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Game Programming Education

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The following publications describe my work on game programming education. The first one was published in 1995, but the big breakthrough was my SIGCSE paper in 2005. In the decade in between I found it impossible to get game programming papers accepted anywhere, and so I wrote a series of books instead.

Introduction to Game Physics with Box2D (2013)

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Ian Parberry, Introduction to Game Physics with Box2D, AK Peters Publishers, 2013, [More Information]

From the Preface

The physicist Richard Feynman once said
"Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible."
Introduction to Game Physics With Box2D is a book that is very much in the spirit of his advice: an undisciplined, irreverent, and original book on how to program the physics used in 2D video games. After a little math background and fiddling around with hand-written code for simple rigid body and soft body dynamics, it shows how to make your 2D physics programming problems more manageable by using the Box2D physics engine. I expect you, the reader, to be able to stomach a little math and to be a competent C++ programmer, both approximately at the level that a casual observer might reasonably expect of a non-knuckle-scuffing sophomore or junior in a computer science program at a middling-to-competent state university.

Introduction to Game Physics With Box2D contains five different kinds of material: coding with Box2D (47%), coding without Box2D (24%), mathematics (16%), algorithms (5%), and miscellaneous stuff (8%). The supplementary material below includes executables and source code for two minigames and two toys, YouTube videos, and PowerPoint lecture notes. The source code is written in C++ for Windows using Visual Studio 10 and DirectX 9.

3D Math Primer Reloaded (2011)

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Fletcher Dunn and Ian Parberry, 3D Math Primer for Graphics and Game Development, Second Edition, A. K. Peters, 2011. [more information]

From the Introduction

This book is about 3D math, the geometry and algebra of 3D space. It is designed to teach you how to describe objects and their positions, orientations, and trajectories in 3D using mathematics. This is not a book about computer graphics, simulation, or even computational geometry, although if you plan on studying those subjects, you will definitely need the information here.

This is not just a book for video game programmers. We do assume that a majority of our readers are learning for the purpose of programming video games, but we expect a wider audience and we have designed the book with a diverse audience in mind. If you're a programmer or interested in learning how to make video games, welcome aboard! If you meet neither of these criteria, there's still plenty for you here. We have made every effort to make the book useful to designers and technical artists. Although there are several code snippets in the book, they are (hopefully) easy to read even for nonprogrammers. Most important, even though it is always necessary to understand the surrounding concepts to make sense of the code, the reverse is never true. We use code samples to illustrate how ideas can be implemented on a computer, not to explain the ideas themselves.

The title of this book says it is for "game development," but a great deal of the material that we cover is applicable outside of video games. Practically anyone who wants to simulate, render, or understand a three-dimensional world will find this book useful. While we do try to provide motivating examples from the world of video game development, since that is our area of expertise and also our primary target audience, you won't be left out if the last game you completed was Space Quest. (Well, you may be left out of a few jokes, like that one. Sorry.) If your interests lie in more "grown up" things than video games, rest assured that this book is not filled with specific examples from video games about head-shots or severed limbs or how to get the blood spurt to look just right.

Challenges and Opportunities (2011)

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Ian Parberry, "Challenges and Opportunities in the Design of Game Programming Classes for a Traditional Computer Science Curriculum", Journal of Game Design and Development Education, Vol. 1, pp. 1-17, 2011. [html, pdf]

Abstract

Game programming classes have been offered at the University of North Texas continuously since 1993. The classes are project based, and feature collaborative coursework with art majors in UNT's College of Visual Arts and Design. We discuss the design that enables them to provide training for students intending employment in the game industry without sacrificing academic educational depth or the educational needs of mainstream computer science students.

Author's Comments

This paper is an revised journal version of the 2005, 2006, and 2007 conference papers above.

JoGD Special Issue (2007)

JoGD covers.

Ian Parberry, "Game Development in Computer Science Education: From Outcast to Mainstream", Guest Editor's Introduction, Journal of Game Development, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 5-6, Feb. 2007. [pdf]

From the Preamble

When I started teaching and research in game development in 1993 I could see enormous potential, but I wasn't really surprised that my colleagues at the University of North Texas didn't see things the same way. To be honest, I knew that I was a few years ahead of the cresting wave. I didn't realize that I was over a decade ahead. Whereas back then there were no conferences or journals devoted to game development and the traditional ones rejected game development papers with scorn and derision, now I am delighted to see a multitude of game dev conferences and this, the first academic journal.

