By Simon Carless. O'Reilly, 462 pages.
Review by Kevin Steele
Okay, so you've played that new game all the way through. Twice. Now what? Well, if you're a technically-inclined gamer (or just curious about what makes it "tick"), you hack it, that's what.
Hacking, despite the common misconceptions in the press, is a time-honored tradition. Almost anything can be "hacked," or modified/tweaked/improved/expanded.
Now there's a book that gathers into one convenient tome a large collection of hacks for the gaming community, everyone from retrogamers to modern FPS (first person shooter) enthusiasts: Gaming Hacks, by Simon Carless.
Hacking Just About Anything
To say the scope of this book is diverse would be an understatement: Gaming Hacks is billed as "100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tools," and those 100 tips cover an amazing amount of ground. Everything from brewing your own brand-new Atari 2600 cartridge games to spotting aimbot or wallhack cheaters in Half-Life is mentioned, complete with instructions on how to accomplish it.
Hardware hacks, software hacks, new ways to play old games ("Speedrunning," anyone?): it's all in here. From machinima to mods to MAME, if you've ever had the urge to improve or expand a game, or just use it in a way no one ever intended or expected, this book's got some great ideas for inspiration.
Gaming Hacks is hardware-agnostic: console, handheld, PC, PDA, IPod, arcade games — they're all fair game for hacking. If a device can play games, there is probably a hack for it in this book. There are hardware hacks to improve the sound or add frontlighting on your Game boy Advance, let the Dreamcast to play movies and music, and even adapt console controllers for use on the PC.
Software hacks are even more interesting: want to add a new vehicle to Unreal Tournament 2004? Gaming Hacks has step-by-step instructions. Modifying game graphics, adding new levels, changing game ROMs are all fair game.
Think arcade junkies are left out? Think again! There are sections on MAME, JAMMA arcade cabinets, and even Visual Pinball/VPinMAME.
More than Hacks
There's more to Gaming Hacks that just hardware and software mods of games. In fact, there's a great deal of information designed to help out the avid gamer with everything from tips on building a fast and quiet PC, to proper social etiquette in MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), even a "crash-course" in reading Japanese so you can play that imported game cartridge.
Gaming Hacks includes a section full of general "strategy guides," such as how to improve your performance in online FPS (first person shooter) games or getting a higher score in your favorite "Schmup" (shoot 'em up).
One of the more esoteric (and loosely gaming related) sections deals with machinima, the use of 3D gaming engines to create a mini-movie and tell a story. Want to create the ultimate James Bond movie? Modern FPS engines provide all the tools and eye-candy you need to create the veritable "movie of your dreams," and Gaming Hacks gives you some good pointers on how to use these game engines to their best storytelling potential.
Author Simon Carless has done an excellent job in gathering an incredibly diverse group of hacks under one roof. His writing style is clean, concise, and friendly, and it makes for an enjoyable read. The Foreword by Marc Laidlaw (the writer behind the stories of Half-Life and Half-Life 2) is enjoyable as well, as it delves into the motivation for game hacking (and the successes that can be derived from it).
Will you want to read this book from cover to cover? Probably not, as not everyone has all the gaming systems mentioned. It's still fascinating, however, to just browse through the sections and see all the wonderfully creative things people have done in their quest for videogaming perfection.
In the end, Gaming Hacks serves not only as a cookbook guide to game hacking but as an inspirational source of ideas, a snapshot of the gaming community at their most creative and clever. If you've ever dreamed of making something better or thought, "it's really great, but I wish it did...", this is your book.