Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: Tools of the Trade II

Erin Hoffman | 20 Jun 2008 17:00
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Following up this month's Inside Job rundown on the basics of game development tools, I asked game developers about their tools, starting with software development tools that streamline or otherwise enhance the development process.

Programming Tools

Programmers, likely because of the analytical nature of their profession, tend to be the most tools-focused. While they may have a love-hate relationship with its implementation, version control is paramount; but primary code-accessing tools come as a fast second.

I miss VisualStudio. The Microsoft monopoly bums me out because I'd love to use the VisualStudio IDE for every language (Java, ActionScript, etc.). Although, it seems like C++ has taken a backseat to C# in later editions of VS.

I'm in the process of setting up Subversion as that's what all my colleagues use for source control now.
-- Ralph Barbagallo, President and Owner, FLARB LLC; author of Wireless Game Development in C/C++ with Brew

Often, tool use does propagate within social networks: If your client uses a particular tool, you'd better learn to use it as well, or at least integrate it with your existing systems. Visual Studio is such a common software tool that it's almost not worth discussing, but that it continues to improve is worth noting in the scope of process improvement across the industry as a whole:

If I'm coding C++, VB, or ASP.NET, Visual Studio is essential. The intellisense feature, which other apps mimic but in my opinion not as well, means I don't have to go looking for the names of class members and parameters. It also gives me immediate feedback that I take for granted now on things like whether I'm working with a pointer and whether my variable is in scope. I would quantify this by the hours I save not searching and being confused. (I'm confused enough as it is.)

It's also important to note that Visual Studio is constantly being improved. I'm citing a report that shows a quantitative productivity difference between VS 6 and VS 2005 that I think everyone who has used both can vouch for.
-- Jeff Stanley, AI Engineer, Destineer Studios

Design Tools

Prototyping, whether for a larger game mechanic or a simple mathematical test case, is a concept that peaked around 2003 in development discussion, but hasn't been picked up again, even though the tools for prototyping themselves have improved:

I'll suggest something a little different ... Flash! It might not be the technology you want to use to create your game, but in a lot of situations it is very suitable to develop quick prototypes that allow you to test your game-ideas.
-- Simon Groenwolt, Senior Software Developer, Gamewise

In this case, "design" might not just mean "game design," but software design at its core - one of the most difficult concepts to teach and enforce among programmers.

Whether technical or abstract, organizing design documents is an interesting problem in and of itself. With the iterative nature of game design, and alterations made to the design not just by the developers but in response to publisher or licensor feedback, the standard method of housing design documents in static word processing files isn't always optimal. Many studios keep internal wikis or intranet websites updated with the latest design information; unlike word documents, webpages easily interlink and reference each other cleanly, without large blocks of text that might not apply to the specific issue at hand.

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