31. August 2015


Today Unreal announced the release of version 4.9 of the popular Unreal Engine.


Unreal always have fairly massive release notes, so here is the short hand version:

  • Enhanced Support for Mobile Devices
  • Dynamic Character Shadows for Mobile
  • Dynamic Point Lights for Mobile
  • Decals on Mobile
  • Major VR Updates
  • New VR Motion Controller Support
  • Experimental Direct X 12 Support
  • Full Scene Particle Collision with Mesh Distance Fields
  • Hierachical LOD Fast Preview and Clustering
  • Arch VIS Character Controls
  • Widget Depth ordering
  • Area Shadows (For Stationary Lights)
  • Ambient Occlusion Material Mask
  • Mesh Distance Field Materials
  • Improved Distance Field Ambient Occlusion
  • Content Browser Advanced Search
  • Collection Improvements
  • Plugin Creation Wizard
  • Enhanced Curve Editor
  • Multiple Return Nodes in Blueprints
  • Construct Custom Objects in Blueprints
  • Blueprint Class Defaults
  • Blueprint Communication
  • Optimized Math Expression
  • Blueprint Asset IDS
  • Montage Element Timing Interface
  • Non-Linear Animations Blending
  • Bone Driven Animation Controllers
  • Animation Transition Rules
  • Animation Curve Evaluation Change
  • Animation Asset Metadata Support
  • Sound Quality Levels
  • Custom Audio Attenuation Curves
  • Actor Tick Intervals
  • Actor Encroachment Detection
  • Post Process Blending
  • Runtime Asset Cache
  • Volume Decals (Experimental Only)
  • UE4 Documentation Tags, Version and Skill Level
  • Updated UE4 Documentation
  • Async Real-Time Audio Decompression
  • Shared Resources for Feature Packs and Templates
  • Improved HTML5 (Easy Setup, Amazon S3 Support, Networking)


This only represents the highlighted features too, be sure to check the full release notes for more details.


31. August 2015


In this Closer Look At we look at take a look at the jMonkeyEngine.  The Closer Look At game engine series is a cross between an overview, a review and a getting started tutorial to help you decide if a game engine is the right fit for you.  The jMonkeyEngine engine is a Java based, open sourced, cross platform 3djMonkeyCloserLook_450px game engine that runs on most Java supported platforms and can target Windows, Linux, Mac and Android, with iOS and Oculus VR support currently being tested.  jMonkeyEngine is available as both a game library, or as a set of tools built on top of the NetBeans IDE.  For this closer look, we will focus on the full SDK experience.



This closer look is also available in HD video format here.



Although we are going to focus on the complete set of tools including in the jMonkeyEngine SDK, keep in mind it can be used in library form if you prefer working in Eclipse or IntelliJ.  You will however lose access to some very convenient tools.



Meet jMonkeyEngine


As I mentioned earlier, jMonkeyEngine ships in two forms, as a set of libraries, or as a complete SDK build on top of the Netbeans IDE.  You can download load the SDK for Windows, Mac or Linux right here.  As of writing, 3.0 is the current released version, while 3.1 is available in development on Github.  This version marks the first public release using the Github platform.  jMonkeyEngine has a few prerequisites before installing, but they basically boil down to having an OpenGL 2 compatible video card and JDK 6 or higher installed.


Once downloaded and installed simply run the jMonkeyEngine SDK application.   This is jMonkeyEngine:



As mentioned earlier, this is actually a preconfigured version of the Netbeans IDE with a set of plugins and extensions to support jMonkeyEngine development.  This means in addition to the various jME tools you get a complete modern Java development environment, meaning code completion, project management, refactoring tools, debugging and more.  I won’t be specifically covering Netbeans functionality in this guide.  If you’ve got prior experience in Eclipse or IntelliJ, you should feel right at home.  Personally I rate the Netbeans experience somewhere between the two, with IntelliJ being quite a bit better, while Eclipse is many many many times worse.  That all said, that is purely opinion, each platform has it’s strength and weakness, it’s fans and haters.  If you prefer to use Eclipse or IntelliJ you can.


