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7. November 2015

 

As a developer I switched to laptops ages ago.  In fact I haven't purchased a traditional PC in close to a decade and probably never will.  That said, using a laptop as your primary development machine certainly has it’s share of drawbacks including reduced capabilities, higher prices tags and more.  The process of choosing a laptop certainly isn’t easy these days.

 

The last time I went through this process it was actually quite easy.  My requirements in a laptop are, in order:

  • portability
  • power
  • battery life
  • price

Truth of the matter is, if any of those first three are missing, a machine is completely useless to me.  Getting all three at a good price… good luck with that!  If you don’t care about portability or battery life, there are a TON of excellent options available to you.  If on the other hand, you like me require power, performance and battery, the list shrinks a lot.  If you are on a budget, the list shrinks into a number you can count on one hand.  Let’s talk first about the GPU requirements.

 

The actual performance requirements of a game development machine vary massively from game developer to game developer.  If you are creating 2D games, or relatively simple 3D games, a basic discrete GPU or even a high end Intel HD chipset will work fine for you.  In fact, this might be a great choice, as it is representative of the “average” user machine.

 

However, once you start talking 3D games, especially if you are running an engine like Unreal, or content creation tools like 3D Studio Max, ZBrush or Maya, then your requirements go up a great deal.  In this case you need a discrete GPU at a minimum.  In the mobile space this means nVidia.  Outside of the MacBook Pro’s basically NOBODY uses AMD GPUs for whatever reason.

 

Laptop GPU choices

 

So now that we decided you need a GPU, we need to look at the major options out there.  Here’s the trick of understanding nVidia processors.  First off, the m designates a mobile chip, so lower power and thus lower power consumption.  As a general rule, expect the m version to run about 20% slower than the equivalent desktop version.  Also be aware, some laptop manufacturers put desktop GPUs in laptops.  Expect these to get extremely hot and to have battery lives counted in minutes, and that’s not hyperbole.

 

When looking at the naming convention of an nVidia gpu, the first number is series or a chronological marker, and the second number indicates the performance.  For example, you might think that a 940m would outperform a 880m right?  I mean it’s 60 better!  You would be horrifically wrong!  In fact my current laptop’s 765m would absolutely trounce the 940m in any benchmark.  So when looking at GPUs it’s the last two digits that are by far most important.  However that first digit can still be important as designs can shrink and become more efficient in their power usage.  The major differences between versions is the clock rate the chips run at, the amount of memory available, the memory bandwidth and the number of CUDA cores available.

 

The GPU Options

 

920/930m

You might as well go with a good integrated GPU and experience similar performance with better battery life and often lower cost or better form factor.  These GPUs may be able to run demanding games on low to medium settings at non 1080p resolutions at somewhat playable framerates.  You will struggle running a game engine like Unreal on this class of GPUs.

 

940/950m

These are in my opinion  the entry level of dedicated GPUs.  If you are looking at a sub-1000$ USD laptop with a dedicated GPU in it, this is probably the best you will find in a reasonable form factor.  You aren’t going to be running cutting edge AAA games at the highest settings, and it will struggle with higher end  or complex 3D content creation, but it’s still a big step up from even the best of the Intel integrated GPUs, even though those are improving greatly.  One of the big difference is nVidia can write good display drivers, Intel, not so much.

 

960/965m

I have been running a 765m now for several years and it’s still a pretty solid GPU.  At this level you will find you can run every game released in medium to high levels.   Personally this was my cut off when searching for a new machine.  The power to power consumed ration is quite good and it’s got enough power for today, if perhaps not for tomorrow.  The big caveat here is, this GPU is *NOT* able to power a 4K or 3K display, even though manufacturers really want to try.  The 965m is about 10% faster than the 960m. 

 

970m

This is in my opinion, the sweet spot for performance.  It runs a great deal faster than the 960 series, while not sucking battery and generating the heat of the 980m.  You are going to be *just* able to power a 4K display with this GPU, depending on the title or graphic settings.

 

980m

This is as of writing, the fastest GPU you can get in a laptop.  It is also the most power hungry.  This GPU is capable of eating any game or application you want to throw at it and often at 4K resolutions.  The 980m has 100W power consumption to the 970m’s 81W.  This is by far the most future proof of the GPU options.

 

Comparisons on GPU Boss:

If you browse those results you will see that the most profound jump was from the 960 to the 970 series.  A difference of more than twice as much as any other jump.

