Easy Street: Using Standard Industry Tools

This was a guest post for the Mass DiGI blog I wrote in July, 2013.

My game development history goes back many years from working on games during my free time in high school to helping out on various teams. Currently, I’m working with my own team, Play Nimbus, at the MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP).

When I started in SIP this past May, I knew I’d learn and expand upon my previous skills a lot. SIP brings 21 undergraduate and graduate students from across the Northeast together to work on several different game projects alongside industry mentors and advisors. Our team’s project is Wobbles. Wobbles, which won the student entertainment category at the MassDiGI Game Challenge back in March, is a game where you guide creatures across a treacherous landscape by placing various gadgets.

Since day one at SIP, we were aware that many problems arise during game production. Problems such as the trouble of managing all of our files as they pass from person to person, the difficulty of sending out new versions of our game to the rest of the program partners to test, (as well as our friends and family), and the challenge of being able to track who is playing our game. We quickly learned and adopted industry standard software tools such as PerforceTestFlight and Game Analytics for Wobbles – and for every project at SIP. Each of these software packages allows us to easily solve the problems mentioned above.

Perforce, a source control software, was something I have heard almost every time I talked with someone in the industry about keeping a project’s files managed. I attempted to use it once on an old project but never had a full production project that would allow me to fully use it. With Wobbles, we’ve utilized Perforce with our game files, allowing us to have a consistent and safe place where we can store our game’s files. When you have multiple programmers or artists who need to access the same files, issues occur. With Perforce, you are able to “check out” a file for editing, preventing mistakes or errors that happen when two people are using the same file.

When developing games, one thing you need to do is test them – and test them a lot. Testing doesn’t become easier the more familiar you become with the project, in fact it becomes harder. Once you exhaust the ability to just bring your iPad over to one of your colleague’s desk, you need to go further. Unfortunately, Apple lock’s the apps you create to a device, thus you must find a way to share it with new testers. That’s where TestFlight comes in.

TestFlight is a vital piece of software that we are using for testing. TestFlight allows us to easily distribute the latest builds of our games to everyone here within the program, our mentors, and other testers that may not be in the area. It saves us time and trouble and it gets us feedback from testers quickly.

One very important thing we knew we needed to do is analyze our players. Sure, we can stand next to players with a notepad and a pen and take notes but you’re not always standing next to them. So, when we send a build of our game to someone we can’t watch play, we use Game Analytics.

Game Analytics is probably the most important piece of software that we’ve used on Wobbles and all of the projects in SIP. Using analytics allows us to see who’s playing our game in-real time. We are able to see where people are getting stuck, how many people are coming back to play, how long people are playing, and many other really valuable statistics. Without this, we’d be unable to figure out how our testers who aren’t in the same room with us are doing. Game Analytics will also help when our game is released to track total number of downloads and how interested in the game people are.

The software we’re using in the Summer Innovation Program is not only ultimately benefiting our projects, but better positioning us to work in the industry. The tools we are using impact each and every project in SIP and allow us to have a streamlined, flexible workflow. Using industry standard software such as TestFlight, Perforce and Game Analytics allows us to learn more, improve our project and become better game developers.