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Friday, August 23, 2013

Developing On A Budget

As an independent developer, finding the right tools to do your job without breaking the bank can be a very stressful experience. Everywhere you go you see subscription fees, license fees, parking fees, and it can be really difficult to determine whether or not these products are worth the cost, and how much time you would have to dedicate if you were to avoid these products altogether.

Well have no fear, for I am here! With a list of the programs and products that I use, and LoneWolfPack Interactive uses on a daily basis. We have not had to pay a dime for any of these programs, and without them we wouldn't be where we are today. These range from project management, to asset creation, and I will be running through the list on all of them.


Project Management

Getting yourself organized can be a very tedious process. Sometimes you just don't know where to start and what is available for you to use. Here is a list of programs and services that will make organizing and managing yourself a lot easier, without breaking the bank.

BitBucket - https://bitbucket.org/



BitBucket is a service that offers unlimited private code repositories, allowing you to collaborate and manage your code using Git or Mercurial. If you have teams of 5 or less, you can use BitBucket completely free of charge, which is perfect for small teams of developers looking for a place to host their code repositories.

On top of being able to host your code, BitBucket also has a very basic issue tracker, the ability to create a wiki for your projects, and has a services feature, which allows you integrate plugins for other services such as Twitter, Fogbugz, Basecamp and many more.

If you are looking for a very inexpensive(free) way to host code repositories, BitBucket is definitely the way to go.

Costs:
Up to 5 users: FREE

Up to 10 users: $10/month
Up to 25 users:$25/month
Up to 50 users:$50/month
Up to 100 users:$100/month
Unlimited users:$200/month


Google Drive - http://www.google.com/drive




Google is slowly taking over the internet, offering services that would normally cost money for absolutely nothing. One of the most handy services that this evil company offers is Google Drive.

Google drive allows you do create word documents, excel documents, power points, and basically anything else you can get from a basic Microsoft Office suite, and it allows you to edit and manipulate your documents in real time with your team. This feature is extremely handy when you are fleshing ideas out or going over your GDD and asset list. Now everyone that takes part in design can take their own section of a document, provide feedback as someone is filling in details, and troll each other while they are trying to get work done.

Plus once you have finished up your documents, if you need to mail them out, you can save them as common formats such as PDFs, Word/Excel documents and even OpenOffice documents.

If that's not enough, there are even extensions for Google Drive that allow you to create things like Gantt charts and many other handy tools to help organize and speed your process up. If you are on the go, grab the Google Drive app for your phone or tablet, and you can edit and collaborate on the move.

If you are looking for an inexpensive alternative to Office365 or some other office tools program, Google Drive is the way to go. For the massive cost of free, the ability to collaborate, edit on the move, and create/install extensions is extremely handy and is definitely worth checking out.

Costs: 
15 GB of Storage: FREE

100 GB of Storage: 4.99/month
200 GB of Storage: 9.99/month
400 GB of Storage: 19.99/month
1 TB of Storage: 49.99/month
2 TB of Storage: 99.99/month
4 TB of Storage: 199.99/month
8 TB of Storage: 399.99/month
16 TB of Storage: 799.99/month


Dropbox - https://www.dropbox.com/




Dropbox has picked up a lot of steam in the last few years, and for good reason, it is an extremely useful tool. The ability to drag a file into your Dropbox folder and have it automatically download to everyone that shares that folder saves more time than you can imagine. Does your artist have a new concept that he wants everyone to see? Just toss it on the Dropbox. Was there an update to an animation for one of your characters? Just toss it on the Dropbox. Did you just create a new build of your tablet game? Toss it on the Dropbox, and then everyone can open up the Dropbox app on their tablet and install it right from there.

If you are using Dropbox for free, you are somewhat limited in space. You start with a maximum of 2GB of storage, but if you invite a friend and they download and install Dropbox, you get an extra 500MB of space, up to a maximum of 16GB (18GB in total). So if 2GB of space isn't enough for you, just shoot an email to your friends, and watch your space grow.

For the low low price of free, this tool is extremely useful. Even if you don't transfer assets back and forth with it, just being able to toss an Android build on it and install it straight to everyone's device is worth checking it out.

Costs: 

2GB of space (Up to 18GB) : FREE

Pro
100 GB of space: $9.99/month or $99.00/year
200 GB of space: $19.99/month or $199.00/year
500 GB of space: $49.99/month or $499.00/year

Business
Unlimited Space: $795/year for 5 users, $125/year for each additional user


TortoiseHg - http://tortoisehg.bitbucket.org/




At LoneWolfPack Interactive, and for my own personal projects, Mercurial is used for version control. While command line is pretty awesome in some cases, none of us were around during the DOS ages, so we like a clicky interface, with buttons and pretty graphics. This is where TortoiseHg comes in. TortoiseHg is a shell extension for Mercurial, that provides context menus and icons in your file explorer. It also comes with merge tools, a workbench for viewing your repository in detail, and a bunch of other windows that make it much easier to add commit messages, ignore files and a whole ton more.

If you are a Mercurial user, TortoiseHg is a great tool. For the low price of free, this open source tool is great for everyone that uses Mercurial for version control, and if you are a source code kind of guy like me, you can grab the source and look through it if you want to.

