GameProAlgo

Game Programming Algorithms and Techniques is one of those books that tries to be as general as possible, and I believe the author was successful in that. Too many books target one specific piece of software or even one particular version of a framework and end up becoming dated rather quick. However, the core ideas in game development have not fundamentally changed in a while. Sure graphics get better, and there are more complexities to working with modern hardware, but the programming algorithms themselves are still very much the same.

Sanjay Madhav starts the book with an overview of some classic games, how a game loop works, handling timing in games, and the idea of game objects. Next he discusses 2D games, sprites, scrolling, and tile maps. There is a quick chapter on linear algebra. Then the author continues with a treatment of 3D graphics, including  coordinate spaces, lighting and shading, visibility and transformation. Handling input is covered as is sound. There is a chapter on physics, which I much appreciated, and then some quick coverage of cameras, artificial intelligence, user interface, scripting, and networking. Finally, the book closes with two example projects.

The author does a great job of explaining complex concepts in easy to understand language, especially in the math and physics chapters, which could be confusing otherwise. One of the pieces that I gained a lot from was the explanation of mouse picking 3D objects, which was described beautifully and made a lot of sense.  The chapter on scripting languages was also helpful and relevant.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and think it would be helpful to beginning programmers, or experienced coders in other fields looking to get into game development. I feel that for intermediate to advanced game programmers, much of this book will be a review. Not to knock the book for that, though, I think it’s a great book if you understand the audience it’s aiming for. I mean, there were even a few bits of information that were new to me, however much of the book was about stuff I’ve seen before.

That said, I do like to read texts of various levels, and even beginner books can help you look at familiar problems in new ways. So I think it’s very much worth reading, especially if you are just starting out in game development.

LearningUnreal

Right here is a book with a clearly defined goal and an excellent execution. Learning C++ by Creating Games with UE4 by William Sherif takes you on a journey from being a total blank in C++ to coding some basic features of a 3D game. Even though I have been coding in C++ for years, I still enjoy reading novice level texts as sometimes they can teach you a new way of thinking about familiar problems. For me, it’s also important to have good book recommendations (especially for people starting out), and I actually discovered this book from a member of the Unreal Engine community looking for a review. So here it is.

William Sherif starts the book proper, with how to setup a project using either Visual Studio or XCode. This is actually a great design, and it’s thoughtful to include both operating systems (Linux is not officially supported by Epic yet, so I can’t knock the author on that one). When first starting with C++ programming, probably the hardest thing is not the syntax but understanding how to configure the project and settings in the IDE, so I like that this was covered first. Next Sherif moves onto the basics of programming: variables and memory (numbers and pointers), control flow (if, else, equality and comparison), looping (while and for loops), functions and macros, variable scoping, objects and classes, inheritance, and finishing up with dynamic memory allocation and arrays. Really quite a good foundation for learning C++. I found the explanation to be clear and concise, and the author did a good job of easing the reader into the information. C++ is a huge topic to cover, and there are volumes of text many times this size going deeper into the intricacies of the language. I wouldn’t actually fault the book for this, I think it’s a strength. Some novices may be overwhelmed by C++ if they start with something like Stroustrup’s 1,300 page tome. So I would say this is a great introduction to the language, and a great refresher if you’re coming back after a while.

The second half of the book is focused on Unreal development in particular. The author opens by discussing templates and containers in UE4, including some basic ones like TArray, TSet, TMap and then discussing the STL versions of these and how they differ in Unreal. He follows up with the first real example in the engine: an inventory system (with a UI) and the ability to pickup items in the world. I like this approach as it’s a real tangible task that many games would include. The author then shows how to code NPCs that are able to display a text message to the player. Next, Sherif talks about how to create monsters – basically enemy characters that can chase and attack the player. He closes with adding spell casting (including the code and setup of the particle system).

So this is not a book that will show you “How to Make a Complete AAA Game in 24 Hours” but I don’t think that was the intention. What the author does is introduce C++ at the right pace, and also show how to get started with applying that knowledge to developing games in Unreal 4. In some ways, it almost feels like two separate books: one on basic C++ programming, and another on coding in C++ for Unreal Engine 4. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I think both parts are worthwhile. Really, this book would be most valuable to someone that has little experience with C++ and is also new to using C++ in UE4. If you are already a C++ pro, the first half of the book may seem too basic. However, I think the Unreal coverage can be useful to developers of varying skill levels.

