Steve Kelly's blog

Game Dev Workshops were a Success

Trevor teaching the Game Art Workshop

In association with the Galway Game Jam, we ran a three-day crash course in Game Development. The three days were spread out across three weeks, taking place in BOI's Workbench on Saturdays and covered art for games, Sound Design for games and finally, scripting using Unity 3D. The concept behind these workshops was to give absolute beginners an insight into the vast field of Gamedev and ultimately, to give them the skills necessary to take part in this month’s Galway Game Jam which takes place this Saturday, Aug. 27th in ThePorterShed.

Huge thanks to everyone who attended, it was awesome to be able to share our knowledge with you all.
 

 
Manus teaching everyone how to use Unity 3D
Steven teaching the Sound Design for Games Workshop
Manus teaching everyone how to code in C#
Steven teaching everyone how shaoe and design Sound Waveforms

DIY Game audio on a very tight Budget

Wallet clamped ShutIn the world of small studio Indie game development money is not exactly in abundance. In my experience the vast majority of your budget will be spent mostly on advertising/promotional materials like banners, business cards etc. With this in mind it’s clear to see that from within the barren wasteland of your Indie developer wallet, there are few funds left for expensive purchases like top class audio equipment or anything else for that matter. There are many studios who through some twist of fate or plain old soul selling have managed to secure millions of funding from investors but I can promise you, those Alchemists are few and far between. If you’re entering the games industry with the belief that you can make the games you want and still get millions of funding, you’re deluded. The truth is, in my experience, investors don’t care for games and as someone aptly put it to me “The games industry could go die in a fire for all they care!”. This may sound extreme but speaking from a certain level of experience now, I have to admit there is truth in that statement. Now that we’re all on the same page, I’ll go through how I, as a broke ass indie developer get through the day by making the best with the equipment I have around me, well, from an audio perspective at least.
First things first, extremely expensive audio equipment does not always yield extremely good results. You may think when setting out on your audio career that you absolutely need that €5,000.00 mixing desk, the two grand iMac, a €1000.00 Rhode shotgun Mic and those sweet €55,000.00 pair of Seinnheiser studio headphones to get the quality audio you need; again, hold up there, glance once more at the desolation that is your wallet/bank balance and you’re back down to earth.  
Now bear in mind that I’m not saying that good quality recording equipment doesn’t yield great quality audio. While expensive equipment may not necessarily make you a pro sound engineer by default, having good quality tools at your disposal can and will make your job considerably easier and can, in turn get you the results you want much more efficiently. However, again, speaking purely from personal experience, most indies don’t have the budget for that sort of equipment and so, it’s time for us to get creative and venture into the ever messy world of DIY sound effects.

Software
I discussed briefly how expensive equipment isn’t really an option but I forgot to mention software; yet another thorn in the side of the indie dev’s bank balance. Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software can be quite pricy for the audio beginner. A yearly subscription to Pro Tools right now will set you back about $300.00, a slightly fairer but still expensive option being the standard version of Ableton Live which will cost you €349.00 right now. Let’s be honest, 350 quid for a software package is just not an option, and do you really need such expensive software for starting out? If you’ve resolved that this is beyond your budget and no worries, there are so many awesome free, open source tools out there which can get you extremely good results. The first I’d like to mention is Audacity, it’s a free, open source audio recording and editing sweet which comes with loads of free effects and features. If you’re completely new to audio and want to dip your toe, go try audacity and be amazed at the stuff you can do with it. Next thing you may need is a full-featured DAW with virtual instruments and MIDI controller support to compose your own music; well, you’re in luck, there’s a great suite called Reaper which is free to try for 60 Days and after which your expected to purchase a license but you may continue using it for personal projects regardless.  I cannot stress how awesome Reaper is; it’s a fully professional, feature rich audio production suite available for next to nothing.  The only thing you need now are some VSTs/VSTIs (Virtual Instruments) so you can start making music and effects well guess what, there are free alternatives for that also. The main sites I’ve used for sourcing my instruments are VST4FREE and DSKMusic, both of which have a ton of useful effects and instruments available for free and the best part, Reaper supports these.