Author's Comments

Fourth wall. I meant fourth wall, not third. Just as well the journal went belly-up shortly after this special issue. It spares me the embarrassment.

SAGE (2007)

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Ian Parberry, J.R. Nunn, J. Scheinberg, E. Carson, and J. Cole, "SAGE: A Simple Academic Game Engine", Proceedings of the Second Annual Microsoft Academic Days on Game Development in Computer Science Education, pp. 90-94, February 2007. (Acceptance rate 19/71, 28%) [pdf]

Abstract

SAGE is a simple academic game engine for use in a game programming class in the undergraduate Computer Science curriculum, designed specifically as a core onto which students can add their own game engine features. SAGE consists of a sequence of demos written in C++ using Microsoft DirectX, each extending its predecessor in a process called incremental development. Incremental development is a proven pedagogical technique used for the education of game programmers at the University of North Texas since 1997.

SIGCSE Panel Session (2006)

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U. Wolz, T. Barnes, Ian Parberry, M. Wick, "Digital Gaming as a Vehicle for Learning" Proceedings of the 2006 ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, pp. 394-395, Houston, TX, Mar. 1-5, 2006. [pdf, BibTeX]

Summary

During the past two years there has been a resurgence of interest in how to use digital games (e.g. video games, computer games and simulations) to support instruction in a variety of fields [3,9]. The focus is on how to exploit the rich interactivity of 3-D, multiplayer virtual worlds. Computer science education has, for the most part, taken a different approach: rather than having our students play video games to learn concepts we ask them to build games to learn concepts [2,5,6,7,8]. In the process of building games, students become immersed in gaming. Yet neither the IEEE/ACM CC2001 [1] curricular recommendations, nor the ABET/CAC [4] criteria mention the notion of gaming. This panel addresses the still controversial question of whether gaming is a legitimate component of computing, and if so, where does it fit within the curriculum.

Regardless of where or how gaming falls within the curriculum, it is touted as an approach that will be attractive to a diverse audience, thus increasing potential enrollment into more traditional computer science courses. However, implementing a fully robust, modern, visually compelling, multi-player game from scratch as a semester-long project is problematic. The members of this panel will share a range of experiences in how to exploit a game format to meet particular pedagogic goals.

The holy grail of modern commercial game design remains the "First Person Shooter," (FPS) a game in which a character views a 3-D world from a first person, rather than map or text textbased perspective, and with weapon (gun) in hand, moves through an interactive story to attain some goal. Typically there is a lot of shooting and consequent blood and guts. The genre, despite its violent roots, supports some of the most sophisticated techniques of computer graphics, animation and visualization. FPS open source game engines also provide compelling vehicles through which to teach good software design including design approaches for agent-based artificial intelligence and peer-to-peer networks.

As a group we will each present our views on this controversy and suggest ways in which FPS can leave its violent roots in a manner similar to how the "kill text" button in early text editors became a more benign "cut" or "copy."

There appear to be four approaches to incorporating digital gaming into CS curriculum: (1) to support foundations courses, e.g. CS 1, (2) to provide specialized content at the upper level to prepare students for the gaming and animation industry, (3) to provide a curriculum encompassing thematic approach to CS in order to make CS and game development accessible to a more diverse population, (4) to provide trans-disciplinary experiences for CS students where they learn to interact with experts from other disciplines.

A unique aspect of this panel is that all of us have had experience of some sort with all of these approaches. Consequently, the names attached to the sections below reflect a somewhat arbitrary assignment by the moderator. Like any good game, each of us will assume a role and run with it, supporting our assigned character. The format of the session will consists of a brief overview, a short presentation of each approach, a set of challenges to the audience, and hopefully, a lively interactive discussion of the place of gaming in the curriculum.

Art and Science of Game Programming (2006)

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Ian Parberry, M.B. Kazemzadeh, and T. Roden "The Art and Science of Game Programming", Proceedings of the 2006 ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, Houston, TX, pp. 510-514, Mar. 1-5, 2006. (Acceptance rate 104/294, 35%) [pdf, BibTeX]

Abstract

The University of North Texas has for many years offered classes in game programming to Computer Science students and classes in game art and design to art students. A key feature of these classes is the opportunity for these diverse communities of students to collaborate on joint projects. We describe the features that make these classes unique.

