Reviewed by: Matt Carson, send e-mail
Published by: Dark Basic Software Limited, go to the web site
Requires: Pentium II/300MHz, 64MB RAM, Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP, a Direct 3D compatible graphics card (with 8MB or above) and a Direct X compatible soundcard
MSRP: $67.99

DarkBASIC is both a game design tool and a programming language all its own. DarkBASIC has been designed for both beginners and professionals. Its aim is to provide an easy way to create PC computer games and at the same time offer powerful commands that are versatile and varied.

Using data types, variables and Boolean operators that should be familiar to any programmer, DarkBASIC is a powerful tool in the hands of those who can use it. Strictly speaking, it's definitely not for beginner programmers like me. To be completely honest (aren't all reviewers completely honest??), my initial foray into DarkBASIC was daunting. But even with my novice viewpoint, a general review of the large manual provided clear direction on the best way to get started.

The program comes with over 45 different demos. Over 600 textures and 120 sound effects are also included. But perhaps most stunningly, there are over 900 3D models on the CD-ROM. With the large number of tutorials, as well as the AVI animation control, you can create games ranging from First Person Shooters, Beat ‘em Ups and Sports games to Space Combat simulators, Real-Time Strategy games and much more. DarkBASIC is very much the advanced professional tool for the serious amateur game programmer.

There are two choices available to you upon opening the manual. You can buckle down and begin learning about the coding framework, which is a more academic route. Most of this part of the manual describes the various details, aspects and intricacies of the BASIC language. Alternatively, you can dive right in and head straight to the chapter entitled "Fast Track Learning". This section gives you a taste of simple but efficient programming, allowing you to follow tutorials and create your own programs quickly. The DarkBASIC command set is refined and powerful. An extensive framework allows a programmer to toy with commands detailing everything from Basic Input and Mathematics, to Sprites, Sounds, Animation, 3D Lighting and a large range of related selections which are necessary for the creation of detailed games. There is even a set of "hidden" commands from DarkBASIC's first release, now revealed for your use. Many of them are simply Easter eggs, but some, like Rotate Image, Object Collision Radius and 3DS2X (a file conversion tool) are extremely useful. The time and effort that went into the compilation of this piece of software is evident in it's huge array of options, and also in the heavy but user-friendly manual, complete with several tutorials.

The core of any programming tool is its editor. DarkBASIC uses a low resolution program editor. Its advantages over other similar editors is that it's not based in a Windows environment and allows fast swapping between your program and your game during the development process. If you prefer a more conventional editor there are third party solutions available such as Dark Edit or Code Keeper.

The other interesting aspect of this software is the support being offered. Any programmer will tell you that his programming language and compiler of choice are only as good as the technical support, user forums and related support available for the software. Dark Basic Software is providing deep support for its core products. The online discussion boards and response rates are excellent. The company is also actively pursuing strong partnerships which bode well for the future of the software. The latest news is that DarkBasic and NVIDIA have announced the Retro Game Programming Competition. Prizes up for grabs include GeForce4 graphics cards, Dark Basic software and lifetime developer network membership. The basis for the competition is simple: re-create and enhance a classic video game in DarkBASIC. Full competition details, prizes and rules can be found at the DarkBasic web site.

The bottom line is that DarkBASIC is almost unique in the marketplace. The programming language is mature, the content supplied with the software is extensive and, most important of all, the whole thing actually works. I worked through several tutorials and produced some nifty items. If you really want to get a thorough immersion in game programming and produce something worthwhile at the same time, DarkBASIC is highly recommended.

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