Apparatus

After collecting many information on video game production, I identify the needs of three major area of skill sets. First is the programming side that will structure the gameplay, storytelling, level design, etc. It can also set deployment of additional elements and features such as push notification, in-apps purchase, leaderboard, etc. Ensuring software coherence, stability and efficiency is also an important aspect in programming. This includes a feedback process of debugging (by performing beta testing) that will refine the quality of a game application. Second is the graphic arts part. These include graphic picture, animation, sprite, character development, art shader, promotional art picture and so on. Third is the sound effects and music of a game that will help the audience in engaging the game and set the ‘right mood’. Ideally, at least three people is needed in making a small-scale game that will cover each areas. But nowadays often there are only two people or even just one person building a video game. Since I am a one-man game developer, I will work on all of these three aspects.  Here are all the list of software and hardware that I will use in making the game.

Multipurpose

The New Razer Blade 2015

After my Sony Vaio VGN-FW490J starting to have problems due to old age (slow hard drive, broken laptop charger, etc), I need a new laptop replacement. After considering several options, I finally chose the new Razer Blade 2015 model. My previous laptops usually have large display and bulky. Although I do not mind carrying a heavy laptop with me, this time I want to have a light and elegant gaming laptop. Choosing this option will forgone additional performance for the same price level but it will suffice  for my general gaming sessions. I can play Dota 2 and League of Legends with high display settings using 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-4720HQ and GeForce GTX 970M with 3GB of VRAM. I mainly use Adobe CS6 Master Collection (especially adobe photoshop, illustrator and flash professional) and Gamemaker Studio 2 in making my game. I also quite often use a Wacom Intuos 5 Medium Touch along with the Adobe software.

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Macbook Pro 13.3-inch, mid 2012 model MD101, with upgraded 8Gb of RAM

I am not an apple fan boy and bought this laptop out of necessity. If you want to deploy your game to iOS or Mac OS you need to have a Mac. Actually, in the beginning the plan is also for my wife to use it occasionally in her work place. But in reality she rarely use it since she already have a fine desktop sitting on her desk. After I decide it to use Ableton to produce sound and music for my video game, I installed the software with its huge library of sounds (around 54Gb) to this Mac. My Adobe CS6 Master Collection software license is only for Windows PC. Therefore, I mainly use the Mac with M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 for experimenting and producing sound and music for my video game.

Although I do not have any music background, I will self-taught myself to produce an original sound and music for my game. I would say my sense of music is not that bad and actually I often has an original music melody in my head coming from nowhere (I experience this since I was a little kid) but I just do not know how to write it into a composition. I was raised in a family that does not count music education as important. I hope my sound and music production equipments will help me unleash the melody. In addition, I use free software Audacity to edit and convert uncompressed sound and music produced from Ableton into other compressed format such as MP3. Actually, iTunes can also perform the conversion format and is recommended by Ableton for Mac users.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 P585 (LTE/Wi-Fi) with S Pen and 16Gb of storage (2016)

My old Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 3G and Wifi version with 16Gb of storage (First Generation) finally died after 4 years. During its last year, the old tablet shows many problems (charging problem, slow start up, random freezes during use, etc.). Since I have a feeling that it will need to be replaced soon, I have backed up all the essential files into an external hard drive. After researching for a new tablet, I chose Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 P585 (LTE/Wi-Fi) with S Pen as a replacement.

I chose the same brand because it will make it easier for me to transfer the old files from my previous tablet. I am happy with my purchase since the transfer process is very smooth and easy. I also pick the version that has and S Pen since I use it a lot in making my game design. The new tablet also has higher specification than the old one with lower price point. Price decrease on tablet technology has benefited me greatly. The specifications of this new tablet is more than enough for my current use. I hope the durability is higher than the old one (to survive more than 4 years).

This tablet can be used for a lot of things. One of my favourite features is the multitasking ability in opening multiple softwares in different windows, the ability to receive and making a phonecall and the ability to use a stylus with (improved) different levels of pressure sensitivity. I use the last feature very often to skecth my game arts and ideas using Samsung native software S note. I can open my old S note files without any problem after importing theThe pressure sensitivity makes my sketch more fluid and natural. For a more complex art sketch, I use Autodesk Sketchbook. In addition, I also use the tablet heavily for researching other popular android games and as a testing unit for Android deployment.

Game Engine

Gamemaker Studio 2 (new version)

When you want to make a game, eventually you will have to choose a game engine. A game engine is a system designed for the creation and development of video games. Nowadays, it is not needed to build everything from scratch in making a game. ‘Reinventing the wheel‘ by creating a new engine by yourself is not efficient and not recommended — especially when you do not have any experience in hardcore programming. There are many indie-friendly game engines these days for making various type of games. After many research, I decide it to use Gamemaker: Studio for my 2D games. Although you can make 3D games using Gamemaker: Studio, it is mainly optimized for making 2D games. They had a new version in the first-quarter of 2017, named Gamemaker Studio 2. I owned this version since April 2017 with desktop and mobile modules only. I bought it with 50 percent discount since I owned Gamemaker: Studio Master Collection. I chose to have desktop and mobile modules only, since I do not have any plan to release html5 or UWP games. For 3D games, I recommend using Unity game engine.

