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31. January 2014

 

When I started Flexamail ages ago, I created a Twitter account and did all the social media promotional stuff you were supposed to do.  Early on, we caught some pretty positive press ( LifeHacker, MakeUseOf ) and it lead to a huge amount of exposure.  Then the Twitter-verse started promoting it.  At one point, I had a Twitterimage user with over 4 million followers tweeted a link to Flexamail and it was retweeted an amazing 4,000 times!  I was expecting the traffic to come rolling in!

 

To put it mildly, I was disappointed with the results.  A totally of perhaps 45 million people received a tweet with a link to my site… how many link clicks?  About 3000.  Of those 3000, it resulted in about 200 account sign ups.  For some perspective the LifeHacker link resulted in tens of thousands of clicks and I would estimate 4 – 5K sign ups.  At this point in time I decided the Twitter was a bunch of people talking and very few people listening.

 

Therefore a couple years ago when I started GameFromScratch  I pretty much ignored Twitter completely until about a year ago and what an idiot I was.  It’s all a matter of targeting I suppose.  Now if someone posts a link to GameFromScratch on Twitter, from my very unscientific observation, I would say about 20% of a persons followers follow the link on average.  So for example, if someone with a thousand follower posts a link, it results in about 200 visits, which is pretty darned good.  A stranger phenomenon, the person with less followers tends to have a much higher click through.  So if someone has around 100 followers, you would often see almost half click a given link.

 

According to Google Analytics, a random sampling of social traffic breaks down like:

image

 

Obviously Reddit tops the list.  Reddit is a wonderful place to post for a content site like GameFromScratch, but I really don't recommend it for plugging a product, there is a sincere distaste towards those kinds of posts.  That is unless of course you share genuinely useful information, then you are loved.  Postmortems and sharing sales data are always welcome and could be a huge traffic boost.  Or of course you could consider a promoted reddit post, something I intend to explore at some point.

 

Next in traffic though is Twitter, followed by Facebook and the oh so random StumbleUpon ( about a year ago got 18,000 visits from SU in a single day! ).  So Twitter is certainly worth considering.

 

Which got me to wondering, when I looked over at the side of Twitter earlier day, there was a link for, well, basically paying for Twitter followers from Twitter ( not those shady buy-a-thousand-followers-for-5$ services ).  I got curious, could this be an effective way to promote a game ( or in my case, book )?  So I took a look.

 

The form itself is clever.  You say what regions and genders you want to target, what type of followers you would like to target ( pick someone famous, or use your own followers as the example ).  Then you can select a Tweet from your history that can be promoted.  You also decide whether you would like to pay per new follower, or pay per action ( retweet, favoriting, etc ).  It all sounded pretty good… great in fact.

 

Then it came down to pricing.  You can set a maximum budget and a daily budget.  I went with 20$ and 20$, so basically I was saying I am willing to pay a total of 20$.  The fact it let me go in with so low of an amount is certainly good for those of us on a smaller budget.  Next up came the bid… this is where you say how much you are willing to bid for your account to be promoted.  This works just like banner ads, basically you say “I am wiling to pay X amount to show my Twitter profile” when someone matching your target demographic views Twitter.  If you are the high bid, you are shown, if you aren’t, you aren’t ( and it costs you nothing ).  Then it all falls apart!

image

 

Suggested bid… $2.50 to $3.50!!!!  Three bucks a follower?  Seriously???  That would mean it would cost me $2,500 to get to where I am now!

 

Ouch.  Maybe for large companies with huge budgeting, this is worthwhile.  In fact, it is probably cheap compared to other forms of advertising.  For example, if Coke was running a Twitter campaign, 3$ a follower is probably dirt cheap compared to say… a SuperBowl spot.  But for a small developer hoping to promote a game, good god no!

 

I am mildly curious to see what happens if you do a 1 cent bid, Twitter’s suggestions be damned!  At 3 bucks a follower though, is it worthwhile?  No, not really.

Totally Off Topic


13. November 2013

 

Dominican-Republic-beach

 

As you may be able to tell by the title… or the picture above, I am about to depart to somewhere a heck of a lot warmer than Toronto currently is!  It’s only a short vacation though, so expect posts to resume early next week.

 

Until then, see you at the beach!