Cost: FREE


Trello - https://trello.com/



Trello is a new service that I was recently pointed to. Basically what it is, is a task list service that allows you to create tasks in detail, assign them to people, assign deadlines, and click and drag them to the appropriate task list.

Trello makes creating your to-do lists much easier and more organized. It also provides you with online collaboration with everyone in your project, so everyone can fill out task cards, check off the competed tasks, and assign work to each other in real time. It is an extremely simple service, but it is pretty cool and handy to have around.

I think you guys are probably noticing the pattern here, because Trello is also free to use.

Costs:

Basic: FREE
Business Class: $25/month or $200/year


Asset Creation


Asset creation on a budget can be daunting. There are many horror stories from people using free programs, and there are just as many horror stories from people who spend the big bucks. So where do you go? What products do you use if you are trying to save a few pennies? The programs listed here will provide you with a very solid base to create your assets and make your games.


Blender - http://www.blender.org/




Blender has had a bad rap for it's learning curve. Moving from Maya or 3DSMax to Blender has always thrown people for a loop, and it isn't used as often as the other "standard" 3D modelling programs in the industry.

As a programmer, any art tool is going to throw me off, but I have to say that when I opened and started using Blender, it was expecting way worse, and after about an hour or so I preferred blender over Max and Maya. My biggest problem with Blender was its default control scheme for moving the camera around with the mouse. After 10 minutes I figured out where the keyboard preferences were, I changed them so that I could control the camera like you do in Maya or Unity, and Blender was like a whole new program. It was as easy to get the hang of as Maya, but had as many shortcuts and tools as 3DS Max did (Boy did I ever miss the modifier list when I started using Maya).

Another benefit that Blender has is that it is open source, so you if there are any bugs in the software, they are usually ironed out in a few weeks or so. It's pretty amazing that you can have better customer support and updates from a free open source program than you do from a $3000 program like Maya or 3DS Max. Also like I mentioned with a previous program, I am a source code kind of guy, so I think it's great to be able to download the source and look through it if I get curious.

I think that if Blender really was that bad, and the interface wasn't very user friendly, the issues have been fixed and it deserves another try.

Cost: FREE (But you can donate to the developers)


GIMP - http://www.gimp.org/




GIMP is the open source alternative to Photoshop. It isn't as user friendly as Photoshop, and it doesn't come with as many built in plugins and brushes as photoshop, but once you get used to the interface, and download a few plugins from the plugin database, you'll never really need photoshop again.

It has an interesting layout, where the toolbox and other windows are floating, and that takes some getting used to, but once you get past the odd layout, the program isn't half bad. It's fast, it's light, and its open source for the code curious. GIMP also allows you to export your images as a ton of different formats like any image editing program should. In general it is just a solid alternative to Photoshop, much better than a lot of the others out there. I'm looking at you Paint.Net.

Cost: FREE (But you can donate to the developers)


Audacity - http://audacity.sourceforge.net/



Audacity is a very basic audio editing tool. Out of the box it provides you with the tools to clip, stretch, and manipulate audio files. It also comes with a few basic filters that you can apply to your audio, giving them basic reverb and effects to improve your sound.

I think one of Audacity's strong points is the ability to import VST effects, so if you have purchased or downloaded any free VSTs, you can drag them into the Audacity plugins folder and get access to your favourite effects. Audacity is by no means a replacement for something like Logic Pro or Adobe Audition, but if you need something to quickly trim dead noise, or just need something for very basic audio editing, Audacity will be perfect for you. Plus it's open source, so that's a bonus too.

Cost: FREE (But you can donate to the developers)


Unity - http://unity3d.com/



And then there is Unity. It took about 11 minutes for me to get hooked on Unity, after having a not so pleasant experience with the UDK. 

Unity offers a free version to all developers, which basically strips out features such as occlusion culling, static batching, and the profiler, and depending on who you ask, those three on their own are worth the pro license. The Unity engine allows for extremely easy customization of the editor, and basically everything is drag and drop to attach components to object. You can use three different languages to program in, which are C#, Javascript and Boo(which is something like Python). 

On top of being easy to develop for, you can distribute it to multiple platforms at a touch of a button. If you want to see if your PC game translates to a tablet, fiddle with the settings and build it to see. About a month before this post Unity made the basic mobile licenses free to use, so now you can develop for iOS and Android for free (other than the one time fees associated with the Apple and Google developer accounts of course).

I could rant and rave about Unity all day, but at the end of it all, just try it out. It's free, and as long as you don't make more than $100,000, you can make as many games and sell them without having to worry about Unity asking for a few bucks.

Costs:

Unity Basic (Comes with basic mobile licenses): FREE
Unity Pro: $1500
iOS Pro: $1500
Android Pro: $1500
BlackBerry 10 Pro: $1500
Team License: $500 (Team license allows for collaboration so multiple people can edit the same level and see the changes in real time)


So all in all, you can see that there are plenty of options available that allow for free/extremely inexpensive development. Stick with open source where you can, and don't be afraid to look around for an alternative to a paid program, because you just might be surprised at how functional and how easy they are to get the hang of. 

That's all for today! Try not to spend too much time counting all of the money you saved! And don't forget to point people to this article if you enjoyed it!