3D Modeling, Art, Game Engine, Graphics, Review

Review: Maya Studio Projects: Game Environments and Props by Michael McKinley


This is a book with a solid focus, and I feel like it accomplishes it’s goal nicely. Basically what Maya Studio Projects is about is creating environment objects and props for games (as the title implies). There are 9 chapters, and each one chooses a different object to model. McKinley is very detailed in his explanation, and really shows each and every step needed to follow along. Some of the objects modeled include walls and floors, foliage, weapons, vehicles, buildings, lamps, and a simple object animation. Supposedly there is a DVD companion, but I got the Kindle e-book and usually don’t bother with looking at the discs.

What I like most about Maya Studio Projects: Game Environments and Props by Michael McKinley is that the book is very much geared toward game artists. While pre-rendered art and game art do require the same skills, there is a slightly different thought process and flow when you are working within the limitations of a real-time game engine. The author does not assume you are using any particular engine (though Unreal is named a few times) and the techniques can be used in almost any modern engine. However, the instruction steps are very much tailored for Maya. While this is great if you want to follow along, step for step, it may make it more difficult if you use another package. Also, I typically like to just read along and sometimes I felt the author was too specific in each step, making it harder to extract the general philosophy of modeling. This can be a pro or con depending on what you are looking for. I would have also enjoyed more pictures. Sometimes as much as 10 or 12 steps were made in text alone and it can be slightly confusing without a demonstrating photo.

To sum it up, this was a fine book and I learned a little bit. I would not say it was exceptional, but there was nothing grossly wrong with it. Certainly, if you are looking to create props with Maya (especially man-made objects) this is not a bad place to start. If you are using Maya LT for game development, this is a very relevant book since it (thankfully) doesn’t use really any of the features missing in the LT version. One slight disappointment, McKinley doesn’t actually show you how to make the nice art on the cover. Can’t hold that against him, though. I’d consider this a great beginner’s book, and should help to get you started with 3d game modeling.

3D Modeling, Review

Review: 101 Autodesk Maya Tips by Dave Girard


This was a short book, so I’ll give it a short review. Basically, 101 Autodesk Maya Tips is exactly what it sounds like: a compilation of quick tips for using Autodesk Maya. Some of the tips are as brief as one sentence, but a few are more involved. It seemed like the majority of the content was based around Mel scripting, and various ways to automate particular tasks. I have not worked with Mel scripting much, and am still trying to wrap my head around the interface and UI of Maya. Girard does, thankfully, include some more basic tips as well.

With a book like this, I was not expecting any grand revelations. The goal appears to be just to highlight some shortcuts and methods for getting more out of Maya. Certainly, I can’t complain about the price (at $3) and I finished the book in probably about an hour. All in all, I guess only really a handful of the tips were immediately useful to me, though it was great to see what’s possible. For that, I found it worth the meager cost and time investment. Hopefully you will find some value too in this quick read.

3D Modeling, Art, Gaming, Graphics, Review

Review: How to Become a Video Game Artist: The Insider’s Guide to Landing a Job in the Gaming World by Sam R. Kennedy


So I am actually not looking to try to break into the game industry as an artist. Why did I read this book? Well, I am very much interested at upping my game when it comes to real-time graphics and content creation as a hobby. Computer graphics are just fascinating to me, and the best engine and shaders in the world will not save a shabby piece of art. This book seemed like a good way to get into the artist mindset. To top things off, the sticker-price was a palpable $12 dollars and the cover art looked great (important when taking art direction).

Basically what the book amounts to is a series of chapters, each one describing a particular game art profession. Some of the jobs detailed include: concept, environment, character, ui, and marketing artists. Every chapter includes a job description, explanation of the process or workflow, example images, an artist profile, and finally a mock “help wanted” ad that could be for the position. The format is informative, and I think would be very helpful for a student looking to get into the industry as an artist. Certainly, you don’t have to be a student to find worth in this book and I personally feel it is a great choice if you are at all interested in video game art.

The author, Sam R. Kennedy, is a game artist himself and shares a some of his (quite impressive) work within these pages. Nicely, the photos on the Kindle e-book were in color. This is quite important, and in my research I did stumble upon some game art instruction books from people with questionable artistic ability. Of course, you don’t need to be da Vinci to make a 3d model (especially not when working from good photos or concept art) but I can’t help but wonder what I’m doing taking advice from an amateur. That was not the case with this text. Kennedy is a veteran and has worked at Ubisoft on Tom Clancy games and the like. I felt pretty comfortable accepting his opinions.