Overall I enjoyed Learning C++ by Creating Games with UE4 and would entirely recommend it to anyone interested in gaining knowledge in C++ for Unreal. To be honest, this is one of the only books out there on the topic right now, so it sort of stands alone. I believe it’s taken me a little over a week to read the 342 page text. Certainly, it doesn’t cover everything you need to know (not even close) but it’s a great place to start. I’d also add that I read the book on the Kindle Fire HDX, and the formatting looked pretty good. The price on the e-book was also much more affordable, so now may be a good chance to upgrade if you’ve still been reading on ink and paper.

In this tutorial, I will show how to make a cube roll from side-to-side on a grid. This project took me around 3 days to complete, though much of that was wrapping my head around basic things in UE4. Some of the areas explored here include setting up key bindings and action mapping, setting and clearing timers, and rotating around an arbitrary point.

First, you want to start by setting up the action mapping. What this does is basically binds an input button (like a keyboard key) to a particular action (really just a name that you make up). For this test I needed 4 keys for up, down, left and right. Since the arrow keys and WASD were already used by the default Unreal fly camera, I choose to employ the IJKL keys to move the cube around. These options are found in “Settings->Project Settings->Engine->Input->Bindings”.

UE4_Cube_Grid_01

Next, we will need to connect those actions to a function in order to make something happen on the screen. You can do this by creating an “InputAction” Blueprint and choosing the name you created (like “Action_Up”). I set these actions to call a function I created for this example called “StartMoving”. In some cases, you may want to bind the action to a custom event, which may simplify the code and allow for a cleaner Blueprint (as you can use events to effectively “jump” to other points in the same Blueprint without a line connecting them). In this case, I had to pass in some state (to know which direction the cube is moving) so using a function was better suited for the job.

UE4_Cube_Grid_02

The “StartMoving” function is not that complex. All it does it check first if the timer is active (to avoid registering input while the cube is already moving), save some state on the cube itself (the direction of movement and it’s last position), and then creates a timer to handle the animation.

UE4_Cube_Grid_03
The key part is the creation of the timer itself, using “SetTimer”, which is shown below. You can think of a timer as spawning another process or thread that can run concurrently with your main logic. The timer just calls a function of your choice (“MoveTween” in this example), at a specified time interval (use 0.0166 for a 60Hz animation cycle, which looks smooth enough). You can also set whether it loops or not, we use looping in this case.

UE4_Cube_Grid_06
Finally, we have the “MoveTween” function, which is what is called by the timer and what does all the math calculation to rotate around a particular axis and point in space. It’s also what animates the cube, and clears the timer at the end itself. It’s very useful to be able to spawn a timer, and then have it terminate itself when necessary. The full function is shown below.

UE4_Cube_Grid_04

Really, the core math of the method is done by two function included in UE4, “RotateVectorAroundAxis” and “RotatorFromAxisAngle”. We first create a axis based on the movement direction. Then we subtract the pivot point (in our case, the bottom edge of the cube), rotate around that axis, and then add the pivot point back to the location. The rotation around axis logic is actually based on an example shown on the Unreal Answer Hub, though it was modified to fit my purpose.

UE4_Cube_Grid_05

And that is basically it. I’ve even included the full project file below for you to download and experiment. I imagine this type of motion could be used for a type of puzzle game created in Unreal Engine 4. Download Link: UE4.7.4 Cube Motion Project Files

MayaGameEnvironments

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.

 

Today I will show how to create a textured spinning cube using Unreal Engine 4. Making a cube spin is basically what I consider the “litmus test” of 3D engines. How long it takes you to figure this out will show how convenient or capable the engine is. While I might have skipped this test (by jumping straight into creating Pong) I thought it was worthwhile to go back and try it. Hopefully this tutorial will be helpful to some of you just getting started.

UE4_Rotate_Cube

First thing you should do is create a new blank project. I chose to make the project with the starter content (and deleting the furniture) however that won’t be important for this guide. Next look on the left-hand panel, make sure you are in place mode (the icon with the cube), and look under basic and find Cube. Now drag the cube into the scene. It will probably start inside the floor, so just press Q to go into move mode and then drag it up a little.

UE4_Rotate_Import

Since looking at a gray model is not that exciting, lets add some texture. In the Content Browser on the bottom, right-click in the empty area and select “Import to /Game…”. Then find your image file and press Open.

UE4_Rotate_Tex

You should see the new texture appear in the browser. Now drag this texture onto the cube model. You’ll see this automatically create a default material for you. With the cube still selected, click “Movable” in the Details panel on the right.

