i wrote a book.

This blog’s been enjoying a steady influx of new readers since my recent GDC shenanigans. Thank you, and welcome! If you haven’t peered over to my sidebar, here’s the story so far: i wrote a book. i wrote a book on a subject i knew almost nothing about, and i did it never having written a book before. This is the story of how that happened.

i Killed a Guy

End of story.

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i swear that’s how it happened, officer.

New Header

Alright, no – but that would have been interesting.

i’d been aware of Unity 3D, a game engine, right from its early days. i was working at a kids’ media conglomerate and we were researching development tools for a new kids MMO. Unity was used to develop Cartoon Network’s FusionFall MMO. The drawback was that the software only ran on a Mac.

Running on a Mac

A year later i was at GDC, and Unity had announced a PC version. i saw them on the show floor, and tried comparing them with Torque 3D. At that time, reps for the two companies were doing a lot of mud-slinging, and a lot of FUD was bouncing around between the booths. So when i returned home, i asked a simple question on a LinkedIn forum: Unity or Torque? The answer was overwhelmingly in favour of Unity, to the tune of hundreds of responses. i knew i was on to something.

Get Me Summa Dat

i wanted to use Unity, but there were still a few barriers in the way. One of them was removed in short order when Unity moved to a free model. But there was still the problem that both 3D Studio Max and Maya, 3D software crucial to developing assets for Unity games, were $4000 a seat (after Autodesk had killed the $2k entry level version of each product). $Four large is a lot to swing on software for a small studio like mine.

Asshole

Why don’t i just pirate the software? Because unlike the guy at Autodesk who decided to cut the entry-level versions of both pieces of software and price them identically, i’m not an asshole.

Still, i could tell Unity was special, and i wanted to be involved. So i started tweeting about it. i kept a watch through Tweetdeck on the #Unity3D hash tag, and if any interesting info floated by, i retweeted it. i set up a new blogbook here called Unity Nuub, which would hold interesting articles and links related to the software. i downloaded Unity and goofed off with the software a little bit. i played Unity games. My interest was piqued, but my activity level was low.

Where There’s a Will…

Unity 3D Game Development Essentials

Around that time, a small publisher out of the UK called Packt was putting out the very first book on Unity 3D, by Will Goldstone. The publisher contacted me and asked if i wanted a free review copy in exchange for a review on my site. i said “sure”. How did they find me? Presumably through Twitter, i’d made a connection between myself and Unity, and i must have come up in a few Google searches.

A short time afterward, David Barnes (@fbindie) from Packt wrote me up saying they wanted to do a few more Unity books. What types of books did i think they should publish? i gave him my feedback. His next question, which left me a bit breathless, was: “Do you have any interest in writing any of them?”

Dusting off the Bucket List

i don’t know about you, but i’ve always wanted to be a published author. That was always just … something i had on my list, along with “fly a helicopter” and “marry rich”. Sadly, few of our childhood fantasies end up coming true … my wife is flat-ass broke, and we all know helicopters don’t exist. Once i was ten years into the games industry, i had resigned myself to the fact that i would probably never be a published author, so i put it out of my mind.

12 Inch Pianst

Abandoned, too, was my hope of having a twelve-inch pianist.

But here it was: an offer to write a book. A book on something i knew nothing about.

i was upfront with David. “i really have no idea how to use Unity.” He looked up my bona fides: trained in 3D Studio Max in college, worked 10 years as a game developer working with Flash, had a rockin’ blog packed with dick jokes and Actionscript tutorials (but mostly dick jokes.) He said a cookbook might be beyond me, but i could probably write a decent beginner book.

i told him i’d need some time to get up to speed on the software. i’d never made a game in Unity. i’d never done anything in Unity, for that matter. (But neither had many other people, really – the software was only 3 years old, and only 1 year out of the gate on the PC. Unity was news to a lot of people.)

David asked me point blank: “How long will it take you to learn Unity well enough to write a book about it?”

Gripping my desk chair and chewing my lips as i answered his email, i typed “Well, i suppose by the time i finish writing a book on it, i’ll know the software pretty well.”

And off we went.

