Review of Surface Pro 3 For Game Production

TL; DR: The Surface Pro 3 is a great day to day computer that is working well for me as the producer of Contraption Maker. Although I use the browser for much of my work, it natively runs our game really well, and I LOVE the stylus for drawing up designs.

The stylus of the Surface Pro 3 works on Contraption Maker with no modifcations.

The stylus of the Surface Pro 3 works on Contraption Maker with no modifcations.

Last year on the way up the Valve’s Steam Developer Days (SDD) Jon and I stopped in at the local Fry’s Electronics and on impulse I bought Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2. I was taken in by the fact that it ran real Windows and the ability of its stylus, which is amazing. In fact it was so good, Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik (Gabe) was drawing their comic with the stylus that pushed me over the edge. If it was good enough for PA, it would be good enough for my producer chicken scratch images I use to get my ideas across for new features. (UPDATE, Gabe is no longer using Surface Pros to create his comics.)

As soon as we got back from SDD, Microsoft killed the SP2, and announced a bigger screen Surface Pro 3 that fixed all of the bad stuff in SP2, which was mostly short battery life and a screen that was too small and in the wrong aspect ratio. So, I traded the SP2 to my partner Tim Aste for his huge, expensive stand up desk that he no longer wanted. Two weeks later, I pre-ordered my Surface Pro 3, and have been using it ever since.

When I first started using the SP3 on a day to day basis, I just plugged in a USB extender, a keyboard, mouse, and a big monitor and went to work. While this worked fine, my desktop was kind of messy, and it was hard to plug in new hardware. So, I made the decision to buy the official docking station.

Notice all of the messy cords, and it's hard to use as a tablet.

Notice all of the messy cords, and it’s hard to use as a tablet.

I plugged it in today, and I could not be happier. I bought it on Amazon for $159, which is $40 less than the price directly from Microsoft. An additional power supply is $70, so this price is not too bad considering the results. Check out how sano this made my workstation.

Notice how clean and neat my workstation is, and now it is easy to use as a tablet.

Notice how clean and neat my workstation is, and now it is easy to use as a tablet.

All of us at Spotkin try not to be religious about our operating systems, so we all have both Macs and Windows machines for development ( as well as iOS and Android devices). I have used a Macbook Air at home for four years, and a Windows box at the office. That said, I can’t wait for Windows 10 to come out and fix all of the problems with Windows 8.1. (NOTE: if you like W8.1, that is awesome, and please don’t hate on me for my opinion.)

I am not a normal user, with 100% of my work being done in a browser and in the cloud. The only native app that I run is Contraption Maker, which we (Spotkin) are purposely developing to run on lower end machines and older operating systems. I can say that Contraption Maker runs significantly faster on SP3 than my four year old Macbook Air, but that is to be expected. Surface Pro 3 is awesome for my needs, but I never run Photoshop, edit movies, or play high end games on this system.

Contraption Maker running on the Surface Pro 3. Stylus works without modifying the code.

Contraption Maker running on the Surface Pro 3. Stylus works without modifying the code.

My day consists of lots of research, writing up designs and presentations in Google Docs, making big drawings on white boards, and small drawings on paper or the Surface Pro 3. Here is the typical type of drawing that I create:

Surface Pro 3 drawing of an upcoming feature for Contraption Maker.

Surface Pro 3 drawing of an upcoming feature for Contraption Maker.

I think Microsoft is really onto something and the Surface Pro and new Surface 3 tablets are like looking a couple of years into the future. I guarantee that nearly all Android tablets will eventually have the features of a stylus and great attachable keyboard. I predict that Apple will even cave, and iPads will have these features. Meanwhile, even though Windows 8 is kind of a pain, I am really enjoying day to day work on the Surface Pro 3.

This document was first created by Jeff Tunnell, a long time game developer founding companies such as Dynamix, GarageGames, and PushButton Labs and making products and games such as The Incredible Machine, Tribes, Trophy Bass, Torque Game Engine, Social City, and many, many more. I am currently working hard in Spotkin, a start aimed at bringing smart games like Contraption Maker to kids and geeks around the world.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Follow me on Twitter @jefftunn

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    I know I should not be the first person to comment on my own blog post, but I had to blow the cobwebs out of the Disqus comments pipeline.

  • Jesus Hernandez

    Pretty excited to see them going strong with the surface. I’ve been on the fence but I think when the Surface pro 4 gets announced I might just dive in.