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27. November 2019


I was just sent a Clockwork GameShell, it’s a build it yourself open source raspberry pi powered handheld computer.  What’s most appealling to me is how heavily focused on indie game developers this device is.  This is not a review of the device but instead a description of the build process (stay tuned for a proper review!).  So let’s take a look at the process from beginning to end and I’ll point out the few snags I encountered on the way.  If you are interested in getting one of your own, they are available on Amazon.

The underlying specs of hardware are as follows:

New ClockworkPi V3.1:Powered by Quad-core Cortex-A7 CPU, MaliGPU, Wi-Fi &Bluetooth, 1GB DDR3 Memory, 16GB MicroSD, HDMI output, GPIOs.

Keypad: Programmable Keypad and powered by an ATmega168P [email protected] with 30Pin Arduino compatibility GPIOs.

Audio: 2 Channel Stereo Speaker

Visual: 2.7-inch [email protected]

Rechargeable Battery: 3.7v, 1200mAh

Lightkey module: 5 independent IO extended keys for shoulder buttons

GameShell Shells: 1 front shell+2 back shells

MicroSD Card: 16GB

OS: ClockworkPi OS,Linux  4.1x

Debug cable: 14PIN GPIOs

Let’s look at what you get and how you assemble it.


The Box


This is a extremely minor point, but I was quite impressed with the packaging the GameShell came in.  Right away it’s generally just a higher quality of packaging and branding than I am accustomed to for these kinds of products, it does have a premium feeling as a result. Click any photo for a much higher resolution version.


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The Contents

The inside of the box is several other boxes and a collection of plastic punch out components.  In terms of equipment you need to do this build you are going to want a sharp knife at the very least.  A fine file and pair of side cutters to remove the plastic attachments are also recommended, but I got by with just a knife.


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Assembly

Now it’s time to start putting things together.  The instructions are IKEA style (but thankfully better than most IKEA!) step by step pictographic instructions.  The assembly is module by module.  The primary modules are the screen, the battery, the main system board and the controller as well as the speaker (not shown).

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Once these 5 modules are completed, its its time to mount the modules into the backplate and connect the various power wires between the devices.  This is probably the trickiest part with one exception I will discuss in a minute.

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Finally it’s a matter of attaching the front plate, attaching two thumb screws and praying you did everything right.  And the final completed product!

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The Gotchas

Assembly was extremely straight forward with only two snags.  The first step is when creating the display module illustrated below.

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Notice the inset diagram shows the cable being bent backwards, while the layer diagram does not show this?  This is vitally important, you do in fact have to bend the display cable 180 degrees.

The second problem is actually around the same issue.  Connecting the display ribbon cable to the main board should be done *BEFORE* you close the case around it, making it insanely difficult connect unless you open it.

The only other issue I ran into is occasionally they mounted the plastic pieces to the plastic frame at less than ideal locations.  For example there was a mount point where the display cable needs to be fed.  I had to make a special point of filing down the excess plastic to keep it from rubbing against or puncturing the fragile ribbon cable.  It would be ideal if pieces were mounted slightly different, but its a small issue.



Now that I have the GameShell built, it’s time to start trying to develop games for it.  Stay tuned for that video in the near future.

General


26. November 2019

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This is a very common question, so this guide and video is setting out to answer why *I* might choose to use Godot over those other engines. Keep in mind, this isn’t me saying Godot is better or worse than those engines. Additionally, I have a video on Unreal vs Unity in the works, so if you want to decide which of those engines to use, stay tuned for that.

Without further ado, let’s jump in.

Free

Obviously, the lack of a price tag is one of the most obvious features of Godot. Yes, you can start for free with both Unity and Unreal Engine, but both ultimately have a price tag. With Unity, you pay a per seat license fee if you make over 100K a year. With Unreal Engine you pay a fixed 5% royalty after the first $3000 dollars earned. If you’re not making money nor plan to, this obviously doesn’t matter… but the more successful your game is, the better a deal free is!

Open Source

On the topic of free, we also have free as in freedom. Godot is free in both regards, to price tag and license, being licensed under the MIT license. Unity trails in this regard having only select subsets of the code available. Unreal Engine has the source code available and you can completely build the engine from scratch, as well as being able to fix problems yourself by walking through a debug build and applying fixes.

UE4 however is under a more restrictive proprietary license, while Godot is under the incredibly flexible and permissive code license.

Another aspect in Godot’s favor… it’s also by far the smallest code base and very modular in design from a code perspective. This makes it among the easiest engines to contribute code to. The learning curve to understand the source code is a fraction of that to get started contributing to Unreal, while contributing to Unity is frankly impossible without a very expensive negotiated source license.

