Indepent Study #3 Overall Data/Notes
This course will explore the processes and needs of managing large interactive design projects. This includes improved competence and research of various design software, version control systems, tasks outsourcing practices and physical production methods. A portion of art content for the project will be outsourced, requiring collaborative tools and experience in managing “contact work”.
Currently, there are no courses offering this focus, as it would concentrate in areas relating to electronic publishing (not currently offered), project management, HCI design, and real-world prototype development and testing. It also would delve into more detail on many tools used throughout the industry and our program, covering facets not covered in other courses (such as template creation and automation of bulk designs in the Adobe Creative Suite, for example).
Proficiency With Design Tools
Before beginning this project, I wouldn’t have considered myself familiar with any of the standard design tools used such as the Adobe Products Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Fireworks.
Now that I have had time to work on independent study projects and learn at my own pace, I can be much more confident in my abilities with these tools. Some got a lot more use than others, I ended up mostly just using Photoshop, and learning the basics of the rest of the creative suite. At this point, I feel very comfortable with Photoshop, and would consider myself very proficient in it’s use, this was a specific goal of mine for this project, and I feel I succeeded even more than I could have predicted.
Application of Iterative Design Processes and Collaborative Tools
There are multiple approaches I have tested in the realm of managing the iterative design process. I will include a write-up on the pros and cons of each of my approaches I have used, and which ones I believe have significant strengths for which sorts of projects.
Production of Physical Prototype, Exploration of Production Methods
Prior to this particular independent study, I had already been invovled with the process of producing prototypes. During this project I became much more familiar with the different options available for designers, and will discuss the various methods and their strengths.
- Files of designs for prototype
- Brief write-up on design and tools decisions
- May include tutorials
- May include pros and cons of different options
- Written report outlining methods of managing iterative design
- How various tools compare
- Lessons learned on collaborative work
- Physical implementation of design - Details on production of physical prototype
Brief Explanation of Design Tools/Decisions
Major Design Tools Used in the this Project
- Adobe Illustrator
- Used primarily for vector graphics. This is useful for when printing larger files, and dealing with typography, as text is especially important to keep from being grainy/pixelated.
- Adobe Fireworks
- Fireworks is sort of a jack of all trades master of none for design tools. It does basic functionality like Photoshop and Illustrator, but is simpler and offers less complexity.
- Adobe InDesign
- This is what is used to make over-all designs that use files from other Adobe products. For example placing multiple images that need to be edited in Photoshop with vector graphics made in Illustrator.
- Adobe Photoshop
- This is the real workhorse for image manipulation and editing, there was a lot of work with Photoshop throughout every stage of the project.
More Detailed Look at the Role of these Tools
Adobe Photoshop ends up being the MVP for this particular project, and many image editing projects in general. The focus of Photoshop is to edit existing art assets or photographs, not create new ones. It’s the standard for designers that need to be able to do image manipulation. Everything from retouching photographs to constructing intricate works of art.
For the purposes of this project, Photoshop specifically ended up being the software that I was most determined to gain proficiency in, and the most useful for this particular task. Over the course of proposing and planning this independent study, gaining competence in Photoshop was at the forefront of what I really wanted to address, as I knew it was a weak point for me personally and it is clearly an important industry standard design tool.
Everything in this project that ended up getting actually physically printed and produced was entirely done in Photoshop. There was lots of experimentation and research using other tools, but when it came down to what was actually being used for the end product, Photoshop is far and away the most important to the design process.
For the cards that were printed in this project, some of the main tasl
Adobe Illustrator’s main function as it relates to this specific project is that it can easily create and manage vector images. This is useful to us because it allows images to be resized as needed without loss of quality. For projects like this, that require a lot of text, Illustrator can be used to great effect.
