Monday, September 24, 2007

Textbook Review: Introduction to Game Development

This is part of the series on book reviews.

"Introduction to Game Development" (Steve Rabin)

This ginormous book is a fairly comprehensive look at all aspects of game development: art, design, programming, production, audio, business and even a little bit on academic game studies. (As with the rest of the industry, QA is largely ignored.) It's actually a collection of essays and articles written by a wide variety of experienced game developers; Rabin is the editor, not the author. The list of topics was developed according to the IGDA Curriculum Framework and there are exercises at the end of each section; newer editions include a CD-ROM with pre-fabricated Powerpoint presentations ready to use in the classroom... if you're the kind of teacher who likes to read bullet points off of slides. Anyway, this was very clearly meant to be a textbook, possibly the textbook (as in, One Textbook to rule them all, or perhaps the Ultimate Textbook Of Ultimate Destiny).

As might be expected, Programming and Art get the most attention; those disciplines are more quantifiable, have more direct and better understood application outside of game development, and they are the most common entry-level positions (other than QA). As a result, most academic programs already focus on either Programming or Art, so a grand-unified-theory textbook such as this would want to put its attention on the same areas that schools do.

The book's size and scope is in some ways a disadvantage. No single course can cover the entire text, and its sheer bulk is inherently intimidating. It is expensive, and its generality means that any given course probably has other textbooks with a tighter focus that are more relevant.

On the other hand, if several instructors collaborate and agree to use the book in all of their respective courses, this one text could serve as a constant companion to students across an entire curriculum. While Introduction is inherently weak in some areas (notably game design), it gives a solid list of references to other works; any question that a student may have about any aspect of game development is probably either answered in this book, or in one of its direct citations.

Students: Personally, I think every student should own this book as a reference guide, the same way everyone used to own a dictionary and thesaurus before the Web made those obsolete. That said, I went so far as to make this textbook required (and even assigned some readings from it) in several of my courses last year, and for the most part my students ignored it -- whether from the intimidation factor or the expense, I don't know.

Instructors: If you require this book, be prepared to go all the way with it: make sure there are enough assigned readings and problem sets that supplement your existing course that it's worth the trouble. Ideally, work with other professors so that the book is used across several classes. That said, for game design in particular, I think there are better books out there; this is best used in a more general program, or especially an art- or programming-focused curriculum that has a Game Design course on the side.

Professionals: Even at the professional level, this is still a decent reference text. It would come in most handy if you're asked to do something outside of your specialty (a graphics programmer being asked to do some AI, for example) or if you just want a better understanding of what your co-workers do all day. It's probably best to just ask your manager to get a shared copy for the office, rather than having to own your own personal book.


game design program said...

Is it possible for me to read this book online? Or Any Source or download link avail for it?

Ian Schreiber said...

So... you're basically asking a textbook author if he knows any place where you can pirate textbooks? No, and for shame!

If you're a professor, you can always request an evaluation copy from the publisher for just about any book, if you're considering using it for a class.

Some books have some or part of their contents on Amazon or Google Books, and most publisher sites will at least give you a table of contents and maybe some sample material.

If you want to page through the whole book, best bet is to go to a local bookstore. I know in my area, Barnes&Noble will let you special-order any book at no obligation if they don't have it in stock; in a few days you can drop by, look through the book in the store, and decide whether to buy it when you're there.

And, there's always the chance that your local public or campus library will have a copy (and some will even let you request it if you're willing to wait awhile).

Or, just suck it up and buy the thing, and support your poor starving textbook authors.