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Trello: simple task management for a tiny team


I just wanted to write a quick post about a very useful, indispensable, task management tool – especially for small teams: Trello. On the surface, it appears to be a simple todo list, but it’s very open-ended and fun to use, and has terrific mobile apps to boot!

Some of the completed todos on Hawken during crunch

Some of the completed todos on Hawken during crunch

When I worked on Hawken at Adhesive Games, we used some more robust and deeper tools out of necessity. The team grew quite large over time, which required our task management system (Atlassian JIRA) to be tightly integrated with our source control system (Perforce). However there were many periods of intense crunch, and for some of the strictly bug-squashing weeks we needed to be more agile and moved to a quick system of using post-it notes on a big wall. There is a real visceral sense of accomplishment when you grab a note and move it to the “done” stack, and it’s easier to see the massive progress from the team as a whole – a great morale booster. Trello mirrors this approach, and that’s why it’s so satisfying. As a fun fact: the Hawken team started out using Trello when we were only about 9 people or so.

As Sombr is an extremely small (as small as it gets) studio, I like to organize my Trello boards as such:

Trello Boards

  • Company Tasks (business items, marketing, legal, registrations, etc)
  • Game Dev (engineering tasks and bugs for the project)
  • Game Ideas (any feature ideas still in consideration before going to implementation)
  • Game Assets (todos for asset production such as audio and graphics)
  • Game Tools (todos for in-house tool development and tool bugs)

Check it out for your own project. It’s free to use, with paid plans for larger needs, so there’s no risk in seeing if it accommodates your team’s workflow.

Surround yourself with inspiration


Something that cannot be understated is setting yourself up with a work environment that motivates you. Personally, I know that I have some trouble consistently being productive and meeting my own deadlines if I am completely isolated. When surrounded by talented like-minded individuals (from any discipline), it’s a constant source of inspiration to keep on going.

desk

Being self-funded, it may seem like a waste of money to rent a workspace when you could theoretically work at home (especially for a one- to two-person team), but to me it’s a fundamental tool in keeping the project on track. Of course, it should be financially reasonable; it’s not the wisest move to go full on fancy pants with your office space. It helps if you can find a group of peers, colleagues, or friends working on similar goals and you can split the cost of a workspace that fulfills your most basic requirements. For me, this includes space for a desk, wifi, and good people. At first I was looking for a nice coworking space, but there doesn’t seem to be any options around Pasadena, California (yet). However, I was fortunate enough (perfect timing) to find a close-to-home location with former game dev workmates, friends, and some new faces. It’s in the heart of a commercial district with plenty of walkable food for distractions fuel.

Home music & audio production studio

Home music & audio production studio

It works out perfectly for me as I now handle music and audio production at my home studio, and most game development at the office. Google Drive and Dropbox are my best friends in this scenario, and I’m currently using GIT for version control and syncing my Unity project and game assets with Bitbucket. This allows me to pick up where I left off on any part of the project (graphics, code, audio, etc) on my work PC and home Macbook Pro.

While it is certainly feasible to be very productive in a “bubble” – and I know many people that excel at this – it’s good to self-evaluate your own tendencies and put yourself in positions that are conducive to the way you operate. For game development in particular, it’s also healthy to receive periodic feedback when you have something new to test, or a gameplay mechanic idea, or an art test – but make sure it’s from intelligent people you trust who are just as likely to point out shortcomings in your game as they are to offer praise. You don’t want to be delusional about the merits of your project until it’s too late!

What’s in a name?


Some good and not-so-good ideas here...

Some good and not-so-good ideas here…

While working on the Unity prototype, I was keeping a running list of potential studio names in the background. It might not seem important this early on, but having a name and logo solidified gives me a “foundation” or “home” to nurture the project along. I also wanted to register the domain and set up this blog to keep pace with development without getting too far behind.

In fact, that will most likely be a running theme here. It’s common advice to not get bogged down in details / rendering / polish too early, but I think there’s a gray area there that needs to be explored. If you only work on foundation and roughs, it can sometimes lead to exhaustion since you don’t see the “fruits” of your labor. I think a little bit of continual polish keeps your excitement level up for a project – and that’s just as important as anything else in long dev cycles. If you feel like a little polish and it’s not conflicting with your immediate needs or development schedule – go for it! It’s healthy.

I definitely understand the argument that a company name isn’t that important and it’s the quality of product that (mostly) determines success, but it’s important to me. I had some criteria:

