lanzinger
Audience: Beginners to creating desktop games
Reviewer: David Conrad
Subtitled, From Pong to Pac-Man with Unity, this is a very odd book. Don't let that put you off because some readers are going to like it a lot.
The basic idea for this book is good. Take four open source and free to download game construction tools - Unity, Blender, Gimp and Audacity - and use them to teach game programming. The idea may be good but the realization will put many readers off. The big problem is that this is a step-by-step book which basically "programs" the reader to create games. There is very little explanation of what the big principles are and certainly very little that is deep.
The book opens with a very general look at games and the instructions to download the applications that are going to be used. The instructions are very general - just download and install. Chapter 2 takes the reader though the task of creating a simple "Hello World" in Unity. This really is a very detailed "click this", "check that" sort of step-by-step. There are screen dumps along the way so that you can check that you are making progress. There isn't much "bigger picture" explained and the problem with this is that if it goes wrong you don't have much hope of getting it to work. But having said this, it is important to emphasize that this is really, really simple. If it does all go wrong then you could use the DVD included with the book to install the working code.
So if you don't program this book isn't going to teach you how to. What it might do, however, is give you a view of what lies beyond and so motivate you to get out there and learn to program. If you follow the instructions accurately, and are lucky enough for things to work, you will end up writing working games.
By the end of Chapter 2 you have used Gimp to create a texture, Blender to export a 3D object, Audacity to create a sound, and put the lot together in Unity to make a simple program.
Chapter 3 is a look at the history of Pong including some very strange explanations of ping-pong - the type with the real ball and the real bats. Anyway this is a fun interlude and you can always skip it if it isn't of interest. The next chapter gets started on implementing a paddle game. Again its very step-by-step even if the steps are getting a little less detailed.
Next up is Breakout - first a history and then a step-by-step implementation of the game. Then Space Invaders, history and an implementation, Scramble - a scrolling shooter, and finally Pac Man.
Another little problem of the way things are presented is that, despite the very simple step-by-step approach, occasionally some sophisticated idea is thrown in. At other times the text spends time explaining terms like "horrible hack" which should make sense even if you have never heard the two words used together before.
What is good about the book is that if you are prepared to follow its instructions then you will create the games listed and you will understand some of what is going on. It is a bit like being taught to fly in a dual control plane - you get the idea that pulling back on the stick makes you go up, but not why or how and there are no answers to "what are all these other controls?"
This is a book that a small select group of readers is going to find life changing. If it manages to provide a peek at what can be done and even the smallest clue as to how it is done then its a worthwhile book. However, a lot of readers are going to find the approach tedious.
Only buy it if you are ready to follow the instructions to the letter - i.e. behave like a computer.