Review: Creating Games with Unreal Engine, Substance Painter, & Maya: Models, Textures, Animation, & Blueprint by Kassandra Arevalo, Matthew Tovar, Jingtian Li

I’ve read probably hundreds of game development books, and this one, I can say, is the best. Bar none. The authors are clear, and explain their steps as well as the reasoning behind it. They display keen knowledge of the subject matter, the topics are explored in every detail, and the final product is actually a quite impressive little demo. I will delve deeper into why I liked this book so much, but I will say now that this probably the ultimate source material for anyone wanting to embark on a journey as a solo developer and should not be missed.

The game you create in the book is pretty fully featured compared to what you typically see in other books or tutorials. You have a human character that is modeled, rigged, animated, and textured from scratch. Hard surface models for the level and props like guns. Enemy AI including sight detection, chasing, shooting. Handling health and a HUD. Coding different guns, switching weapons. Start, pause, and game over screens. A boss fight, special effects, and more. This book is extremely comprehensive.

Also, the art actually looks good and the coding is done to proper standards. I see way too many tutorials and books that have the reader create a huge text file with an entire game, or use global variables everywhere, while saying “this is not the right way to code a game, but I’m keeping it simple for example”. Well the problem here is that beginners are learning the *wrong* way to do things in an effort to dumb down the material. Yes it makes the initial learning curve easier, but it gets you into bad habits and leaves budding developers in a bad position when they need to learn good coding standards and practices. The authors of this book have went out of their way to code in an object oriented style, using classes, inheritance, interfaces, and also following good coding practice in variable and function naming. So yes, some parts of the book can be confusing because of this, but if you study each part it will make sense in time and I think the investment pays off because you can see how real code should actually look. Similarly, the art is using proper topology and modeling methods, and I actually learned a few key tricks even though I’ve worked with Maya off and on for years. I will say that there is a *ton* of material here, and it is a lot to take in, but, again, the payoff is there.

Unlike most other books, that focus on a particular framework or engine, here in Creating Games with Unreal Engine, Substance Painter, & Maya we see the full stack for developing a high quality game. These are industry standard tools, and while the licenses can be costly, these are the programs real AAA developers are using for their games. If you are looking to get a job in the industry, or simply want to make an indie game look AAA, then I’d say the best path is using the same tools as the pros and build your skills there. Here we see how to do hard surface and character modeling in Maya, creating textures in Substance Painter, rigging and animation also in Maya, and bringing that all in for a game demo in Unreal. While there are other tools that could have been used, for example Substance Designer and ZBrush are not covered, I find that the choice was a good one to build a solid foundation for designing a whole game, including the art and programming.

So overall I could not be more happy with the purchase of this book. Kassandra Arevalo, Matthew Tovar, and Jingtian Li have created one of the best game development books of all time. At over 800 pages, and with the level of topics covered, it’s not an easy book to read but I would say more than worthwhile. If you are balking at the price, don’t be. It was worth every penny.

That all said, be sure you are prepared to read this. While the book doesn’t assume any prior knowledge, and does try to explain all the steps from the top, it still is a fairly advanced text. If you just want to dip your toes into Unreal Engine, there are certainly easier books to get started with, but they are nowhere near as comprehensive. And while there are a few large books on Maya, that do go into further detail, they are rarely geared toward gaming, so may not be the best in terms of integrating with Unreal or other real-time engines. Substance Painter is a newer application, and there are not as many (or any really) books to find, so we are good there. So I would not shy away from this book at any experience level. There is something for everyone here, but effort is required to understand everything. Even though I have been developing games for over 20 years (both as a hobby and professionally) I have learned some valuable lessons here and I would highly recommend this book, especially to those who want to try the solo developer journey. You will not be disappointed.