Language Flexibility

Over the years Unity have *REMOVED* language support. Once there was UnityScript and Boo, a python like language, in addition to C#. Now it’s pretty much just C# and their in development visual scripting language.

Unreal on the other hand has C++ support, with the C++ thanks to Live++ usable very much like a scripting language (although final build times are by far the worst of all 3 engines!), as well as the (IMHO) single best visual programming language available, Blueprints.

For Godot the options are much more robust. First off there is the Python-lite scripting language, GDScript. You can also use C++, although the workflow for gameplay programming may be suboptimal. Additionally, C# support is being added as a first-class language and there is a visual programming language available here as well, although I can’t really think of a reason to use it as it stands now.

Where Godot really shines though is its modularity. GDScript itself is implemented as a module, meaning making other custom scripting languages is a borderline trivial task, as is extending or customizing GDScript. Additionally, there is GDNative/NativeScript it makes it fairly simple to link to external code, without having to jump into the guts of Godot (nor having to compile Godot) or to write performance critical code in C or C++. Finally, you have the ability to create C++ “modules” that have access to all of the C++ classes available in Godot without having to make changes to the underlying codebase.

Ease of Use

This one is obviously subjective, but if you are looking to create a game, especially as a beginner, the learning curve and ease of use with GDScript make this the easiest of the 3 engines to pick up, at least in my opinion. Unreal Engine is frankly fairly appalling for 2D titles, having basically abandoned Paper2D (their 2D API) on the vine. Over the last couple years Unity have really been focusing heavier on dedicated 2D support, but you still must dig through a lot of cruft and overhead to get to the meat of your game.

With Godot you pretty much everything you need for 2D out of the box and the ability to work directly with pixel (or % based) coordinates.

It’s Tiny

Unreal and Unity are multi GB installs and both have a hub or launcher app. Godot… a 50ish MB zip file (plus templates for a couple hundred more MB needed when deploying). Download, unzip and start game development!

You Like it Better?

You may, or you may not like the coding model of Godot. Chances are if you like the Node based approach to game development, you will love Godot. All three game engines (and almost all modern game engines) take a composition-based approach to scene modeling. Godot takes it one step further, making everything nodes, trees of nodes, even scenes are simply nodes. The approach is different enough that users may either love or hate the approach. If you love the approach Godot takes, you will be productive in it. If you don’t like it, you’re probably better served using Unity or Unreal.

Why Not Pick Godot Then?

I am not even going to pretend that Godot is the perfect game engine and ideal in every situation… there are certainly areas where Unity and Unreal have a small to huge advantage. This could be its own entire video, but a quick list include:

  • Performance concerns, especially on large 3D scenes (hopefully resolved with proper culling and the upcoming Vulkan renderer). In 3D, both engines out perform Godot quite often
  • Platforms… Unity and Unreal support every single platform you can imagine, Godot supports most of the common consumer categories and takes longer to get support for devices like AR/VR. Hardware manufacturers work with Unity and Epic from the design stages, while Godot pretty much must wait for hardware to come to market and then for someone to implement it. Another huge difference, and one of the few downsides to open source software, it isn’t compatible with the closed proprietary licenses of console hardware. While Godot has been ported to run on console hardware, it isn’t supported out of the box and probably never will be.
  • Ecosystem. Godot has a vibrant community but can’t hold a candle to the ecosystem around Unreal and especially Unity. There are simply more users, more books, larger asset stores, etc.
  • The resume factor… this is a part of ecosystem continued. It’s easier to get a job with Unity experience or Unreal experience on the resume than Godot. While many people wouldn’t (and really for a full-time hire, shouldn’t) care what engine you use, when people are hunting for employees, they often look for Unity or UE experience specifically. The other side of this coin is the number of people with Unity or UE experience is larger if you are the one doing the hiring.
  • As with many open source projects, it’s still heavily dependent on one or two key developers. If the leads left the project, it would be a massive blow to the future of Godot. Meanwhile there are hundred or thousands of people being paid to develop Unity or Unreal and the departure of any individual member isn’t likely to have a tangible impact.

The Longer Video Version

Programming General


28. September 2019

 

Back in 2016 I did my first guide to Choosing a Game Development Laptop, then did a follow up edition the beginning of 2018. A fair bit has changed since then, so here is the 2019 edition.  There is a video version of this guide embedded below.

 

What has changed?

