Book Review: Team Leadership in the Game Industry

Team Leadership in the Game Industry

Team Leadership
in the Game Industry

Seth Spaulding

The Review

Simply put, I really liked this book. In fact, I thought the book was so good that I bought two additional copies as gifts for a pair of coworkers who were just getting started as leaders of their own teams.

It contains a wealth of knowledge on the subject of leadership in the context of the game industry. Understandably, the book leans towards the artist camp in a game company, but the advice offered in the book is most certainly applicable towards other engineering or game design (I myself am an engineer and as I mentioned above, I found it to be very useful!).

But beyond the organizational charts and high level discussion of team dynamics, the book drills into some very important topics. For example, I was very impressed with the section on how to best evaluate whether someone is suited for a leadership position or instead set them into a senior position without placing them in charge of a team. Spaulding lays out several different scenarios and guides the reader through each one, explaining why people with different skill sets and personalities may or may not work out when placed in charge of over a team.

Another topic that is addressed in detail is what to do when things go sour: personality conflicts, team meltdowns, over-zealous leaders, and both incompetent team members and team leaders.

The book also contains insights directly from the GDC Roundtable sessions, including a detailed look at the question “What traits would you want in your ideal team leader?” Spaulding outlines the traits that are commonly chosen common and explains not only why they are common, but also why they are good traits or which ones may be more important than others.

On top of all of this, the book includes a collection of interviews (one at the end of each chapter) with industry veterans from an assortment of leadership positions and disciplines (art, production, engineering, etc). I especially enjoyed these because they showed both a variety of answers to some questions, while others most answered with the same useful advice.

I would recommend this book to anyone in the industry who is currently leading a team, or is thinking that they might want to lead a team in the near future.

Book Review: Software Engineering for Game Developers

Software Engineering for Game Developers

Software Engineering
and Game Developers

John P Flynt, Ph.D.

Thoughts Overall:

SEGD is a detailed post-mortem of a small team’s game project: Ankh. It focuses in on the process of developing a game from start to finish… with a heavy emphasis on the process. The book spans 800+ pages, many of which are tabular explanations of forms and documents. In other words — this book has “academic” written all over it. Okay, granted the Ph.D. at the end of the author’s name also indicates this fact, but I was willing to give the book a chance (as I am with a lot of books!).

Overall, I felt let down about a hundred pages into the book and it never recovered. Initially, I had high hopes because I like reading post-mortems from game projects (even if it may have been from a game that no one’s ever heard of) and I like process. However, SEGD takes its readers down a road that veers strongly towards the managerial side of game development, sans a couple of chapter sections sprinkled with the code of a few classes in an attempt to catch the attention of software engineers. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind reading about practices and methodologies — I grew up on SCRUM and Test-Driven Development, but there’s something wrong when a book is detailing forms from the ISO standard.

Yes, I read all of it. The best parts were when they explained the expectations they had, the methods they used, the overall outline of their setup, the roles that team members had, and the problems they ran into and how they resolved them. These were great discussions. In fact, I think the “Stripe” (iteration) methodology used is a pretty viable structure. But all this could have been wrapped up well before hitting the 500 page mark.

Do I Recommend this Book?

For this particular book, I need to you to answer my question first: Do you like digging for your information?

This book is dense and is, in fact, rewarding on varying levels for both managers and members of a game development team, but you’ll have to dig through layers of mechanics for those nuggets.


I really appreciated the effort that went into tracking the info during the Ankh project. In fact, this is exactly why I bought the book: to read about a team project that goes from design doc to a fully functional game. It was very interesting to read about how a bunch of ideas were turned into something tangible and fun.

This book has a lot to offer in terms of how a team formulates a game and gets their ideas implemented from the initial scribblings they wrote weeks/months before. It examines an iterative development methodology (each iteration they call a “Stripe”). Each stripe is actually a complete demo that fulfills a certain set of specified requirements, along the way to the final stripe with completes the game. The book takes the reader through each stripe (not in detail for all 17, but that’s okay — it started to become monotonous after a while), and explains many important issues that arose and addresses the team dynamics.

Furthermore, each stripe is outlined (with requirements and use cases), implemented, and tested. All of these steps are elaborated upon with good context, though there is a heavy emphasis on the outlining and documentation and less so on the actual implementation.

As you might have expected, the topic of design patterns surfaces throughout the discussion. Although I had feared for the worst when I reached this chapter (due to the overall view being so lofty it made me feel uncomfortably distant from the software), it actually turned out to be one of the best chapters of the book. For SEGD, patterns wasn’t the be-all end-all I have been reading about in other sources. The chapter takes a very practical point of view and after you have finished reading it, you don’t feel like the world can be solved by patterns, rather that they are proven, structured designs to solve a distinct class of problems. This tone and treatment was very refreshing.