Totally Off Topic


24. July 2013

 

 

My somewhat recently published book, PlayStation Mobile Development Cookbook is currently the top ranked game programming book on Amazon…

 

…in Japan …on Amazon …in Kindle format.

 

But it’s still pretty cool. Smile

 

I check Amazon sales rank every once in a while to see how my book is doing ( it’s the only insight into book sales I have, amazingly enough ) and today when I check Japan, I see:

 

image

 

Number one baby!  Open-mouthed smile

 

Granted, Amazon track this value in pretty close to real time, so I am the number one selling game programming book in Japan for RIGHT NOW… in an hour I might be 50th…  but I’ll take it!

 

In another bittersweet milestone, I also just found the book on pirate sites for the first time.  That actually took longer than I expected to be honest.  I suppose an author or game developer should take it as a badge of honour that people will pirate what you created.

 

 

Oh, and Japan, you rock!

Totally Off Topic


6. July 2013

 

As the title says, us Toronto based game developers now have our own nascent  reddit.  Granted, it’s a lonely place right now, but all things start somewhere!

 

image

 

 

If you happen to be a game developer in Toronto ( or surrounding area ), come on over and join us!

 

For those of you that aren’t from Toronto, Toronto is quietly becoming a game dev hub, even though Vancouver and Montreal get all the glory here in Canada.  There are some large studios with offices in or near Toronto including Ubisoft ( Splinter Cell ), Rockstar ( Max Payne 3 ) and Digital Extremes ( Unreal, The Darkness 2, Warframe )just down the road at London ( … the place I was born! ).  It’s on the indie side that Toronto truly shines.  Chart toping titles like Sword and Sworcery, Mutant Blob Attacks ( and more recently from the same studio, Guacamelee ) and They Bleed Pixels, among many others were all created in Toronto. 

 

On top of that, Toronto has long been a hub for tool creation.  Alias, one half the Alias-Wavefront, were formed in Toronto.  In many ways the 3D graphics industry exists because of these two companies.  Ultimately Alias created Maya, which is now owned by Autodesk ( along with the rest of the 3D industry it seems ).  Side Effects Software is also based out of Toronto, the makers of Houdini…  granted, it’s used more in movies than games, but it was used in games such as Uncharted 3 and SSX. 

 

Toronto is also home to ToJam as well as the HandEyeSociety.

 

All told its a pretty swell place to be a game developer… well, except of course for the impending real estate crash that is… So, if you are in Toronto check out /r/TorontoGameDev, hopefully we can turn it into a thriving community.  At least pop in and say hi!

Totally Off Topic


28. June 2013

 

I mentioned a little while back that I ordered a 14” Razer and there were some shipping issues.  Anyways, it is here now and I’m loving it.  I’ve noticed in search logs I have people landing here because they searched for Razer Blade reviews.  I figured I would share my initial thoughts and impression for people interested in this unique laptop.

 

Apple was an obvious inspiration behind the Razer line of laptops.  In an interview with The Verge, Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan said:

I love Apple products," he says. "I think they do an incredible job in terms of industrial design. But, for us, it's also been an issue of creative professionals coming to us after Apple moved out of the 17-inch space."

 

I’ve owned several Apple products and I will admit this experience ( and price tag! Smile ) was by far the most Apple-like I’ve experienced on a non-Apple product, except perhaps my Sony Xperia phone.  It starts with the packaging experience on out.  My last Dell came in a brown box…  here is the Razer’s unboxing.

 

The box itself is actually a thing of beauty… not too many times I've even noticed the packaging of a product.

 

Box in the shipping packaging:

1

 

My new baby

2

 

The remaining contents…

3

Basically it’s the laptop, the power supply and a couple booklets and that’s it.  The box on the left is the power supply box, it’s pretty small.

 

That sexy box.

IMG_20130628_183329

 

Frankly that is what the Xbox 2 should have looked like!  I know at the end of the day this stuff doesn’t really matter.  It shows a level of pride though and an attention to detail.  Plus it makes you feel like a little kid on Christmas again… 

 

Now to the actual machine.  As a big part of this machine is it’s size, I’ll follow up with a number of close-up comparison shots, but for now, here it is relative to a 2012 Macbook Air, it’s Muse.

4

 

Now to the actual machine…  first off, it ships with Windows 8 and absolutely ZERO bloat.  Nothing at all.  What a refreshing experience not having to immediately re-install the operating system.  Drivers are all current and OS seems to be pretty up to date, it was pretty much a matter of start and go with this machine.

