Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Free Collaboration Tools for Remote Teams

I've just finished my first full-scale game development project, from design all the way through post-launch marketing, and I've learned a great deal in the process. My development partner and I started from scratch to develop a new Hangman app for Android and the Web called Classic Hangman Game (very original name, I know, but it's necessary for discoverability on Google Play until genres and descriptive terms can be searched for).

One of the things we had to tackle right away was to put together a viable workflow and a suite of tools that would allow us to work together, even though we live on different sides of the country. After a few hours of trial and error, we found a group of tools that allowed us to work efficiently throughout the project, whether we were working independently or at the same time.

Dropbox

The first challenge we faced was figuring out how to share and concurrently access project files and resources. We both needed continually up-to-date access to source files, images, sounds and all of the supporting files that Unity produces on its own. We found Dropbox to be an excellent solution, and we've since used it at the Global Game Jam 2013 in Denver.

Dropbox is a free cloud file-storage system with options for premium upgrades. The service allows users to synch folders on any PC or mobile device to any other, while also being able to access the folders and their contents on the web. After a quick download, we both had Dropbox folders on our machines, and we could both access the same files at will. As an added bonus, we regularly received notifications when files in Dropbox folders had been changed, so we always knew when the other person had worked on something.

Google Drive

Google Drive works in much the same way as Dropbox, but with the added bonus of having Google Docs built in. Dropbox takes a bit of time to synch files, whereas shared Google Docs are updated almost instantly for all users. We used Google Drive and Docs to share text files -- mainly our design document. We found that we could both have the design doc open, and changes made by one of us would immediately be reflected on the other's screen. We revisited the design doc frequently, and usually designated one of us to make changes to the doc while we spoke over Google Talk.

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is an excellent tool for remote collaboration and communication. The things we found most useful were the speed and ease of setting up a conference, and the ability to share our screens with each other. Using Hangouts, one of us could view the other's screen, if needed, while we worked. This proved invaluable for solving engineering problems together, or walking through administrative processes such as setting up various developer accounts online. The one drawback to Hangouts is that it tends to be processor intensive compared to other voice chat services. To solve that problem, we turned to Google Talk.

Google Talk

Talk is a much more lightweight and simple voice chat program than Hangouts. Whenever we needed to free up resources, such as during play tests or project building, we would switch from Hangouts to Talk for a smoother experience. This is also our go-to program for Starcraft 2 breaks, again to free up system resources.

With this suite of tools in hand, we were able to successfully see our project through to completion, from design to publishing and post-launch support. If you've found this article helpful, please take a moment to check out the fruit of our labor: our first game, Hangman for Android! If you would rather play on the web, come on over to my portfolio website at www.davesingram.com.

Play Classic Hangman Game (Free) Now on Android!
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.Volume.Hangman.Free


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