After finishing this book I felt like I needed to have a formal review before moving on to the next book in my queue. My biggest complaint is the book was too focused on formalities of the game development process. I kept asking myself, “How did these guys make any progress with all these documents and meetings?”

Can I think of anything more boring to read about than metrics? I know: tables of ISO standard forms! Why the author could not have merely suggested the reader to take a look at a few forms to use as templates when setting up their design document or other related documents, rather than include pages upon pages of tables with explanations of each section (some of which boil down to “you probably don’t need to include this section”) I cannot fathom.

Don’t expect code. Classes, their objects, and the messages/events passed between them are all examined at a high architectural level. I was thinking this book might have explained more about library modules to form a game engine, but the game project itself was quite tiny in comparison to what I had already been exposed to at work, and did not discuss engine architecture to any detail. Instead, the focus was on using UML and SmartDraw to design every class in your game. Personally, I believe if you have enough foresight and patience to draw out the UML and maintain it throughout the life of a game project, you should take a step back and consider how much time you’re spending not implementing your game. Tools and documentation are there to help you convey ideas and save time — not become a ball-and-chain!

Final Word:

This was an interesting read — though I had higher hopes. The cursory content of the vast number of subjects could have been thinned and left to the reader to investigate by reading authoritative, dedicated books on the subjects. The core of the book was really the Ankh project and the Stripes methodology, but it was often times buried under too many layers of formalization. Don’t pick up this book unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time sifting through those layers.

Book Review: Data Structures and Algorithms for Game Developers

Data Structures and Algorithms for Game Programmers

Data Structures
and Algorithms for Game Developers

Allen Sherrod

Thoughts Overall:

Overall, I thought DSAGD was a worthwhile book. I can honestly say that I had fun reading through the basics again and coding up the data structure(s) with each chapter. It has been a good 7+ years since I have written any of the data structures covered in this book, and (as some people know) sorting has never been one of my strengths.

That said, there were also some technicalities about this book (mostly mechanical) that stick out like a sore thumb, which makes me disappointed because I think that they could have all been avoided had someone (not the author in particular) actually taken the time to sit down, read, and give the content a proper editing pass.

Do I Recommend this Book?

I’m usually pretty decisive on this issue, but in this case I’m actually a little bit ambivalent on whether I would recommend this book or not. I will say that DSAGD is not a book I would recommend everyone to read — it certainly depends on the programming level of the person in question.

If they are weak in the areas of (or have just started learning) data structures and sorting, then I think this book is perfect for them. In other words, I would have loved to have this book when I was in CSE 12 back in Spring of 2001 because it makes a point to explain things clearly. It also doesn’t hold your hand in terms of C++ like some other books I have on my book shelf; it just jumps straight into the details about what you need to know about the data structures themselves. I appreciated these aspects of the book a lot throughout the read.

However, I would not recommend this book to a seasoned programmer who is simply looking for a refresher in these topics. I recommend that they should turn to a more solid source (maybe Algorithms in C++ by Robert Sedgewick), as this book will leave them wanting.


As I mentioned earlier, DSAGD does a good job of staying on track when it comes to what you need to know about fundamental data structures and sorting algorithms.

Here is a list of the data structures covered:

  • Array
    • Unordered Array
    • Ordered Array
    • Bit Array
  • Linked List
    • Singly-Linked List
    • Double-Ended Link List
    • Doubly-Linked List
  • Stack
  • Queue
  • Deque
  • Hash Table
    • Open-Addressing
      • Linear Probing
      • Quadric Probing
      • Double Hashing
    • Separate Chaining
  • Binary Tree
  • kd Tree
  • Heap
  • Priority Queue
  • Graph

Here is a list of the algorithms covered:

  • Sorting
    • Bubble Sort
    • Insertion Sort
    • Selection Sort
    • Merge Sort
    • Shell Sort
    • QuickSort
    • Radix Sort
  • Compression
    • Run-Length Encoding (RLE)
    • Huffman Coding
  • Misc
    • Partitioning

Everything listed above is explained well and has a corresponding implementation. Most of these implementations are fully fleshed out… my main complaint is that the kd tree is lacking in a couple of important features (such as a Remove() routine).

DSAGD also has a decent amount of examples of when to use certain data structures and sorting algorithms over others. Seeing how this is just as (if not more) important than knowing how to implement them on your own, I could put this point in either the Pros or Cons section, but I’m feeling generous here because I did in fact feel more confident about my stance on data structure usage after finishing DSAGD.

Also, I was pleasantly surprised to see that DXT compressions were covered in the final chapter. I’ve never spent much time in graphics-land, so while I had a basic idea of the differences across the formats nothing was particularly solid — this part of the book was certainly helpful.