If you read or watched the prior guides, you are probably most interested in what has changed in the technology surrounding game development and laptops in general. The biggest new change is the introduction of Real-Time Raytracing, or RTX technology, that we will talk about in more detail later. Additionally, AMD released a new embedded mobile graphics chipset that appeared in some lower cost laptops, bringing low-mid range GPU to a few popular laptop models. Intel and AMD released a new generation of GPUs, with AMD making huge progress on the desktop but somewhat limited in mobile chips although rumours suggest something big from AMD coming soon. Intel chips are just incremental improvements on the previous gen, with several of their newest processors running into thermal issues. Finally, the thin and light laptop has become nearly universal, with all manufacturers making something. Oh, and prices went up for the most part… so it isn’t all great news.

 

What Kind of Game Development Are You Intending to Do?

Game Development is a BROAD subject and the kind of machine you need is entirely determined by what you are doing with it. Different tasks have different requirements, but here is a VERY vague summery.

2D Pixel Art

If you are looking to do mostly drawing and pixel art creation on your machine… good news! This isn’t a particularly demanding task. A touch screen and good color calibrate monitor are probably the most important traits in this case.

3D MODELLING and ANIMATION

If you are a 3D artist, especially if you are working with higher polygon count scenes or real-time sculpting, the GPU is the most important thing, followed by RAM and CPU.

Programmer

If you are mostly compiling large volumes of code the CPU is probably the most important part, but you want to avoid any bottlenecks, such as running out of RAM. Most importantly, you absolutely NEED to have an SSD. The difference an SSD drive makes to compiling code is staggering.

VR DEVELOPER

If you are intending to work with VR, you have some fixed limits, minimum requirements to run an HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or Microsoft Mixed Reality device. Generally, this means at least a 1060+ or better GPU. This is because VR is basically running two screens, one per eye, and each screen needs to run at a minimum framerate (often @ 90) or it will cause sickness or headaches.

 

Why no Apple Laptops this year?

To be honest, it’s just getting harder and harder to recommend getting a MacBook since 2016 for several reasons. First off, they removed the F-row of function keys and replaced it with a touchbar, and this is horrible for programmers who rely heavily on function keys in just about every single application. Additionally, this change makes it work even worse if you need to boot into Windows software.

Additionally, this generation has been absolutely plagued with quality issues. It started with heavy thermal throttling on any i9 based Mac and got worse from there. The failure rate on this generation of MacBook’s keyboard is off the chart. Finally, they have implemented a security chip, which coupled with anti-repair policies, makes repairing a MacBook more problematic and expensive than ever. If you want a MacBook Pro for development, I personally would highly recommend a 2016 MacBook Pro or earlier, used or refurbed, at least until the MBP gets a engineering overhaul.

 

My minimum spec recommendations?

There are a few things I consider mandatory if buying a laptop in 2019.

SSD (Solid State Drive)

This is hands down my biggest non-negotiable recommendation. Having your operating system on an SSD improves performance of just about everything… massively. Want to take a few seconds, or nearly a minute to boot or wake your laptop? That is the difference an SSD makes! They are more expensive and often systems will have a smaller SSD for the OS partition and larger cheaper SATA drive for storage.

8GB of RAM

You can buy systems with 4GB of RAM… this is not enough. 8GB is the realistic minimum, while I would personally go no lower than 16GB. Anything over 32GB is mostly a waste for most users. 16GB still seems to be the sweet spot.

I5, i7 or i9 Processor

Be careful will any other processor options. Low powered options like the Intel Atom aren’t powerful enough for most game development tasks. An i3 may be enough for you, but I would recommend an i5 or higher. If you are on the higher end, be careful with purchasing an i9 machine, many of the first gen of i9 laptops are having trouble dealing with the extra heat and are a waste of money as a result.

GPU

I personally wouldn’t buy a machine without a dedicated GPU, which is pretty much a must if you want to do any 3D work or play modern games. Using integrated graphics, you can often play modern games on lowest settings at lower resolutions. In terms of what GPU… that’s is a bit trickier. The new generation of 2060/2070 and 2080 Nvidia GPUs are strongly focused on RTX, or real time raytracing. They are also quite expensive. Later on, Nvidia released the 1650, a value priced slower GPU without RTX with a much lower price tag. Of course, if RTX isn’t important to you, several last generation GPUs are still very viable, especially the 1070 and 1080 cards.

BATTERY

Battery is important but limited. To legally fly on an airplane with a battery the limit for a laptop is just under 100 watts/hour, so this is the upper limit of what a battery can be. Generally the bigger the battery the longer it lasts, but the more battery sucking features you put in there (GPU, Processor, 4K or high refresh rate display, etc) the more draw they put on the battery.

