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Book review: Essential Actionscript 3.0 (EAS3)

Book review: Essential Actionscript 3.0 (EAS3)

Few Flash books are as anticipated as the ones from Colin Moock, and this one have been in the works for more than 2 years. It's worth the wait and Colin once again proves that his book should be on every developers desk.

TITLE: Essential Actionscript 3.0
PUBLISHER: O'Reilly
ISBN: 0596526946
PAGES: 946 b&w
AUTHORS: Colin Moock
Click here to order

When we reviewed the former edition of this book, we had a few negative comments. The new book is almost twice the size, has better structure and is better explained. Definitions are more precise than in the old book and it seems that a lot of thought has gone into using the right definitions/terms at the right time.

Good flow

The tempo is quite high for an newbie, but it should work. The only thing beginners may find difficult is where and how to save their class files. This is mentioned early in the book, but with a book this size you may easily overlook such a basic thing. Seasoned coders should be able to skim the book, just to get the core changes. If a subject is not yet introduced, there are always instructions on skipping ahead and then come back, but newbies should probably try not to jump around too much back and forth. Since there's little repetition in the book, you may miss out on important topics if you don't read the chapters in sequence.

The book is full of good examples and analogies. Throughout the book one recurring program is the VirtualPetZoo where you'll create your own "zoo" and feed the animals with Apples and Sushi. Classes are explained with analogies for building an airplane using blueprints and cars are used to explain encapsulation. Advanced topics such as inheritance and polymorphism are also better explained in this version of the book. Comparisons to other languages are kept in separate subchapters, not strewn across the book as in the former version of the book. This form makes for easier reading and lookup later.

Structure

The book has a great buildup from classes and packages down to the nitty gritty. Most other actionscript books start the other way around by explaining variables and the Flash authoring tool, but this book is the first that really succeeds at explaining it the other way. It feels odd at first, but that's only since I've read so many books with the different approach. This approach should work well for users that are not familiar with Object Oriented Programming (OOP) while more experienced coders will feel at home right away.

The book is divided in two main sections. the first covers the Actionscript basics and the second covers graphical programming and subjects more special to Flash. The book stays strictly to its path of explaining Actionscript. If something may require more explanation, sources to look this up is well noted. There's a nice split after chapter 12, where you can start writing code or keep on reading more about the nitty-gritty Flash Player stuff.

The Meat

The meat for Flash programmers with AS2 experience is really in Chapter 29. This is the first place Moock tells you how to attach library assets on stage. This is probably smart to defer as this might be an odd topic for coders with a different background, but it seemed kind of odd to me.

Since I know about the power of movieclips and how I can get assets from designers. I was really keen on figuring out how to get started, but I read almost the whole book before I discovered how to use assets in AS3. The mechanics for this is quite well thought out. You no longer use instance names, but rather attach each movieclip to a class, so it can be instantiated using the new operator. This is not exactly how you would do it using AS2, but it is still somewhat familiar. Could it be that it worked like that in the background on former versions of Flash too? Anyway - I really love how Adobe solved this. No more tricks, just (almost) clean code.

In addition to the actionscript language, Moock also covers topics related to the runtime such as the Flash Players security model and garbage collection. These are certainly important, but I would have liked to see a little more about the Flash IDE as well. I think the book is way too light on debugging applications. This is after all one of the main things a coder does and it should be considered an integral part of programming. Moock uses the trace-statement for what it's worth, but more or less ignores the Flash IDE debugger. Too bad, because the debugger has been updated in CS3 and it is something we've waited for since Flash 5. EAS3 should at least mention how you go about using it even if it's a book about the language and not the Integrated Development Environment (IDE).

Conclusion

It took me four full days to read the book cover to cover, so this is certaily a "brick". The language in this book is formal and there is a lot to cover, so absolute beginners with no programming experience should probably start by picking up a less detailed book.

This book is excellent for the ones that really want to dive deep into Actionscript, learn the fundamentals and have a good reference book on the desk. Default values are always noted and this is great for reference. It is also fun to see the amount of well known names of known Actionscripters mentioned in the book. Great in-jokes that won't distract newcomers.

Links

- Interview with Colin done by Mike Downey
- Moock's EAS3 site

Click here to read more at Amazon.com

 

About Jens C Brynildsen

Jens has been working with Flash since version 3 came out. Since then, he's been an active member of the Flash community. He's created more than a hundred Flash games (thus the name of his blog) but he also creates web/standalone applications, does workshops and other consulting. He loves playing with new technology and he is convinced that the moment you stop learning you die (creatively speaking). Jens is also the Editor of this website.

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