All in all, I was happy with the purchase and I’m glad to have the book in my collection. If it helps me (even a little bit) in improving my art that’s a net positive. In any case, it was inspiring and that’s enough for me.

Art, Gaming, Review

Review: Drawing Basics and Video Game Art: Classic to Cutting-Edge Art Techniques for Winning Video Game Design by Chris Solarski


I’ve been trying to get back into making art (I did go to art school, after all) and this seemed like a well reviewed book. Plus, the Kindle edition was very reasonably priced at $12. Drawing Basics and Video Game Art: Classic to Cutting-Edge Art Techniques for Winning Video Game Design by Chris Solarski is not a long book (at 240 pages) but it’s well worth reading.

It almost seems like it’s two different books sandwiched together. The start is with basic drawing techniques and a study of classical artists. Anatomy, proportions, perspective, composition and layout, etc. Then the second part is more of a study of modern games with things like how color sets a mood, use of different shapes to evoke feelings, horizon lines, etc. It’s all very interesting, and I think would be helpful to not just artists but anyone working in gaming.

Just be aware, the book doesn’t really teach you how to be a good artist. There are various topics covered that can certainly help an artist, but there is little direct instruction (outside of the brief introduction at the beginning). I don’t think that was the author’s intention, and there are really tons of more general art books out there if you are so inclined. Drawing Basics and Video Game Art is more about theory and I feel the author is successful in that aspect. Solarski also managed to get screenshots of many popular games to analyze in the text, and thankfully all the images were in full color on my Kindle Fire tablet.

Overall, I liked the book and I think you will too.

3D Modeling, Graphics, Review

Review: Getting Started in 3D with Maya: Create a Project from Start to Finish – Model, Texture, Rig, Animate, and Render in Maya by Adam Watkins


In what has to be one ridiculously long title for a pretty straight-forward book, Getting Started in 3D with Maya: Create a Project from Start to Finish – Model, Texture, Rig, Animate, and Render in Maya is actually not a bad place to start if you’re trying to get into 3D. Adam Watkins manages to pack all the crucial steps of 3D modeling and animation into 9 concise chapters. I enjoyed the flow of the book, and felt that every important detail was explained. The author teaches just enough to get to the next step, and it’s all done in a logical order and progression. If you are just getting started with 3D, or if you know another package and are new to Maya, I think this is a excellent book to pick up.

Watkins begins by explaining the general workflow and with the Maya philosophy (including a few somewhat comical hardware recommendations even though the book is only a couple years old). He continues with architectural modeling, organic modeling, UV layout, textures and materials, lighting and rendering, rigging and skinning, and finishes up with animation. Clocking in at around 448 pages, the book is not particularly short but I found I was able to get through it quickly. Each chapter was just the right size to read in one sitting, and the text was engaging enough to make me want to come back the following day.

I definitely feel like I learned a thing or two by reading this book, and it has helped me to better understand the Maya workflow. Most 3D packages are huge, monolithic pieces of software, and no single book could cover everything. However, Getting Started in 3D with Maya covers the basic things you need to know in order to get started (so the book is true to it’s name). If I had one complaint, it’s that I thought the art direction could have been better. This book won’t teach you to be a masterful artist but I guess that wasn’t the goal or scope of the text. In any case, I would certainly be interested in reading more from the author as I feel he has a clear and honest style that is easy to learn from. Recommended.

3D Modeling, Graphics, Review

Review: How to Cheat in 3ds Max 2015: Get Spectacular Results Fast by Michael McCarthy


I found this book to be quite interesting, but it’s also very specific to the 3ds Max package. How to Cheat in 3ds Max 2015: Get Spectacular Results Fast by Michael McCarthy has about 15 chapters focusing on various aspects of the 3d modeling process. It probably only took me about a week to read the text, which I don’t mind at all. Not every book has to be a 1000 page tome. I actually find it refreshing to read short books, especially if the author can impart a deal of knowledge in a quick span of time. How to Cheat in 3ds Max 2015 was one of those books.

Included in the 328 page copy are some very essential topics in the creation of art in 3ds Max: customizing the UI, navigating the scene and transforming objects, basic modeling, character modeling, materials, lighting and shadows, reflections, animation, MAXScript, rendering, plug-ins, special effects, and more. Not a bad amount of coverage, though many of the chapters are not extensive.

If you’re using 3ds Max, I think this is a decent addition to your library. It covers some specific things well, and gives you enough information to know what to search for to find out more. I especially liked the chapter on how to make an object fracture and then fall into pieces using physics. It also shows you what tools there are (sometime even 3rd party plug-ins) and does give you a good idea of what’s possible if you’re new to Max. However, if you are using a different 3d package, the book may not be as useful.

