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Wow, TAB Books. That takes me back. Back to when I was a kid and I joined "The Electronics Book Club" from an ad in Popular Science. For two or three bucks a month, I got books like Build Your Own Working Robot and other cool titles describing projects that were way outside the capability of a 12 year-old nerdling like myself.

I also learned the life lesson about book clubs. They're easy to join but not so easy to quit.

Fast-forward 30 years, and I was surprised to find that TAB books is still around as "TAB Electronics", an imprint of McGraw Hill. And they're still making books about electronic projects that are beyond the capabilities of kids. Of course, they also make books that are fully within the capabilities of young folks like the aforementioned 12 year-old that eventually became me, but Make Your Own Blinking LED Circuit wasn't nearly as sexy as Build Your Own Working Robot. And, when it's your three bucks to spend, you're gonna go with the cooler sounding titles.

So I guess they learned their lesson and started giving the beginner titles the cool sounding names. In fact, they appear to have gone completely over the top with their new "For The Evil Genius" series. If you type "For The Evil Genius" in Amazon's search box right now (go ahead and do it, I'll wait), you'll see that there are at least a dozen titles showing off all kinds of books on cool gadgetry aimed at kids. Although I do think the "Evil Genius" moniker is a bit stretched in a few places. For example, while solar energy experiments are cool, I don't think any self-respecting evil genius is gonna melt Sheboygan with anything solar powered. If you're an evil genius who's building a death ray, it's plutonium all the way.

John braces for a visit from the Department of Homeland Security for the previous joke

If you haven't figured it out yet, Programming Video Games For The Evil Genius is a book for kids. If you're in college and you're looking to a programming tutorial that'll teach you the practices necessary to shoehorn yourself into the gaming industry, this isn't really the book for you. If you're a carbon copy of myself 30 years ago, then this would be a good start (or a good gift). The very fact that it's written by a 15 year-old should clue you in that it's not a wealth of industry knowledge and insight gleaned over decades in the industry. You just can't expect that from an author who was in diapers when the Playstation was released.

Programming Video Games For The Evil Genius is pretty easy to follow. It's not intended to be a rigorous programming tutorial, so elementary programming topics (control flow, variable types, arrays, etc) only get enough coverage to understand what you're seeing when you see the constructs in the programming examples.

The book does get a few things right. One is its choice of programming platforms, namely Java. While many will (correctly) state that Java isn't a good first choice for developing a game intended for commercial distribution, it's just fine for learning. In fact, it's a very good choice for the audience of the book because it's free and it works the same on whatever computer you might have in your house (Windows, Mac, or Linux). If the book had instead chosen C++ or C# or Flash, it would've been faced with the prospect of locking you into a particular platform or non-free development tool. Java, for its flaws, assumes the least on the part of the book's audience. And when you're dealing with a book that'll likely be purchased by an elderly aunt for a ten year-old kid, it's best to not disappoint the reader by later requiring an expensive development tool purchase. Or, even worse, finding out that the development environment won't even work with the reader's computer.

So Java it is. And also the NetBeans IDE, because typing in games using command line tools is a relic of my childhood TRS-80 days. The book's examples are short, plentiful, and pretty elementary. While the author was just a gleam in his mother's eye during the days of the TRS-80 and the Atari 2600, the examples would be at home on either platform. The games run the gamut from "run the little blocks around the black racetrack" to "Tic Tac Toe" to "Match The Cards" and other elementary stuff of that ilk. While the chapters seem to promise 50+ projects, many of the games span several chapters. For example, "Radical Racing" is actually a game that spans four chapters (and hence four projects) with one project covering making the track, one covering collision detection, etc. On the whole, there's about a dozen games in the book. Some of the games are covered more than others. A couple are just "teasers" with the intention that you'll flesh out the project further on your own.

There's no CD because broadband internet has really made the obligatory bound-in CD more and more a relic of the 1990's. There's a companion website at http://www.mhprofessional.com/authors/cinnamon that has project downloads as well as a forum and a place for readers to upload their own games that were inspired by the projects in the book.

Programming Video Games For The Evil Genius isn't a book that's intended to get you up to speed creating commercial-worthy games, and it's not a book intended to get you the requisite experience for a job at [insert name of your favorite game studio here]. It's a book that's intended to get kids started on writing some simple game projects with quick rewards. In a couple of hours at your computer you can write up a simple car-racing or tic-tac-toe game from scratch, and you can then play around with the code to improve the game, improve the graphics, change all the sounds to fart-noises, etc. It's a book that follows its title nicely.

And that's always my worry with books like this, and it's much more of a problem now than when I was a kid. Back then, if you could get a book that allowed you to make something akin to "Adventure" on the Atari 2600, then that was enough. There really wasn't much distinction between a game that you could type in your computer from a code-listing in a book and a commercial cartridge-based game. Breakout is pretty-much breakout. Things are different now. A Java-based Tic Tac Toe or Match The Cards game isn't anywhere near the league of the latest console offerings. Hopefully the readers of Programming Video Games For The Evil Genius will get this and won't grow impatient that they're unable to create "Grand Theft Auto IV, only better" within a couple of hours of opening the book.

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