03 June 2012

Carsten Wartmann - The Blender GameKit 2nd Edition - Book and DVD Review

Well I finally managed to work my way through "The Blender GameKit 2nd Edition".

There has been a lot of Blender and Blender Game Engine users waiting for this book, as it replaces the Official Blender GameKit 1st Edition, which is old and outdated.

"The Blender GameKit 2nd Edition" is a Blender Foundation book meaning that a certain percentage of the price of the book go towards the funding of the Blender Foundation and the development of Blender.

When I heard that it was coming out I wandered on over to the Blender E-Shop and pre-ordered my copy. On November 11 the book cost 31.20 euros before postage and tax.

As I mentioned the 2nd edition of this book really filled a need as Blender 2.48's Game Engine has advanced significantly in terms of new features and capabilities.

The book is split into several different categories, listed below:
  • Introduction
  • Beginner's Tutorials
  • Intermediate Tutorials
  • Advanced Tutorials
  • Apricot
  • Reference
The Introduction section gets the complete Blender newbie upto speed on some basic 3D topics such as what various terms mean and how to do important things such as UV Texture Mapping and the like. I was surprised that such basic information was covered as I would of assumed that anyone buying this book would at least be familiar with Blenders basic modelling capabilities. Still it is good that even complete Blender newbies are helped.

After the introductory section the book moves on to the tutorial sections. With each tutorial section covering the more and more difficult aspects of Blender Game Engine.

I found the Beginner's Tutorials section very useful and informative and I would think that a lot of people who have never used the Blender;s Game Engine before will get a good grounding on how it can be used with just its graphical user interface. This section really does help to show how easy the BGE can be to use and do some very useful things. In the course of doing the Beginner's Tutorials a few simple mini games are created to demonstrate the various features of BGE.

The Intermediate Tutorials section goes through some of the steps required to make a couple more games with slightly more complexity.

There is where I started to notice problems with the book, the first and most serious one being that one of the tutorials files (the subracer ones) were missing from the DVD, which was a problem as the book used these files to teach various concepts. On the upside the Blender GameKit website quickly fixed this by adding the tutorial files to the erratum website. So you can now get those files from there. These were not the only missing files from the DVD but they were the most important. The other less important issue that I noticed while reading throughout the entire book was a lack of good proof reading, the book is littered with typographical errors and strange fonts and missing spaces. On the whole though these lesser glitches don't really affect the usefulness of the book.

Another slightly more serious issue with the Intermediate Tutorial section was that it started to assume more and more knowledge of Blender outside of its Blender Game Engine features, such a knowing how to use python and knowing how to do more advanced modelling tasks. This would be fine but the book does not make any serious attempt to teach python programming or character animation. As such other books will be needed to cover these topic and that is not really made clear in these sections. If you don't know python or have not read some Blender character animation books, you may well start to get a bit confused.

My own personal opinion is that really the book should of taken it much slower and gone through more of the basics before moving on to more involved topics. Other people may be fine with the speed it moves at, but I would of preferred more detail and slower pace. I was left with the feeling that the intermediate section was more of a "this is what can be done with a bit more effort now go look at the files and figure it out for yourself", which I don't think was very helpful. It really was too brief to me useful.

The same problems apply with the Advanced and Apricot sections, though at least with the Apricot section its hardly surprising as the Apricot game was very complex and very powerful, you would need several books just on the Apricot to make a dent on all the things it can do.

If you are an advanced Blender user or you know your way around Python, you will no doubt find the section useful but otherwise I'm not to sure.

Next is the Reference section which in my opinion is one of the best sections of the entire book along with the Introductory section and the Beginner's Tutorials. A lot of the questions which are left hanging in earlier parts of the Book are answered in the reference section. It is a shame however that this is not explained earlier in the book. Which means that for the earlier parts of the book you are often left with no clear idea of what things mean until you have worked your way to the reference section and things become clearer. An example of this, at one point in the book there is a tutorial which makes a mini game called Tube Cleaner and in that game is a special texture which keep track of score which the book mentions, but not until the reference section is it explained how this is done. And annoyingly the link which is printed in the book to give a full explanation of how to make full use of this feature is out of date (but the erratum page will be updated with a valid link explaining this).

It probably seems from this review that this book is not very good, this would not be true, with just the Introductory section, Beginners Tutorial section and the Reference section the Blender GameKit 2nd Edition will be very useful to both the Beginning Blender Game Engine user and the more advanced user. It is just a shame that the other sections seem to assume too much on the part of the reader.

I definitely think the book does suffer for not having a dedicated section on teaching basic python and then extending that on to how to use it for the Blender Game Engine environment. I know printed pages are expensive and having extra pages puts the price of the book up, but I think the book would of benefited.

On the positive side, all the pictures and screenshots in the book were in colour which made them very useful. The Blender books certainly seem to understand the important of colour in pictures.

With this book and "www.cartoonsmart.com - logic bricks tutorial video", I think there are going to be a lot more people using the Blender Game Engine for many interesting things.

Review Score 70%