SIZE/WEIGHT/THERMALS

Laptops are generally available in 13”, 14”, 15” and 17” models, with the unit being measured diagonally across the screen. Weight is pretty self explanatory… and with modern laptops, anything over 5lbs is started to get a bit heavy and you will notice it in a backpack if you are doing a fair bit of traveling. The final challenge designers face is thermals… that is, keeping everything cool. With modern hardware if it gets to hot it slows down or throttles. This is why machines like the new i9 MacBooks or XPS 15 machines from DELL don’t live up to the hardware they put into them. Doesn’t make sense to put an i9 and a 2080 GPU into a machine if they get throttled to speeds slower than competing hardware with lesser specs. Thermals are important and sadly harder to determine without reading user reviews.

DISPLAY

There are many different things to consider, the type of panel (Matte,TN, IPS, OLED), the resolution 1080p vs 4K and the refresh rate ( 60hz, 120 +). The panel determines how colors and blacks will look, as well as how glossy the display will be in daylight. A lot of it comes down to personal opinion. Refresh rate is important if you are interested in real-time games and want your game to be as responsive as possible. That said, you need to be able to push framerates to match the refresh rate to take advantage of it. There is a hybrid approach with monitors enabling a variable refresh rate called GSync and FreeSync. Personally I would go for a 4K/60hz display but I don’t do a lot of twitch gaming.

 

Recommendations

The following is a list of game dev suitable laptops from the major providers at a variety of price points.  If you purchase through our provided links on Amazon, GFS makes a small commission (and thank you!)

 

 

Acer Helios 300

 

For around $1,000 you can get a 1660 GPU with a 6 core Intel CPU, 16GB of RAM and more.  There are a few dozen specs available in this range to fit your need.  Weighs in at 5lbs with a reported 6-hour battery life (which is optimistic…).  A classic entry level line with good gaming credentials.

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Acer Triton 500

 

A step up in both price and power from the Helios, the Triton line contains a 2070 Max-Q GPU and a 144hz display for a price range of 1600 – 2000 (1600 for a 2060 equipped model).  It is also lighter, thinner and supports a longer lasting battery than the Helios.

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Asus Strix G

 

The Strix G is available in several different configurations, with the 1650 equipped model starting around the 1K USD mark.  It has impressive internals in a 5.2lb form factor and impressively comes with a 1GB SSD drive.  It is sadly let down by poor real-world battery life.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus

 

The Zephyrus line is a series of high-end laptops, with up to a 2080 card, 6 core Intel GPU all in a 0.6” slim design, weighting about 4.5lbs.  The keyboard is at the front of the case however, something that can take some getting used to. 

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Dell XPS 15

 

The Dell XPS line are stunning, thin and of a build quality.  You pay a premium, for a XPS with a 1650 GPU costing almost $1700.  I have trouble recommending this years XPS as the case design seems to struggle with heat, making thermal throttling a common complaint, meaning you wont get full use of the hardware you’ve paid for.

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Alienware M15

 

Dell has owned Alienware for a number of years, but only recently have they started releasing laptops that are actually portable, instead of gigantic desktop replacements.  The M15 model is now 4.75 lbs and 0.8” thick, much easier to throw in a backpack.  Available in a number of configs, this M15 has a 2060 GPU, i7-9750 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD for $1850. 

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Dell G5

 

The G5 is Dell’s dedicated gamer series of laptops.  You will get better thermal performance at a lower price than the XPS line.  The trade-off is louder fans, a nearly 1” thick laptop and close to 6lbs, making it one of the heavier laptops on this list.  You can however get a 1650 GPU, 6 core Intel processor, 16GB of RAM, great battery life and an SSD for just over $1100, making it a solid value if you can handle the size.

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Gigabyte Aero 15

 

A powerhouse laptop with a powerhouse pricetag.  Available with up to a 2080 GPU, i9 9980 CPU one of the largest batteries you can legally put in a laptop, all in a 0.75” thick 4.5lb design.  There are a huge number of configurations available in this highly portable long lasting laptop, including a rare OLED screen option.

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Gigabyte AORUS

 

Much of the same power as the Aero 15, in a big, cheaper package, that describes the AORUS.   At 5.3lbs and nearly 1” thick, it’s certainly bigger and heavier.  It also is about 50% cheaper!  Unfortunately you don’t also get the monster battery of the more expensive Aero.  Available in a range of GPUs from the 1650 to the 2070.