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Gamemaker: Studio Master Collection (old version)

The process of choosing a game engine is not easy for me since various people have their own preferences. Reading many different forums often will only lead you to a confusion. It is very hard to find a neutral opinion on different competing game engines. In the process, I decide it to try several game engines. Many of them offer free version of their software. After a lot of messing around, I feel most comfortable using Gamemaker: Studio (old version). Future update of the game engine also look promising and I found their huge forum is very helpful. Since 2017, I use gamemaker studio 2 (new version).

I will not discredit other game engines to defend my choice and try to persuade people to use Gamemaker: Studio/Gamemaker Studio 2. A game engine has its own strengths and weaknesses. I think what most important is the idea of our games and how to make it most entertaining to our audience. Endless debate on the best game engine is useless and unproductive.

Digital Art and Animation

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Wacom Intuos5 Touch (Medium size)

A majority of digital artists use various Wacom products. Wacom is a leader in interactive pen displays and digital drawing tablets. I choose to use Wacom Intuos5 Touch for its portability and versatility. Even though I just recently purchase it (late 2013), It has already help my workflow immensely. I am still learning to fully grasp its full potential and using it has been a great fun. In a short time, I has produced many images that can be used as assets for my game. The wireless feature is also great and the set up is super easy. I have been using it with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator CS6 without any problems. If you have an extra budget and know how to draw, I highly recommend this Wacom product.

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Adobe Creative Suite 6 Master Collection

Since I am a university lecturer, I got a great deal in buying the Adobe CS6 Master Collection Student Teacher Edition. I have a huge discount from an official reseller in Indonesia. This version also can be used commercially (Yay!). This software is my main tool for making the game assets. I often use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and Flash Professional for making digital art and animation for my game. Gamemaker: Studio plans to support flash and vector graphics import in their future update. I hope they will release the stable version soon. In the meantime, there are other ways to export my works on the adobe software into other acceptable formats.

Autodesk SketchBook for Android

I bought and installed this software in my Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 P585 (2016). I have been using it a lot for sketching a game idea, drawing a character, etc. One of the features I like the most is its ability to make layers. It helps me a lot in making a complex and detailed graphic art. It also has a rich content with more than 100 illustration tools. The price is reasonable too for its capability. Overall, it is a great tool to work with. Highly recommended.

Sound Effects and Music

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Ableton Live 9 Suite

In late 2013, I was reading a lot on the internet about music production for video game. In the process I stumble to a web page, featuring an interview with ‘C418’. It is the nickname of Daniel Rosenfeld, the man behind Minecraft’s music. I am impressed by his ability to produce high quality music without any formal music education. In his interview, he mention a software called Ableton. This is the first time I ever heard about Ableton. Not long after that, I try to gather many information about Ableton by visiting its official website, watching YouTube videos, and reading many forums and reviews on it. I fell in love with the software even before I get to play with it. I read and learn many things about home music production. It made me confident to try produce music and sound effects for my game.

Ableton Live is a software music sequencer and digital audio workstation (DAW). It is designed to be an instrument for live performances as well as a tool for composing, recording, arranging, mixing and mastering. It is also often used by DJs, as it offers a suite of controls for beatmaching, crossfading, and other effects used by turntablists. It has many capabilities coupled with other music hardware. Along the way, I also decided to add some music equipment for helping me in making music and sound effects for my game (you can see the list of my music equipment here in this web page). After acquiring the original latest version of the software, Ableton Live 9 Suite, I played around with it with joy and excitement. The software come with 54Gb of sounds library, 9 instruments and 40 effects. It also bundled with Max for Live that can be used to build costum instruments and effects. I also found in the library some cool instruments and sounds that I know will be great if I apply it to my game. I even can tweak the sound using Ableton Live by setting certain effects and change some parameters into it.

Sometimes I am still amazed that I have produced some music and sound effects of my own without any formal music education. I still need a lot of practice and learn a lot to unleash the full potential of the mucic software and hardware. I am not planning to be a DJ or turntablist or any professions related to professional music performance or production. I simply just want to produce original music and sound effects for my game.

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Ableton Push

This MIDI controller is a dedicated hardware designed for complete integration with Ableton Live 9. It is a multipurpose controller that is part-instrument, part-drum machine, part-live controller, part-arrangement and editing tool. You can compose, record, edit and mix entirely from the hardware.  After reading an in-depth review on the hardware, I decide it to buy a Korg nanoKONTROL2 to have a dedicated mixer controls. The review point out the limitation of arrangement tool feature in Ableton Push and propose a solution to add another mixer controls. Although I haven’t use the arrangement feature extensively by adding a Korg nanoKONTROL2 in my work, it might become handy in the future.