Waterski

YeeeeHAAAAWWW!

The Luckiest Boy in the World

Are you hating me right now? Maybe you’ve read my other article, TENure, about how i was hired as a game developer despite not ever having made a game before? Maybe you want to wrap my face around your foot?

Who do you think should have written the second-ever published book on Unity? A Unity expert, i suppose! Well, can that Unity expert write? Does that Unity expert have the considerable time and energy for a book? And better yet, will that Unity expert remember what it was like to NOT be an expert? i don’t know about you, but i’ve spent a lot of money over the years on books by subject matter experts who move way, way too quickly. My mandate was to write a beginner book that beginners could truly get through. And not just Unity beginners: game development beginners. For example, there’s a heading in the book that says “What is code?”, and another section that briefs the reader on how 3D models are put together.

The Backlash

i caught a lot of flack from my colleagues while writing my book. They considered themselves Unity experts, i suppose, and why not? They had actually finished some games with it. i remember one particular tweet that went something like this:

Colleague: i’m going to do open heart surgery, but i’ve never trained to be a doctor.

Of course, his error was in comparing Unity to open heart surgery. Unity reminds me a lot of Flash … and not even Flash CSX, but Flash 4 back when i started in 2000. It strips out the whole mystery of writing code to draw stuff on the screen. If you’ve had any experience with XNA and wished you could actually see and manipulate your 3D models, you’ll find Unity a real treat.

Put another way: if coding to the metal is open heart surgery, working with Unity is cutting a heart out of construction paper using safety scissors.

Heart

Oh God … so much blood …

Gag Me

If writing a beginner-friendly book was my first mandate, my secondary goal was to write a technical manual that wasn’t so damned serious as everything else i’d read. You’re learning how to make video games. Why does everything have to read like a Terms of Service agreement?

i’m a fan of an O’Reilly series called HeadFirst, which is filled with cartoons and crossword puzzles and pictures – the idea being that if you are engaged on multiple levels in a variety of different ways, you’ll retain the material better than straight-up reading block after block of text. (You can probably tell by now that i’m a big fan of breaking up text with bullet lists and pictures)

Monorail cat

(why, look – there’s one now)

i’d love to work on a HeadFirst book one day. For now, as Packt is a small and relatively new publisher, i had to eschew the stock photography and crossword puzzles. But what i could do, and what David requested i do, was to pepper the text with humour. David wanted the same sense of humour i forcibly inject into this blog to bleed into the book.

Ouchy the Clown

You’ll laugh and you’ll LIKE it.

One of the book’s technical reviewers apparently didn’t get the memo. Throughout the drafts of the first two chapters, he filled the page up with comments like “please cut the humour – this is a technical manual, not the Muppet Show”, and “Well I never!” i think i even counted one or two “harrumphs” in there. It was like Packt had hired that wealthy dowager whose house the Three Stooges paint to review my book.

Wealthy dowager

Well, it’s a fine day to buy a computer book, isn’t it Mr. Picklefeather?

i re-connected with David. This reviewer seemed pretty peeved. Did i really have to go through the whole book and strip out all of the witty asides and punny paragraph headings? That would be like taking the red nose and seltzer bottle away from a clown. And then giving him colon cancer.

It got cleared up in short order. i’m not sure Packt even kept that reviewer on for the remainder of the project, and in the end, humour won out.

Currying Favour

Packt maintains a staff in India, who were responsible for copy-editing the book. You may have heard about the cultural growing pains of outsourcing work to foreign countries? While it was far from a nightmare, i did find myself going to bat more than once for various cultural references or turns of phrase that didn’t make sense to my editor from Mumbai – especially whenever i bent the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation for the sake of the yuks.

For example:

Worst. Game. Evar.

was corrected to read

Worst Game Ever

i had to do the legwork to explain that, well, there’s this character on the once-popular teevee program The Simpsons, you see, and he enjoys comic books …

Comic book guy

Jokes are so much funnier when you have to explain them.