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HP Omen

 

The HP Omen line is HP’s gaming series and is available in a wide range of configurations for prices ranging from $1100 to $2000.  Battery life is reviewed as fair, chassis is 5.2lbs and 0.83” thick.  In many ways you can look at the Omen line as incredibly average.

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Lenovo Legion

 

One of the best values on the list.  Coming in at around $1000 USD with a 1650 GPU, 6 core i7-9750 CPU, 512GB SSD in a decent package.  The only major downside is the anemic 45 WHr battery and 5.2lb weight.

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A refresh of the Surface lineup is expected in the next few weeks.  Microsoft’s machines are unique and of a high build quality, but only a few offer a GPU.  Rumour has it the next generation will be AMD powered.

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MSI GS65 Stealth

 

MSI have far too many brands, but the good news is almost all models are capable game development laptops, even though choosing the right version can be tricky.  My personal choice is a the Stealth GS line, which is a good combination of power and portability and a reasonable price.

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Razer Blade

 

Razer started the thin and light high-end laptop craze and they continue to be one of the best… and most expensive.  They have however split their line into 2 different products, the Blade and the Advanced.  The Blade is limited to a 2060 GPU but also supports a lower price tag.  Both machines sport the same processor and RAM, although oddly this model has better storage options.  This model is 4.6lbs and 0.78” thick.

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Razer Blade Advanced

 

The Razer Blade advanced is slightly thinner and heavier than the Blade.  It also ships with your choice of a 2070 or 2080 GPU and more display options, including a 4K display.  Plus, it’s got a hefty price tag attached.  This model is 4.83lbs and 0.7” thick.

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Razer Blade Stealth

 

The Razer Blade stealth is the only ultra book with a GPU.  If you are looking for a 13” laptop with an all-day battery, but a decent GPU, the Stealth is a one of a kind machine.  Unfortunately, the version linked here is last years MX150 based model, as the newly announced 1650 version has not shipped yet. 

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Too Rich For My Blood

I wont lie, this generation is expensive and in many cases isn’t a huge upgrade on the previous generation. If you find the above machines too expensive but need to purchase a machine, I would highly recommend looking for a model from the previous year on clearance. If you aren’t interested in raytracing, you can easily get by with a laptop from the previous generation. The 1070 and 1080 GPUs are plenty fast and capable of handling raytracing and most AAA games at high settings, while the CPU is rarely a bottleneck, so a last generation higher end i5 or i7 CPU should be more than enough.

Personally, I am skipping this generation and will wait till next year when the second generation of RTX hardware is released at which point RTX will be more prevalent (or a fading fad). If I didn’t already have a decent laptop however, I would personally pick up the Razer Blade Stealth with a 1650 GPU. Small form factor, long battery life, quality build and an OK (but unmatched in the 13” form factor) GPU is a hard to beat combination.

 

 

Art Design General Programming


26. April 2019


Several weeks ago, Godot 3.1 finally shipped after a year of development.  Since then, several details and hints about what are coming in the 3.2 release have become available.  This post is gathering all of those details together in a single place.

There have been a few posts on the Godot website detailing 3.2 features:

In addition to these announced features, several more have been discussed on Twitter.

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Now what’s not happening in Godot 3.2:

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Godot 4.0 is a release much further down the road and will include the Vulkan renderer and other improvements.  For details on the 4.0 release check out this previous post.

Programming General


12. April 2019


At GDC 2019, real-time raytracing was one of the marquee features.  Unreal was the first to market with DXR support added to Unreal Engine 4.22.  Unfortunately it also required you to have one of the newest generation video cards, an RTX 2060, 2070 or 2080.  Thankfully Nvidia also announced at GDC that they would be bringing DXR support to some older GeForce 10 series cards based on the Pascal architecture.   Does this mean you can now do real-time raytracing development on a older Nvidia GPU?  Let’s find out!

There are a few requirements before you can start:

  • an Nvidia 1060 6GB, 1070 or 1080 card (or of course a RTX 2060+ card)
  • Unreal Engine 4.22 or newer
  • Nvidia Drivers, 425.31 ore newer
  • Windows 10 Build 1809 or later

Be sure to launch Unreal Engine using the –dx12 flag, then enable raytracing in the project settings, the full process is documented here.  Watch the entire process and the mixed results in the video below.

So can you do raytracing in Unreal Engine using older cards?  Yes, yes you can… but the results aren’t perfect as of yet.  Once you have your raytraced project up and running, check here for documentation on how to configure raytracing in your project.

General


AppGameKit Studio

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