Author's Comments

Max and I riffed on some of the things that made our collaboration work. Interdisciplinary work between art and programming is extremely difficult to get right. It's the left brain versus right brain thing. I don't believe that anybody can be professional-grade at both art and programming. Professional grade in one and a skilled amateur in the other, yes. But that's not the same thing. Many game programs haven't figured out how to work this collaboration thing to the benefit of both the programmer and the artists.

SIGCSE Publication (2005)

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Ian Parberry, T. Roden, and M.B. Kazemzadeh, "Experience with an Industry-Driven Capstone Course on Game Programming", Proceedings of the 2005 ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, pp. 91-95, St. Louis, MO, Feb. 23-27, 2005. (32% acceptance rate) [pdf, BibTeX]

Abstract

Game programming classes have been offered at the University of North Texas continuously since 1993. The classes are project based, and feature collaborative coursework with art majors in UNT's School of Visual Arts. We discuss the design that enables them to simultaneously provide both training for students intending employment in the game industry, and a capstone experience for general computer science undergraduates.

Author's Comments

This is the first time I seriously tried to describe my game programming classes to the CS education people in a way that they can understand. I cast it as a paper about games as capstones in order to increase my chances of getting in. Max Kazemzadeh was the art professor who handled that side of the collaboration.

3D Math Primer (2002)

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Fletcher Dunn and Ian Parberry, 3D Math Primer for Graphics and Game Development, Wordware Publishing, 2002.

From the Introduction

If you want to learn about 3D math in order to program games or graphics, then this book is for you. There are many books out there that promise to teach you how to make a game or put cool pictures up on the screen, so why should you read this particular book? This book offers several unique advantages over other books about games or graphics programming:

Author's Comments

Fletch deserves 99.9% of the credit for this book. I'm responsible for goading him into more and more informality by, for example, chronicling the invention of the natural numbers by counting dead sheep, and adding obscure Douglas Adams references. As a result this book is loved by its intended audience and hated by my mathematically inclined colleagues. Fletch was concerned about this, but I am not: My job here is done.

Ned Reloaded (2001)

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Ian Parberry, Introduction to Computer Game Programming with DirectX 8.0, Wordware Publishing, 2001.

From Read This First

Have I got your attention yet? "Read this First" reminds me of the purchase of my first home computer in the 1980s. It came with no less than seven documents that said "Read This First" in big bold letters at the top of the page and they all threatened dire consequences if I failed to do the things listed on that particular piece of paper first . I did my best to follow the instructions, but bad things happened anyway. I suspect that bad things would have happened no matter what I did.

Such is not the case for this book. Browsing this chapter will, however, help you to get started on the right foot.

Does This Look Familiar?

This book is a short, inexpensive version of the author's book Learn Computer Game Programming with DirectX 7.0. If you already own that book, then don't buy this one. The difference between that book and this is that:

Are You Reading This in the Bookstore?

Are you reading this while standing in the bookstore trying to decide whether to buy this book? If you are, then this section is written just for you. Sit on the floor for a few minutes while I explain what it's all about and how purchasing this book can help you get your start in the computer game industry. If you are in one of those wonderful bookstores that have plush chairs and actually encourage you to sit and browse through the books, you may as well make yourself comfortable instead of skulking in the aisles getting in the way of other customers. A cup of coffee might go down well too. My writing style is highly caffeinated. Just don't spill any on the pages.

I assume that you picked up this book and opened it because you are an aspiring game programmer and the title looked appealing, not because you are male and "Melanie Cambron, Game Recruiting Goddess" sounded attractive. Well, maybe a little of both. Let me tell you right now that she is intelligent and very good at what she does, which is find employees for game companies. If you haven't read her foreword already, I recommend that you do it right now. It contains sensible advice about getting started in the game industry, and a picture of Melanie. Have you done it yet? Good. Now that we've satisfied our curiosity, let's take a more serious look at what this book has to offer.

First, let me tell you what this book is not.

Most DirectX books fall into two categories. Some attempt an encyclopedic coverage of the DirectX API, describing all of the possible permutations of all of the awesome and confusing choices of parameters of almost every DirectX function. You can spot those books by their huge tables listing functions and parameters- tables that often look as if they were cut-and-pasted directly from the DirectX documentation. This book is not like that. It assumes that you are smart enough to look up parameters yourself using the DirectX online help.