Explaining why the word “evar” had to be spelled that way was even more of a challenge. Many of our email volleys ended with “just leave it cuz it’s funnier that way.” After she edited “cuz” to “because” for spite, i usually won out. ;)

Unity 3D Game Development By Example

The result is a book that i’m very, very proud of: one that makes a great introduction to Unity, 3D graphics, game programming and design, and in a way that encourages the reader to start small, finish something (even if it’s terrible!), and slowly build up those skills until he’s ready to release his opus. Unity 3D Game Development By Example is well worth buying. And the best news of all? i even managed to sneak in a few dick jokes.

Carpe Judex

My grandfather worked as a bailiff in Thunder Bay Ontario. Once day in the courtroom, there was a man brought in who had a dispute with his wife. In the middle of the hearing, he stood up and drew his gun. He shot and killed his wife, the judge, and his lawyer, before turning the gun on himself. The last two men standing were my grandfather and the court stenographer.

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See? It all comes full circle.

Thunder Bay needed a judge. My grandfather the bailiff, who to my knowledge had had no formal judiciary or legal training, was appointed to the position. He became a popular judge of young offenders, and there’s a building in Thunder Bay across from the University that’s named after him.

Many colleges and Universities now offer programs in video game development, as well as golf course management, creative writing, and even stand-up comedy (!). Don’t let the burden of a lack of training or experience get in the way of what you want to do. Get a job making video games even though you’ve never made one. Write a book, even though you’ve never written one and don’t know the subject matter. Perform open heart surgery even though you’re not a “doctor” (whatever that means). Recognize when the swirling twin tornadoes of chance and opportunity settle on your house, and get swept up. Otherwise, you’ll be lying on your death bed wondering what might have been.

And let’s hope to God you’re not in for heart disease.

13 thoughts on “i wrote a book.

  1. Shea

    Great read, and the book really was the most fun tech book I’ve ever read (I’ve read too many), I even laughed out loud at times, and at the same time it is a superb beginners book for any aspiring game dev, I recommend it to people regularly.

    On the note of not letting a lack of knowledge prevent you from doing what you want, I wholeheartedly agree. I’m currently finishing a fb game with Unity, I started with zero programming experience except for some web screwing around stuff, granted I had 4 years experience as a 3d artist but I’m completely self-taught.

    And I’m now blindly setting up a business, I may not be successful, I may not make any money, but it’s a hell of a lotta fun, and you really do surprise yourself with what you can pull out when the pressure’s on eh!?

    Reply
  2. Mushyrulez

    Packt? A small publisher? Virtually every flash game developer worth his/her salt is now writing a book for them!

    Congratulations on the book, though I still (will I ever?) don’t have enough money to buy anything :P

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      They’re small, but they’re getting a lot of things right. i was very happy to see they’d signed Emanuele Feronato to do a Flash book for them. i’m in good company.

      Reply
  3. Nokill

    Now aint you happy I told you to use Unity… and also told all my friends (give $5,-) to also tell you to use unity when you where asking about it on the Torque forum! :P

    Reply
  4. Bane Williams

    Hey Ryan,

    I’ve got to say once again you’ve floored me with another one of your ‘uncommonly common pearls of wisdom’ as I like to call them.

    I’d like to add to it in the hope that someone going through the comments might take the initiative and go and do something:

    For my entire life, I was told I could do anything I wanted, while simultaneously being told that I couldn’t do things, or that doing something was beyond my skill, or worthless, or various other things to stop me from doing them.

    I was told to not play videogames, and that nothing good could come of it. I was told that I would never be a good actor. I was told that I would never be able to write anything because I couldn’t write ‘essay format’. I was told a lot of things.

    They were all a big lie.

    I became a professional gamer, as well as a very minor TV personality (kids TV). I now write for a living, books, guides, articles… everything I can get my hands on.

    Did I have experience with any of these things before jumping into the deep end? Nope! I learnt by doing and by practicing and by pushing myself to get better…

    and I live a happy life because of it.

    Keep up the good work, Ryan.

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      You rule! i shot a bunch of commercials for video game companies that aired on YTV here in Canada, so i’ve had my taste of kid-vid stardom. i love how in high school, “essay format” is apparently the only valid form of writing. Sock it to ’em, Bane.

      Reply

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