 

Specs

The machine itself has pretty solid technical specs:

Intel® Core™ i7-4702HQ Quad Core 2.2GHz / 3.2GHz (Base/Turbo)

8GB of RAM

GeForce GTX765M w 2GB DDR5

Integrated HD4600 GPU

14” 1600x900 matte display

256 GB SSD ( 128/512 available )

3USB 3 ports

 

The only thing that makes me a bit worried is the 8GB of RAM, it’s a tad on the light side by modern standards, but truth is, I rarely use that much even while compiling or doing 3D work.  The lack of ethernet kind of sucks, but the wireless works exceptionally well.  I don’t know if I can attribute that to Windows 8 or the chipset chosen, but the wifi performs MUCH better than all the other devices in my house. 

 

Performance and Benchmarks

One of the very first things I did was update the Windows Experience Index:

image

 

I’m kind of surprised by these scores across the board.  The Haswell Intel CPU scores respectably at 7.8, but the GeForce 675 GPU is easily the weakest link here.  It’s only about 20% higher than my 560M, that seems low to me.  I almost wonder if Optimus is to blame for the lowish Gaming Graphics score. The solid state drive scores respectably enough.

 

The GPU is a GeForce 765.  Here is how the GPU benchmarks relative to it’s peers according to notebookcheck.net

image

In terms of game frame rates, Bioshock Infinite clocks in at 80fps on high settings, while Crysis 3 manages 37.  In terms of actual frame rates, it seems to be about twice as fast as my Asus G53SX with a GeForce 560M.  It’s certainly not the fastest GPU, but its no slouch.  Its a fair bit faster than the GT 650M found in the MacBook Pro, the only comparable machine IMHO.

 

About Heat…

One big part about gaming laptops is managing heat.  On the whole the Razer does a pretty solid job.

This is the laptop temperatures reported at idle:

image

 

Now after an hour of gaming:

image

In terms of actual use, the wrist area gets slightly warm, ditto for the keyboard.  Not hot by any definition of the word.  The heat is almost entirely at the base of the screen, hot but not scalding to the touch.  Heat does vent out straight down at the screen bezel making it uncomfortable to game with it on your lap.  The bottom of the laptop itself is quite comfortable, except again right below the monitor.  It cools down very quickly, within 10 minutes or so of ending my gaming session, its back to normal temperatures.  If you game, do it on a table, not your lap.

By comparison to other machines, it handles heat much more quietly than my GeForce 560 equipped G53 and the head is much more localized.  It does however direct more of the heat downward than the G53.  The heat profile is actually very similar to the Macbook Air.  The Razer however is quiter than the Macbook and the surface area where heat is vented ( below the screen ) is much cooler on the Razer.  Over all I consider it pretty successful on heat venting, exceptionally successful on volume levels, but a bit disappointing about not being able to play with it on your lap comfortably, although that’s often the case with performance laptops, so I’m not surprised.

 

The Screen

The 1600x900 resolution seems about perfect for a 14” laptop.  I think 1080p would have been hard to read.  The viewing angle of the screen is exceptional, you can clearly read the screen from any angle from left to right.  Vertically its about +-30 degrees where visibility gets difficult.  The brightness is good, even using it outside in full daylight causes no issues.  The screen isn’t glossy at all, so I don’t have to look at my ugly mug’s reflection while typing.  The price though is a bit difficult…  When the screen is static it just looks…  muddy.  Like I can see small black spaces between pixels.  I am sure someone can describe it better, but when typing black text on a white background, it is very visible.  When gaming it isn’t.  It’s all a matter of opinion, but at the end of the day I like the performance of the screen ( brightness, viewing angle, etc… ) but I dont particularly like the look of it.

 

I’ve been asked to expand a bit on the matte effect on the screen.  I’ve tried to capture it as best as I can with a camera phone.  You may need to click the image to get the higher resolution version to clearly see.  The camera pic makes the effect look much much much much worse than it actually is.  The “grid” like effect is more like what you see in the top left or bottom right of the image below.  Again, the screen is nowhere near as bad as the screen actually is in use, but it gives you an idea of the grainy-ness that the matte screen adds.