Another positive element of Illustrator, as it relates to this project, is that we are handling a large amount of art assets. In this project, they are hand-drawn comic-book style cartoons, so they can benefit a lot from being vectorized. If this was a situation where it was not hand-drawn and scanned in, we would be using Illustrator a lot more. Especially if the art was all created digitally, it would almost certainly be handled through Illustrator.
Fireworks is not something that ends up being incredibly useful in these sorts of projects for me, but I was very determined to get a working knowledge with as many of the software tools as possible, even if I don’t end up actually using much of it in the “final product”.
The appeal of Fireworks is that it can allow managing and editing of all sorts of files, and only rewuires the operator to learn one system, Fireworks. For example a project manager could make great use of Fireworks for proofing designs coming from a graphic designer. The graphix designer would probably be submitting inDesign files or Photoshop/Illustrator files, but the project manager would be able to open and edit them within Fireworks, so he wouldn’t have to have as detailed a competency with the other specific tools, just the one “jack of all trades, master of none” system.
InDesign became a focus early on in this project because it served as a sort of glue to hold together the project as a whole. In addition to it’s basic functions, I was also able to discover certain functions of InDesign that have the potential to support creating batches of files from external data.
Early on in the project, I researched the exact abilities of these features, and found that they were actually not practical for this exact project, but in future projects it could be incredibly useful. The software supports importing data from a spreadsheet and placing it into designs. Since a lot of the work for the card design in the prototype is actually printing statistics and graphs onto around 60 or so cards, I was very much hoping to be able to automate a lot of it, but there are several limitations to this functionality that ended up making it less of a convenience. The limitations would make it doable for very very rough prototypes, but the level of professional graphic design I was trying to accomplish required formatting the statistical data to look presentable and also make graphs. These are both areas with a lot of limitations in InDesign.
If in future projects, I get into a situation where I need to generate even more designs with more text or picture data-fields, I may use the functionality I researched to create rough prototypes. I still don’t think it can provide consistently high-quality or complex output from a graphic design perspective, but for testing a concept, or plain-text it’s incredibly useful.
On the whole, InDesign is invaluable to the design process, as it is generally used as the format of any given template. For my prototype of cards for a game, I could have utilized InDesign even more than I already did, by creating a template in InDesign from which I could derive all my cards. In practice, however, since I only actually required image editing that is more simply and efficiently handled in Photoshop, in the end I ended up mostly just using Photoshop for all the final assets for printing.
Explanation of Tools for Managing Iterative Design Process
Throughout this project, one of the primary concerns is that there is a large amount of information that needs to be readily accessible and changeable over time. The primary information that will need to be generated, saved, edited and tracked is:
- Card Data
- Each card has specific art for the character and the overall card template
- Cards also have a name, a cost, a victory point value, and four other stats unique to each card
- Art Data
- Character art, contracted artwork for each character’s appearance
- Card templates
- Graphs representing the stats for each character
- Rules Documentation
- Design Notes
- User Testing Feedback and Notes
- Versions of the Design through time
The various methods I’ve tried have all approached these needs in different ways. And some have such cear strengths in certain areas, and weaknesses in other areas that I end up not using any one method, but a combination of a few. My goal here is to illustrate how these tools can be used in a similar projects, and why you decide to either use or not use each one.
Tools Used and Researched
For each approach, I will have the heading be the primary software focus of the approach, followed by how it is used in the context of these projects, as well dependencies from other technologies that are present in the approaches I have used.
Functionality and Context
Evernote is a software that is used for taking notes. It is very intuitive and useful as a place to store thoughts. Evernote is very common for college students, as it allows organized chaos in note-taking. There is a general sort of hierarchy, but when you really need to find things, you mostly just use tags or searching.