 

Now keep in mind there are going to be several older models with last years chip, often for a very good price.  You will often find that performance is quite similar, but power consumption is not.  If you don’t care about battery life, the 880m for example, might be an exceptional bargain for you.

 

Choosing a CPU

 

I might be somewhat controversial on this one, but this area I think matters the least.  Simply put, if you buy a machine with a good GPU you will almost always get a good enough i7 or possibly i5 processor.  There are of course a few choices here and mostly come down to when the laptop was manufactured.

A very common CPU in gaming laptops is the i7-4720, which is a very solid choice.  The newest laptops will be probably be running an i-7 6700.  If the laptop came in the middle of the year it may be running something like an i7-5700.  So what is the difference.

On the one hand you have clock speeds which should be immediately obvious in meaning.  The next two most important aspects are the architecture and the size of the chip.  Smaller chips generally use less power, so size does in fact matter.  Architecture is going to be one of four things, in order of age (oldest first): Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Broadwell or Skylake.

As a general rule of thumb the newer the chip the less power it consumes, although you will often find the older chips in the previous series out perform the newest chips in the new series.  For example, the best Broadwell CPUs today are generally faster then the newest Skylake CPUs.  Of course over time this becomes less true. 

As mentioned earlier, size is a big part of power consumption.  Skylake chips are made of 14nm transistors while the Haswell is a 22nm chip.  To make things even more confusing, Broadwell is a transitional chip, it’s a Haswell architecture made at 14nm.

Generally what this means when shopping for a laptop, if it was made in the last 4 or 5 months and it’s running a Broadwell or Skylake processor, it will probably get great battery life.  That said, if it’s not a Ivy Bridge chip you are probably good to go and even that shouldn’t be a deal breaker.  In benchmarks thus far, I have actually seen almost zero difference between Skylake and Broadwell CPUs in both processing power and power consumption.

At the end of the day, the CPU is rarely the bottle neck and Intel has been making really good chips since they started the i3/i5/i7 series, so you can’t really make a huge mistake here.

 

HOWEVER.  If you are going with an integrated GPU you want to be very aware of which iteration you use, as the capabilities of the integrated GPU have changed massively from release to release.  For an idea of the various integrated graphics from chip to chip, refer to this handy chart.

 

RAM, Storage and Everything Else

 

Next there is all the other stuff that goes into making up the laptop.  The keyboard and trackpad style are obviously going to be personal tastes, as are the design esthetics.  This was actually a big point for me, as I simply wont buy a “gaming” styled laptop.  I don’t want glowing logos, or bullet holes or bite marks in my laptops design!  Of course your opinion will vary.

 

For RAM, I think the reasonable limit is 8GB, although you could get buy with 4GB and quite frankly, I don’t think most people would use 16GB.  32GB is just a waste for the vast majority of users.

 

For storage, this one is critical.  A 5400 RPM drive as a primary hard drive is an absolute non-starter.  Seriously don’t do it.  Your boot times will suck, your machine will be sluggish and all that other hardware will be wasted.  Increasingly these days a SSD drive is a must, at least for your system partition.  The difference between an SSD and non SSD drive is 3 second boot times verses 30 seconds or worse.  If your machine starts using swap instead of memory, this will becoming even more glaring.

 

What I am saying here is, get an SSD.   I pretty much consider it mandatory in this day and age.

 

How big, that’s up to you.  I lived for the past several years with only a 256GB drive for storage and with solutions like DropBox, Github, Google Drive or One Drive basically giving away online storage, I never really found this a major hindrance.  Frankly if I didn’t install Steam or any games, I would probably never use more than 100GB or so.  That said, more is always nice.  Another common option is a small SSD drive for your OS install and a larger slower SATA driver for storage and non-performance critical applications.  Nicely in this day and age, swapping the hard drive out of a laptop normally requires zero technical ability and the removal of a screw or two.

 

The final, and critically important decision is the screen.  Many people are jumping on the 4K or 3K display train and this is certainly an option.  That said, if you have less than a 970m GPU or a dual 960 series, don’t even consider it.  Honestly don’t.  That GPU cant power that screen.

 

The choice of an ultra high def screen also leads to a ton of legacy apps being almost illegible.  A higher resolution screen is also a greater draw on battery life.  On the other hand, they look really really really nice and greatly reduce eye strain.  Personally if the option existed, I would go FHD (1080p) regardless of the GPU I selected, but that’s of course personal opinion.

