[Archives] Using my Microsoft Surface Pro for Game Development

Archives, Game Development, Review

My big splurge of 2015 was getting a Surface Pro to replace my poor, zombie, 5-year old laptop.  That lappy carried me through all my college work, died the day I got home after graduating, was resurrected, and has been on a steady decline since.  After spending a month traveling to visit family over the holidays, I knew I needed to replace if if I had any plans on working outside of my home.
I’ve had my Surface for about two months now and used it during Global Game Jam, and aside from weird issues now and then and some Windows 10 quirks, it works great.  I have a Surface Pro 4, i5 processor, with 256 GB hard drive and 8GB RAM.  

Here’s how my Surface Pro is faring so far for game development:

The programs I use:

So far, I’ve developed using Construct 2, Photoshop, and Graphics Gale (a pixel art editor).  I’ve also used Blender briefly, during Global Game Jam.
The Surface Pro works extremely well for drawing in Photoshop and other programs.  It’s like a small, portable Cintiq.  My only gripes are that I wish I could have some shortcut buttons on the screen, so I didn’t have to flip my keyboard out to use keyboard shortcuts.**  I’m sure I can download an app for that though. (**UPDATE:  I’ve since downloaded a Windows app called Tablet Pro that does exactly what I want.)  I also occasionally accidentally touch my hand to the screen, which will sometimes activate a touch gesture or something. It doesn’t happen often and it’s not inhibitive to work, but it’s annoying and there doesn’t seem to be a way to turn certain gestures off in Windows 10.  The surface heats up a bit using Photoshop, but that’s largely dependent on document size.
Having a livestream open, or having streaming software open, causes the Surface to heat up rapidly, meaning I cannot stream off of this device.  This is usually fine, since I stream from my desktop, but it means I wouldn’t be able to stream during an event such as Global Game Jam.  Blender did not seem to cause the Surface to heat up during the game jam, though our models were very low-poly.
I have not yet attempted to use a 3D engine like Unity with my Surface, so I’m not sure how that will hold up.  I also haven’t had to use any of my sound or music programs on the Surface yet, but I’m sure they’ll do fine.

How I’m liking it:

The surface was much smaller than I had thought it would be, though I’m not sure why I thought it’d be larger than any other tablet.  The small screen and keyboard take some getting used to, but by the end of the 48-hour game jam I was extremely comfortable with the device and was using it like I would a regular laptop.
It only comes with one USB port, so I recommend getting a bluetooth mouse instead of a USB mouse, to free up that port for any needed uses.  I have the Microsoft Arc Touch mouse, a thin bluetooth mouse with a touchpad instead of a scroll wheel.  The mouse turns on by folding into an arc, and then turns off by folding flat for extremely easy storage.  It goes great with my Surface, and fits in the thin case that came with the tablet.
I love the charger – it snaps in magnetically and fits both “right side up” and “upside-down”, meaning the wire will never twist or bend in an awkward way (a feature I wish my Wacom Intuos had).  It also has a built-in USB port for power, meaning I only need to use one plug for charging both my phone and my Surface – great for traveling!

In all, this tablet is great, and while I prefer working from my desktop most of the time, I find myself grabbing this more for drawing than I’d grab my Wacom tablet.