Hardware
Zoom H1 Handy RecorderYou’ll notice I haven’t touched on PCs but I’m assuming that if you’re part time dev, part time audio guy like me, you probably already have some sort of half (or quarter)-decent machine for that anyway; if not, how are you reading this?
Ok so software is easy enough to keep the cost low on, Google is full of free solutions to your audio software problems but I’m afraid hardware is where you’ll have to bite the bullet a little. Unless you live in some sort of blissful utopia where audio equipment is freely available and money’s no object, I’m afraid there’s no way out of a little expense. My advice in this field is to assess your budget and most importantly “Buy well, buy once!”. In order to know what you need, it’s helpful to know what you would like to achieve. For me, I wanted to record some sound effects using objects so I needed some sort of recorder; I was lucky enough to have over a hundred euro burning a hole in my pocket at the time so I bought the cheapest recorder I could afford, the Zoom H1 handy recorder. The H1 is a fantastic little device for the price. It has two condenser mics that pick up full stereo audio and can even record at relatively high sample rates. If you need a small portable recorder that can yield good quality results, save up and splash on the H1, it’s not perfect but it’s a great starter piece of kit.
 
 
 

HDTZ HT81 Shotgun Microphone
Secondly, you may want to focus on very specific areas when recording audio, for this you need a shotgun mic and these can be expensive depending on what you’re looking for.  If you just want something basic but directional, ebay may or may not be your best friend. There are some Chinese shotgun mics you can pick up for less than 30 quid if you’re really stuck. The two models you’ll find on there are unbranded mics that go by the models HDTZ HT81 and HDTZ HT320a. Both of these mics take a single AA battery for power and come with an XLR to 3.5mm cable. Do not connect these mics to a phantom power source as I’m not certain they can handle the 48V and may end up dying on you; the only power they need is provided by the battery.  I’m not saying these are professional mics but you can get some very decent results with some good setup and mic technique.
Last but not least, you may want to record some dialog or vocals, in which case you’ll need a phantom powered condenser mic to get that rich vocal quality. Again, these can be somewhat expensive but if you’re starting out and are looking for something cheap and cheerful, Ebay has a few solutions. There are unbranded condenser mics you all over ebay and amazon entitled the BM800 sometimes with the name, Shengyue on them. These can cost anything from €15-€30 depending on how hard you look. Don’t spend any more than €25 on one of these mics as there are many more reputable brand mics available for around the €50-€60 mark like the Behringer C-1 and if you have the money I would say go with the Behringer. Shengyue BM800 Microphone

However, this aside, the BM800 is a nice little mic to play around with. They usually come with a shockmount, foam windshield and an xlr to 3.5mm cable. Now a word of warning, this is a phantom powered mic and as such, plugging it directly into your pc’s mic port won’t work well at all. This mic needs to be powered before you’ll start hearing anything audible from it. To fix this you can buy a mini 48v Phantom power unit on ebay or amazon that will give you the voltage you need, just look around and you’ll find some dirt cheap units out there.  Bear in mind you’ll also need a female to male xlr cable also to plug the mic into the power unit and then use the provided cable to plug the unit into your PC.
Last but not least, you may need some extras such as deadcats(windshields), popshields, shockmounts and mic stands. Again you can find some great affordable things on ebay as long as you’re willing to wait the minimum 3 weeks for delivery from China. My tip for finding great deals on ebay is to search the item’s name, set the sorting to “Lowest first” and then on the left sidebar, check “Free Postage”. You should now have a list of extremely cheap results from China. If you’re ever in doubt of the product’s quality or effectiveness, look for reviews of it on youtube and then judge whether or not it’s for you.  



Special equipment
Our studio is currently working on a deep sea action adventure game called Sub-Species in which you pilot a submarine exploring the deepest trenches of the world’s oceans. With this came some interesting challenges; one of which was the need for underwater/water sounds. After searching online for some solutions I discovered that I needed a hydrophone, but they were too expensive for me at the time. Not one to give up I started to Google how to make a diy one and found some great stuff that pointed me in the right direction. In the end I bought some Piezo discs on ebay along with a 25ft stereo cable and build my own by soldering them together and sealing the mic inside a film canister using 2-part epoxy resin. This was messy work but after I had it built, I had a fully functional hydrophone for less than €10.00, as opposed to the hundred I could have paid for one.

DIY Hydropone
I’ve played around with the mic by filling a bath and dipping the hydrophone into it, then recording the result by plugging the mic into the H1, the results weren’t half bad:

 




 Conclusion
Long story short, indie game development is underfunded and difficult, but where funding stops, creativity begins. Many would turn their nose up at the concept of using a microphone purchased on ebay or built by themselves, but such people are, in my opinion missing the point slightly. To quote an overstated but ever truthful statement “It’s not about the cost but rather it’s about choosing the right mic for the job!”.  If you’re starting out in the audio field and haven’t a lot of money, I’d say experiment. You don’t have the option of expensive tools right now so why not buy what you can and build what you need. You may surprise yourself.
 