Hello jMonkeyEngine


It is often easiest to start with a simple project, so let’s do exactly that.  Select File->New Project



A New Project wizard will appear.  All of the standard project types supported by Netbeans are available, but also the new jMonkeyEngine templates are available too.  Select BasicGame and click Next.



Pick a name and location and click Finish.



Your project will now be created.  You can have several projects open in the IDE at the same time, just be sure to select the right one in the Projects panel:



The wizard will have automatically created a project hierarchy for you:



It’s optional to use this layout, but you are making life more difficult for yourself if you do not.  File paths for textures in imported models are absolute, forcing your hand somewhat in how you import your data.  Again, you can code around this design, but you are making your life more complicated.  For the most part I found the layout fairly logical, but the suggestion to import your models into the Textures folder then relocating them to Models ( well discuss this more later ), well that simply a gross kludge.


The New Project wizard also generated a default source file for us, Main.java, with the following contents:


package mygame;

import com.jme3.app.SimpleApplication;
import com.jme3.material.Material;
import com.jme3.math.ColorRGBA;
import com.jme3.math.Vector3f;
import com.jme3.renderer.RenderManager;
import com.jme3.scene.Geometry;
import com.jme3.scene.shape.Box;

 * test
 * @author normenhansen
public class Main extends SimpleApplication {

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        Main app = new Main();

    public void simpleInitApp() {
        Box b = new Box(1, 1, 1);
        Geometry geom = new Geometry("Box", b);

        Material mat = new Material(assetManager, "Common/MatDefs/Misc/Unshaded.j3md");
        mat.setColor("Color", ColorRGBA.Blue);


    public void simpleUpdate(float tpf) {
        //TODO: add update code

    public void simpleRender(RenderManager rm) {
        //TODO: add render code

The code is all pretty straight forward.  You game code extends the class SimpleApplication, which in turn implements Application plus implements some “out of the box” behaviour like key mappings for exiting the application and implementing a camera.  These default behaviours can easily be overridden as we will see shortly.  SimpleApplication exposes three critical methods as part of your games life cycle, simpleInitApp(), called when your app is created, then simpleUpdate() and simpleRender() called over and over by the game event loop.  Basically stick your setup code in the init() method, your update code in the update() method and drawing code in the render() method.  If these methods start getting overly complex, you can refactor your design to use States, something we will cover later on.


You can run or debug your project using the toolbar:



Or via the Run menu:



Once launched you will see a configuration Window.



Select your preferred configuration and click Continue.  You may be asking, can I get rid of this damned window?  The answer is yes you can, but you have to use code to do it.  I can’t really fathom why there isn’t a “Remember my settings” check box.  Once you click Continue, your first app will run.



As you move the mouse cursor around, the camera implemented in SimpleApplication is moving the camera position around.  You may also notice the debug details and of course that startup window.  As said earlier, this can all be override, let’s look at how.

First we can get rid of the configuration window ( which I admit, gets old very quickly ) and set a default resolution using the following code:

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        Main app = new Main();
        // Dont show window
        app.showSettings = false;
        // Create a new app settings loaded with defaults
        AppSettings appSettings = new AppSettings(true);
        // Override resolution
        // Add a title, just because
        appSettings.put("Title", "Super Awesome Megagame 9000!");


Next in our init we add the following logic to disable the camera and debug info. These need to be called after app.start(), thus why they are in init.

    public void simpleInitApp() {
        // Disable fly cam
        // Turn off debug info and FPS window
        Box b = new Box(1, 1, 1);
        Geometry geom = new Geometry("Box", b);

        Material mat = new Material(assetManager, "Common/MatDefs/Misc/Unshaded.j3md");
        mat.setColor("Color", ColorRGBA.Blue);



Now when you run your game, you should no longer see the config window, nor display stats when running.  Instead you should see:



Importing a 3D Model


One of the first things I do when testing a new engine is check to see how hard it is to get a 3D model imported.  In jMonkeyEngine you have a couple of options, you can import to their native format, use a Blender plugin, support an OBJ file, or import files converted using the Ogre XML toolchain, which is also available as a Blender plugin as well as several other packages.