 

The Options

 

Two and a half years ago, the decision was extremely simple.  In fact there was only one option, the Razer Blade series from Razer.  Well that’s not completely true, there was also the MacBook Pro… sorta.  Those were the only two machines in 2013 that were truly portable while packing good internals.  The MacBook Pro unfortunately, and true still to this day, packed a sub-par GPU especially for the sky high price tag.   Not that the Razer Blade is what I would refer to as cheap.  It has however served me well these past two and a half years and had the battery not started failing I would probably continue to use it.

 

These days however, more and more manufacturers are making capable while still portable laptops that are ideal for game developers on the go.  Let’s take a look at the leading options.  To make this list you needed to meet the following criteria:

  • around 5lbs or less
  • 15” or smaller
  • dedicated GPU, preferable 960 or better
  • i7 processor
  • 8GB or more RAM
  • SSD

 

Name

Asus G501JW

MSRP

2200USD

Weight

4.5lbs

Features

Asus makes a whole series of laptops worth considering, but the 501 series is certainly the most portable.  This laptop ships with a respectable 960m processor but unfortunately pairs it with a 3840x2160 display.  There are several models available but I link to the J for a very specific reason.  This is the only version that doesn’t ship with a completely useless battery.  4+ hours are possible with this version, while others in the series will struggle to get 2hours.

i7 4720HQ

GTX 960M w/ 4GB DDR5

16GB DDR3 RAM

512GB SSD

This version without an SSD and with a much more sane FHD (1080p) display is instead listed for a much more reasonable $1050USD.  Be aware however that the battery life is terrible.  There are several different versions of the same model, just be aware that the American J version if the only one with a good battery choice right now.  There is also the 551 series which are cheaper with similar components but a fair bit heavier.  Too heavy to make this list.

 

Name

Asus UX501

MSRP

2075USD

Weight

5lbs

Features

i7 4720HQ

3840x2160 Display

GTX 960M w/ 4GB DDR5

16GB DDR3 RAM

512GB SSD

 

This is the same machine as the G501, just marketed to business consumers instead of gamers.  It comes in a brushed aluminum chassis and is a very nice looking machine.  Like the G501 series, you want the J series if battery life is important to you, however if it is not, much cheaper versions exist.  This machine has similar build quality and superior specs to the MacBook Pro for half the price.

 

Name

15” MacBook Pro w/ Dedicated GPU

MSRP

2300USD

Weight

4.5lbs

Features

i7 2.5GHZ

16GB DDR3

512GB SSD

Radeon R9 M370X with 2GB

Of course the MacBook Pro is also an option.  The internals are certainly not cutting edge compared to others in this list, and Apple’s refusal to use nVidia GPUs really hurt it.  On the flipside you get MacOS and can run Windows either in Parallels or dual boot.  Build quality is generally quite good although the design is really waiting for an update.  Not a great gaming machine but certainly a flexible one and the only Macbook really even capable of running games at all.  You can raise or lower the price slightly by changing the RAM and storage requirements.  Has by far the best battery life of machines on this list.

 

Name

MSI GS40 or GS60

MSRP

1500 – 2200USD

Weight

4.2lbs

Features

i7 5700 CPU

970m GPU

16GB DDR3 RAM

128GB SSD + 1TB SATA

There are several variants of the the GS60 Ghost Pro laptop from MSI and every single one of them has the interns you need.  Packed in a lightweight chassis for a reasonable price.  If we stopped there this would be the easier winner on the list, but sadly we can’t.  The battery life kills this model.  Depending on the review you read the battery life is anywhere from abysmal at 1hr to just kind of bad in the 2.5hr range.  Sadly unlike the Asus line, there isn’t a model with a superior battery available.

The GS40 is a similar machine packed into a 14” chassis, otherwise all the interns are pretty similar.  The range is available in a variety of SSD sizes and with differing processors for obviously differing prices.

 

Name

Aorus X3 / X5

MSRP

2300USD

Weight

5.5lbs

Features

i7-5700

2x GTX 965m in SLI

16GB DDR

512GB SSD + 1TB SATA

This laptop certainly stretches the portability and weight values but is otherwise a powerhouse with a SLI setup.  However a 2hour battery life and a high price tag certainly hinder it.  The Aorus X3 is a beastly machine that is lighter and smaller, but with equally horrid battery life and a higher price tag.  If battery and budget are no issue, it’s got some amazing specs.