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Korg nanoKONTROL2

Using an Ableton Push for the first time, even for an amateur like me, is not that hard. Everything is so intuitive and there are many good video tutorials in the internet that will help you progressed. But I warned you, for a more advanced technique, it take a considerably amount of time to master it. If you practice a lot, eventually you will get better at it. You don’t need to master every techniques before you jump into making music with Ableton. Learning the basics is of course important and from there you can explore to many different areas. In my experience, when I want to have a certain sound in my music and feel limited, I try to find a tutorial or guide from videos or forums in the internet. Do not feel intimidate by watching the professionals perform. If you want to make music, just do it. Even if the result is horrible, at least you are learning something. I may seems over confidence, but I just want to make music and sound. That’s it.

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Novation Launchpad

Before I get my hand on Ableton Push, I decide it to get Novation Launchpad first. It is not as expensive as Ableton Push and it is a very popular music controller. It is an affordable and portable MIDI controller designed specifically for Ableton Live. The primary use of the Lauchpad is for triggering loops and sounds in Live’s Session View. It makes it easy to navigate the grid of otherwise a mouse or a keyboard. We also can use the Session View for experimenting with an arrangements or rearranging things while playing live. The navigation button also helps users to expand far beyond an 8 x 8 grid of clips. You can switch immediately from one clips to other clips beyond the grid you currently have control over.

The Launchpad also supports a Mixer mode to do things like adjusting the pan, fading and sending levels. Although it is a useful feature, it is not as convenient as dedicated knobs or faders. Finally, the Launchpad also has two User modes. You can use these to control just about anything in Live using MIDI learn. For example you can use the User modes to play an instrument. Usually, It is not recommended because the pad is not velocity sensitive. It means when you hit the pad lightly or strongly, the sound will always be the same. It does not permit you to add expressions in playing the instrument. This is different with Ableton Push, that has velocity sensitive pads. I now rarely use it when my Ableton Push arrived.

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M-Audio Keystation Mini 32

Playing an instrument using a MIDI controller, even as advanced as Ableton Push, sometimes feels different compare to a native instrument such as a keyboard. I opt this ultra-portable keyboard controller to fill that awkwardness. Although it only has 32 low-profile, velocity-sensitive mini-keys, it is more than enough for making my music. It also has 4 assignable control (three buttons and a knob) and a selectable velocity curves including one for drum programming. I use Ableton Push and this MIDI controller often for making my music. I usually come with the melody first and then add another track for the backgrounds. I use it also sometimes to experiment different sounds and effects for my game.

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Focusrite Scarlett Studio

Scarlett Studio is a bundle Focusrite products for recording home studio-quality music. You can record guitar, vocals, bass or other instruments directly into your computer, complete your recordings with studio effects and create a master mix. It consists of Scarlett 2i2  (USB audio interface with two inputs for connecting your microphone or instruments), Scarlett CM25 (studio condenser microphone with a large diaphragm for capturing detailed performances) and Scarlett HP60 (reference monitoring headphones, which allow you to monitor your recordings and listen to the playback from the computer). I use König & Meyer Popkiller along with the microphone to record clearer vocals.

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König & Meyer Popkiller

I mainly use these equipments for recording vocals and natural sounds. I want to put nice vocals and sounds into my game. It can be a deep voice saying ‘nice touch’, a loud ‘yihaa’ or some original sound effects for example from rubbing a plastics, hitting a wood, etc. Recording at home can be a little bit tricky. You need to find the right moment in doing it. Sometimes I do it at dawn to minimize recording background noises. I can later import it to Ableton and put some effects into it. The possibility is endless. For me, paying attention to the smallest detail of a game (even for a simple casual game) is very important to produce a high quality product. This include the music and sound effects quality of a game that is often ignored by an indie game developer.

Testing Units

 

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iPod Touch 5th generation with 32Gb of storage

I bought this iPod Touch because the screen aspect ratio and resolution display mimicking the iPhone 5 series. Also, it has lower hardware specifications than the iPhone. If my game works fine on the iPod Touch, theoretically it will also work on the iPhone. I read in many forums that an iPod Touch is sufficient as a testing unit for iOS deployment. Also an iPod Touch is much cheaper than an iPhone.

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iPad mini 2 Retina display with 32Gb of storage

The iPad mini has a close similar specification with the iPad Air (first generation). Although the screen size is smaller, the display resolution and aspect ratio is the same with its larger sibling. Both of them use the same chip but we do not know whether the chip’s setting is similar to one another. Apple did not disclose the information on the chip’s setting of both devices in detail. Consequently, as a testing unit, this generation of iPad mini will be quite sufficient. Also, the price is cheaper compare to an iPad Air. In addition, I also use these two Apple mobile products for researching other mobile games.

Samsung Galaxy S4 GT-I9515L with 16Gb of storage

Up until now, the Samsung Galaxy mobile phone series still largely rule the android galaxy with an explosion of energy and speed. My galaxy S4 still performs very well until this day. Its latest android update is 5.0.1 ‘Lollipop’. It is the last update for this phone and there will be no official support after that. This old phone can serve as a testing unit for my android game apps.  Since android devices vary immensely in capability, Gamemaker: Studio will only cover a majority of devices (it will only workwith Android 2.2 and above). Thus, it is not sufficient to have two testing units only (a tablet and a mobile phone) to cover a large range of phone specifications with different android versions.  But at least I can simulate the ‘feel’ of the game when played in those units with different screen size.