What I wish is that there were more general 3d art and modeling books out there. I’ve already read Digital Modeling by William Vaughan and it was amazing, but sort of a one-of-a-kind. Too many of the books out there seem to focus on one particular toolset and don’t try to abstract the concepts into something more widely applicable. Clearly, the basic foundation of modeling and texturing techniques are not all that different with different programs. The buttons or methods may be different, but the thought process is very similar. I can’t knock this book for that, though, it’s just more of a general musing on the subject.

Overall I thought How to Cheat in 3ds Max 2015 was a competent book, and achieves what it set out to do. I feel like it would probably be useful for beginner 3d artists trying to up their game, but maybe as a 2nd or 3rd book. The chapters each have a sort of “cookbook” feel to them, so I think some other books do a better job of building on top of previous chapters in a more cohesive manner. However, I don’t think that was the goal here, so I won’t penalize the author. All in all: not bad.

3D Modeling, Gaming, Graphics, Review

Review: 3ds Max Modeling for Games: Insider’s Guide to Game Character, Vehicle, and Environment Modeling: Volume I by Andrew Gahan


If you’re working with 3ds Max, or even similar packages, I think this book holds some insight. I’ve tried a few different modeling packages, but somehow Max just seemed to click better for me. Maybe it’s because it was the first one I started learning with, or maybe it’s popular for a reason. Not sure, but I think it’s a very capable product (especially for game development). 3ds Max Modeling for Games shows you how to do some basic (and not so basic) modeling tasks in the app. I found the instruction to be detailed and clear, though at times it can be very specific to the package.

So what does Andrew Gahan show you here? Well, he goes through some basics of working with the 3ds Max interface, terminology for game art, and texturing. Then he shows how to create, unwrap, and texture a simple model. Creating a more complex model (sort of a floor sweeper thing), vegetation and alpha maps, a low-poly vehicle, normal mapping techniques, an entire 3D environment, and finally a high and low poly character. Quite a good assortment of chapters and each one was fully fleshed out.

I did appreciate that the author goes through each step, even simple stuff other books may gloss over. In some cases, as I started reading I was questioning the method he was using, but eventually he made it work. While the text is very focused on the one specific application, I do think that artists (or aspiring artists) could glean knowledge from the techniques and apply them to other packages. However, this would not be the first book I went to if I was using Maya or whatever.

Overall I feel like I learned a couple neat tricks, and after reading the book I feel a little more confident in my modeling skills. Will really need to put this to the test soon, as I’ve been dying to create some nice art to work with building graphic demos and whatnot. Looking at programmer art all day is just not as motivating. I have plans of creating a realistic-style apartment, and I think it’s something reasonable to get finished. Down the road, I’d love to do a full character, but I’ve always struggled with this in the past. At least now that I’ve switched to Unreal, I can free up some of my effort to focus on art since I know the engine will support whatever I throw in there (and make it look good!). Looking forward to checking the Volume II in the series shortly.

C++, Gaming, Review

Review: Game Programming Patterns by Robert Nystrom

Game Patterns

I will start by saying this book is game programming GOLD! Whether you are a pro or a novice looking to learn, this book deserves to place on your shelf (or I guess in memory if you buy the e-book). While some of the chapters may seem like obvious things for people that have programmed games before, I think even advanced coders will discover a few things they didn’t know.

So let me talk about what this book is. Basically it covers common challenges in game programming and some useful ways of resolving the problem. Though the theme of the book is game development, a lot of this stuff is applicable to any sort of visual or object-oriented programming. Nystrom starts by revisiting the classic design patterns popularized by the seminal book by the “gang of four” in 1994. Surprisingly, 20 years later a lot of those ideas still hold up. Next he moves onto more game specific topics like double buffering (not just for graphics), a game loop, and updating objects. Then he goes into bytecode (really a simple compiler), components, event queues, singletons, object pools, dirty flag and spatial partitioning. It’s actually not the longest book out there at 354 pages, but this is a breathe of fresh air after persevering through The C++ Programming Language (which was great, just very long). The author does not waste pages, though. There are nuggets of knowledge littered throughout the text.

One thing I like is how the book is not tied to a particular API or library. The pseudo-code is in C++, but really you could implement the ideas in almost any language. He even goes as far as not using the STL (for example, rolling his own linked list for a few examples). In a real application, you would probably not want to reinvent the wheel for basic containers, but it’s nice that the examples stand alone without any nasty dependencies. I could see a lot of the code here being copied into a real game and being usable with only minor additions. Well, of course you have to modify for your platform or engine or whatever, but the concepts are solid.

