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Game Programming Starter Kit 5.0 (PC)

The software's tag line says it all, "Don't just play game, make 'em." That's right, you too can recreate, or even better, one up the big gaming companies by creating you dream game. Not only can you create the game of your dreams, but you can also sell it royalty free. Too good to be true. No, not at all. Harder than the dreams of grandeur the back of the box paints? Definitely. Make your dreams a reality and program better than the big guys -- that's what it promises, now if it was only that easy.

Now I am going to start out by saying that because of my limited knowledge in the field of C++ programming, the whole crew had to be working on this one to get it fully functioning and start coding. That said, I'll also note that it'll be very helpful if you need a basic knowledge in C++, the Microsoft Visual Basic compiler, and you need to own a royalty free compiler to compiler your code with. The kit comes with the "introductory edition" of Microsoft C++ 6.0, and (to the best of my knowledge) the introductory edition compiler, unlike the professional edition is not royalty free. A royalty is a small percentage that is charged (in this case) by some high-end application companies for the sale of games created using their products. If you use the compiler that comes with the kit, legally, you're going to have to give Microsoft a cut of your proceeds, and they already have enough money as it is. So what's the moral of this story? If you're planning to sell your game after you make it, just go download some free and royalty-free compiler and save yourself some work and money.

The book that comes with the software (Game Design Secrets of the Sages, Third Edition, by Marc Saltzman) looks extremely daunting at first, but by no means is it. Its not only informative, but also it's well laid out and up-to-date. Most other books you read on C++ game programming still use Doom as an example of the cutting edge in game technology. This book uses recent games as real world examples of some hard to explain concepts and implementations. It's 500 pages with about 440 pages of informational text, pictures, and diagrams and gives you a good look at the ins and outs of the game industry as told by a number of major personalities in the gaming world (I.e., Will Wright, Hironobu Sakaguchi). The bulk of the text consists of interviews with these experts about what makes a good game and how to break into the industry. What is even better than the profiles of the big name people who are always in the news are the blurbs on some lesser known people: art directors, sound effect guys, PR representatives and others who don't work for the big publishing companies. Also included are useful links to key game programming resource sites and several profiles of game programming organizations and conferences. My only complain is that a few of the interviews sound like commercials for the developer's upcoming game, whether it was meant to be that way or not.

The 3D modelling/texuring application that comes with the kit is 3D GameStudio Standard 5.12 which (also to the best of my knowledge) doesn't have a lot of the capabilities of the du jour industry standard 3D Studio Max. They might not even be in the same league, but for it's purposes, 3D GameStudio Standard 5.12 is a good app. There is a nice learning curve: it only takes about an hour to learn the basics and a few days to master. After that, you can design 3D environments with a good degree of freedom. The only problem is that the kit comes with a dumbed down version of the program (for the real version, you're going to have to drop another $1000+ at 3D GameStudio's website). But for the money you pay, it's worth it. Its WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface also gives you a refreshing break from the cold harsh world of C++ programming. Speaking of programming this bad boy, let's talk a little bit more about Microsoft Visual C++ 6.0 introductory edition.

No, there's no way around it. To make your game, or any game for that matter, at the end of the day you're going to have to program it. That means learning C++, and surprisingly you won't learn any from here. I was extremely shocked when I saw that this kit doesn't contain a book on coding or even a quick reference pamphlet to basic C++. For good intro into all things C++, go to the library and steal some books on coding. Or you could go to the book store and buy yourself Sam's Teach Yourself C++ in 21 Days Second Edition by Jesse Liberty.

High end apps take a bit out of you processor, hard drive, and RAM, so
I was surprise when I saw that the minimum system requirements called for a pretty puny computer. Below are the minimum system requirements.

Minimum system requirements:
Pentium 133 MHz or better
Windows 95-XP (except NT)
24 MB RAM (128 for XP)
550 MB free hard disk space
SVGA or higher resolution monitor with 800x600 minimum monitor
3D accelerator card with 8MB of RAM
Sound card
2x CD-ROM drive, mouse and keyboard

Not satisfied with taking the box for it's word, I fired up some of the software on a 166 MHz Pentium Packard Bell Platinum 60 with 48MB of RAM and just barely 600MB of free disk space to see how the suite would run. Needless to say, it didn't work very well. When they say minimum system requirements they mean the least amount of resources that will get the programs loaded. The "recommended" requirements should read a little bit more like this:

Minimum system requirements:
Pentium 266 MHz or better
Windows 95-XP (except NT)
64 MB RAM (128 for XP)
600 MB free hard disk space
SVGA or higher resolution monitor with 1200x1024 minimum monitor
3D accelerator card with 8MB-16MB of RAM
Sound card
2x CD-ROM drive, mouse and keyboard

Who should buy this product? Any newbie who wants an all-inclusive, inexpensive way to break into the video game industry should take a good look at this product. Who isn't this for? Anyone who has at least an intermediate knowledge of what is involved in making a game, or anyone who already owns another compiler and engine should probably take their money elsewhere.

The Bottom Line: I don't have the experience to compare this suite with any other products like this on the market, but I will say that with some effort you will be able design and create a game using these applications. The thing I don't like about this package is that the software that comes with aren't the full capability versions. If you look past that, this an adequate package for making almost any type of game.

After you make one, then you can boast to you friends about how your game is the best ever, even though really it only has one level and some major clipping problems. Think about it this way, this is the only game your ever going to buy with unlimited replay value. You get tired of one game? Make a new one -- problem solved. Maybe you can even break even or make money with the kit by selling you games after you make them. Just remember though, use a different compiler. You don't want two of Bill Gate's thugs who look like Tony Soprano to show up at your front door asking for his royalty money.

Rating: 7/10

Second Thoughts: Another problem is the price for power ratio. I'm sure there are some more powerful kits out there for the same price or just slightly higher.

Second Thought Rating: 6.4/10
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