I will use the native format (j3o) later, for now, let’s look at the process of importing a Blender model, since jMonkeyEngine has solid Blender integration built in.  In fact, jMonkeyEngine actually ships with a copy of Blender as part of the SDK install, currently version 2.69 (as of writing, 2.75 is the most current version).  When you run Blender from within jMonkeyEngine, this included version is the one that is run.  (Note, for performance, you should always prefer using the native binary format unless you have a very good reason not to).


You can add a new textured Blender cube (you don’t have to by the way), right click the desired location and select File->New->Other…



Then select Blender->Box prepared for UV texturing.



Name it and confirm the location, then click Finish.



This will run a copy of Blender and set up a cube with textures defined for you.



What’s extremely odd here is the configured cube isn’t actually ready to go.  You still need to UV unwrap the cube, attach a texture and set the UVmap.   You can see the entire process in the video if you need more details.


You can confirm that the blend file works fine, right click the blend and select View Model.



This will open the Viewer.


Be sure to click the light icon (top left) to enable lighting in the viewer.  Now that we know the Blender file works, let’s move over to the code to load a Blender file.  there is a bit of a challenge first, Blender support is actually added as a plugin, we need to add it in first.


Right click Libraries and select Add Library…



Select jme3-libraries-blender then click Add Library.



We need to add a light to the scene or the model isn’t going to show up.  Simply drag and drop SunLight from to the drop of the simpleInitApp() code and it will drop all the code we need.


package mygame;

import com.jme3.app.SimpleApplication;
import com.jme3.light.DirectionalLight;
import com.jme3.math.ColorRGBA;
import com.jme3.math.Vector3f;
import com.jme3.renderer.RenderManager;
import com.jme3.scene.Spatial;

public class Main extends SimpleApplication {

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        Main app = new Main();

    public void simpleInitApp() {
        /** A white, directional light source */ 
        DirectionalLight sun = new DirectionalLight();
        sun.setDirection((new Vector3f(-0.5f, -0.5f, -0.5f)).normalizeLocal());
        Spatial blenderModel = assetManager.loadModel("Models/demoBox.blend");

    public void simpleUpdate(float tpf) {
        //TODO: add update code

    public void simpleRender(RenderManager rm) {
        //TODO: add render code

And run it:



So other than Blender configuration, getting a model into a jMonkeyEngine app is fairly straight forward.


Tools in jMonkeyEngine


Code Palette

We briefly saw the Palette in action in the previous example.


This is a selection of code snippets you can drag and drop into the editor.  One major gotcha however, many of these samples depend on a library, jme3-test-data, that isn’t included by default oddly enough.  We saw earlier when we set up the Blender plugin the process of adding a library.


3D File Importer

While jMonkeyEngine supports the Ogre XML format and Blend files, working with a game oriented file format is almost always the best performing option.  Fortunately jMonkeyEngine provides just such a format, j3o.  These files can be created easily using the menu File->Import Model menu:



Then select the model



Material/Shader Editor

You can easily create shaders right clicking an Asset folder such as Materials, New->Other…



Then Material->Empty Material file



You can then define a shader using a UI tool.  You can also set a template that other materials inherit from.



3D Scene Composer



The Scene Composer can be use to assemble and create 3D scenes.  There is also a corresponding scene graph:



A variety of game nodes can be created here:



Terrain Editor

In addition to the Scene Composer, there is also a 3d terrain tool:


You can create terrain visually.  Easily pull and push terrain into shape, paint with multiple textures.  The generated terrain can be used in the scene composer.



Engine Capabilities


We only briefly touched upon the code capabilities of the jMonkeyEngine due to time and space restraints.  jMonkeyEngine is a full functioning engine with the following functionality, excerpted from their website.



Documentation and Community

jMonkeyEngine is well documented, with a comprehensive collection of tutorials and guides available on the wiki.  I encountered a few entries that were out of date or invalid, but for the most part the document was solid and easy to follow.  There is also a good reference in the form of the JavaDoc.  I may not always be the biggest Java fan, but I almost always love JavaDoc generated references!

Until recently the forums for jMonkeyEngine were pretty terrible, but thankfully they’ve recently transitioned to an improved forum.  There is an active community and questions rarely go unanswered.  They have also recently transitioned the source code to Github.




There are two books available for jMonkeyEngine.




