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B. Sizer (Nottingham, UK)

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Brain-training Puzzles: Intermediate Book 1 (Brain Training Puzzles)
Brain-training Puzzles: Intermediate Book 1 (Brain Training Puzzles)
by Carlton Books Ltd
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Poor quality control, 3 Oct 2011
We bought this book to keep us amused on a long journey, and although we only got a short way into the book, we quickly found an error rendering one puzzle impossible. It suggests that the word "Auckland" must somehow yield the number 15. The answer says,'score 1 for a consonant and 2 for a vowel, then multiply the numbers together'. You don't even have to look at the word to know that 15 is an impossible outcome when one of the factors is 2.

This may be the only mistake in this book (although my girlfriend said that she spotted another) but knowing that you can't trust the answers makes the exercise a lot less enjoyable, since there is always the worry at the back of your mind that you're wasting your time on something unsolvable. Worth bearing in mind if you are interested in this book.

Game Programming Gems 4: v. 4 (Game Programming Gems (W/CD))
Game Programming Gems 4: v. 4 (Game Programming Gems (W/CD))
by Andrew Kirmse
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 63.48

3.0 out of 5 stars Not as packed with quality as other Gems, 17 Dec 2010
This book is much like the other Game Programming Gems books, in that it features a selection of articles across the wide spectrum of game programming. However it feels like this book's content has been squeezed somewhat by the presence of the AI Game Programming Wisdom and Massively Multiplayer Game Development books, with Gems picking up what's left. As such the AI and Networking sections are a bit thin and lacking anything special, whereas the Graphics section still dominates. Perhaps this is not so surprising given that most developers were still focused primarily on graphical technology at the time of publishing, compared to today where arguably more developers are free to work on other aspects of the game. As such, if you are working with an existing graphics engine you may find that this book doesn't offer enough in the way of usable articles to justify the price.

Theory of Fun for Game Design
Theory of Fun for Game Design
by Raph Koster
Edition: Paperback
Price: 16.38

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very thought-provoking work, 15 April 2009
The main thrust of this book is exactly what the title says it is - a Theory of Fun, for game design. The author is not afraid to push his beliefs without apology, though any who are wary of the slightly opinionated style will be relieved to find end notes that are full of detailed justification and citations that would have broken the flow of the main text.

The book is not just about what makes a game fun, but also how games fit into arts, culture, and society in general. This in turn shows why designing games is important and provides some hints at where games need to go in the future to become accepted alongside other art forms and media.

If there was to be one criticism of this book, it might be that it falls somewhere between prescriptive textbook and descriptive journalism without fulfilling the full potential of either. But the end combination is more than the sum of its parts, and as such is an indispensable read for anybody interested in games today.

Guerilla Home Recording: How to Get Great Sound from Any Studio (no Matter How Weird or Cheap Your Gear Is)
Guerilla Home Recording: How to Get Great Sound from Any Studio (no Matter How Weird or Cheap Your Gear Is)
by Karl Coryat
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for beginners, 20 May 2008
I think this book gives a well-rounded introduction to making good recordings with limited equipment or expertise. It covers many things, from correctly setting up the signal chain, to suggestions on separating instruments in the mix, to how several well known effects work. Pretty much everything of importance is touched upon.

However I think that in this day and age, with so many people using sequencer software for their recordings, the book probably didn't need to spend so long talking about mixers and how to bounce tracks to save space, for example. Perhaps the space could have been better used by listing some free or cheap software that can be very useful to those on a budget, or indeed noting which hardware gives the most bang for the buck.

In summary, this book offers a lot of well-written advice at a very reasonable price. Just be prepared to do a bit of research into what hardware and software is most appropriate at your price range, and then employ the tips in this book to make the most of it.

Game Architecture and Design (NRG - Programming)
Game Architecture and Design (NRG - Programming)
by Andrew Rollings
Edition: Paperback
Price: 52.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Practical advice for the underperforming developer, 2 Oct 2007
This book, though well worth reading, is definitely a mixed bag. Split broadly between game design and game production, both are covered quite extensively but with a lot of repetition.

It starts well when describing different aspects of game design, listing some key concerns and doing well at steering clear of the "first, pick a genre" trap. But when it comes to the details of low level design, it seems to settle on the "everything is rock-paper-scissors" approach. There are some interesting variations on this theme, but some alternative perspectives would have been welcome, especially those that might hold true beyond the RTS/FPS ground that the mathematical approaches model well.

