Game Programming Starter Kit 5.0

Reviewed by: Songmuh Jong
Published by: Macmillan Software, Pearson Technology Group
Requires: Pentium 133 or later, Windows 9x, 2000, ME or XP, 24MB RAM (128MB for XP), 550MB free HDD space, 8MB SVGA with 800x600 minimum, sound card, Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat reader
MSRP: $49.95

Everyone likes to play games. It is even more exciting if you can program the games. According to the publisher of Game Programming Starter Kit, "[the] powerful and comprehensive kit has everything necessary to learn to program games and publish them royalty-free. It provides you with expert tools and guidance." That's not an overstatement.

The current version of the Starter Kit consists of Microsoft Visual C++ Introductory Edition 6, Microsoft DirectX 8 SDK, 3D GameStudio Standard Edition with an upgrade voucher ($30 less) comes with DirectX 7a SDK, e-book "Tricks of Windows Game Programming Gurus" by Andre LaMothe comes with two other online books Direct3D Primer by Mathew Ellis, General 3D Graphics by Sergei Savchenko, Printed Book "Game Design: Secrets of the Sages", 3rd Ed., various articles on the CD from many authors.


As usual, the Microsoft SDK comes with a huge collection of documents that lead you from one question to another. The printed book provides some introduction to game design principles, but is mostly a collection of conversations with experts in the field. The 3D Game Studio comes with a guided tour. Leave the printed book and SDK documentation alone and start reading the e-book (it's by the same author who wrote Teach Yourself Game Programming in 21 Days).

If you are shaky with C++, the e-book has a primer. If you are not familiar with the Visual C++ IDE, the first compilation could be a nightmare. I first tried the DirectX SDK in my existing Visual C++ environment. The first example compiled correctly, but the linker complained about missing info. After adding the library files to the project property LINK setting, the compilation worked.

To make sure the kit really works for people who do not have existing Visual C++, I reinstalled Windows on a clean hard drive then installed Visual C++ Introductory Edition, followed by the DirectX SDK, and finally the e-book. I found that I had to reboot between installation in order to tie DirectX SDK to the Visual C++ environment. It looks like the DirectX libraries must be at the beginning of the search order among the Visual C++ libraries in order for the sample codes to compile properly. This is actually mentioned in the e-book. Note that to distribute the game(s) you create, you'll need a real Visual C++ compiler (Professional or Enterprise Edition) because the Introductory Edition does not allow you to distribute the final executables.

Game programming is not just coding the sequence or action of the game. Graphics and music creation can take up most of the time and effort, and the e-book covers math, physics, AI, graphics, sound, music, GUI, data structures, and so forth. The printed book "Game Design: Secrets of the Sages" contains a heavy discussion of what lies ahead for 3D game programmers. You get a broad perspective of the computer game programming. Importantly, the third CD comes with some files for the printed books, including a sample game and its source code, an audio development agreement forms and a game design document template. You need Microsoft Word to open the documents.

The 3D GameStudio comes with a tutorial. You need to start the level or World Editor (WED) in order to follow the tutorial. The help mode can be annoying, especially if you have a small old (15") monitor. Once you click Build, the help window is bigger than the screen and you cannot proceed to the next step. Turning the help mode off will get you to the real windows faster. The default resolution for an opened file is much bigger than the display area of a 15" monitor. You need to reduce the application window in order to see all the windows in the workspace. The moral is: get a big monitor, preferably 19" or larger, if you want to do game programming.

The workspace design of 3D GameStudio is very straightforward. The Build and Run buttons are prominently on top of the window. The Studio comes with a scripting language (WDL). The Publish command creates a subdirectory with all the files needed for distribution, including the game engine. This is amazing. You can essentially create a simple game within the 3D GameStudio.

The question is then, why do we need Visual C++ if 3D GameStudio can do the job much easier? I think the answer has to do with control. 3D GameStudio is a high-level editor. Your control of the game is limited to the scripting language. Games created with Visual C++ and DirectX will be much more flexible, although they take longer to develop. Visual C++ gives me a sense of understanding and confidence that cannot be matched by a high-level editor. Still, it is more fun and more productive to use a high-level design tool such as 3D GameStudio.

Macmillan Software has done a great job in assembling a Starter Kit for new Windows game programmers as well as for experienced programmers who want to explore the game programming field. The DirectX SDK also comes with examples for Visual Basic programming. It is well worth the money considering the tools and information supplied with the kit. I agree with the publisher - this is a kit that has everything you need to start game programming in Windows.




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