5 min read

Opinion: The toolbox

In this reprinted #altdevblogaday opinion piece, former KmmGames senior game programmer Michael Carr-Robb-John offers a peek inside his physical game development toolbox.
[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday opinion piece, former KmmGames senior game programmer Michael Carr-Robb-John offers a peek inside his physical game development toolbox.] Tools are at the core of game development; not only do we use tools extensively but it's common practice to construct new tools as and when necessary. I could argue that some have a tendency to build a brand new hammer every time they need a nail in the wall, but that's not what I want to talk about today. Instead I thought it would be interesting to take a peek inside one of my development toolboxes. I say boxes because as an engineer, I actually have two boxes: my physical toolbox is what I carry around in my backpack on a daily basis, while the second is virtual, and I might talk about that in another post. The physical toolbox I really wish that my toolbox oozed as much style and sophistication as this…
Everything about it says this toolbox belongs to a master craftsman. Alas the modern era engineers toolbox isn't quite as impressive. This is my current toolbox…
My tools.
The notepad I find it very difficult to keep everything in my head and so I tend to write lots of notes, I draw diagrams, I scribble, I doodle, and sometimes I start writing code on paper before moving to the computer. I sticky tape print-outs into the notebook, and I slap in post-it notes when necessarily. I use this form of working because it works for me, as simple as that. I generally go through two or three notepads on each project, which are then archived into a storage box when the game is finished and shipped. The diary Here is where I write up what I have done each day, and it has proven very useful in gathering historical data such as actual task durations. An added bonus comes at the end of each year when I feel like I haven't achieved much; a quick look through and I can see exactly what I have done, and it's always more than I remember. Writing in the diary actually has a couple of psychological benefits that you wouldn't necessarily get if you didn't keep the diary. The first is it brings a sense of closure to the day. If you don't know what I mean by that or think I'm being silly, I recommend you try it for a month. The second benefit is that it makes you focus on the calendar and schedule. Notice the use of "focus on" rather than "look at". The iPad I use this tool to pretty much keep myself organized.
My front page contains all my most common apps.
How I use the apps:

Calendar – Schedule with lots of alarms.

Taptodo – Maintains my to do lists with the added bonus that it connects to my gmail account.

Notes – Most of my blog posts start life here.

WordPress – Blog post tools while I'm away from my computers.

SimpleMind – One of the best mind mapping tools I've found. Excellent for quick fire brain storming.

Idea Sketch – Very similar to SimpleMind except I use this more for planning and solving more complex problems.

Doodle Buddy – A tool for drawing diagrams.

ScrumBoard – My scrum board for personal projects and experiments.

Dropbox – A recent addition, I haven't quite got round to exploring what this can do yet.

MyPad+ – Facebook.

GoodReader – Used to read pdf's and text files while having a quite moment in the coffee house.

Post-its and pens Lots of uses post-it notes, always keep a good supply of these handy. Glasses Okay, so I need glasses when looking at a computer screen. Camera Everyone that works in game development should have a small pocket camera in their toolbox. There is so much truth in the famous phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words", except in our case it should be "A picture can save a lot of time." When something goes wrong in-game or doesn't quite look right, take a picture (or a film) of it to show the relevant people. The added bonus is that you also end up with a collection of blooper style images for the end of project party. There is another reason to always keep a camera nearby, and that is the historical aspect of game development. Use the camera to capture the team, the major events, the milestones, your office, your set-up, all the things that happen during the building of your awesome game. The games industry is continuously evolving at an incredible rate; if we don't capture what goes on during the development of our games, then it will be consigned to a memory that fades and eventually forgets. So what's in your toolbox? Many thanks to "Phoenixmasonry Masonic Museum and Library" for the use of their awesome toolbox image. [This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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