The second category of DirectX books gives you a monolithic game engine, essentially a wrapper for the DirectX API, that you can use to make a game of your own. They plunk this huge piece of code "thunk" on the table, and then explain how to go about making it work for you. It is usually a piece of code that attempts to be all things to all people, and even though it contains more than you need to know to get started, it may not end up being exactly what you need. This book is not like that. It assumes that you want to write your own code from the ground up, not customize somebody else's engine.

There is nothing wrong with either of these approaches. I have both kinds of books on my bookshelf. The approach that I take in this book, however, is different. It is the product of seven years of teaching game programming to students of computer science at the University of North Texas. Typically, those students are smart enough to read the documentation that comes with the DirectX SDK, and smart enough to experiment with the code samples. The problem is, all that information is fragmentary and overwhelming in its complexity. There's just so much information that it's hard to know where to begin.

That's where my class comes in. I teach using a series of game demos for a side-scroller called Ned's Turkey Farm. Each demo adds a new feature or set of features onto the previous one, much as a real game is developed. Thus, the class is as much about the process of coding a game as it is about DirectX.

This book is designed to give you a taste of the same experience without having to come to Texas. Admittedly, you lose out on the other things that my class would give you-including the experience of hanging out in my lab and the opportunity to work on a game demo in a group with other programming and art students, but there's not much we can do about that. I will go through the code function by function, line by line, explaining what I am doing and why I am doing it. There's nothing cut-and-pasted from the DirectX documentation, and I won't ever assume that you are a dummy or an idiot. If this sounds good to you, then go ahead and buy this book.

Author's Comments

The publishing company asked for a slimmer version of the DirectX 7 version of this book, and along the way asked me to update it to DirectX 8. I did, but using legacy code, which in spite of my clear warnings in the Preface, led to mostly bad reviews.

Intro to Ned (2000)

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Ian Parberry, Learn Computer Game Programming with DirectX 7.0, Wordware Publishing, 2000. (See also the Foreword by Melanie Cambron, Game Recruiting Goddess.)

Preface

I am constantly amazed by the politeness of students in Texas. Not one of the students in my game programming classes has ever, in seven years, asked me the obvious question, which is, "Who are you, and what makes you think that you know anything about game programming?" with its equally obvious corollary, "If you're so good, why aren't you out in the game industry earning the Big Bucks?" The answers to those questions apply to you, the reader, too. Why should you buy a book on game programming from just anybody?

Before I answer, let me digress and tell you how I got into game programming. In 1993 I was going through what in academic circles passes for a midlife crisis. In the business world, the recognized panacea for men who go through midlife crises usually involves a red sports car and a young trophy wife. In academia we rarely have enough money or panache for the red sports car and the trophy wife, but we have coping strategies of our own. Part of the typical midlife crisis involves questioning who we are and what we are doing in life. The academic midlife crisis sometimes involves questioning the validity of the typical academic lifestyle, which for a computer scientist like myself involves doing research, publishing the results of that research in scientific journals, and getting grants from federal funding agencies to do more research. Oh, and we teach too.

I had a lot of experience doing all of the above. But that "Oh, and we teach too" attitude was beginning to bother me. And the rising pace of the computer industry, the way it was beginning to transform the economy, and everything about modern life was beginning to bother me. Actually, it was more the fact that computer science as taught at universities just didn't get it, and our students knew it that it didn't get it. We were beginning to see entering college the crest of what was once called the Nintendo generation, the generation of kids for whom computers were a normal fixture of everyday life, as much as a microwave oven or a CD player was to the previous generation. This generation thinks nothing of reformatting their hard drive and installing a new operating system, a process that is still beyond the reach of many Ph.D.-bearing professors of computer science. And yet computer science in college was - and mostly still is - being taught much the way it was taught in the 1970s. The excuse that most academics give is that we are teaching "fundamentals," and leave the cutting-edge aspects of computer science to on-the-job training. "Give them a firm foundation of fundamentals," they say, "And the students will be able to learn the tools they need to get a job."