 

Name

Gigabyte P34

MSRP

1500USD

Weight

3.5lbs

Features

i7 5700HQ

8GB DDR3

128SSD + 1TB SATA

970m GPU

By far the lightest machine on this list and loaded with hardware it’s hard to go wrong with the P34.  There are a variety of versions available with more RAM and higher resolution and obviously a higher pricetag.  The secondary drive unfortunately is 5400RPM, the only major strike against this machine.  Battery life is a respectable 3-5 hours daily use, also among the best on this list.

 

Name

Razer Blade 14

MSRP

2000-3000USD

Weight

4.5lbs

Features

i7-4720HQ

16GB DDR3

nVidia 970m

256GB SSD

A number of different configurations exist, mostly varying the SSD size and screen resolutions.  The chassis is basically unchanged since the original model, simply receiving a spec bump each year.  Battery life is third on this list behind the Macbook Pro and Gigabyte P34.  Build quality is as good or better than any other machine on this list.  Sadly the same can be said of the price tag.

 

 

Name

Acer Nitro

MSRP

1000USD

Weight

5.3lb

Features

i7-4720HQ

8GB DDR3

nVidia 960m

1TB 5400RPM Sata HD

The bargain on this list, hamstrung with an absolutely stupid choice in hard disks.  If you buy this machine budget some money for a HD replacement or that will drag the entire system down.  With a respectable 4 hours battery life and a somewhat heavy 5.3lb weight, it’s a solid economical choice.  With a really stupid hard drive.  Keep in mind however that fit and finish may not be the best on this machine at that price level.

 

 

 

Name

Lenova Y50

MSRP

1050USD

Weight

5.3lbs

Features

i7-4720

16GB DDR3 RAM

GTX 960M

256SSD HD

Another budget choice like the Nitro, with a similarly stupid decision to pack a 5400RPM drive.  This one does however ship with a 8GB SSD drive for swap partition optimizations.  How much of a difference this makes is unknown to me.  For the price however, a solid portable system similar in all respects to the Nitro.

 

 

Name

HP Omen

MSRP

1400USD

Weight

4.7lbs

Features

i7-4702

8GB DDR3

nVidia 860m

256GB SSD

Not traditionally the company you would think of for gaming laptops, but this one is quite solid if a bit underwhelming from a spec perspective. 

 

Honorable Mentions

 

Dell XPS 15  A high quality, great form factor machine, a serious price tag with excellent specs and a horrifically outdated GPU.  Update the GPU to a 960/970 and you instantly have a contender.  With this GPU at that price, sadly I have to pass.

MSI GS30 This one is an interesting concept.  It’s a portable and capable 13” laptop that lacks a dedicated GPU.  That said, it ships with a Gaming Dock, that contains a desktop class GPU.  So a portable machine when you need it, a gaming machine when you take it home.  If you only need the power when you are at home, this is certainly something to consider. 

Alienware 13  This 13” option from Alienware is certainly worth considering as well.  It packs a 960m GPU and solid internals into a 13” chassis.  Also like the MSI it has a desktop GPU docking option available.  It clocks in at under 5 lbs, so it certainly meets the criteria set above.  It is however horrifically fat, at 1.14”.  If it’s girth isn’t an issue to you it’s a solid option for 1200-1500USD.

Microsoft SurfaceBook  When it was announced that the Surface Book would have a dedicated GPU I stood up and took notice.  The price tag was extremely steep, but you were essentially getting a tablet and high end laptop in one, so perhaps it would be worthwhile.  Then it was announced that the GPU was a 1GB custom nVidia chip on par with the 940M and it’s place on this list was lost. 

Origin EON-15x  This machine is amazingly powerful in a 15” chassis.  It’s also amazingly expensive with horrid battery life.  Plus it weighs more then some 17” laptops.  It’s fun to drool over though, so I’ve included it.

 

The Verdict

 

Looking at the list there seems to be one clear cut winner when it comes to size, performance and price.

The Gigabyte P34v4.  The lightest, one of the highest specs at one of the lower non-budget price points with a 2 year warranty makes it hard to say no.  I’ve put my money where my mouth is and purchased this machine, so expect a review soon.

