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Advice for Game Developers in Training: Use Version Control

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If I could offer you only one tip for the future, Version Control would be it.  Alright, that probably wouldn’t be it; still, Version Control is a solid recommendation.  Many hours have been lost due to junior team members who didn’t understand and therefore didn’t trust their Version Control system with code or art.  Version Control can save you from the accidental deletions or inexplicably corrupted files.  It also seems wrong to have to train an artist or programmer straight out of college how to use the basic tools of the trade.  That’s what all the schooling was supposed to be for.

So what is this Version Control I speak of?  You can Google definitions.  I’ll say it like this:  Version Control keeps a copy of every version of your files on a server.  There are many benefits to using this:

1)      Your files are backed up to a server so if your hard drive fails your work isn’t lost.

2)      If you make a mistake or a file becomes corrupted you can go through older versions to find the last usable version.  You don’t have to manually keep different versions of the same file as you work.

3)      When coding, you can easily compare versions to see what change caused that new bug.

4)      When working with a team you can see who is working on a file and who made what changes.  You’re less likely to trip over each other.

5)      Most game companies are using Version Control, so it’s one more item in your favor when interviewing.

Here’s how it will actually work.  When you want to change a file you will first Check Out the file.  Now make your changes.  After you save, Check In your file.  Now you have a new version on the server.  That was pretty painless.  Most systems will allow or require you to put a comment on Check In.  I recommend using this feature and putting in something useful.  “Fixed a crash related to pressing the space bar (BUG# 154)” will be more helpful in future searches than “Fixes” or “asdf”.

So what’s stopping you?

Cost:

There are free systems out there, for instance CVS or Subversion.  I don’t recommend these for large art files, but they are good for code.  The commercial systems you’re likely to see in the gaming industry are Perforce and Alienbrain.  Both of these currently offer free licenses for up to two users.  Also, Perforce offers a free educational license for educational institutions.  If you’re feeling adventurous you can try to have your college apply for a campus license.  For hardware you can use an old WinXP machine or Linux machine depending on the software you choose.

I don’t know Version Control and there isn’t a class here to teach it to me:

Too bad, figure it out yourself.  The gaming industry is very competitive.  If you want to stand out you need to start learning how to teach yourself new tricks.

In conclusion, I’m going to recommend Perforce even though I have more experience with Alienbrain.  While Alienbrain has the advantage of speed and an easy user interface, Perforce is more “correct” in how it handles versioning and better for scripting and automation.

 

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