During my midlife crisis, I underwent what is euphemistically called a paradigm shift. I changed from being a card-carrying theoretician who always quoted the party line on college education to holding the following belief: While I agree that students need a firm grasp of the fundamentals of computer science, I believe that it is now no longer enough. The tools of the trade that they will be using on the job have become too large and too sophisticated, and there are just too many of them to leave it all to "on-the-job-training" (making it Somebody Else's Problem) after college. Students have the right to training in fundamentals, and to have those fundamentals illustrated on at least one real-world application using the same tools and techniques that they will be using in their first job, weeks or days after they graduate.

This poses a challenge for academia. The tools that programmers use change too quickly. Academics don't like to change what they teach, and for good reason. State legislators seem to believe that the average academic is basically lazy, so we are allowed very little time for the preparation of new material. Developing new classes takes time. Computer science professors are typically burned by this already, as they must revamp most of their classes every few years. The prospect of doing this every semester is frightening.

Nonetheless, I was coming to the conclusion that some of us need to do it. We owe it to our students. I was (and still am) under no illusion that I can change academia by talking and writing papers about the phenomenon. Instead, I chose to lead by example - I would just go ahead and do it. After all, I have tenure, and the concept of academic freedom, the freedom of a professor to develop his or her own vision of education, is strong at the University of North Texas.

The question was, what area of computer science should I apply my grandiose scheme to? There are just too many areas to choose from. It should be something new and different, something that captures the imagination of students, territory that is largely untrodden by academic feet. One evening, with these kinds of thoughts on my mind I walked by the General Access Computer Lab on my way out of the building and noticed that the usual group of students playing games was absent. Instead, there was a sign on the wall saying something like "The Playing of Games in the General Access Lab is Banned." This kind of "Dilbert Decision" is one that always annoys me - a rule made by administrators to make their lives easy. The desired result is to make sure that students don't play games when other students are waiting in line for computers to finish their homework assignments, but it is so much easier to ban games altogether than to constantly have to confront students who either by accident or design continue playing into busy periods.

This dislike of arbitrary rules and a general feeling of restlessness drove me to talk to some of these students who seemed addicted to games. After a few minutes' conversation, I quickly learned that, more than playing games, these students wanted to write their own games. The problem was, in 1993 there was almost no published material on game programming - almost no books, and no information on the fledgling World Wide Web. That was a "Eureka!" moment for me. I had found my niche. With hubris typical of a theoretician, I signed up to teach an experimental course on game programming, with the idea that the students would help me research the area and we would learn together. The course was a wild success, and the rest, as they say, is history. The class became more formal and got its own course code, and now my game laboratory is recognized as one of the premier places in the country to learn game programming.

Since then, I have written and published several games and trained hundreds of students in game programming, the very best of whom have gone on to become successful game programmers in major corporations. I have over 16 years of experience as a professor and seven years of experience in teaching game programming. I know how to teach a class, and I know how to structure a book so that people can actually learn from it. That's who I am, and what makes me think I can write a book on game programming.

Author's Comments

This book sold quite well, over 10,000 copies in fact.

The kids in the General Access Lab that I mentioned above were playing Dune 2. This was an early RTS released in 1992. The students were interested in how the motion planning worked when they clicked on a unit and sent it to the other side of the map, in particular how they managed to make it work in real time for multiple units simultaneously while rendering at over 24FPS on a 66MHz 486DX2, and why units would sometimes but not always get trapped in cul-de-sacs. That's when it hit me. That was A* in action. These kids wanted to learn A* to use it in games, not as a boring old CS class. That's what got me so excited about teaching game development.

The Pioneer Days (1995)

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Ian Parberry, "The Internet and the Aspiring Games Programmer". Proceedings of DAGS 95, "Electronic Publishing and the Information Superhighway", James Ford, Fillia Makedon, Samuel Rebelsky (Editors), pp. 155-159, Birkhauser, Boston, MA, June 1995. [pdf]

Abstract

The Internet is an important tool for aspiring computer game programmers, providing access to information, advice from peers, and electronic publishing. We examine employment prospects in the computer game industry, resources available on the Internet, electronic publishing modes, and computer games at the University of North Texas.

Author's Comments

This was very early days before I'd figured what how game programming education was supposed to be done. But this is ok, since nobody else was even that far along. On a side note, this is probably the first time the term "heroinware" ever appeared in an academic publication.

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