Totally Off Topic


28. October 2015

 

So I find myself needing to create a new website and this created a world of complications with one very easy solution, which I’m assuming you can guess from the title above…

 

I started GameFromScratch.com some 5ish years ago and the state of the web has changed a great deal since then.  I had a dedicated server from other projects, so the sky was the limit when it came to choosing a server technology.  I had little idea what GFS would evolve into or how much control I would require over my CMS, so as a programmer I went with the language/technology I was most comfortable with at the time, C#/Asp.net.  Instead of doing everything myself I built the site around BlogEngine.  It’s served me well enough, but in this age of mobile, SEO and responsive design, it’s a needlessly complicated mess.

 

I did a recent redesign of the site, but in the end I want to do a clean break.  Problem is, you can’t.  I have years of Google search engine juice, thousands of in-bound links and many other things that would break if I ported to a new site.  Beyond that, ugly or not, creaky or not, GameFromScratch is still my baby and I couldn’t just put her out to pasture.

 

After some thought on the subject I figured out how to go forward.  GameFromScratch is going to continue exactly as it is.  I will continue hosting 100% of my content here, I will add new blog posts and tutorial series here just like normal.  However, “finished” tutorial series will also be available on another home.  With the exception of perhaps pissing Google off due to duplicate content, I think it’s the best of both worlds.  People can continue to enjoy GameFromScratch.com as it is today, while people using it for straight reference material can enjoy a much cleaner and hopefully faster site.  Also it gives me the opportunity to introduce a slightly shorter and more accurate URL.  Win/win for everyone I hope.

 

This however lead me to the same challenge I had years ago… choosing a technology.  Now though I have come to realize less is more.  I have no desire to use a gigantic bloated CMS like Wordpress or Drupal.  More to the point I have absolutely no desire to install another server or database technology (and potential security loophole) on my servers.  I also had, have and always will continue to have a gigantic aversion to PHP, which winnows down the field a heck of a lot.  On the other hand, I also have little desire to manually craft a site from scratch.

 

Enter Jeykll.

jekyll-logo-light-solid

Jeykll is what you could call a “Static Site Generator”.  Basically its the framework to create a site within, couple with some tools that generate the site for you.  No database, no server technology, nothing.  The end result is simply a folder full of clean, modern HTML that can be deployed however you want.  This means no added security risks, no performance overhead and extremely simple backups.  It does however provide a framework of local tools that make your development process a heck of a lot faster than just writing HTML.

 

I am still very new to Jekyll, but so far it ticks all of the boxes I need.  The only real complication in the scenario is Ruby, the language it depends on.  As a language/ecosystem, Ruby seems horrifically fragile and it’s 10x worse on Windows where it is a bit of a red headed step child.  Point blank, getting and keeping your Ruby stack running is going to be by far the most challenging part of the process.

 

Anyways, if you find yourself needing to create a website, consider checking out Jekyll, I’ve created a small video about it available here or embedded below.

 

I looked at a few other options that you might wish to be aware of and why I personally didn’t go with them.

 

  • Adobe Muse
    • It was a nice editor and with it’s themes provided a great deal of what I needed.  The resulting code though wasn’t extremely clean, it has a rather hefty pricetag, and worse of all, once you commit to Muse you have to stick to Muse to generate new versions of your website.
  • Siteleaf
    • Siteleaf is very similar in basic process to Jekyll.  With a few major differences.  First, it includes web hosting options as well as an in cloud content editor.  Second, it’s got a price tag attached.  Third, it simply didn’t work on Windows… bit of a deal breaker there.  It’s not really Siteleaf’s fault, it’s Ruby, but still a rather large deal breaker for me.
  • Dozens of other static site generators
    • You certainly aren’t starved for choice in this category.  That said, if in doubt, go with the one with the biggest community.  That’s Jekyll.  I was tempted to find one that was built on top of Node instead of Ruby for a better Windows experience, but with Jekyll releasing version 3 with less dependencies and a smoother Windows experience, this became unimportant.
  • Wordpress/BlogEngine/Drupal et al
    • What can I say, they are still an option.  Jekyll certainly isnt for everyone.  Each of these CMSs is absolutely huge, some are downright dinosaurs at this point.  On the other hand… there is no scaffolding, no hosting requirements, a huge community of people you can contract work out to, etc.  If you are not moderately tech savvy, these are still most likely your best best.  Just be aware, you pay for that convenience when something goes wrong… it goes REALLY wrong.  Then again, you can also hire someone to fix it.