  • Concise: I didn’t want something too lengthy. I’ve always been partial to short names, though this can make it difficult to choose something that hasn’t been taken. Sombr is definitely concise, and dropping the “e” – while a little Web 2.0ish – helps keep it unique. A quick search didn’t turn up any “Somber” game studios or conflicting interests.
  • Easy to say: I didn’t want to have to repeat my company name a few times during introductions. For some reason, that always weakens it for me. I liked some of the names on my potential list quite a bit, but they just didn’t roll off the tongue. A little bit of alliteration goes a long way, and some of these names had an uncomfortable cadence between the words.
  • Easy to spell: I know, I broke this rule. But hey, the missing “e” gives it character, right? Excuses, I know. That’s ok – I’m alright with 4/5 of my naming criteria. Secretly, I’m not ok with that, but don’t tell anyone. Truth be told, it’s still easy to spell, but it does require a quick disclaimer when spoken. Hopefully I don’t regret this. :)
  • Domain availability: I’ve never been a fan of .nets, dashes in domain names, or attaching “games” to the domain because the company name alone is taken. I know, it’s nit-picking, but if I can avoid that, now’s the time. Luckily I had already owned sombr.com for a previous idea that I couldn’t get too, so I resurrected it.
  • Meaning: This is probably the most important criterion and it certainly goes without saying, but your company name should definitely mean something to you. Have integrity and put your all into everything you do; you should be proud of the home that the rest of the world sees from the outside, and imagine that the company is always a reflection of your values. Sombr means many things to me, some personal and some not. In a casual sense, I’ve always liked sad / melancholy / pensive works of art and music, and I’ve also believed that sadness can be just as “positive” as happiness in that both experiences are powerful and emotional, and worth feeling. This doesn’t mean our games have to be sad. :)
Sombr logo iterations

Sombr logo iterations

I worked on many iterations and sketches to settle on a logo design. What you see here is the last batch after I had already settled on typography and a general “flow” of the elements that make up the design. You can see that I had some elaborate trim and eventually arrived at something more simple. I liked some of the explorations in the first column, but they also felt a little immature and impulsive; I could just “feel” myself losing the trim years later and being much more satisfied with the simplicity, so might as well cut the fat now. As I progressed I made some minor variations to the type, such as removing the large gap between the “M” and the “B” and adjusting the swirly tails. For those that are interested, this is based on a modification of the Rebucked font by UnAuthorized Type.

I actually liked the original stand-alone version, but also wanted a recognizable, iconic element that could stand on its own without the type. The little wedge shape above the “M” lent itself well for imagery placement, so I explored some options here. I loved designing all these little icons, but some didn’t make sense with the “somber” theme. In the end I settled on the candle flame. It fits the mood perfectly, has a pleasing shape, and is also vague enough so as to avoid pigeon-holing the company in future projects.

These final images are actually all high-resolution. This is just a scaled-down version for this post.

These final images are actually all high-resolution. This is just a scaled-down version for this post.

As a final step, I created low-resolution pixel versions of the logo and icon at various sizes. “Nearest neighbor” scaling in Photoshop is your best friend here to preserve hard edges without anti-aliasing, but there are really no shortcuts. It rarely works to just scale down a vector or high-res image for pixel art – a common rookie mistake. You can start with a scaled down version as a rough guide, but it’s best to intentionally trace or redraw images using the pencil tool for best results. You can see that the flame, swirls, and general letter stems needed special treatment to read properly at very small sizes. Attention to detail is a virtue!

I hope you enjoyed this rundown of name to logo, and it gives you some inspiration for your own company name!

New beginnings


adhesive_shelf

[snippet id=”263″ title=”Hello World” height=”0″ line_numbers=”true”]

A big, excited, “Hello” from Sombr – an independent game developer focused purely on fun gameplay, integrity, and respect for the player’s intelligence. A little bit of background:

I’ve spent the last (almost) three years working at Adhesive Games on Hawken. This was an incredible, interesting, roller coaster journey, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazingly talented individuals and just all-around good human beings and friends. I was responsible for sound design & implementation, music (with my production partner for Paper Sound), and the in-game HUD UI (design & ActionScript development). The dev team remained relatively small, allowing everyone to contribute in a major way. While this necessitated some crunch madness, it also fostered some pretty fast personal growth and experience.

Prior to Adhesive, I worked on a lot of Rails web development over the years, but my heart was always in games and I released a few iOS titles as learning/side projects. About a year ago I started working pretty heavily on a new iOS game project. However I wasn’t able to focus enough time on it as most of my time was occupied by Hawken development, and a couple other apps with the same idea beat me to market. Though I believe I could have executed on the original idea in a way that would have stood out, I also started dabbling in Unity around this time and I was completely hooked.

Unity seemed to combine all the gears of the way my brain works into one package. The ability to rapidly prototype reminded me of “sketching” with Processing, and the accessibility of attaching behaviors to game objects with simple scripts sold me. I believe to get the best possible gameplay experiences, you need tools that allow you to experiment freely and iterate with ease, and any barriers to this allow designers and developers to “settle.”

About six months ago I had an idea for a local two-to-four-player arena game with a twist, and an initial proof of concept prototype took just a few days to complete in Unity. It’s my extreme pleasure to now be focusing 100% on this project, with all the excitement, danger and hurdles that lie ahead. While I’ve worked on my own projects before, this is the first time I’ve been completely independent without another gig “floating” these ideas. I’ll be self-financing this, which is liberating and frightening at the same time.

One goal is to keep a running developer diary of the progress. I’ll have to be careful to not reveal the core mechanics of the game (until it’s ready to announce), but I think it won’t be too difficult to skirt around it while still providing some development anecdotes. I hope to post frequently during development with bite-sized findings and Unity techniques, including code, graphics, and audio examples along the way. I may not do things the best way, but this is a learning journey, and comments and feedback are most appreciated. I hope this will be of interest to you guys out there… join me on the adventure!

©2019 Sombr Studio LLC