- Great accessibility no matter what device you are using
- Formatting your notes for attractive layout
- Syncs all versions on all devices so you are always working with up-to-date data
- Great search function, it even has some ability to read handwriting if you have pictures of handwritten notes
- Really only worthwhile for text note-taking
- Not any sort of support for things like charts, pictures, or any sort of actual “files”, just notes
- Very limited data cap
- No meaningful ability to collaborate with other contributors to the project
Assessment of Utility for Our Purposes
Evernote really shines in it’s ability to organize otherwise scattered notes. I found it invaluable for situations where I just need to write ideas, but it isn’t something concrete enough to put down in official rules or documentation. Evernote allows formatting your notes also, so they are more visually appealing and readable.
Unfortunately, since everything is synced across all devices and even onto the Evernote website, the amount of data you can use is capped pretty heavily. It’s less restrictive for paying customers, but still fundamentally limited if you are trying to use large files like images. It’s really just good for loosely organized note-taking. I have yet to find a better system for keeping record of general ideas.
Functionality and Context
Dropbox is a program that creates a special folder on your device, and then makes sure that folder stays in sync across all devices. All the content is also available on devices where the program is not installed by using the file browser on Dropbox.com once you’ve logged in.
Dropbox can also support having multiple Dropbox users sharing access to the same files, so when one user makes a change, it is reflected in the other users copy of the data as well. This has made it very popular for college students working on collaborative projects. It’s simple and intuitive, and you can put any sort of file you want in there, and all it does is keep everyone’s files up to date, it doesn’t interpret the files, it just syncs them.
- Easy to use
- Intuitive ability to throw any files you want into the folder and let it sync itself
- Great ability to allow collaborators to just throw whatever files they like into the common supply
- Ability to revert changes if you decide to go back on what you’ve done. Undeleting files, rolling back edits, etc.
- Data is capped, paying customers have a higher cap, and there are ways to raise it, but it still is there.
- ability to roll back changes is limited. You can only go back a certain amount of days, and there’s no notation to tell you which version is which, you just have to remember the date and time of each change.
- There is no system for “roles” on collaborators. You cannot say “allow this person to read my files, but they cannot change them”, anyone you invite could potentially just delete your files, and if you don’t notice within that 30 day window, you’re just out of luck.
- There is no keeping track of which changes where made in which revisions. You just keep overwriting your files.
Assessment of Utility for Our Purposes
So what we would need to use Dropbox for in this project is to keep track of specific files like:
- Markdown Files These are essentially plaintext files. I use markdown for my notes because it allows on-the-fly formatting in a text document. Markdown is a minimalist markup language like HTML, but very stripped down so it’s intuitive to type and read back without being compiled or parsed. Since Markdown files are really just plaintext, Dropbox can quickly and painlessly deal with these files, also the web interface for Dropbox has a markdown interpreter by default. This means that if you look at a markdown file in your browser, it just looks like a well-formated and attractive document like HTML would create instead of plaintext with hashmarks for headings and asterisks for bulletpoints. This makes gives markdown files and Dropbox great symmetry if you are looking for ways of keeping notes in sync across multiple users and devices.
- Spreadsheet Files With close to a hundred unique cards, each with their own unique combination of stats, costs, names, and other values, having some sort of centralized way to keep track of all of that is very useful. The most straightforward approach to this is to store all of that data in a spreadsheet. This allows filtering and interpreting all of the relevant data easily. The ability to create functions to analyze things that effect game balance is huge, and makes it easier to make adjustments for new versions while making sure not to knock everything off balance.
- Image Files The images are what will eventually need to be sent to the printer for making a prototype or a final production copy like this. It’s important to have current images synced across wherever you are accessing it from.
- PSD Files PSD files are what is used in Photoshop. When dealing with collaborators for art assets, it’s important that everyone is working off the same files. When there needs to be an adjustment, or the colors need to change, you need to know you’re working off the same information.
Dropbox is really useful for keeping track of all your assorted files. Where we might use Evernote to keep track of just notes specifically, when you actually have actual files, Dropbox is a very simplistic way to make sure everyone can keep track of current versions of everything.
