Review: The Game Maker’s Companion

The Game Maker’s Companion

Game Development: The Journey Continues

After I wrote a review on the Game Maker’s Apprentice last year, the writer Jacob Habgood, contacted me about his follow-up book. At the time, it was waiting to be released and he was nice enough to send me an advance copy so I could check it out. I was excited and  I dove right in. Unfortunately, I ended up getting really busy with my job and family and I had to set it aside. Having just finished it, I wish I would have been able to stick with it back then as it provided me with some concepts that would have been useful to have known these last several months. But let’s actually review the book itself.

This book is larger than its predecessor, coming in at around 400 pages, and focuses more on actual game design. Jacob Habgood, along with his art team of Nina Nielsen and Martin Rijks, once again supply the reader with resources, example files, and playable builds of the games they will create. The format is fairly similar to the first book and builds off of where they had left off. The first half still mainly uses Game Maker’s drag-and-drop coding style, while the second half focuses on pure scripting. There is also a lot more game design theory in this book, including more thoughts on level design, story, art development and a bit on project management. Habgood definitely tried to be quite thorough in covering all aspects of becoming a better game designer.

Unlike the previous book, The Game Maker’s Companion only builds three games, all of which are platformers. While this may be disappointing for people wanting to build a variety of genres, I felt it was a great way to focus on a large variety of issues a developer will encounter. Each game builds upon the previous lessons and shows how slight changes in design, such as increasing the size of the character, can drastically alter how the code needs to be implemented. The first game is a bit forgettable, but that is probably more due to the fact that the second game is Zool. I don’t know how many people had an Amiga, but this was one of its big titles. Recreating a bit of it brought back some memories ( I’m dating myself a bit ). The third game is a completely new concept, which is conceived, planned and explained by the authors. Once you have completed the main part of the book, there is a fantastic additional chapter that is filled with little snippets of useful code.

As with most books, this one does have some issues, though nothing too major. The biggest issue I had was that the reader often has to abandon their own work for an updated file. This was frustrating when making the third game as it took  along time to code it all up and then I couldn’t continue to use it. I understand why it had to be done, I just didn’t like it. Another problem I had was that several things were implemented into the game without explanation. For example, there is an opening movie that plays when you start the final build of the third game. Nowhere in the book does it tell you how to code that. Sure, you can just open up the supplied work file, but it was one of the features I was interested in seeing how they planned on doing it. Finally, I will say that at times, I missed some pieces of code due to the wordiness of the explanation. For that I won’t blame the book too much as I think it’s just the nature of having to read and type such large games.

Overall, I think this is a great book and should be on the shelf of every aspiring game designer. You learn more than just how to code, but you learn how to think like a professional game designer. I am really hoping that we might see a third book that digs even deeper into what the program can do.

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