Another unexpected surprise that I was happy to see was the provision of a fully functional, platform-independent implementation of a DDS (DirectDraw Surface) file loader (pg 502-509).


No book is perfect. It is excusable to see a typo or two. But in this book there were enough spelling and grammar errors that it became noticeable… and that’s when it started to distract from the reading.

I also think that this book could have either been 100 pages shorter, or have 100 more pages worth of examples, data structures, and algorithm implementations (like a SkipList or a Remove() routine for the kd tree!). I make this claim based on the fact that there were places where the code was simply reprinted — for no good reason. I can understand when an author wants to explain things in-line with the code; so they print the implementation and then write a few paragraphs of explanation. I can also understand the benefit of having the entire class printed in completion after the routines and member variables and any miscellaneous assumptions have been explained. But it does not make sense to do both — please pick one or the other! Again, like the textual errors mentioned above, if it had happened only once or twice, I could see it being because there was reasoning behind it; but after the third time I seriously started to get the feeling the author was simply trying to fill space.

I’m tired of books printing listings of the signatures of STL routines… and on top of that, getting them wrong. Yes, DSAGD talks about the STL in addition to the custom implementations listed earlier. At this point in the article, it should be apparent which I am more interested in… it’s why I bought the book in the first place! If you’re looking for a games-oriented view on the STL, check out chapters 8 and 9 in C++ for Game Programmers for a solid, well-written discussion. I own a couple books that focus exclusively on the STL, including: The C++ Standard Library: A Tutorial and Reference and Meyer’s Effective STL, and there are many more books dedicated to explaining the STL in detail out there, so I highly recommend going to one of those before thinking of using DSAGD as an STL reference.

My final complaint was the glossing over of scene-management topics at the end of the book. Granted, this was not what this book was about, and I still have yet to read a really good book on the subject of scene-management, but I felt like I had been taunted after I had finished reading that chapter. Sherrod prints a full implementation of a Vector3d class when he could have at least spent some more time talking about the QuadTree and Octree… or better yet: explaining a concrete implementation! Surely these spatial data structures aren’t difficult to implement on my own but I’m still wondering why he took a step backwards to print the Vector3d code… this is a data structures book, not a math primer.

Final Word:

Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, I think DSAGD handles the subject of the fundamental data structures and sorting algorithms very well. The book has a lot of potential and deserves a second edition to clean up the mechanical errors. In the meantime, just be prepared to skip multiple pages at a time when he reprints code, and don’t get your expectations up too high about the content of the final four chapters.

Book Review: C++ for Game Programmers

C++ for Game Programmers

C++ for Game Programmers

Noel Llopis


The following is a book review I wrote when I finished my first reading of C++ for Game Programmers back in early 2005. I’ve left it intact so it differs from the formatting of the other reviews I’ve posted.

I remember why I bought this book in the first place. It was December of 2004 and I was having some trouble while working through Zerbst’s 3D Game Engine Programming. I had never officially had a course on C++ and my knowledge of C was rudimentary. I kept reading about const and “pure virtual” member functions (among other things), and finally came to the conclusion that I needed to take a step back and learn about those before moving forward in Zerbst. I found C++ for Game Programmers at a not quite local Barnes & Noble and picked it up. I especially remember the fact that this book really met me where I was as a programmer: not bothering with the basics of programming, but rather concentrating on the aspects of C++ with which I was unfamiliar. As a result, I’ve had a special fondness for the book, as well as a great appreciation for its author.

Looking back, with maybe the exception of McGuire’s Writing Solid Code, I think this is one of the programming books I’ve reread the most. In addition to his clear presentation of the fundamentals, Noel touches several important and useful topics (a number of which I have incorporated into my own code base) in the later chapters.

It should be noted that a second edition has since been released by a different author. I don’t know how different it is from Noel’s edition.

The Review

Noel Llopis’ C++ for Game Programmers is an excellent reference for any game programmer at any level. The text focuses on both essentials of the C++ programming language like inheritance and constness as well as low-level systems within a game’s code base such as memory management and object serialization. The advice offered in Noel’s book has affected and improved every piece C++ I have written since I picked it up and started reading.

C++ for Game Programmers starts off by covering concepts that every C++ programmer should internalize: Inheritance (single and multiple), the const keyword, passing by reference, the C++ style casting, templates, and exception handling. Each topic discussion includes outlining their advantages and disadvantages, when and when not to use them, and is accompanied by simple, yet real-world code examples and scenarios relevant to game development.