 

The Battery

You may have heard the number 6 hours somewhere describing the Razer Blade’s battery life.  I honestly don’t think I could replicate this number… perhaps by turning the screen and CPU settings down to the lowest settings, turning off wifi and doing absolutely nothing for 6 hours it might work.  It’s only been a couple days so it’s hard to give exact figures, but my experience so far seem to indicate around 3.5-4.5 hours of casual use ( surfing, blogging, writing code ) on balanced power settings and screen at about medium brightness.  Gaming though is another story entirely.  I unplugged my laptop from 100% charged and played 15 minutes of MechWarrior Online.  This took 20% of my battery.  So basically you can expect about an hour of high CPU/GPU usage, kind of disappointing, but at the same time, pretty typical.  It’s better than my G53 which refuses to even run at full speed on battery and even still manages to get worse battery life than that!  Thankfully the power adapter for this thing is super light and small so you can carry it around with you.

 

The user wrecks over at this notebookreview.com thread just posted this video of a battery test:

 

The details were:

Airplane Mode
40% Brightness
Vlc Player using integrated GPU playing 720p Video.

 

The laptop lasted 3:47 minutes then shut down with 7% battery remaining.

Build Quality

 

It’s top notch, exactly what you would expect from a 2000$ laptop.  All the edges are solid, there is no flexing or mismatched edges, etc.  The hinge seems strong and the action is smooth.  The keyboard is excellent.  Keys are well sized, good action and feedback.  It’s a mini layout of course, so no page up/down, end, home, etc.  The trackpad is very responsive and feels solid as well.  The dedicated buttons are a nice option, you could actually game on this trackpad… poorly, but that’s still better than most trackpads.  It’s superior to the Macbook Air’s trackpad, which is shocking as it is an excellent trackpad.  The buttons though, they worry me.  If there is a weakpoint on this trackpad, it’s the buttons for sure.

 

I did run into a problem with the trackpad, I dont know if its a Windows 8 issue or a Razer issue.  It ships default with scrolling reversed, which is irritating as hell.  You have an option to turn it off in the touchpad software, unfortunately it only effects one of the scrolling settings.  For example, I had two finger scrolling and hotspot scrolling both enabled ( this is how it ships ).  When you set the flip option, it only applies to the hotspot scrolling.  Disable the hotspot setting and then the two finger touch scrolling will work once flipped.  Not a big deal for me as I only wanted two finger scrolling available anyway.

 

Conclusion

So, do I feel it was worth my 2 grand?  Yes, very much so.  It’s a fast capable machine and very portable.  The audio output from this thing is surprisingly good while the noise levels from fans is impressively low.  It gets hot while gaming, but in the right spots.  You don’t want to use this thing on your lap and game, but you don’t want to do that with most gaming laptops.  On a desk the heat is perfectly manageable, in fact, you barely notice it. 

I love the fact the machine shipped with no bloat.  There is no recovery disk/USB stick, which is a bit disappointing.  Losing 15GB of a 256GB drive to a recovery partition is a bitter pill to swallow, would be even harder if I ordered the 128GB model.

In terms of the hardware, it’s very well made, very solid with no flexing.  The lack of a ethernet port is disappointing but the wireless is rock solid.  The screen is effective but certainly doesn’t wow me, if that makes sense.

The machine is very one of a kind right now.  The size and performance combo currently cannot be matched, but you are paying a premium for that combination.  If you don’t need the performance, you can get comparably built machines much cheaper ( such as the MacBook Air, or some premium Ultrabook models ) but you wont get the performance to play modern games or running demanding applications.  You can certainly get higher performance ( but currently not much higher with laptops ) at a lower price… but these machines certainly push the definition of “portable”.  This is to say nothing about build quality… I’ve owned a number of laptops and this is easily has one of the highest build qualities I’ve seen.

 

 

Dimensions and comparisons

Given that the machines dimensions are a big part of it, here are a series of comparison shots relative to other laptops I currently own.  It gives you a pretty good idea of it’s size.

 

Here is the 13” 2013 Macbook Air stacked on top of the Razer, on top of a Dell Studio 17, on top of a 15” Asus G53SX:

11

 

Here are the Asus, Razer and Macbook Air from above:

12

 

Now here are the Razer and Macbook from the side.

15

Front:

13

Back:

14

 

I’m not sure I buy the claim it’s thinner at the thickest part than the MacBook Air.

Totally Off Topic


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