Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Indie Software Toolbox


For people that have been following me on twitter you know I have been involved in several renovation projects in my house this past few months.  During that time I often went to pick up tools from my toolbox (picture above), either to get the measure tape, the hammer, a Phillips screw driver, etc... so I can get the job done.

As an indie developer you will have to do the same once you start building your game/apps, so you will need a software toolbox that contains a few tools to help you accomplish this.  But also as being indie you might be running on a shoe string budget (I know we are here at Quebarium), so I've tried to find some good alternative that can help us get the job done without having to break our little piggy bank.

Let see what that Indie Software Toolbox could contain (those are my recommendation, feel free to give your suggestions in the comment section).

GRAPHICS
They are several tools that will let you do graphics, normally the most well known and popular software being Photoshop.  Sadly even though its a great tools, the cost for it can be quite prohibitive for most of us, unless you choose the lower end version called Photoshop Elements.  But they are a very interesting alternative that will set you back for the modest sum of 0$ and it's called GIMP.


If you already familiar with Photoshop then the transition shouldn't be too difficult, I had followed advance Photoshop previously and feel at home very quickly.  Another great advantage beside being free, its also OpenSource which will let you customize it to your particular need if needed, it also have a plugin architecture which let you add other filters.  And of course being OpenSource that's mean it has been ported to many different platforms, so you can easily use it on OSX, Windows, Linux, etc...

I have been using it almost exclusively for the past year, but recently I had to look at another tool.  The reason being that I needed to be able to generate graphics that will be easily scalable between hires and lowres.  And here come Inkscape to fit nicely in my toolbox at the incredible low price of 0$.  Like GIMP this is also an OpenSource software which is available on several platforms.


As you can see above it's quite possible to do graphics that really look like bitmap, but this is all vector graphics with filters.  Vectors drawing software have sure come a long way, its not just geometric shape and colours anymore.  And this will be quite handy for people interested in doing graphics for their games and target both iPhone/iPod touch, iPad and the new retina display from the iPhone 4.

But then maybe you are into old school retro graphics very much like @madgarden then they are also a tool for you which is called Pixen  which is relatively simple, but it does what you need to do, put a pixel on/off with the colour you have chosen.  It also let you do animation and generate sprite sheets.


Sadly this software seems to have been orphan, as the latest version of it is 3.1b2 and it hasn't  been updated in ages.  But they are some hope as the source is available so someone might continue to develop it.  But none the less, it has work well for me and it has let me draw some sprites the old fashion way like I use to do them on the C=64.  So definitely worth to check, especially its free so no money investment to make.

AUDIO

After acquiring the tools to make the visuals of your game, you also need to get a few audio tools to put in your toolbox.  You probably though of making your own epic orchestral music for your latest game and look at such tools as Logic Studio but found out the price was out of your budget.  Well one of the simple solution is to use Garage Band which come free with any new Mac (it's also part of the iLife suite available at 79$).


You can definitely make some awesome tracks with this tools as shown above (this is The Hand That Feeds from NIN which you can get here).  Please note that the NIN track use many pre-recorded samples/loops, but it's also possible to compose note by note with the instrument you choose (they are already a large selection of instrument and loops built in).  You can also plug in a MIDI keyboard to add more flexibility in entering notes/patterns.  Then you can export your creation via iTunes in AAC format so you can load it up in your game.

But then maybe you need to re-sample the audio file, do some other kind of editing on it (applying some filters, etc...) or simply change the audio format.  A good tools is Audacity which can probably do everything you need to do and more on an audio files.  Again this is an OpenSource software that is already available on several platforms and that you can get for the low price of 0$.


I would also recommend that you get the 1.3.12 beta version along with the FFmpeg import/export library which will allow you to convert MP3 to M4A.  And as noted by @Bob_at_BH devs require a MP3 license to replay audio files in that format, better then use the Apple format which is M4A and won't require additional licensing fees to pay.

All of those tools are too advance for you?  You just wanted to make some bloop bloop, pew pew pew sounds and you love those 8bit chip sounds as much as @madgarden do?  CFXR is the tools you're looking for, which is an OSX port of SFXR, I also found out recently that they are even an iPhone/iPod touch available here so you can make your sound on the go.


To use it quickly is quite simple, you simply press one of the preset buttons on the left side and it will generate some sound for you in that category.  You want to tweak the sound, then just play around with the different parameters, you can also choose which type of basic wave you will use to make your sound either a square, sine, etc...  Once you have the sound you like, it just a matter of pressing the export button to save it in a WAV file.

