Learning ActionScript 3? Here are some great books

After publishing my review of the recent Flash Game Development by Example book (in which my complaints were validated by similar reviews from Iain and Rasmus) I received a number of questions both by email and on Twitter asking me books what I would recommend.

The first thing I’ll say is that I don’t believe there are ANY good books that teach you how to code in AS3 by using game development as the means.

There are some excellent AS3 books, and some excellent game development ones, but all those that have tried to combine the two end up either skipping vital AS3 details, or build such basic games you don’t really learn anything about game development in the process.

Before I begin however this is important: Obviously I have¬†not read every book there is on AS3. So my recommendations here can only be based on the books I have read and value. If you’re the author of a book not listed, that you think should be, send me a review copy. Here’s my list with links to the publishers sites (and no cheesy affiliate links!)

Learning ActionScript 3 by Rich Shupe, O’Reilly

I strongly suggest the excellent “Learning ActionScript 3.0” by Rich Shupe and Zevan Rosser. Even if you’ve been coding in AS3 for a while there are things this book can teach you. It leaves virtually no stone unturned. Read this from cover to cover and you will have touched on every aspect of AS3 you need. From the way events propagate, to text handling, bitmap filters and display list management it’s comprehensive and clearly written. The only issue is that the contents are a bit dry. By this I mean you’ll never actually create anything fun while reading this, and you won’t learn a thing about game structure. But to sink your teeth into AS3 they don’t come much better than this. The 2nd edition was published at the end of 2010 incorporating Flash platform changes that entails, so if you do seek out a 2nd hand copy, make sure it’s a recent one.

I used to recommend¬†Essential ActionScript 3 by Colin Moock (also by O’Reilly) but the freshness of content in this book kicks it one level higher.


ActionScript 3.0 Cookbook, O’Reilly

I’m a big fan of the O’Reilly cookbooks. They come into their own when you’re starting to learn a language and have the basics down – but just need to know in which package to look to find the solution to a given problem. For example if you want to know how to load an XML file you can just pick-up the cookbook and look for that in the index. The code examples are concise and well written, and coming from a variety of authors seems to help make them more relevant. It’s a really vital book. Yes you can Google, but if you are learning a language there is no way for you to evaluate how well written (or correct!) a Googled blog post is for example. The only issue I have with this book is that it hasn’t been updated since 2008. It was however the way I learnt AS3 (used with the Essential AS3 book).


Foundation ActionScript 3 Animation: Making Things Move! by Keith Peters, Friends of Ed

This is a brilliant book. There’s no other way to put it. It starts off with a great crash course in AS3 (take note authors, this is the correct way to do it) and then dives in to, well.. making things move! Making them properly move. None of this Flash IDE timeline stuff, but actual real physics that you can use in real games. And it’s not complicated physics either. It starts off very gently and then keeps layering it up. Bouncing, friction, gravity, velocity. Throwing objects with the mouse, collision, springs, the works. There is even a little chapter on faux 3D (which to be honest feels shoe-horned in, and isn’t very relevant today). You will learn both good structured AS3 AND very useful game development techniques from this book, which is why it’s essential reading. The only down side is that it hasn’t been updated for a while. There is a follow-up book (Advanced Animation) but it’s not as easy to get in to and feels a little more “edge case” in its application. Still a fascinating read though.


With the above 3 books I honestly believe you can go from knowing nothing at all about AS3, to having touched all the important aspects of it, and even built some really cool things in the process. Use them in combination with a framework like Flixel and suddenly a LOT of the way Flixel does things will make a great deal more sense to you. Equally if you stumble across a piece of source code online you’ll have a much better idea if you’re looking at quality code or a piece of blog filler.

Advanced ActionScript 3 with Design Patterns by Joey Lott, Adobe Press

This was recommend by both Iain Lobb and Damien Altron. Be sure you get the correct book as there is a very similar titled book published by O’Reilly. The one you want is published by Adobe Press. The first half deals with general AS3 practises and the second half the use of design patterns. From the comments I’ve read it appears it’s very well researched and written.


I will follow-up this post with one listing my favourite AS3 Game Development books shortly. But really, get the language down first. Then make games. Not the other way around.

Posted on May 31st 2011 at 11:45 pm by .
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