After bootstrapping up these aforementioned fundamentals, Noel address principles every programmer is concerned about: performance, memory. The importance of these topics in game programming cannot be understated; both of these chapters are loaded with detailed explanations, practical examples, and useful recommendations. I think that one of the most important components of this book was the straightforward walkthrough of the need for and the implementation of a versatile memory management system (full source code provided on the CD) that can be easily integrated into any C++ project.

The next two chapters of this book are spent evaluating both the advantages and pitfalls found in the C++ Standard Template Library (STL). The overview includes direction on which data structures are good candidates for particular data sets found in games, as well as why they are poor candidates for others. Overall, these two chapters compose a very solid argument for using the STL in game development.

Part Three is where this text really shines. Starting with an in-depth discussion on Abstract Interfaces, the foundation is set for some extremely useful subsystems for game development, including for plug-ins, Runtime Type Information (RTTI), and object serialization. Even though most of the source code provided with these chapters is not designed to be thrown straight into a large code base, all of the important concepts needed for designing a game engine subsystem based on any one of the components mentioned above are clearly provided in the text.

One last, important feature is point of view taken throughout the book. It’s one thing to be working on a project, but it’s a completely different ball game to be working on a large-scale project. Noel brings industry-grade advice to the table for each and every topic covered in the book. This was something I appreciated again and again throughout my reading and I suspect others will too.

So, if you are looking for a book that doesn’t cover the just the basics of C++ programming in the light of game development: this book is for you!

Book Review: 3D Game Engine Programming

3D Game Engine Programming

3D Game Engine Programming

Stefan Zerbst


The following is a book review I wrote for a while back. I’ve left it intact so it differs from the formatting of the other reviews I’ve posted.

3D Game Engine Programming was the first game programming book I ever bought. I’ve often said that this is the book that started me off on the right foot; however, as an introductory text to the vast subject, it was both a poor and a great choice.

To be completely honest, I was not ready for this large of a programming project. At the time I was still very new to programming, and had very little C++ experience. This became an impasse later on, which forced me to seek out and purchase another excellent book: C++ for Game Programmers. However, at the same time, Zerbst inspired me to continue on and piece together the components needed for the engine. As a result, after completing my first read through the text and implementing my very first iteration of a game engine, I knew that I had learned and accomplished a lot and I would be utilizing 3DGEP as one of my primary sources for future endeavors.

Undoubtedly, 3DGEP is one of the most comprehensive sources I have found on the subject and very well organized. If you really want to understand what goes into writing a game engine, I recommend steering away from the “Game Programming All in One” books and investing in 3D Game Engine Programming. Even six years later, I still find myself snatching it off my bookshelf for help on assorted topics with my current projects.

Simply put, Zerbst’s 3D Game Engine Programming is one of my favorite resources on the subject of game engine development. I highly recommend it.

The Review

Stefan Zerbst’s 3D Game Engine Programming is a 850-paged guide to constructing a modular, functional video game engine. This reference was one of the biggest reasons I became confident that I could complete a project of my own and has helped me tremendously in the design and building of an engine based upon the fundamentals of the ZFX Engine.

Even though the book does not go into detail and provide the code to all the bells and whistles of a commercial engine, it certainly outlines the basics and even provides code for testing. (I personally liked not having everything provided so that I could add my own features with a more personalized touch). Have no fear: all the basics are there to build off of!

In particular, the text guides the reader through the concepts and code needed to construct an engine that has the ability to support both DirectX and OpenGL (though DirectX is the main focus in the text), Vertex and Pixel Shaders (which is a big plus in upcoming game graphics!), and networkable players. In addition, the book brought extra possibilities such as Non-Player Characters, AI, and other various effects to the table for the reader to take note of where they could be added on to the engine. More importantly, he did do an excellent job of keeping these options (and more!) open without forcing his more ambitious readers to reprogram half the engine.

A very important thing I felt was the key to why I liked it so much was the fact that I understood how the components of the engine worked individually and as a whole to construct a functional game when I had finished the book. So many times have I read a programming book cover to cover and then still be lost on how everything fits together outside of the demos provided in the text– but this book was NOT like that at all. The concepts were presented clearly as well as explicitly outlined within the code.

However, I will note: this book is not for the faint of heart or for the inexperienced programmer. (Hopefully the size scares the aforementioned away in a direction to seek some more practice before coming back to this fantastic reference.) There is a LOT of code and while the text does take care of the graphics, DLL loading, and algorithmic aspects to a FPS game, the book does treat the reader as a programmer and not a novice.

One last, important feature is the Level Editor that is developed along side the engine (that’s right! you build a level editor too!). This chapter (14) is certainly one of the most useful parts of the text and is where a lot of key concepts come together.

So, if you are looking for a book that hits the ground running, providing a complete archive of source code and demos in an effort to construct a comprehensive game engine: this book is for you!