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  • Productivity Tools That Will Keep Your Team Organized

    [03.07.19]
    - Ryan Sumo
  • As game developers, we can get so focused on the craft of game making that we can sometimes forget that the tools we use outside of actual game development can be just as important to the process. Having the right tools can make the team much more productive, so knowing which tools work best for your team is key. Here I will go over some of the tools we've used previously, and what we have replaced them with to better suit our needs.

    From Hipchat to Flock

    Since we are mostly a virtual studio (we meet once a week to scrum, then spend the rest of the week working from home), having a good way to communicate online is absolutely necessary for us. When we first started developing Political Animals, company chats were still in their infancy, and Hipchat was one of the early companies providing this service. While Slack was around, Marnel preferred Hipchat because it had a much lighter chat client.

    Turns out the reason for this was that Hipchat was an incredibly primitive chat client compared to today's updated products. It became very frustrating to use Hipchat during long chats, when it was unclear to whom we were replying to in conversations. We ended up creating our own systems for this, like copying and pasting the message we were replying to, as if we were on a forum.

    So we were kind of amazed when we switched to Flock and all of its functionalities. The ability to reply to specific messages, create reminders and notes, and being able to create custom avatars for people and rooms just blew me away. It felt like the difference between dial-up and broadband internet, or SD vs HD. Once we switched over there was no going back.

    Flock over Slack

    The leader of company chat clients is Slack. You almost can't get away from slack advertising when listening to a podcast these days. In some ways this turned me off on Slack (I like rooting for the underdog). However we did try out Slack and some other products for a little bit just to see what it was like, and we still came back to Flock. The reason? Flock offers basically the same service as Slack, with a much more generous free version. They offer double the storage space (10GB) versus Slack (5GB) which means we have a lot more wiggle room when attaching files in chat. I'll write a more in-depth article in the future, but I highly recommend Flock for small teams.

    From Jira to HacknPlan

    Jira has long been hailed as the gold standard for agile project management. What they don't tell you is that for it to actually be useful, you need an actual full time project manager, or someone who is committed to that role. Unfortunately for us, we do not have anyone who is able to fully maximize Jira and all of its integrations. Vanilla Jira is, at least in our experience, painful to use. Basic things like looking up previous sprints consume way more time than necessary. Their strict adherence to the sprint methodology also created some annoying things like not being able to easily delete tasks (something that they added eventually). I was ready to move us off Jira as soon as I found a suitable replacement.

    Hacknplan is agile project management created specifically for game development. It's hard to immediately explain why Hacknplan is better than Jira for our needs. The easiest way to explain it is that while a good project manager could probably create amazing functionality using Jira, HacknPlan lets teams without a dedicated project manager just hit the ground running.

    My favorite thing about HacknPlan is its GDM, which is essentially a living game design document. Previously, I would often want to write down some game design ideas for future reference. I would put them in Jira's backlog, and there they would remain for the rest of their lives. HacknPlan's GDM lets me create a category or folder containing all of these design ideas, and lets me easily access them in the future when we've run out of tasks and need something new to work on.

    The best thing is that you can assign tasks directly from the GDM, meaning there is a direct connection to your daily work tasks and the higher level design, which is something that is lacking in most agile management tools. HacknPlan has some issues (the pricing tier and some limits on the free version can be a little annoying), but the benefits far outweigh them. I've become quite an evangelist, and will push HacknPlan onto any developer within earshot. I'm going to write a much more in-depth post about HacknPlan and how we use it in the future, but if you are a small team making a game, I absolutely recommend you use HacknPlan.

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