The Video


Programming , , ,

28. August 2015


Hello All,


Just a quick note on what’s coming up at GameFromScratch.com.  First up, the end of summer is fast approaching and I think it’s time for a road trip vacation.  Last year I took a similar trip and it rained every single day, so this year I’ve learned from my mistake and I am bringing along a laptop and will be doing a little work while lounging by the pool ( or more likely locked inside watching the rain ).  This isn’t exactly a hardship, as I enjoy what I do after all.


Since it is a vacation however, I am going to be taking a somewhat different approach to what I am working on.  First off, there will be no videos produced, since I wont be bringing the proper equipment with me.  Second, traditional series will be on hold until I get back, so don’t expect any updates to existing tutorial series for at least a week, although I should get an in progress “Closer Look at” post out before I depart or shortly thereafter.


Instead I am intending to do exploratory work on a pet project I’ve been kicking around in the back of my head…  There is one topic that is incredibly underserved when it comes to books and tutorials.  One that is incredibly popular, but due to it’s massive nature, most people don’t really get into it for one reason or another.  Computer Roleplaying Games.


I have considered doing an RPG tutorial ( CRPG I suppose) for ages.  It was games like Ultima, Bards Tale, Might and Magic, Wizardry, Autoduel, Wasteland, etc… that truly got me hooked on gaming.  It’s the genre of game I personally am also the most interested in developing.  There are a couple problems about doing a tutorial series about RPGs.


First off, I will have to learn a ton to actually cover the subject.  I have never created an RPG before, so this is obviously going to be one of those “learning as I go” projects.  This isn’t really a huge concern to me to be honest.  It’s not actually a hugely complicated project, just a ton of tiny intricate moving pieces that need to be organized.


Second, they are massive.  There are so many subjects to cover and to be frank, a lot of what makes a roleplaying game work is actually the tooling behind it.  World editors, scripting systems, world state, databases, this kind of stuff.  You quickly find yourself creating your own game engine, scripting language, adhoc database, etc…  and quite frankly, the value of doing this is minimal, and the value of doing it in tutorial form even less.  Not many of you are going to want to use my poorly rolled engine ( I’m a fervent believe in the Make Games not Engines ethos… although I think making tools is a brilliant use of time ).


On the other hand, if I use an existing engine, my demographic is going to be small as well.  Right now I think the most popular engine in terms of potential readers is probably Unity.  So the series that might appeal to the most users is “Creating an RPG in Unity”.  This has many problems.  First is easily explained with a handy Venn diagram.



The Dark Blue portion is the most engaged audience, this represents the portion of the community that use Unity and are interested in RPGs and read GameFromScratch.  As you can also tell, it’s the smallest portion, although this is generally the way these diagrams work.  There are the two slightly lighter blue areas, and those represent people that have 2/3rd interest in the project.


Simply put, by picking a game engine, it narrows down the potential audience substantially.  On the other hand, as I said earlier, not using an engine is a very bad choice.  Also to be completely honest, without a serious amount of modification ( which would require a source license ), Unity doesn’t actually seem like a great choice for an RPG, at least for small teams.  Of course some exceptional games have been made using Unity, such as Wastelands 2, Pillars of Eternity and Shadowrun Returns, but they all had huge teams and most likely had source licenses.


It’s this limited audience that has always kept me away from the idea; and a lack of time has kept me from simply working on my own game.  This is one of the challenges of running GameFromScratch.com, I need to work on either a broad variety of topics, or on topics of interest to a large enough segment of the community.  This keeps me from spending a ton of time developing my own game.  This isn’t really a big deal, I actually enjoy teaching more than I enjoy development these days.


I hit upon an idea however that I think might be useful to the greatest number of people.  To appeal to enough readers to justify the time spent, to be effective enough you could actually use the results, to be productive enough that you could actually finish a game and be interesting enough that I would actually enjoy working on it.  That’s a lot of enoughs eh?


To start out making an RPG engine of sorts, you would need a number of moving parts to start from.