Totally Off Topic


25. August 2015

 

I’m about to date myself brutally with this post (hint… I’m old… much older than this book, which is also old ), however when I stumbled upon this book it stirred a bit of my childhood in a way that no Michael Bay butchered film can even attempt.  You see my first home computer was the Atari 800XL, a machine that still owns a solid place in my heart.

 

SONY DSC

 

Such an amazingly sexy thing, no?  Well in 1983 it certainly was.  Within minutes of bringing it home, my dad managed to erase the disks that came with it, leaving me alone with an Atari 800XL, the manual, the ROM version of BASIC ( thankfully ROM is remarkably Dad proof… ) and 6-8 weeks will waiting for media replacement from Atari.  On this day two journeys began.  My Dad’s continuing and overwhelming hatred of computers and my programming career.

 

I’ll admit however, although I managed to scrape together some simple text adventures, a dice rolling game and a few other simple examples, I was simply too young to get very far.  I was still quite young and information simply wasn’t as available as it is now.  It wasn’t really until I got a PC that I really started to learn to program properly.  Unless of course you count copying hundreds of lines of assembly from the pages of a magazine programming…

 

This is a bit of a shame too as the world of programming on 8bit machines was almost magical.  While those lines of cryptic bytes I typed back then seemed like magic, now that I’ve got a good 20 years of programming under my belt, I have an appreciation for how simple things actually were.  On top of that, expectations were so much lower, it truly was the age where a single developer in his garage could make a successful game.   Yes, you may have been working in BASIC or even Assembly, but the underlying processors were so simple compared to today, that with the right information, it really wasn’t the nightmare you expect it to be.

 

It’s funny, you hear lots of people say they want to work in C++ or C because they want to “get closer to the machine”.  Want to get closer to machine?  Travel back in time!  I actually think there is a lot of value in people messing around in these old systems.  So when I saw this book appear on Safari, I decided to give it a look.

 

Retro Game Programming:Unleashed for the Masses

 

Available on Amazon for less than $10 (starting at $2 actually).  With a 1.5/5 star review… that’s not a good start.  The book is old, the book is cheap, is it worth reading?

 

RetroGameProgrammingCover

I suppose that entirely depends.  The book is in a word, sloppy.  It covers a number of old systems including the Atari 800, C64 and TRS80.  It actually wastes a chapter on plugging these various machines in…  yeah.  This chapter alones suggests to me that the book may not have in fact had an editor.

 

But then it gets a bit more interesting, there’s a touch of history which I almost always enjoy, I’m not sure how it would go for someone without my rose coloured glasses on.  Then the book seems to flip back and forth between being a complete beginners book and… not.  We get a chapter on 6502 assembly programming… very cool.  We get some coverage of setting up the video and drawing to the screen, which are good reads.  Then a chapter on input and player AI, which frankly doesn’t have a single purpose for existing.  Followed by a chapter on audio programming.  It is then all capped off with a completely meaningless BASIC text adventure.  Had the book actually concluded on a complete Assembly project using what we’d learned so far, I think that 1.5 star rating would be a great deal higher.

 

So do I recommend this book?

 

No, not really.  However as I said earlier, I discovered it on Safari and it provided a few hours of amusement.  If you were looking for an interesting, but sloppy, look back at the way things were, it’s certainly worth the couple bucks it’s being sold for these days.  Even more so because it is now easy to get a hold of incredibly solid emulators of all the systems used in this book.  There is value in modern programmers experiencing how things used to be, and it’s amusing for the older folks among us to take a trip down memory lane.

 

You may be asking yourself…  hey did he just review a 10 year old book that he didn’t particularly like?  Why yes, yes I did.  I will say however, one of the advantages of being a book on retro game development is…  you never really become out of date, do you?

Totally Off Topic


30. July 2015

 

My primary laptop was misbehaving in so many ways I was about ready to do a complete re-install.  It was randomly turning itself on from hibernate for example, which lead to an overheating and half dead laptop half the time I got to where I was going.  Fortunately the Windows 10 release was on the horizon, so I figured I would be doing a fresh install then anyways, so I held off.  Now that I’ve finish the upgrade ( Windows 10 rocks btw… ), I’ve noticed that I have my essential programs that get installed right away on a fresh install.  The following are my go to programs on a fresh install.