When it comes to the production process, the book seems to be squarely aimed at the underperforming team rather than the average or good one, as much of the advice seems to assume dysfunctional relationships, poor management, and a team of selfish developers. In fact, several of the tips given are tempered by telling us that top sellers like Doom and Starcraft "probably didn't use" some of these tricks, because they were too good to need to. In other words, Rollings and Morris go down the route that many others use when advocating their methodology, extolling it as a system to get the most out of a mediocre developer, rather than a way to create a great product.

Later parts of the book tend to repeat a few general themes, such as iterative development, focusing on creating working components and code-reuse, the merits of design patterns, etc. Most of these things are well-known to the educated developer, and repeated insistences that they are worth using (with graphs of arbitrary data to help convince us) are not going to change any minds.

Some parts seem opinionated and dogmatic, and sometimes even contradictory. Why suggest that imposing an arbitrary dress code will somehow make people work harder in the absence of cited evidence? Why waste time caricaturing five different types of 'problem developer' (which in this case is assumed to be synonymous with 'problem coder' - artists and designers are obviously perfect!) instead of just tackling the individual issues? Why use the phrase "start with a well-designed product, and then plan the marketing" in a sample design document, but in the very previous chapter make it very clear that you think the Marketing department should be treated by the developers as the end client for the product?

This last point is perhaps the most important one; this book is not about how to make good games as such, but about how to make enough of the resources at your disposal to make a game that is good enough and marketable enough to keep you in business. There is enough common sense here to turn any randomly-assembled rabble of developers into a group that can probably ship something, given management with enough determination. But if you're already at that standard, or are able to work outside the constraints of a typical professional team of developers, most of the knowledge here will be of limited use.

Dismantling Devotion
Dismantling Devotion
Price: 21.84

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A top quality example of the genre, 29 May 2006
This review is from: Dismantling Devotion (Audio CD)
(This review originally posted on the artist's official forum shortly after release, reposted here following minor edits.)

I got my copy yesterday, and have listened to it 4 or 5 times. I must confess that initially I preferred the previous album No Reply, but after more listenings this is growing on me, in the way that many of my favourite albums have.

We've heard all the Katatonia and Opeth comparisons, and I definitely hear many of the former and some of the latter. But I also spot hints of Draconian or My Dying Bride in Solitary Confinement, or Silent Enigma-period Anathema and Icon-era Paradise Lost in A Life Less Lived. There are even slight similarities to earlier Lacuna Coil here and there, with clean vocals or guitar melodies over simple yet syncopated rhythms. Despite the comparisons though, it sounds unmistakably like Daylight Dies, with just as many links to previous work as to other artists. The ending of A Life Less Lived harks back to the harmonies on one of the tracks on the Idle EP, for instance. And of course all the trademarked smooth key changes and tempo changes we've come to expect are out in force.

On a production level, this is simply excellent. Egan's bass comes through powerfully and clearly, showing the basslines that are more interesting than is common for this style of music. Jesse's drum sound has undergone a marked improvement also. After hearing the Lies That Bind demo I was a little concerned that the rhythm guitars might lose their previous crisp edge but those fears were dispelled when I got the final version. The leads cut through beautifully, and Nathan's vocals are close enough to those of old vocalist Guthrie to leave no room for disappointment while being different enough to carry a unique character. And the only problem with Egan's clean vocals is that there aren't enough of them.

Are there any negatives to be found then? Possibly there aren't as many memorable lead solos on this album, nor is there seemingly an equivalent to Unending Waves, which on the last album was a great compromise between being a catchy and accessible song but lacking none of the Daylight Dies complexity. Here, A Dream Resigned probably comes closest in this regard. Still, these are truly small gripes among the weight of quality on display here, though. No fan of melodic metal music should be without this album.

Designing Virtual Worlds
Designing Virtual Worlds
by Richard A. Bartle
Edition: Paperback
Price: 27.69

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, yet opinionated, 1 May 2006
This book attempts to cover the growing area of massively multiplayer online gaming from the privileged but sadly often-overlooked position of one who knows that MMORPGs owe much to the text MUDs that came before them. It shows that many of the concepts that are hailed as innovative by MMORPG players today were often showcased in textual online games 10 or 20 years ago, and goes on to show that many other features of text MUDs could - and should - be implemented in the modern graphical games. It also looks critically at why some features do not translate well from text to graphics, and the different considerations a designer must make in each case.