  • a game engine/collection of libraries to handle the technical bits.  Rendering, input, that kind of stuff
  • a scene graph, world storage format.  Basically the data structure in memory and on disk that your game will reside in.  This could be part of the engine you chose, but for an RPG, you will probably want more control or possibly to decouple it from the engine for a variety of reasons.
  • a world editor.  This one is big.  HUGE in fact.  My thought at first was to create if from scratch, but that could literally take a single developer years.  More on this point later, as again, it’s a big one.
  • RPG logic.  There’s all kinds of things that are somewhat unique to RPG games, from massive state driven game levels, time management, to simple random generators, dialog trees, class abilities, game entities, etc.  Basically the common logic that goes into an RPG that makes an RPG and RPG, regardless to if its 2D/2.5D or 3D, sci/fi or high fantasy.
  • misc tools…  conversation / internationalization tools, sprite effect tools, world item asset creation/database, etc.  Some of these could be part of the engine, some could be part of the editor, some could be stand alone and all may depend on the RPG logic layer.  File this section under miscellaneous/everything I forgot.

There are many different choices, but all of have their strengths and weaknesses.


An immediate thought would be LibGDX.  From the game engine side of things, it certainly ticks almost all of the boxes.  There are three big downsides to this choice however.  First, I run into the Unity factor again… if I go with LibGDX, I lose all readers interest that don’t want to use LibGDX or Java.   Second, there is a lack of out of the box scripting support.  I wish there was Lua ( or jLua, or whatever the Java equivalent is ) support out of the box.  I think it would be easy enough to add in support for a scripting language for the LJGWL target, but once you start getting into Android and then the RoboVM trickery then we are talking a layer of black magic I currently do not possess.  It may not actually prove to be that difficult, but this is a portion of LibGDX that I’ve always just let others wrap their brains around.  Finally, and one of the big ones…  no level tool, at least not yet.  There is Overlap2D, but it’s just not there for me yet.  Plus frankly, trying to extend it with the ECS and MVC design its chosen… this would be nightmarish.


Those end up being the big two sticking points for me, the availability of a scripting language, but one that has to be optional… and a solid base to build a level editor upon.


In terms of level editor, one of the most immediately obvious answers is TileD.  I like Tiled… I actually looked at the source a number of times considering doing exactly this very thing… and I decided it would be WAYYYYYY too much work.  Tiled’s code is nice and clean Qt C++, that’s not really the issue… the issue is the pure amount of work you would have to do to extend it.  I believe they are refactoring towards extensibility, but this is a WIP.


Of course Unreal and Unity can be turned into level editors, but this will start feeling like a hack right away, and without Unity source you are quickly going to be stuck in the Unity design model, which for an RPG, would lead to an organizational mess almost right away.  With Unreal you get the source, but realistically you aren’t going to want to extend the editor, at least not with a fairly large developer team.  Plus that API is changing A LOT, so expect huge breaks every time there is a new release.  Pretty much ever major game shipped on one of these engines pretty much locks to a version and sticks with it…


You could also extend a content creation platform too… this is actually a pretty popular choice.  You could extend an app like Blender, Maya or Max to use as your authoring environment, but this again is a highly specialized development and of interest to a very small segment of the community.  Also it can very easily get hackish fast.


Of course, I wouldn’t have shared this massive wall of text unless I thought I had an idea now would I?  Well, it’s that idea I am going to flesh out during my vacation, decide if it’s viable, both from a tech perspective and a time perspective.


So… what are my thoughts?


Godot.  Or perhaps, sorta Godot.


Godot ships with a Unity-like 2d/3d editor, and a game engine capable of providing the technical bits in a cross platform manner.


More importantly, Godot editor is mature, 2D/3D friendly, scriptable and most importantly, modular and extensible.  In fact, the entire GDScript language is implemented as an extension module for Godot.  Therefore it should be possible to create RPG tooling ( creature editors, pathing, item inventory, conversation tools ) that can plug into Godot, but not require users to build the editor from scratch.  Basically it would enable me to create an RPG world editor using Godot, that enabled people that arent even interested in using Godot game engine, without having to fork Godot itself.  Of course you could use Godot the editor and Godot the engine to create your game.  However you could potentially use Godot the editor and say… LibGDX, or Phaser or SFML, Ogre, jMonkeyEngine, Paradox, Mono, whatever…. to implement your engine.


