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Jim's Favorite Actionscript Books

Actionscript 3.0 Migration Guide by Kris Hadlock I've been gradually easing into Actionscript 3 over the past two years. Unlike a lot of developers, I wasn't hugely enamored with it at first. It seemed like for everything that was easier, or more well behaved, there was something else that was more of a pain in the ass. The thing that bothered me the most (and still annoys me) is that I often have to create new classes (which means adding extra source code files to my projects) where I didn't need them before. This is because in AS3, you can't attach custom properties to movieclips without defining subclasses. In AS2 I just made these assignments to existing movieclip objects willy nilly - I miss this.

My principal reference, so far, has been the "Actionscipt 2.0 Migration" section which is buried in Flash's help, under "Actionscript 3.0 Reference / Appendices." I recently picked up the book shown here, and found it to be useful. Now I'm finally getting around to porting many of the movies in my Flash Bestiary to AS3. Although this book covers some of the same material, as in the help, it is organized quite differently, and includes copious sample code. There is a lot of coverage of the differences in object declarations, argument passing, much of which I found useful.

click to view description at amazon

click to view description at amazon

Essential ActionScript 3.0, by Colin Moock

I like Moock's Actionscript books, but like his AS2 book, this is not nearly as in-depth as Moock's older book "Actionscript for Flash MX: The Definitive Guide". Like the title says, this covers the "essentials". I'm hoping that Moock eventually gets around to writing a "Definitive Guide" for AS3 (although it would be quite a long tome, I imagine).

Beginning Flash Game Programming for Dummies, by Andy Harris This is the best of the new crop of actionscript books to appear since Flash 8. Although I despise the word 'dummies' in the titles in this series, the actual books are often quite good, and this book is no exception.

One of the wonderful things about Flash is that it is a great first language to learn for high school kids, hobbyists and new programmers. I've always felt that game programming is the best way to learn programming because it is so much fun, and makes the programmer much more motivated. Much more so than the dry and math-centric first programming examples found in many first-language textbooks. If I were new to programming, this is exactly the kind of book I would want to use. If you are familiar to programming, but unfamiliar with Flash and with Game programming in particular, this is also a good book.

Since 2006, this is the book I recommend to my students who are new to Actionscript. Once you begin to get the hang of it, I would recommend supplimenting it with a Colin Moock book (see below).

click to view description at amazon

click to view description at amazon

Actionscript for Flash MX: The Definitive Guide, by Colin Moock This is the first book to buy if you are just beginning to immerse yourself in actionscript programming. It contains an excellent, detailed tutorial, which is followed by a very complete reference. I think this is the best overall actionscript book, and if I could only choose one of them to own, this would be the book. This edition covers all the important additions to actionscript that were introduced in Flash 6.

Note: If you are specifically interested in the Actionscript 2.0 feature-set, then consider also reading Essential Actionscript 2.0, by the same author. However, this newer book is more of a companion volume, covering the new object-oriented techniques introduced with Actionscript 2.0. It is not an introductory book and is definitely not intended to replace The Definitive Guide.

Actionscript for Flash MX: Pocket Reference, by Colin Moock Now that I've learned a modicum of actionscript, this is the book I actually use the most. There is a dog-eared copy sitting on my desk right now. It is a condensed version of The Definitive Guide, and like the title says, it fits in a pocket. If you are already comfortable with the language, and just need to look up a specific function for syntax information, this is the book you need.

Of course, you can get most of this information by using the actionscript dictionary on the help menu, but I'm one of those people that likes the feel of dog-eared paper in my hands. Also, the book doesn't cover up my work area the way the help-windows do.

Also, if you are already an expert programmer in 2 or 3 other languages, such as C, Perl and Javascript, then this book (which is much cheaper than it's Daddy, The Definitive Guide), is probably all you need to learn Actionscript. I myself learned Actionscript by reading this book, and by writing a lot of experimental code, a small part of which is available on this website.

click to view description at amazon

click to view description at amazon
If I were to write an actionscript book, it would probably end up looking a lot like Robert Penner's Programming Macromedia Flash MX. Penner is a kindred spirit, and his book is full of graphics-heavy examples with great material on programming colors changes, animating tweens and fractals. I am not sure if his book is suitable for every programming newbie (the Moock books are probably better in many cases), but it is certainly a personal favorite of mine, and is more suitable for people who think graphically, and are interested in deeply exploring the mathematics behind Flash animation.

Penner's code should be singled out for it's elegance - he is a natural born programmer.

If you are the kind of person that learns better by looking at examples than you can hardly go wrong by checking out The Actionscript Cookbook by Joey Lott. A programmer's cookbook is a collection of recipes - short examples that explain how to do all kinds of things. The actionscript cookbook is full of working examples. It'll show you how to attach and duplicate movieclips, use the dynamic drawing tools, access databases, create shared objects, load XML and lots of other good stuff.

Although I did not buy this book, I have a copy on my O'Reilly Safari bookshelf which I reference all the time. Don't know what O'Reilly Safari is? Read on....

click to view description at amazon

O'Reilly Safari - More technical books for less $$$

Is your technical book habit turning you into a pauper? As you know, technical books can be prohibitively expensive. I've saved quite a bit of money by using Amazon and other online booksellers, but more recently I've found a better solution: Safari.

Safari provides online copies of an enormous number of technical books for a flat rate of $20/month. Each online title has a fully cross-linked table of contents and index and is fully searchable. You can even print them out if you like.

Your $20 gives you a bookshelf with 10 books on it - you choose the 10 books. Each month, you're allowed to exchange any or all of the books on your bookshelf, so you get access to as many as 120 books a year.

In other words, if you buy one technical book a month, you will save money by signing up for Safari. I signed up over a year ago and have already saved about $200 by my estimation. Yes, I still love and buy print books, but not nearly so often.

In addition to the entire O'Reilly catalog, Safari offer books by other great publishers like Addison-Wesley, Prentice Hall, Macromedia Press, Adobe Press, Microsoft Press, QUE and Sams. If you visit the site you can search their catalog by keyword to see what books they have.

It's a great deal and well worth it - check it out!

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