Pick a Language
First of all, you need to understand that there are several many different programming languages. You need to pick a programming language first, and then pick a book which focuses on it. The language will either be in the title of the book, or will be mentioned in the blurb on the back. So which language should you pick?
- C / C++As I've said in a previous article, if you're looking to get a job in console game development, then you should focus on 'C++'. As programming languages go, it can be pretty tricky for beginners. If you've done some programming before, or are looking at applying for a games job in a few years, then try C++.
- C#C# is a relatively new language which Microsoft created. It's similar to C++ in how it looks, but it's quite a bit simpler to use. If C++ sounds a bit daunting, and you'd like to see your game working sooner, I'd start with C#. After you're comfortable with C#, you can come back to C++ later.
- JavaJava is somewhat similar to C# from a language perspective. Some types of commercial games (e.g. cell phone) can be written in Java. I'm generally not very familiar with it though, and tend to recommend C# over it if you're thinking of getting into console development.
There are many different types of Basic. Basic is generally seen as the easiest type of language to get started with, though personally I think that it's not going to be significantly easier than C#, and C# is going to get you closer to C++. If you're just looking to have fun though, and take your first steps in programming, there's nothing wrong with Basic. I first learned to program on Basic (on the ZX Spectrum), and it kept me busy coding for years.
Publishing DateThe next thing to look for is how old the book is. New versions of programming languages, tools, and libraries (don't worry if you don't know what I mean) come out all the time, and it's best to start by learning with the latest stuff. Aim to find a book that's been updated in the last five years.
Skill LevelFinally you need to pick the skill level. It's safest to aim low if you're just getting started. I recommend seeing if the index for the first couple of chapters has sections for things like 'variables', 'the "if" statement', 'for loops, while loops', and perhaps a little later 'arrays'. The words might be slightly different. Looking at the index and reading the blurb on the back should give you an idea of whether the book is for you.
Borrow or Buy?Programming books can be pricey. I recommend getting started by using library books or books available for free online. Then if you like the book, and feel like you want to keep on coding, you can buy it later.
Google has many books online. It might not be the best way to read a book if you're programming, but it's certainly good for seeing if a book is for you.
Is it any good?Read the user reviews for the book on Amazon.com. Remember that skill level might come into play - someone might say a book is bad because it was too simple, but that might be just what you're after.
These books will usually come with a CD/DVD which contains 'all you need to get started'. It's fine to use the contents of the disk, but if you get the book without the disk, then note that the tools on the disk are usually freely available online.
I did a quick search for example books in each category. The links to most of the books show the full contents of the book.
- Beginning C++ Game Programming by Michael Dawson
Note how the second and third chapters have sections on 'if', 'while', 'loops' and 'arrays'. This looks like a good book for absolute beginers.
- Beginner's guide to DarkBASIC game programming
- Sams teach yourself game programming with Visual Basic in 21 days
- Game programming for teens (this book focusses on Blitz Basic)