My first impression of Game Maker 8 Game Creation, released a week ago, is that it is more like a magazine than a book.
As the title suggests the guide is focused on version 8 of Game Maker. A preface advises that the information present is correct for the Pro edition however the vast majority of the details provided are equally true for the free Lite version. Although aimed at “starters” you are obviously expected to already be aware of Game Maker as there is no mention of where it can be obtained.
The contents listing shows that the book is essentially a compilation of questions that people may ask about Game Maker’s capabilities – the majority of which are then answered in 1 or 2 pages illustrated with screenshots.
The guide is certainly not for beginners with no prior experience of programming. Readers are thrown in at the deep end with talk of Direct3D and scripts with no explanation as to what they are – the first question is about Game Maker’s 3D capabilities. An explanation of the various elements of Game Maker comes only on page 43 under the “I am confused – how do the terms Program, Room, Level, Object and Window relate to each others?” question.
A minor irritant is the constant references to ‘GM8’. Incredibly in the entire 161 page book the phrase ‘Game Maker’ is only mentioned 4 times. Whilst this acronym is explained at the start of the book the same is not true of others used throughout the guide. For example an extract of the book reads “GM8 does have cosmetic 3D capability (which is stronger than the 3D feature offered by its competitor MMF)”. Presumably MMF is Multimedia Fusion, a topic with which the author seems to have a mini-obsession given its constant acronymic mentions (he has published two books on the game creation tool), but this is not explained anywhere. Sure a quick Google didn’t hurt but this book is supposed to be providing tips and techniques not causing confusion.
Some of the questions answered are just moot. For example “Should I start with room first or object first?” and hands up who doesn’t have a sound card installed on their current machine. “Is a sound card REQUIRED on the development station?” takes up a page of the guide. Some of the questions seem downright bizarre such as “What is the optimal display resolution and color depth for GM8 to operate at design time?” I doubt many people have even considered asking that question.
There are some more useful questions such as “Why is full screen mode preferable and why should mode change be discouraged at runtime?” which covers an issue that people may initially overlook.
As you will be able to tell from the contents listing, and the questions quoted above, most of the guide is not focused on active game creation but on questions relating to the functionality of the Game Maker software itself.
The Object Design section will probably be the most relevant to most Game Maker users and may help beginners become familiar with the basics of Object Orientated Programming as the basics of sprites, objects, rooms and the concepts of persistency, object instances, collision checking and inheritance are covered. Use of the phrase “this parent object thing” seems very dismissive though. This part of the book also includes interesting responses to queries about using several smaller objects instead of one large object for example to control various weapons on a spaceship or enable certain areas to be more sensitive to damage than others. There are also various questions relating to the use of views before the book abruptly ends with the promise of future updates on the publisher’s website.
Plugs are given to LateralGM the cross-platform Java based Game Maker IDE and Liam Brummitt’s GMToolbox resource site. I would support the Paint.NET recommendation as I have used the free tool as my sole graphics program for a number of years though it has to be said this mainly consists of simple drawings and screenshots! Again – no link though.
The quality of language is not of the standard I would expect to find in an authoritative guide. For example on the subject of the best Operating System to use part of the response is “Vista itself is way too power hungry. It eats up half of all system resources even when not running anything. Windows Server 2003 is never optimized for front end application like the GM8. Windows 7 is too new”.
“Are GM8 projects and games SECURE?” mentions the Game Maker decompiler but doesn’t make suggestions on how you can protect your game against being readable by using an obfuscater. There are also minor but noticeable mistakes such as a reference to “windows based games” [sic]. My general opinion is that the book has been published too early and lacks the basic explanations required for beginners and the depth required to to be the ultimate Game Maker technical resource for more established game makers. I am struggling to see who the book is really aimed at.
The “How do I measure actual runtime screen performance?” answer tells you to use debug mode. But no explanation as to what it is or how to access it is given until later in the guide. The whole book seems disjointed.
In short I was disappointed. There clearly is some potential in the Question and Answers approach taken and some of the answers were quite insightful but the consistency and quality just wasn’t there.
A second volume dealing with “serious coding” is planned for the future.
[AMAZON $13.95]: Game Maker 8 Game Creation: Practical Tips & Techniques Vol.1