UE4_Rotate_Comp

The next step is to create the component Blueprint. You can do this by clicking the green “+Add Component” button on the top of the Details panel. Choose “New Blueprint Script Component”. In the pop-up window, pick Scene Component, click Next, type a name in, then click “Create Blueprint Class”.

UE4_Rotate_BP

In the new Blueprint window, you can delete the “Event Initialize Component” (though you can also leave it alone, won’t matter in this case). Pull off the output execution pin on “Event Tick” (it’s the white arrow looking thing on the upper-right). You should see a menu open. Start typing “rotation” and then pick “Add Relative Rotation”. In the Y field for “Delta Rotation” type in “1” and press Enter. Pull off the “Target” pin and type “parent” then click “Get Attach Parent”. Now you can save and compile the script.

UE4_Rotate_Play

Switch back to the main editor window and press “Play”. That’s it! Hopefully this tutorial was useful to some people (please let me know in the comments). I plan to produce more of these in the future, and they should gradually get more complex as I get more familiar with the engine.

It’s really quite amazing how quick and easy it is to work with Unreal. Using straight C++ and DirectX, one would be lucky to make a textured spinning cube in 2 hours, let alone 2 minutes. It really speaks to the robustness of the engine. Of course, I still have a long way to go in terms of learning the engine, so please follow me on this journey (and pray I don’t give up on this one).

VideoGameArt

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.

3DWithMaya

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.

3dsCheat

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.

3dsMax

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.

 

Today I’d like to unveil what I’ve been working on for about 2 weeks: Pong in Unreal Engine 4. Most of that time was spent reading documentation and watching tutorial videos just to figure out the basics. There is actually a *lot* of good material out there for Unreal Engine 4, the docs have been helpful and there are plenty of videos. Disappointingly, there are barely any books out there for the engine, but I’m sure that will change quickly.

Pretty much anyone will tell you, when you are learning to develop games (or switching to a new engine/platform), the best thing to do is to start small and try to complete something. It’s really silly to try to make an MMORPG as your first game (I have fallen for this one!) and even relatively simple things can become complex fast when you are not familiar with the platform. So I chose to do Pong as my first excursion into Unreal 4. It was not without some trials, but I made it through alive. Oh, and, no. This will not be considered my “finished project of the new year”. There are some other, cooler, things I have in mind.

Previously I was making multi-part blog posts with basically quick status updates. This was fine, but I think it will be more helpful for the community for me to do focused tutorials on a specific topic and post those more frequently. I learned quite a lot about Unreal with this project, and I think I can share some of that on this site. Some of the things I picked up working on this demo include: importing assets, working with Blueprint, basic flow and logic, movement, collision, HUD, events, keyboard control, functions and variables, and just getting familiar with the Unreal Editor interface. Not sure I will make tutorials on everything, but I plan to break this into a few posts. Below you can see the level Blueprint for the game, just to give you an idea of the complexity.

UE4_Pong_BP

Overall I have been impressed with Unreal Engine 4, and I can’t imagine purchasing a more capable piece of commercial software for less than the pennies they are giving this away for. People can complain about the 5% royalty but, really, if you get to the point where 5% is a significant dollar amount, you will be rolling in the the dough and shouldn’t care if Epic wants a piece of the pie. Cost aside, I do like the engine a lot. Granted, I ran into some bugs, and more crashes and stability issues than I’d care to admit. At one point, the project saved in a corrupted state and I was blocked from even opening it at all. Luckily, I was able to update the engine and convert the project, but I was sweating pretty hard for a little while. That said, I’m sure this can be improved in time and it didn’t stop me from developing (I’d just recommend using source control and committing often).

The visual programming system, Blueprint, is very powerful and I used that alone for this demo (no C++). I did start checking out the C++ support and it seems to add some extra power and flexibility, but I haven’t got that far yet. However, I can see building some simple games and experiences using the visual coding by itself. This is also great for designers, who may be able to rig up some basic stuff themselves. Keep in mind, it’s still programming (just not with text). You have to understand the basics of logic and control flow and, in some ways, it may even seem alien to veteran programmers. I know there were definitely a few cases where I had a non-trivial amount of nodes and connections and thinking “I could have done this in 1 line of code”. Once I got beyond that, I think I may prefer it to coding manually, as it’s much harder to make mistakes (or to create stuff that doesn’t work).

I hope to continue working with UE4 in the future and I’ll continue updating my blog as I make major developments. Thanks for watching.