(P.S.: If anyone knows of how to get a decent quote for audio equipment in Ireland, please let me know; I have emailed everywhere in the country and nowhere seems interested in providing one.)  
Twitter: @Occivius
Email: stevenKelly@howlinghamster.com
 

Hey look, another deadline!

It's been a month since the release of our first mobile game, Goldbeard's Quest but it hasn't been all dwarven heroics and treasure hoarding. Making Goldbeard was fun, it was a welcome break from PC development and it's great to be able to say we have a product on the market, but focus has finally shifted back to our main project, Sub-Species (previously entitled “Trench”).

Though we took the Winter months to re-develop Goldbeard's Quest, we spent much of this time also planning our next steps with development of Sub-Species. In May last year, after 43 days of being on Steam, Sub-species finally got greenlit and this was a huge deal for us. This was in no doubt due to the fact that we had a publicly available 2 level demo which also got a few decent playthroughs from some youtubers at the time. Since then, we made the decision to take down the demo as we began to overhaul the control scheme and graphics. We've spent a long time without an available demo of the game as we feel that the previous build is now but a poor reflection of the game in it's current, more developed state.

 
Person using game controller

The true dark Art!

The world of Game marketing is a universe away from that of game development and those who call programming “A dark art” have clearly never compared it to the mysterious craft of successful game marketing. As three Game developers, we are novices to the marketing side and have only the limited experiences of other, similar developers to go on. Video games are different than almost every other tech product out there. In the world of tech products that focus on the solution of some problem and to “make the world a better place”, games simply don't fit in. Video games do not exist to solve any great problem, but they do serve to solve one very particular issue faced by millions worldwide; the need for entertainment. It's not the goal of the average game developer to “make the world a better place” but it is our duty to make it a more fun, engaging place to live. All this being said, there's no point in making a fun, awesome game that no one's ever going to see. With this in mind, as developers we've started to consider ways of getting the word out about Sub-species and have been researching video game publishers to see what they can do for us in the way of getting our game noticed. As a result of this we've made a plan to have a really polished second demo that we can show to people and give them a sense of what the finished product will look and play like, that is our primary goal right now, to have this ready sometime in the coming months. Due to our limited resources and ever contracting timeframe, we were not able to make GDC this year however, our head coder, Manus will be heading to EGX Rezzed in London this April and we aim to have something new and awesome for him to show there, all going well.

 
Road ahead!

We have a busy few months ahead of us but the plans have been set and the first mile of the road ahead is visible right now at least. Stay tuned for updates and keep an eye out for that new demo that we know people will enjoy playing.

 

Return of a Hero!

An old foe from Goldbeard's Quest. Remaking the game & releasing in January 2016 on the Play Store.

Goldbeard Dragon animation gif.

 

Ahh, the Cloud! That's not Steam, that's smoke!


Manus has been hard at work rewriting code and reworking the battle mode to get it working on a network! After only a few days of trying and testing, (with just a smidgen of swearing), we finally have the bones of a networked, multiplayer mode! It's early days yet and there are heaps of variables that have to be factored in and weighed up before we'll have anything to make publicly available but for the most part, we're working hard on it and it's coming together. With each victory however, comes a price. Shortly after taking the footage and some photographs to show you guys the Multiplayer working in real life, Manus's machine gave out a loud bang and died. The cause of this was a dodgy power supply unity and not, anything to do with the game which was running smoothly and continues to run well on our other machines. It's less than a week till Synapse and this was the last thing we needed but it seems to be a rule that with a deadline looming, the Gods of gamedev rarely throw a kind glance upon our efforts! Needless to say, we're getting on with it regardless and will still be demoing Sub-Species next Wednesday! See you there!

 

Trench has been Greenlit.

After 42 days of being on Greenlight, we've received an email from Steam earlier this evening to tell us that our game, Trench has officially been Greenlit by the community! It was a huge but very pleasant surprise to be Greenlit after what seems like such a short period of time! We, at Howlinghamster would like to thank everyone who took the time to Vote for us and to all those who continue to show support for our little indie game studio. 

New features being added to Trench!

We're currently testing out some new features that have been added to Trench in the last 2 weeks. Stay tuned for more info in the coming weeks & months.

New Features being tested by Howlinghamster team! New features of Trench being tested!