Obviously that just covers the editor/engine portion of the scenario… this leaves two very big missing pieces.


RPGLib.  Right now I am thinking it would be smart to provide generic RPG-esque functionality as a C++ library.  This would be usable then by the vast majority of programmers, regardless to the language they want to work in.  ideally I will use 3rd party libraries as much as possible to offload as much work as I can.  Think of this layer like the run-time that provides generic RPG-esque services to the underlying game ( the Godot editor would be a consumer of services provided by this layer ).  This layer wouldn’t care what engine you are running in, if your game is 2D, 2.5D or 3D.  It would be use to provide things like persistence, algorithms like pathfinding, a database of sorts, etc.  In theory you should be able to slot it in to a variety of games and build upon it. 


WorldFormat.  This one is tricky and is going to require a fair bit of brain juice…  basically I want to decouple the world format from the game engine.  In fact I want to decouple the world format from the game, but I dont think this is even close to possible.  Basically a world is a database, graph or tree of entities in memory.  The other side of this coin is, it also needs to be saveable to and loadable from disk.  Think about how the Tiled editor has the TMX format and all of the various game engines capable of loading it?  This would be like that, but with a great deal more database like behavior.  This would enable you to write a loader/importer for your favourite game engine of choice, and make use of Godot as your world editor of choice, but load it in whatever game engine you desired.  Of course this loader would be responsible for populating your game engines scene graph…


Think roughly this…



Now one major downside is my C++ is meh at best and extremely rusty.  Then again, only way to brush off the rust is practice, no?


The end goal is to keep each layer dependent only on the layer below it, and have zero dependencies back to the Godot editor layer.  This means a user could take and make use of just the services layer.  Or the Game Format + Services layer.  Or simply the output from the level editor and ignore the rest.  Or they could use the provided loader, the Godot editor, the RPG services, etc… and have a turnkey solution to build an RPG upon.



…anyways, that’s the thought bouncing around my head right now.  On my vacation I plan to tackle two key points.  First, I want to see if the Godot editor is in fact as easy to extend as I think it is.  Second I am going to start defining as best as I can what functionality goes into what layer.  One final thing to keep in mind out of all of this… I am not intending to reinvent the wheel.  An RPG for example requires animated sprites or models, playing sound effects and music, etc…  these are NOT the responsibility of any of this, that’s left for the game engine or game implementer to handle.  The closest this comes who thing comes to any of those services is perhaps providing resources via the Game Engine Specific loader.


Of course, I’d be interesting in know if you guess out there would be interested in a series like this?  It would take a very long time, as I will be continuing to generate the kind of content you would expect from GameFromScratch.  It would however be a fairly good sink of my time, so I want to gauge the level of interest before a dump a ton of time into this.  Also, do you see any glaring flaws in my early concept so far… and recommendations or changes you would make?


Or frankly, does this all look like the ramblings of a mad man desperately in need of a vacation? Smile

Programming, News, General, Design

26. August 2015


… in beta form, that is.  It was announced a while back that Unity was working on a Linux version of their editor.  It appears it has finally arrived, according to this blog post, replicated below:


Hello again, lovely people!
Last month, I wrote a blog post detailing our plans for Unity on Linux.  Well, I’m back again to tell you the big day has come; today we’re releasing an experimental build of Unity for Linux!
An Experimental Build

Today’s build is what we call an experimental build; future support is not yet guaranteed.  Your adoption and feedback will help us determine if this is something we can sustain alongside our Mac and Windows builds.

Today’s build is based off Unity 5.1.0f3 and comes with the ability to export to the following runtimes:

  • Linux, Mac, Windows Standalone
  • WebGL
  • WebPlayer
  • Android
  • Tizen
  • SamsungTV
System Requirements
  • 64-bit Ubuntu 12.04 or newer (just like our player, the editor will run on most ‘modern’ 64-bit Linux distributions, but official support is only provided for 64-bit Ubuntu 12.04 or newer)
  • Modern Nvidia, AMD, or Intel graphics card with vendor-supported graphics drivers
Feedback and Issues

We’ve created a new section of the forums for you to provide feedback and report issues.  That’s the primary place where we’ll be communicating with our users who are using the Linux build, so be sure to check it out.  Crashes of the editor will pop up the bug reporter, which we encourage you to use in that case (because we’ll get the stacktrace).