 

Keep in mind, a lot of my needs also focus on blogging/writing in addition to game development, so if some of these have you scratching your head, that’s why!  I am also not completely up and running yet either, so this isn’t by any means a complete list of the tools I used, just the priority stuff I cant live without.

 

Dropbox To be honest, I think the client is starting to cause issues with both stability and battery life.  At the end of the day though, this IS my file system these days.  Thanks to Dropbox, I can be up and running productively on a new machine in a matter of hours, tops.  Plus, and I totally know you shouldn’t do this… but it’s a great poor mans version control Smile

 

7zip  Swiss army knife free archiving tool, all I ever need for all my compression needs.

 

Steam It’s where my games are.  This gets installed early as there’s about 1TB of games in there to download.  It’s kind of nice having all of my games in one spot, makes reinstalls a breeze.  I do hate the constant updates and the CPU hogging that are becoming more and more common though.

 

Visual Studio 2015 Community  The Windows based IDE, C++, C#, F# all in one home, also thankfully now free in a small developer environment.  I had great timing here, as the torch was just passed between Visual Studio 2013 and 2015, hopefully saving me about 15GB of drive space.  Hopefully.

 

SublimeText  My go to text editor.  This or Notepad++, I flip back and forth.  I go with the beta version 3 as I like living dangerously.

 

Blender  Free and comprehensive 3D graphics package

 

Paint.Net  Free 2D image app.  Not the most powerful image editor out there, but certainly a capable one, especially for the price.  My go to app for resizing and cleaning up images.

 

Java SE JDK  Even if I’m not working with LibGDX or Android right now, it’s enevitable I am going to have to install the JDK eventually so might as well do it now.  Normally go with Java 7, but trying 8 this time, mostly because Oracle made 7 enough of a pain in the ass to find.  Have a sinking feeling I am going to have to download Java 7 at some point in the near future.

 

IntelliJ IDEA  Speaking of Java, this is my Java IDE of choice.  Also my Lua and Haxe IDE of choice while we are at it.

 

WebStorm  While I’m on JetBrain’s site, I also grab WebStorm, my HTML5 IDE of choice.  I subscribe to this, 50$ a year I think.  Well worth it.

 

Windows Live Writer  Part of Windows Essentials.  It’s the software I do my Windows based blogging on, what I am typing this in as we speak.  Sadly discontinued in 2012, as it’s still the best software for blogging available IMHO.

 

FastStone Capture  I bought this app like 6 years ago for 20$ and I love it to death.  It’s my screenshot/markup/video capture go to application.

 

Camtasia Studio  When I started producing video I tried so hard to find a free alternative.  They sucked, every single one of them.  Camtasia has a price tag attached and some glaring faults ( no on screen keyboard display??? ), it’s still the best video capture/editing package on the market.

 

GifCam  I make a lot of animated gifs for tutorials and this little free app ROCKS.  I used to use a much more complicated process, now I just use this.  Creates high quality but small filesize images.  Highly recommended.

 

Highlight  I’ve tried all sorts of different approaches to creating marked up code for books and blogs and Highlight has been hands down my favourite.  Oh, it’s free too!

 

Scrivener  This is my primary book authoring software, and as time goes on I will mix my book and blog workflow into a single entity and this will be home.  It’s a tool for writers and really takes a bit to get used to, but once it clicks… it clicks.  Honestly though the Windows version is only so-so.  It’s the Mac version that shines.

 

What I haven’t installed:

A Browser.  Normally Chrome would be item number 1 on a new install.  Thing is, Chrome has gotten worse, a lot worse.  Microsoft Edge however… check it out, really, do.  I did however disable Bing after about 30 seconds…

A Mail Client.  I’m giving the new Windows 10 mail client a go.  Actually pretty impressed so far.  Normally I use MailBird.  If I dont like Windows 10 mail I will go back to Mailbird.

Microsoft Office.  I have a license, and will eventually need to install it, at least Word, but I try to put it off as long as possible. 

 

What I’ve not mentioned:

Game Engines.  I also install game engines… LibGDX, Unity, Stencyl, Unreal, Paradox3D, etc…  These vary based on the tutorials I am currently working on however, so I don’t include them, although they are certainly essential.  The cool part is, pretty much every single one of them is free.

