Book Review: Mastering UDK Game Development by John P. Doran

Posted on April 30, 2013 in Book

Mastering UDK Game Development by John P. Doran, published in March 2013 by Packt Publishing, features eight chapters focusing on presenting intermediate to advanced gameplay elements achievable using Epic Games’ Unreal Development Kit (UDK). For such a small book (273 pages) the scope the book tries to achieve is pretty large. Does ‘Mastering UDK Game Development’ live up to the scope it promises?

In each of the 8 chapters the reader is introduced to and works through one demo project; in most cases the projects are standalone, allowing you to start at Chapter 1 or Chapter 4. The demos contained in the book are interesting and upon finishing should spark your inner game developer, making them think ‘where can I go from here?’ Here is a breakdown of the chapters and their project:

  • Chapter 1: Advanced Kismet – Creating a Third-person Platformer – Pretty obvious, the chapter project creates a 2.5D platformer in the same style as Shadow Complex however creates this gameplay style without any programming necessary
  • Chapter 2: Terror in Deep Space – Chapter project is creating an on-rails space shooter in the same style as Starfox including importing content (static meshes and textures) and creating materials
  • Chapter 3: Terror in Deep Space 2: Even Deeper – Based on Chapter 2, builds on that project by implementing more gameplay elements like multiple enemies, health, and game over
  • Chapter 4: Creating a Custom HUD – Again pretty obvious, chapter project focuses on creating a custom user interface by using Adobe Flash ActionScript 3.0
  • Chapter 5: Creating Environments – Chapter project focuses on level editing; probably the weakest chapter within considering the number of other volumes already dedicated to this subject
  • Chapter 6: Dynamic Loot – Chapter project develops the ability to bring an object into the game (in this case a torch) and allow the user to pick up, use, and drop the object
  • Chapter 7: Managing Loot – Based on Chapter 4 and Chapter 6, chapter project develops a user inventory with Adobe Flash to manage items the player picks up
  • Chapter 8: UnrealScript: A Primer – The first dedicated programming chapter teaches how to display the standard ‘Hello World’ message in UnrealScript as well as script a flashing light for use in the space shooter project from Chapter 2 & 3

If you browse that list of chapters and what you’ll be building and aren’t somewhat excited then this book and review are not for you. But, for everyone else, you should notice that halfway through the book (finishing Chapter 4; about 147 pages in) you’ll have 2 fully functioning game prototypes and several working gameplay heads-up display (HUD/interface) elements. That is quite extraordinary for such a condensed book to not only work through interesting examples, but practical examples. At the end of nearly every chapter you’ll be left considering what else you can do with what was shown. Most likely, you’ll run off and start working on your own stuff based around what the book taught (which is excellent!).

Where ‘Mastering UDK’ excels in content it falters in its clarity, a big problem considering this is a book. There are instances where the author simply omits steps, only to refer to those missed objects a few steps later. For example, in the first chapter you are instructed to build two platforms but as far as I can tell, the closest the book gets to actually telling you to create a second platform is: ‘Copy and paste the sequence’ (after having created a sequence to create a moving a platform). But copying and pasting the sequence in Kismet (UDK’s visual scripting system) ties the new sequence to the original platform that should be doing something else. In another section, you’re instructed to ‘Right-click inside the Group List (the dark-gray column below all the tabs with text and to the left of the timeline).’ As the old adage goes, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, and without pictures some of the explanations in ‘Mastering UDK’ just become confusing and unintentionally misleading.

Another area the book lacks in is a focus on teaching the reader. For the most part ‘Mastering UDK’ is written to tell you how to achieve a specific goal in the form of a demo and that is it. There is no why or even how, there are just steps to follow. One or two lines here and there explain the general overview of what is trying to be accomplished but they are being provided to keep you on track, not to teach you. Without teaching, the majority of the book ends up as a long set of tutorials filled with ‘Click here’ or ‘Do this’.

But I should be clear: ‘Mastering UDK Game Development’ is written for developers that are familiar with some aspect of the Unreal editor and the book shouldn’t be criticized heavily for that, it should be praised. The book is probably a tutorial format rather than a how-to format because it already assumes you have your own processed and knowledge about how to work with UDK. I own other volumes on editing in Unreal and UDK they all are a ‘start here’ volume intended for beginners and training them up to an immediate state. The fact that ‘Mastering UDK’ is not for beginners is what makes its content so effective and the volume so unique; it is not a reference for starting from the beginning, it is a set of tools to add to an already established foundation. The focus of the book is a double-edged sword though because if you aren’t interested in using any of the demos in a project then it really isn’t worth owning, especially due to a moderately high price of $44.99 (US) for 273 pages. With that said, I personally found the content very interesting and worth the purchase price simply because I wouldn’t otherwise know how to create a custom user interface (Chapter 4) or how to build a Starfox-style shooter (Chapter 2, Chapter 3).

In the end, ‘Mastering UDK Game Development’ is a solid reference for how to accomplish very specific and common gameplay elements in UDK. While it falters with some clarity and generally tends show rather than teach, the content within could be extremely useful to many intermediate to advanced developers. Given the $44.99 (US) price, my recommendation is to go to and look over the Table of Contents and ‘What you will learn from this book’ sections which both provide a solid overview of the content within. If you are interested in any of the items listed there, pick up a copy.

Score: 3.5 / 5

Video review for ‘Mastering UDK Game Development’


Great project ideas make chapters interesting Omits steps; can be unclear
Targets intermediate/advanced UDK users Doesn’t teach, prefers tutorial format over how-to format
  Limited use outside chapter projects