That’s all for now. You can find the downloads here:

Read more about the release notes and known issues in our forum post.

Much love from Unity


I know there are a lot of Linux devs out there that have been calling for a Linux version for quite some time. I am curious to see how popular it will actually be though. In the end, many of the people that embrace Linux as opposed to MacOS, are also the type that embrace open source. Why then would this demographic gravitate to Unity, when open source friendly options like Godot exist? I don't personally have any Linux installs at the moment, so I wont be testing this new release.


25. August 2015


I’m about to date myself brutally with this post (hint… I’m old… much older than this book, which is also old ), however when I stumbled upon this book it stirred a bit of my childhood in a way that no Michael Bay butchered film can even attempt.  You see my first home computer was the Atari 800XL, a machine that still owns a solid place in my heart.




Such an amazingly sexy thing, no?  Well in 1983 it certainly was.  Within minutes of bringing it home, my dad managed to erase the disks that came with it, leaving me alone with an Atari 800XL, the manual, the ROM version of BASIC ( thankfully ROM is remarkably Dad proof… ) and 6-8 weeks will waiting for media replacement from Atari.  On this day two journeys began.  My Dad’s continuing and overwhelming hatred of computers and my programming career.


I’ll admit however, although I managed to scrape together some simple text adventures, a dice rolling game and a few other simple examples, I was simply too young to get very far.  I was still quite young and information simply wasn’t as available as it is now.  It wasn’t really until I got a PC that I really started to learn to program properly.  Unless of course you count copying hundreds of lines of assembly from the pages of a magazine programming…


This is a bit of a shame too as the world of programming on 8bit machines was almost magical.  While those lines of cryptic bytes I typed back then seemed like magic, now that I’ve got a good 20 years of programming under my belt, I have an appreciation for how simple things actually were.  On top of that, expectations were so much lower, it truly was the age where a single developer in his garage could make a successful game.   Yes, you may have been working in BASIC or even Assembly, but the underlying processors were so simple compared to today, that with the right information, it really wasn’t the nightmare you expect it to be.


It’s funny, you hear lots of people say they want to work in C++ or C because they want to “get closer to the machine”.  Want to get closer to machine?  Travel back in time!  I actually think there is a lot of value in people messing around in these old systems.  So when I saw this book appear on Safari, I decided to give it a look.


Retro Game Programming:Unleashed for the Masses


Available on Amazon for less than $10 (starting at $2 actually).  With a 1.5/5 star review… that’s not a good start.  The book is old, the book is cheap, is it worth reading?



I suppose that entirely depends.  The book is in a word, sloppy.  It covers a number of old systems including the Atari 800, C64 and TRS80.  It actually wastes a chapter on plugging these various machines in…  yeah.  This chapter alones suggests to me that the book may not have in fact had an editor.


But then it gets a bit more interesting, there’s a touch of history which I almost always enjoy, I’m not sure how it would go for someone without my rose coloured glasses on.  Then the book seems to flip back and forth between being a complete beginners book and… not.  We get a chapter on 6502 assembly programming… very cool.  We get some coverage of setting up the video and drawing to the screen, which are good reads.  Then a chapter on input and player AI, which frankly doesn’t have a single purpose for existing.  Followed by a chapter on audio programming.  It is then all capped off with a completely meaningless BASIC text adventure.  Had the book actually concluded on a complete Assembly project using what we’d learned so far, I think that 1.5 star rating would be a great deal higher.


So do I recommend this book?


No, not really.  However as I said earlier, I discovered it on Safari and it provided a few hours of amusement.  If you were looking for an interesting, but sloppy, look back at the way things were, it’s certainly worth the couple bucks it’s being sold for these days.  Even more so because it is now easy to get a hold of incredibly solid emulators of all the systems used in this book.  There is value in modern programmers experiencing how things used to be, and it’s amusing for the older folks among us to take a trip down memory lane.


You may be asking yourself…  hey did he just review a 10 year old book that he didn’t particularly like?  Why yes, yes I did.  I will say however, one of the advantages of being a book on retro game development is…  you never really become out of date, do you?

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