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Going to War: Creating Computer War Games ***--

Going to War: Creating Computer War Games By Jason Darby
Published March 2009
List Price: $39.99, Your Amazon.com Price: $33.05

Amazon.com Sales Rank: 877,955
Availability: Usually ships in 24 hours

Do you want to learn how to create computer war games, but don't know how to get started or don't have any experience with game programming? Going to War: Creating Computer War Games shows you how to use the drag-and-drop game engine, Multimedia Fusion 2, to make your very own computer war games to play and share. After an introduction to the Multimedia Fusion 2 interface and the basics of how to use it, you'll get started on the game that you'll create throughout the course of the book. You'll begin by making your game map, using a system of hexagon tiles to create the terrain and the different units you want to include in your game such as soldiers and tanks. Then you'll learn how to set rules for player movement, different types of terrain, and combat. You'll even find more advanced techniques such as how to implement officers, fortifications, and even a simple monetary system in your games. The book even discusses how to track and find bugs in your games and how to create an editor that allows you to easily apply data you've already created to new games. Everything you need to build your own war games is included with the book, and by the time you've worked your way through it you'll have designed your very own working and playable war game.

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Jul 28 2009 10:53 AM

For reviews like this, I always feel the need for an up-front disclaimer. Going To War: Creating Computer War Games is built upon the platform (and is irrevocably married to) the authoring tool Multimedia Fusion 2. If you want to board create war games in C++ or Flash or Python or PHP, there are a couple of conceptual chapters in this book that might be of use to you, but most likely you'll be doing more porting than reading. Multimedia Fusion 2, while an interesting tool, isn't even close to portable to any other environment. More on that in a bit.

If you are planning to use Multimedia Fusion 2 or your design isn't much past the "I want to make a turn-based board war game" step, then Going To War: Creating Computer War Games might be a good place to start. It's quite an deep tutorial for the tool (really more about Multimedia Fusion 2 than war games, in my opinion), and it also proves that Multimedia Fusion is a fairly robust tool that's good for things other than sprite-based 2D Mario and Breakout knockoffs, which was the impression I got from checking out the MF2 community projects.

My second impression upon reading the book was that it'd be good for things other than just turn-based war games. After all, lots of very popular board games out there now (like Settlers of Catan), are conceptually similar to war games, only without the killing. You still have to deal with turns and phases and resource management and walking hex-grids and all of the other bits that are covered quite well in Going To War: Creating Computer War Games.

You also learn a lot of the details of Multimedia Fusion 2, and that's important. It's a bit of an odd tool with a fairly extensive "program by dialog box" metaphor, so the tutorial aspect of the book is pretty important. You won't find reams of printed source code to peruse, as there's really no concept of source code. Everything's done by object properties and visible evaluator dialog-boxes, so if you've not used the tool before, you'll need to take some time on this. The bulk of the book's 450-page length covers various techniques in Multimedia Fusion 2. And technique is not something that can be ignored. Walking hex-grids with code is a very different thing from walking hex-grids with a combination of object properties and simple dialog-based evaluator functions. Looking at Multimedia Fusion 2, you might find yourself convinced that "you can't get there from here" regarding certain types of games. While that might or might not be true, what you can create with the product is going to come down to all the "tricks" you'll learn along the way.

After the first couple of chapters, the book settles upon a single large "take home" project, a marginally-complete war game with attack, defense, computer AI, and resource management. The game board itself is pretty small, and it appears to be an "exercise to the reader" to make a game that's the size of a commercial war game. Like most books with a single "take home" project, though, the project is incomplete. While I would like to have seen a complete ready-to-download right-down-to-help-and-install-program game with all the bells and whistles in place, Going To War: Creating Computer War Games stops short of that goal. Myself, I never understood why authors include about 75% of a game in a book. If you build a complete game, not only do you do the reader a service by showing how to make a commercial (or at least freeware) quality game, but you end up with a terrific ad for your book. People playing your little war game can say to themselves "wow, this is a fun game, and if I get the book I'll be able to make fun games like this one!"

I guess I can dream.

The pack-in CD-ROM contains the obligatory 30-day version of Multimedia Fusion 2 along with the sample projects. The CD also inexplicably contains BMP versions of every diagram in the book, including such mundane stuff as screenshots of the setup.exe program from chapter 2 (how to install the program). Neglecting the demo version of Multimedia Fusion 2 (which is downloadable from the above-linked website) and the bitmaps, the complete book-code comes to about 15 meg, so I can only presume that they needed to justify including a CD with the book.

Going To War: Creating Computer War Games is a pretty good guide to making small war games using Multimedia Fusion 2. Whether or not you can make something that crosses over from "book pack-in CD quality" to "put on a website so people can play your game quality" is really up to you. This book will take you some of the way there, but not all the way.