OFFICE/BUSINESS

Yes even if you are a developer you will need at some point to do some office/business work even more so if you are all by yourself and couldn't delegate those task to someone else.  The most important tools that you will need in this category is something to write up documents and do some spreadsheets.  Most people will be familiar with Microsoft Office as it's the one that is the standard in the business world, but this will take at minimum 149$ from your piggy bank.  The other very handy alternative is Open Office which doesn't require any penny from your piggy bank.  It also comes with the usual suspect : Text Document (eq. Word), Spreadsheet (eq. Excel), Presentation (eq. Powerpoint), Drawing, Database (eq. Access).


The good thing is that it support most of the popular format so you will  be able to either open/save documents made with other office suite software.  I was able to import successfully a document that was made with Office 2003 without any hiccups (shown above).  It's not perfect and you might have some formatting issue, but in general most document will open and display correctly.

You just launch your first game/apps on the AppStore and interested to see how well it does in the chart?  Well you can do it the long and painful way by checking every AppStore from within iTunes or if you want to be more efficient you can use Majicrank.  This is probably one of the most useful tools for an iDevelopers to track down ranking for both iPhone/iPad in the different charts.


It will let you to choose which AppStore you want to track (the main one or all) and it will track the up and down of your rank with the appropriate colours (the more green you see the better).  If you are more visuals person they are also an option to generate graphs, everyone love those graph!  The cost for all this? It's totally FREE, yes @majicDave is insane to give a very handy tools for so cheap.  But I highly recommend that you support his hard work by donating 20$ here if you are using it.

At the end of your business day and after seeing your game/app skyrocketing in the chart you might want to know how many sales/profits you made or generate other nice pie charts.  You will of course go see those reports available in iTunes Connect, but they are kinda kinda boring as its just some spreadsheet style list.  Interested in seeing more information and display them in a more visual way then you can get AppViz that is available for just 29$ (a free 30 day trial is also available).  Which let you import your iTunes Connect reports and process it in different ways.


This tools will be quite handy to visualize quickly some trends, see if your latest marketing efforts made any impact in any country, etc...  You can also track ranking a bit similar to Majicrank but only for your own apps as the former will let you track any apps.  And another handy features is that it will let you see reviews left by customers on the AppStore.

There you have it, your first basics Indie Software Toolbox!  They are many other tools available around, maybe your toolbox look different then mine (feel free to give your suggestions).  Don't worry if the tools you use isn't the most fancy or expensive one, you can always upgrade them later once you have more budget.  As the most important thing to remember is using the right tools for the job at hand and what you feel comfortable with.


This post is part of iDevBlogADay, a group of indie iPhone development blogs featuring two posts per day. You can keep up with iDevBlogADay through the web site, RSS feed, or Twitter.

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for the tips. I've never used OpenOffice on Mac, I heard that it is very heavy...

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  2. @max_dev

    You're welcome! I think its also heavy, it definitely wont win some speed contest ;-). I am currently running it on my Mac Mini 1.83ghz with 2.5gb RAM and its ok and does what I need.

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  3. Great post, lots of useful tools in here.

    A couple of thigns I'd add... Source control is important. Good choices are Subversion (SVN), Git or Mercurial, all free. My post last week has details on getting Mercurial set up (http://acornheroes.com/2010/07/distributed-version-control-getting-started) including offsite backup, all for free.

    Also, how about feature / bug tracking? I know some people who use Google Docs for this, @SnappyTouch uses Trac (I believe) and my favourite is FogBugz (once again, all free)

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  4. @George Sealy

    Thanks for the suggestion! Don't worry I already though of adding more of my tools from my toolbox to this post, but felt it was going to be too long ;-p. Ill definately going to make a part II of it ;-).

    I really like your article about Mercurial which I am in the process of setting up here. And I will also figure out how to use FogBugz which is also include with it. It really look promising and quite useful.

    We are also already using Google Apps for the rest of our stuff (email, calendar, docs) and its quite convenient. I am thinking to do a specific post about this on how to setup your own business with it as its quite handy.

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  5. Nice list!

    For the more visually minded who use SVN, we like Cornerstone from http://zennaware.com/

    Also, TextWrangler (free) or BBEdit are a critical part of my toolbox - finding differences between two directory hierarchies, search a ton of files at once, merging changes from one to another, opening files to see what's inside them (spelunking), etc.

    I also use Accessorizer which has a somewhat odd UI, but is pretty useful and very reasonable priced: http://www.kevincallahan.org/software/accessorizer.html

    For bug tracking and wiki spec shared spec writing with svn integration, Trac (http://trac.edgewall.org/) is an easy to use tool. Hosting by many people (http://projectlocker.com - cheap (free with adds, $30/year and up without) bare bones svn/git + trac) or pretty easy to setup yourself. http://Unfuddle.com has a custom bug/feature tracking solution with svn/git integration but more expensive.


    ciao,
    - dad

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  6. NewTek... look like there is an Amiga Toaster under the top toolkit? ;) hehe!

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