Functionality and Context
Git is a version control system mainly used in software development. While it has many many features, it is, at its core, a way to track changes to text files. It can support any sort of file you want, but since it really just tracks changes to lines of text, it’s not quite as useful for tracking changes to image files.
Git creates a repository on your system, much like how Dropbox does. A file is created with the purpose of keeping track of each change made to the files in the directory. each time you submit a change to be made to the “official” version, you also make a note of what was changed. At any time you can look at what changes are being made, who is making them, and decide which versions to use.
There are online Git repositories so that users can store the data for their project online so that others can also work on it. The main repositories are called BitBucket and GitHub. For our purposes, the only real difference is that BitBucket allows users to have private repositories with a free account, and GitHub requires you to pay to get the privilege of a free repository.
- Industry standard for software development, as it naturally changes code changes
- Very detailed support for different levels of users and managing release versions
- Once you are familiar with it, it’s incredibly fast and simple.
- Very detailed ability to manage changes and revert where needed.
- Ability to branch projects out so you can have parallel development on a single project. As many branches as you think you can keep track of.
- Really sort of useless for images
- For those not familiar with using command line, it can be a barrier to entry
- Artists generally aren’t familiar with this sort of service
- Since it’s mostly for text files, the data cap on this service can be pretty restrictive if you are using anything other than text files.
Assessment of Utility for Our Purposes
For tracking text files, and managing larger projects with multiple contributors, this system is amazing. Even for project where it’s only one person, this level of control over “release versions”, change logs, and quick and simple updating is incredibly useful.
Much like Dropbox, most of my documentation ended up being with markdown files, which similarly to Dropbox, are also supported in the online service GitHub. That means you can always go to your GitHub project online and read all your documentation, as well as make changes, and manage the workflow of everyone involved.
If there was someway to have this easy to use and detailed version management for things like Photoshop files, this would be the single solution for every project ever. As it stands, it’s primary focus is on software source code, but the potential for other text applications is huge. The technical barrier to entry is the only thing stopping it from widespread use by people like authors, though more and more creative writers are catching on and writing in markdown, using Git for controlling changes and making sure they and their editors are working off the same documents, signing off on each other’s changes.
Methods of Production for Physical Prototypes
For the purposes of this project, we created multiple versions of a card game. There are many options online for printing something like this, and even options for do-it-yourself-ers. I will briefly discuss the major options available for online production for the purposes of testing prototypes.
PrinterStudio.com is an online service that allows users to submit their own designs to be printed on all sorts of media. The primary experience I’ve had with this service is printing playing cards. The biggest benefit to using PrinterStudio is the quality. They have extremely high quality playing card printing, and they seem to be pretty quick about printing and shipping the products.
A significant drawback to this is that they aren’t the most affordable option, and they aren’t able to support other game components. It’s not a company built for making games, they just happen to print on good quality cards. This drawback is somewhat mitigated by their frequent sales and coupon codes that are found online very often. Unfortunately, they usually put out limited time offers that expire, and you actually have to hunt them down. It generally brings the price to a reasonable area, but is inconsistent and unreliable. PrinterStudio also has the drawback that it isn’t easy to share your work with others, it’s mostly set up to just print one or two copies of your own design.
This site is my personal go-to for producing any sort of prototype or when I need game components. This site is specifically tailored to game designers and offers all sorts of customizable game components, and they will even package it for you in a final box, making your game look like a final production copy. The website is even built to handle selling copies of your game if you want to make it available to others.
There are very few drawbacks to using theGameCrafter.com for the purposes of producing prototypes of games. The printing isn’t perfect, they tend to have issues with certain color ranges. When ordering a single copy of a game, you are paying a lot for the components, it’s not the most affordable option if you are looking at producing and selling a game, but for prototyping and having a few copies, it produces incredibly professional results, and they have tons of components available to order. The only significant downside is that printing with them not only takes a good amount of time, but it’s also a very unpredictable amount of time. Since it is print on-demand, the customer is at the mercy of whatever their workload happens to be.