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Interview with Alan Thorn, Author of Unreal Development Kit Game Programming with UnrealScript [Video]

Alan is the author of our recently published Unreal Development Kit Game Programming with UnrealScript , a course that demystifies video game development and shows you how to get up and running with UnrealScript so you can make your own games. This course takes you from the foundations upwards: from configuring the necessary software and editors to compiling your code and creating a complete and working game.

Alan Thorn is an award-winning author, mathematician, and independent video game developer based in London, UK. He is the founder of game development studio Wax Lyrical Games and the creator of the critically acclaimed PC adventure game Baron Wittard: Nemesis of Ragnarok. He works freelance for some of the world’s largest entertainment corporations, has lectured on game development at some of the most prestigious institutions in Europe, and has written nine books on games programming, including the highly popular ‘Teach Yourself Games Programming’, ‘Game Engine: Design and Implementation’ and ‘UDK Game Development’. Some of his other interests include computing, mathematics, graphics, and philosophy. More information on his company, Wax Lyrical Games, can be found at http://www.waxlyricalgames.com/

Packt: By publishing a video course, you have opened a new chapter in your life. How does it feel?

Alan: I love sharing my game-development knowledge and experiences with others. The video course medium is especially exciting right now, and I’m truly delighted to be an integral part of it. With motion video and voice narration, video courses give authors a very personal and expressive medium for sharing their message. And for viewers, they offer unique opportunities to develop new skills and ideas very quickly and easily.

Packt: How will viewers benefit from this tutorial? Did you learn anything new while creating the videos?

Alan: Learning UnrealScript through video is essentially a shortcut to game-development power. The course details the creation of a mini-game from start to finish, showing you every critical step along the way. By following this journey and having fun, you develop within yourself the "muscle memory" that you can reuse for your own UnrealScript projects. And this gives you a head start. What’s great about making game-development videos are the lessons to be learned for everyone involved. I’ve learned much from producing courses, not just about game development and video creation, but life lessons too. Lessons about planning, time management, and communication. These are core skills that’ll prove indispensable wherever you go and whatever you do.

Packt: Our authors usually have full-time jobs while working for us. Was this the case for you, and how did you manage your time?

Alan: Along with being an author, I make games for my studio, Wax Lyrical Games, and I also enjoy being a freelance game developer. It’s been a pleasure working over the last 12 years to help clients realize their exciting visions and ambitions through software development or teaching. I don’t think about it as work at all. For me, it’s a vocation and a calling, because a deep hunger exists within me that wants me to be creative and expressive through video games. My work allows this hunger to be satisfied. But naturally, all of this takes time. And so, managing time is important if things are to get done. I do this by planning a schedule and routine, and then make it a habit so it becomes difficult to break.

Packt: While developing your video, did you find that it overshadowed your personal life in any way? How did you deal with this?

Alan: Creating video courses, like any project or pursuit, makes serious demands on your time. These demands should not be underestimated. Handling those demands requires you to establish a careful balance in your life, where you give things the proper place and respect. It requires you to be totally honest with yourself about how you spend your time and to look for ways in which you can use it better. You can’t add more hours to the day, but you can seek new ways to reuse the time better, even if it means setting aside a few minutes before or after lunch or waking up earlier or going to bed earlier—whatever works for you.

Packt: Do you have any advice for other authors who may be interested in recording videos for Packt, but are still unsure?

Alan: Yes. I think it’s important to remember something George Bernard Shaw said, "You have an idea. I have an idea. We swap. Now we each have two ideas”. This expresses the beauty of sharing knowledge and experience. By teaching, you never take something away from someone. It’s an amazing, coordinated act of giving. Everybody I’ve met in the games industry has a book or video course within them. They have something unique and powerful to offer that can make everybody better. Recording training videos that help other people work better and smarter and improve their lives is a rewarding experience. So there are strong motivations to get involved. If you feel there are doubts within you that are blocking you from making the commitment to offer your special knowledge and service to the world, then take a deep look within yourself to find the source of that block. And work at removing it.

Packt: What tips or tricks would you like to share with other authors?

Alan: Don’t think that being an author means you stop being a student. And don’t think you’ve ever said everything you can say. You can learn from everything, if you pay attention. Even from the most unlikely places and people. And everything you learn gives you new opportunities that you can share and new things you can teach. There’s a cycle at work.

Packt: During the recording process, did you come across any issues/difficulties that affected your writing/recording, and how did you overcome these?

Alan: When teaching, I like to use analogies or simple case studies to express a point or describe a concept so that it’s easy for others to understand. But there are times, and it happened on this course, where, after recording, you wonder whether the example you used was really the best or clearest. When this happens, I often shoot multiple takes and then compare the videos to see which I prefer. I keep the best one.

Packt: What is your favorite relaxation technique when the pressure is too high?

Alan: Personally, I practice daily meditation and find it works really well.

Packt: Was there anything interesting that happened during the creation of the tutorial?

Alan: The video was recorded during a time of upheaval and change in my life. I was changing office locations, from one part of London to another. This tended to produce lots of background noise, which I really didn’t want in the final recorded video: boxes being packed, furniture being moved, vans being loaded, and doors being closed. In some cases, I had to ask everybody else around me to simply stop their work or take a tea break while I recorded the necessary sections. It was hard work, but amusing now that I look back on it. My removal team certainly enjoyed a lot of tea breaks during that time!

Packt: How did Packt’s Video Content Editors help you – what kind of things did they help you with and how did they support you throughout the process?

Alan: The Video Content Editors offered a lot of support and recommendations – not just in terms of course content and technical correctness, but also at the planning stage. They would examine my plans, make recommendations, offer guidelines, and generally work with me to produce a solid plan that would ensure a great-quality course. And I think their work proved invaluable for this course.

Packt: How did you find the overall experience of developing your tutorial for Packt?

Alan: I really enjoyed the experience with Packt and felt I was making a valuable and important contribution to the vast and collective body of knowledge that is growing apace in game development worldwide. As soon as you sit down at the computer to make a game, you begin the analytical process of problem solving, of trying to figure out how to use software and tools to get work done. At these times, you often wish a book or video course had been written about the subject for you, to help you think more clearly and arrive at a solution. So it’s fantastic when publishers like Packt help you deliver your solutions and ideas to other people seeking answers and solutions.

Packt: What tools or configuration do you use for your workstation?

Alan: I use a lot of workstations and tools because, in my freelance work, different clients require me to use different tools. I have Windows, Mac, and Linux systems as well as iOS, Android, and Windows Phone systems. I use software from 3DS Max and Maya to Blender and Photoshop, among others. But when developing my own games and independent projects, my tools tend to be GIMP, Blender, Audacity, Inkscape, UDK, and Unity. I love the way in which almost any software or tool can be used creatively to produce fantastic results!

Packt: What projects, if any, are you working on at the moment?

Alan: In addition to freelance work, I’m developing my third game for Wax Lyrical Games. It will be a Cyberpunk graphical adventure for desktops and mobiles, named Mega Bad Code. It’s taking shape and I’m really looking forward to releasing it in the near future. More information on the game can be found at http://www.megabadcode.com/.

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