 

Honourable mentions:

Krita or GIMP – 2d painting

Inkscape – Vector Graphics

Visual Studio Code – Sublime Text like editor, fairly new but becoming a bigger and bigger fan

 

 

It’s actually kind of cool if you look through this list just how low the total price tag actually is.  The amount of stuff I need to install is actually getting smaller and smaller too, thanks to more and more functionality being move to the web.

Totally Off Topic


7. July 2015

 

One of the biggest challenges that indie game developers face is exposure.  Unless you have a publisher, getting your game in front of people is often a matter of luck.  Without massive advertising budgets, ads are very often outside of our reach.  With all this in mind, when I received yet another spend $25 get $100 promotional offer from Google, I decided to give Adwords a shot.  Granted, I was promoting a website instead of a game, but ultimately that just means I have a bit more data available.  Another aspect is the money I spent.  I set my CPC (cost per click) extremely low.  Under 5 cents in fact.  This is farrrrrrrrrr below what Google recommends as you will see shortly.

 

One piece of advise right up front, if you are being a spend thrift like me, the very first thing you want to do is target your traffic and turn off mobile results.  My first days of action almost 100% of my traffic was nearly useless, feature phones from non-English speaking countries.

 

If you are unaware of Adwords, they come in two forms, in search results on Google, and on partner sites.  Basically you write a simple text based ad and pick the keywords you want to target.  Key phrases is actually a more accurate description, but once you’ve specified a couple Google does a good job of giving you additional suggestions.  Your ad either runs on Google search results, or in ads on “partner” sites.  The second greatly increases the liklihood of your ad being shown, but as you will see in a moment, seems rife with fraud.

 

I personally decided to set up two different ads, one targeting my Unreal Engine tutorial series, and the other targeting my tutorials in general.  My ultimate and ideal goal would be for traffic acquisition costs to be lower than ads clicked by acquired traffic.  If you were publishing a game, obviously you would use a much different metric…  game installs, or game sales.  Fortunately using a combination of Google Analytics and Adwords, you can track this all fairly well.  Unfortunately, the results suck.

 

Here is an example of the ad I created:

image

 

You set your daily budget, your maximum click amount and all your details.  I also highly recommend you geo target your ad to target only regions you are interested in.  Simply targeting en-US seems to be completely ineffective.

Myself, being both cheap and broke, set a daily budget of $5 and a CPC maximum of $0.05.  You can have Google automatically set the price for you, if you fancy going completely broke.  Here is the performance of that ad, at those values today:

image

 

My ad was shown to 21,750 people with about a 1% click through rate.  Frankly getting 200 clicks for under $5 is an absolute bargain, almost impossible to replicate.  So, how effective are those clicks?  Well… that’s where it gets bad.

 

adssense1

 

This is my most recent paid traffic, as shown by Stat tracker ( not a Google product ).  This represents about the last hour of paid traffic and the results.  Notice a few things here?

 

Right off the hop, the first one, 9 clicks, 9 views, no time on site?  Most definitely fraud.  Google has algorithms to detect and compensate you for fraudulent clicks in theory.  In reality, you probably just wasted about 18 cents on that traffic.  In fact, look down the right hand side in generate…  “No Visit Time”.  That is not encouraging.  Basically of all those visits only one might be legit and even then they spent less than a second on the site.

 

In fact, the same can be said for the entire campaign so far.  Here are results from Google Analytics and they aren’t good:

image

 

When clicks exceeds sessions, something is seriously broken.  A 90% bounces rate and a 1.17 pages viewed is appallingly bad.  In all honesty, it feels like the vast majority of traffic is in fact fraudulent.

 

Now of course, I am also setting a comedically low bit at 5 cents per click.  Thing is though, I am spending peanuts and don’t really care how many impressions I get ( as long as it’s > 0 ), so I can go cheap.  Google will however show you how much it recommends for you to make a “front page” result.  That is, the suggested cost to have your ad shown on page 1 of Google search results for the targeted key word, and the results can be shocking…

 

image

 

Yeah… $6.22 for “open source game engine”.  Ouch.

 

So, how has my experiment worked thus far?  Well, not worth a damn actually.  Here is a report showing the Adsense revenue on those 3,319 clicks…

image

 

So, $63 spent to $1.03 made.

 

… yeah, no.  Not effective at all.

 

So should you consider Adwords to advertise your game?  It may be worth trying, especially with a $100 free promotion, but I’ll certainly not be using it again.  To me frankly, the entire thing feels like a scam.

Totally Off Topic


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