Another point is that this makes design patterns concrete (please, no abstract class jokes…). I read the original Design Patterns book years ago but some of the patterns never made sense to me. They were too abstract and, though interesting, sometimes didn’t click for me. This book, on the other hand, clicked the whole way through. Everything made sense, and was immediately clear why it was useful. Sure, I’ve probably learned a lot in the past few years, making Game Programming Patterns more approachable. But I think almost any game coder (or aspiring coder) could get value from this book. I’d give it 5 stars, 10 out of 10, 2 thumbs up, and definite “buy it now.”

C++, Review

Review: The C++ Programming Language by Bjarne Stroustrup

C ++ Programming

This book could be called “Everything You Ever Wanted to Ask About C++ and a Whole Bunch of Other Stuff You Had No Clue You Didn’t Know.” It really is the most comprehensive book I’ve seen on C++ and covers just about everything you will need to know (and maybe some more). That’s not surprising, as the book is some 1,300+ pages long. And, of course, it’s written by the creator of C++, so I would guess he knows a thing or two about the language.

The C++ Programming Language by Bjarne Stroustrup does cover all the major aspects of C++, but to name a few of the topics included: pointers and arrays, namespaces, classes, lambdas, overloading, copy and moving, templates (lots of templates), the STL, strings, regular expressions, concurrency, and the C standard library. It almost does a disservice to try to list all the topics, as it touches on almost all areas of the C++ language.  I found the code snippets to be useful and relevant, while still being short enough to be clear and understandable.

Keep in mind that this text has been updated to C++11 and the author does not bother teaching older standards. There are only a couple of instances when he mentions the difference but there is a chapter all the way at the end talking about some specific features that are different in each version of the language. This can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. I mean, I think it was a good choice as the book would be twice as long and twice as confusing with constant clarification. But sometimes I was left wondering if a feature was new or if I just had never heard of it.

I’ll admit, I have actually not read earlier versions of this book, but I feel that Stroustrup has done a great job here. I would NOT recommend the book for beginners as I feel it is very technical and you might become afraid of C++ before even finishing the book. While the basic stuff about types and classes and all that are covered, the majority of the book is focused more on advanced features (templates, etc.). For intermediate to advanced programmers, this will be a great addition to the collection, and required reading to be an expert in C++. For novices I would recommend picking up C++ Primer or C++ Primer Plus (no relation).

One thing to note, this book is long. I think it may be the longest book I’ve ever read. Though I enjoyed it, there were points were I was doubting I would ever finish it. I would estimate it took around 2 months of daily reading to knock it out. If you wondered what I was doing since I haven’t updated the blog in a while, I was reading this. So before you embark on this adventure, make sure you’re fully prepared for what you are getting into. Recommended.

Gaming, Physics, Review

Review: Game Physics Pearls by Gino van den Bergen & Dirk Gregorius


Game Physics Pearls has been a book on my wishlist for a while, and I’ve finally got the chance to finish reading it and putting up this review. The text is edited by Gino van den Bergen and Dirk Gregorius, and each chapter is written by a unique author. I found that a lot of ground was covered while still keeping the book somewhat cohesive. It doesn’t feel like a complete random mash-up, and the progression is nice.

Some of the chapter content includes: basic mathematics, game physics pitfalls, broad phase, narrow phase, GJK, SPH, parallel particle simulation, ropes, soft bodies, and verlet integration. Even after reading several game physics books, there was still a decent amount of information I had not seen before. I especially appreciated the chapter on verlet integration (and the subsequent chapter on cloth physics that builds upon it). So many of the books I’ve seen seem to focus on Euler integration techniques and it’s rare to see much talk of verlet integration (or position based dynamics for that matter). This is the direction I am going with my physics engine, so it was nice to see some coverage.

Overall I was impressed with the quality of the book. Sometimes with these “gem” style books, it can be a hit or miss if the chapter is relevant to your needs. I did not think that was the case here. Nearly all the chapters had some pertinent information, and (while maybe not directly relevant to my current project) were at least interesting to read. I did not feel bogged down with math, most of the explanations made sense and there wasn’t too much needless minutia.

I would definitely recommend this title to anyone interested in video game physics. While there are other books that may be better places to start (as the book sort of assumes you know the basics already) this would not be a bad book to add to the collection. There are actually only a couple game physics books that I *haven’t* read, so it’s getting to the point I will need to stop researching and start writing code. Wish me luck!