Much of the book is a detailed analysis of each aspect of a virtual world - ways to classify player types, how to model objects and their properties, ethical considerations, skill systems vs. class systems, and so on. Dr Bartle's semi-formal style works well, being neither a lofty pronouncement shouted down from an ivory tower or a populist rant from a jaded and biased player, but a considered middle ground from someone who has 'been there' and hopes to improve the status quo. Most of the observations ring true, and unlike the naive "why don't games just do XYZ?" suggestions that constantly plague online forums, they also carry the weight of practicality. Amusing footnotes make the book a pleasure to read, and also provide many valuable links to external sources for further research.

Where this book falls down however, is where the author lets his personal bias show through. He espouses strong opinions on what virtual worlds actually are and why players enter them, and then continues to use these definitions to refute the opinions of others, as if his assertions were indisputable fact. Another way in which the bias shows is in the amount of detail regarding the various subject areas: fewer than 20 pages are devoted to combat - arguably one of the most important aspects to many world designers - compared to 30 pages on how Gender Studies relates to virtual worlds. In one section, Dr Bartle warns designers of the dangers of 'selective depth', where parts of the game are made to appear too important by the designers having spent too much time adding to detail pertaining to that aspect, neglecting others. It can be argued that he has made this very mistake with this book.

So in summary, if you are looking for a tome that covers all kinds of virtual worlds, and forces you to look at both the deeper and wider issues regarding them, this is the book for you. However, if you are just looking to start up a new MMORPG and wanted some hints on the gameplay detail, this book will still help you, but probably not in the way you had hoped for.

Be Creative: Essential Steps to Revitalise Your Work and Life (Essential Steps)
Be Creative: Essential Steps to Revitalise Your Work and Life (Essential Steps)
by Guy Claxton
Edition: Paperback

8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little underwhelming, 26 Mar 2006
Books on popular psychology tend to be pulled in two directions; partly towards the academic psychology route, and partly towards the 'mind, body, and spirit' route. I tend to prefer the former, hoping that ideas to improve my life are supported by comparisons with results from formal studies, or at least making new hypotheses based on previous research.
Unfortunately, this book felt a bit too much like it was drawing from the latter, with much emphasis on the 'relaxation exercise' detailed early in the book. The other exercises often fall broadly into the category of "get into the relaxed state - think about the subject matter - what thoughts are occuring?"
The only real support for the ideas that the authors have comes from a liberal sprinkling of quotes from prominent figures that they think supports their argument, but which often seem not entirely related to the matter being discussed. Credibility is hardly helped by the use of slightly cringeworthy catchphrases such as "surfing your inner-net". And making broad statements such as "it seems the brain is organised into three layers" don't seem to come with any support, except that obviously the rest of the book falls back on this assumption.
Additionally, many of the exercises won't be much use unless you first record them onto tape or get the version that comes with a cd. The nature of them means that you're expected to be relaxing and not reading, so unless you can memorise a page of text, audio is essential to make the most of what the book offers.
Compared to an Edward de Bono or even a Tony Buzan book, there is precious little of practical use here. The authors would probably claim that I only say this because I am unable to appreciate the benefits of their methods, and perhaps they are right. Either way, I prefer clear practical guidance to the variety of meditate-and-hope-for-the-best exercises on offer here.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 16, 2011 10:03 AM BST

How To Have A Beautiful Mind
How To Have A Beautiful Mind
by Edward De Bono
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacking in specifics, 16 Aug 2005
Although well-written and covering a reasonable amount of ground, this book doesn't really offer very much in the way of practical advice, preferring to state the obvious, albeit in a comprehensive and interesting way. Whereas his other work 'Teach Yourself To Think' gives a framework and ideas for how to approach tasks such as problem solving and creativity which can be applied to real situations, '...Beautiful Mind' instead focuses on a vague overview of how to be slightly more interesting in conversation.
Maybe a few readers will benefit from the small quantity of directly applicable tips, such as how to word objections to an argument without causing offence, but too often in this book the advice is either too obvious to be worth pointing out, or too vague to be applied by anyone that doesn't already know the fact.
This might be a good introductory book for anyone who feels that his other works are a bit too intellectual or who just wants a brief overview of the different aspects of conversation.

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