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Book Review: Game Hacking, by Nick Cano

Posted by on October 22, 2016.

Nick Cano’s Game Hacking walks an unusual line between gaming, computer security and coding. Many involved in the gaming industry, especially with online gaming, know that security can be just as challenging and serious a subject as in other spheres of computing; but to many – even many gamers – video games are still not quite ‘serious’. After all, their purpose is to entertain, but with so much money poured into the industry there is more at stake than one might think at first. Game Hacking, while it may sound like it only examines a very specific branch of gaming, is one of the first books to treat the industry with a seriousness and depth beyond mere academic interest.

gamehacking_cover-frontWhat is immediately striking about Game Hacking is the subject matter. The book seems slightly nervous of its own contents; a publisher’s note at the end of the introduction warning that game hackers have been, “sued for millions of dollars and even jailed”. The caution is understandable, but the book quickly proves that it deserves more faith. Even the subtitle, Developing Autonomous Bots for Online Games, undersells the content. While each chapter builds towards the coding skills and industry knowledge necessary to make such programs and bots, the concepts discussed throughout the book are far more wide-ranging, and offer the kind of practical, thorough skill-building knowledge and exercises that are rarely found in any book.

Dwelling for too long on the controversies of its subject matter, however, would do the book a disservice. Game Hacking is both comprehensive and lucid, and the writing style is exactly what a book of this kind needs; concise, thorough yet direct. With the complexity of some of the material, it’s vital not to make any more of a barrier to understanding than there needs to be, and this book avoids that trap deftly.

And the introduction is quick to warn readers that this is no casual read. It recommends at least a light familiarity with coding, software development and x86 assembly, but these do not actually become an issue until roughly the halfway point in the book. The early chapters offer an excellent primer in the basic methods of modifying, editing and debugging game code, and much of the more advanced material offers step-by-step examples that can be followed by someone with little skill. However, it is true that to get the most out of Game Hacking, and to properly understand the bulk of the material, some understanding and experience with code and memory is vital.

Given that the later chapters delve into some complex computing, the writing does an impressive job of keeping the jargon to the minimum and remaining accessible. Game Hacking will not compromise on its requirements, however; the demands from the reader are clear, and while the text never talks down or patronises, this means that anyone determined to take something valuable away from the book must be prepared for a demanding read.

That aside, the book is excellently paced, and its structure is similarly well-measured; the opening chapters begin with comparatively easy concepts, taking the reader through the use of pre-existing tools and apps to monitor and modify a game’s code. Each new chapter adds a new layer of depth and complexity – rather fittingly mirroring a standard video game’s difficulty curve. Provided the reader has the requisite skills, or at least the wherewithal to follow closely, they will not be overwhelmed by a sudden barrage of information.

Reading Game Hacking from cover to cover is certainly the way to get the most out of it, but thanks to the thorough, logical structuring the book will make for great reference material as well, and readers will not have difficulty finding a specific piece of information. This kind of forethought is too often missing from educationally-oriented books, and is what marks the difference between an interesting read and a valuable resource.

The book’s only real weakness is also one of its strengths. Only a very specific niche audience will get the most out of Game Hacking; it’s not enough to have a general interest in gaming. Even gamers with an analytical bent who enjoy mechanics and design will be missing out on the deepest of the book’s offerings. To really make Game Hacking a worthwhile read, one needs a deep interest in the technology and code behind the games, whether the intention is to hack games or not. However, the content of the book is so well-tailored to its audience, and has so much to offer in terms of practical, usable skills as well as insight into the structure and security of video games, that its value to the target audience cannot be overstated – even if that target audience is small.

For anyone simply interested in the industry, Game Hacking can offer some interesting insights into what goes on behind the scenes, but most of what it has to offer will be lost on a casual audience. Anyone who knows gaming, knows some coding, has a passion for the building blocks and logical systems behind their video games will find a treasure trove of knowledge here. The book contains more than just interesting material; it contains an education. Budding programmers and game designers will gain critical insights into what they will face from others trying to hack their games, and those interested in game modification will find a lot of valuable knowledge. Perhaps, for someone with the predisposition and the will to develop their skills, this book could even kick-start a new career.

Game Hacking was written by Nick Cano and published by No Starch Press, August 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-59327-669-0 (print)
Price: $44.95
Specs: 304 pp.

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