Tools For Higher Productivity

Today i’d like to take a step away from work and let you all know what kept me from posting here. In other words: what made me so productive over the last two weeks. Getting your work organized certainly helps but with the right tools you can switch to the next gear.

The first thing you’ll need if you’re working with a Team of 4+ people and no shared office is a task planning tool. For our purposes it needed to be an Agile tool, moreover it should fit well into the concepts of Scrum. And after we considered and even tried out a couple of web-based tools we just gave up. The tool we wanted didn’t seem to exist. Or it came with a hefty price tag. One tool that was recommended to us was Clocking IT but we ended up not using it. It seems alright but it’s one of those tools that just has too many things in one, instead of doing just one thing and doing it right. Maybe it was seeing the GANTT charts that put us off, like a bad memory of past days when we didn’t know any better.

And that’s where Acunote fell in place. Out of nothing came a tool none of us has ever heard of and it fulfilled almost all of our expectations! It allows you to track time according to Agile Development principles and for up to 5 users it’s free. It lets you organize your tasks in a Backlog and Sprints and tracks all changes with beautifully simple burn down charts. Overall it works fast and elegantly, allowing you to change important aspects of each task inline – it avoids the dreaded web-based app productivity that follows the principle of: click item, load new page, scroll/select, make change, save change, load previous page, re-orient yourself. Instead, you just click on the Task Description, Priority, Owner, Estimation and so on, make your change, leave the text field and your change is saved automatically. This is so much better than planning tasks with, say, Jira Issue Tracker for example.

Speaking of which … the guys at Atlassian who are making the Jira Issue Tracker are also the developers of the Confluence Wiki. As much as i’m not a big fan of Jira due to it’s complexity, the Confluence Wiki makes up for that big time. Confluence is the tool you want to use for documenting your team efforts. This is the tool you want to use for any collaborative efforts on the Web or Intranet, period. For spreading information, for keeping a record of changes, for writing FAQs and protocols, for collecting notes and news. It looks and feels more like a Content Management System than a Wiki. Yes, there are other Wikis around and yes, i know, those are free and don’t cost $800 like Confluence (UPDATE: Confluence now available for only $10!) and yes, they also have a shitload of features! But let me be straight with you even though you might not agree: free Wikis suck!

Admittedly some more, some less. But most suck so much … well, don’t even get me started on this topic. I’m sorry, i’ve tried my fair share of Wiki systems and they all fall short when it comes to Usability, Extensibility, Ease of Installation and Administration, Linking Content, and a host of other things like encouraging users to contribute – after all that’s what Wikis are made for and that’s where most of them fall short. This is so ridiculous i can’t believe it. Hence my aggravated tone of disappointment and frustration now. Those free Wikis are often downright ugly and have a terrible syntax, even for a Programmer’s mind. They fail to implement WYSIWYG editing – oh, sure, the feature lists want you to believe it’s WYSIWYG editing but their definition of WYSIWYG is that you select some text, click a button, and then it inserts whatever wiki markup is necessary to render the page. You don’t see the text being printed in bold, italic, underlined, headlined, tabular, or whatever until you click save (or preview). That is not WYSIWYG! So don’t even think of seating anyone but programmers and the occasional nerd in front of any of the free Wiki systems. Well, maybe if you do just that you might get along. Personally, i exclusively use the Wiki markup editor in Confluence because i’m an occupational nerd being a programmer and all, plus the syntax is so smooth. Nevertheless it’s always good to know that less technical staff can just stick with the Rich Text Editor – much like in WordPress – to write their texts. Speaking of which: WordPress also has a cool Rich Text Editor – why can’t most of the free Wikis? Again: ridiculous!

I’m sorry if this seems rude and Wiki developers worldwide take offense. I appreciate your efforts. But when it comes to having a Wiki that inspires people to be productive and pro-active then there’s just no way around doling out a couple hundred bucks and buying Confluence. Plus you can even get it cheaper, for example if you’re an Open Source software project you can apply for a free license. Why not try this and spoil your users?

Well, let me tell you this: we thought we could do without spending money on Confluence. We were so wrong! After several hours failing to install Foswiki on my webhost we tried our luck with TikiWiki. I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to use it some 5 years ago and god forbid if there was ever something more dreadful and just plain wrong. For example, having the Bold, Italic and Underline icons separated between several other completely unrelated icons showed to great effect how little the developers understood Usability and user expectations. But TikiWiki seemed to have come a long way since then judging from it’s webpage. And it did, and it actually worked on the web host and everything. Just … no one used it. We ended up having some 5-10 pages or so. Not even i could get myself writing in TikiWiki after i’ve spent hours installing and configuring it. The font is too small, it’s visually cluttered, it keeps logging you out, it keeps losing your draft pages, it takes too much effort to do even the normal tasks and it actually does a good job of hiding your content from viewing it or presenting it in a way that feels engaging. It is still such a far cry from the Confluence Wiki. Click the link in the last sentence and try it yourself. The pagetree on the left is such an amazing and intuitive tool that i can’t believe why this hasn’t become standard on the web. After all, it’s a well-known and perfectly understood element of any modern Desktop Operating System!

So, tell me again … why is it that Wikis by design do not support a tree-like page structure, with new pages automatically becoming the child of the current page? Of course, Wikis are supposed to be interlinked in numerous ways and a tree-like structure would be detrimental. Or would it? We’ve worked this way with files for as long as i can remember, why should it somehow not work in organizing your Wiki pages, especially if your goal is to use them for documentation? After all, you can still link from anywhere to everywhere and have a tree-like page structure. It’s ridiculous. Oh, have i said that already?

Aaaaand by the way … it may sound like it but i have no affiliation with Acunote or Atlassian nor do i sell their products. I just love using them, so call me a fan boy.

Shameless Self Promotion

It always feels good to read a positive review of the game you’ve worked on (which is BattleForge of course). The review is from Keen and Graev’s Gaming Blog.

You can view their Lobby video right here, it should give you a good impression what the game looks like and how it feels to play around in the Sandbox mode:

And here’s the gameplay video:

I would also like to link to the “BattleForge: FAIL” blog mentioned in this review’s comments. The reason being that i don’t think we need to hide the fact that we’re still running a beta and problems are to be expected. And i didn’t want to come off as bluntly promoting BattleForge, even though i hope no one will hold it against me seeing that i’ve spent over two years of my life working on this game.

Mass Effect Flaws Part 3 Driving The Vehicle Mako

The Mako – Mass Effect’s land vehicle – is almost beyond absurd. It is a three-axis six-wheeled monster which basically drives like a medium-boiled peeled egg. What’s up with that?

I’ll tell you what it is for me … the worst driveable vehicle from any Xbox 360 game to date! The Mako does not only react very sensitively to your input, turning much too easily, it also hops and jumps wildly over each little bump making it all the harder to keep it on track. Occasionally it will just turn or flip over from all the bouncing and turning it does. Once i even managed to do a double-barrel roll with it. Amazing, but totally uncalled for because i was in the middle of frigging combat!

Of course, I’m thankful that the Mako can never get stuck and it will always roll back on it’s wheels and that i can even drive up mountains with it. And no matter what you do with it, you can’t damage it just by driving and crashing. But driving it is no fun at all because it is much too stressful to keep it going in just a straight line and more often than not you will find yourself driving onto a wall, flipping over or having to back up.

Speaking of backing up … why the hell did Bioware decide that it’s a good idea to have the controls reverse when you turn the camera around? First of all, I died about 5 times driving off a ledge on Prothean Skyway and on Noveria because of the sudden shift of momentum. Secondly, why did they even allow driving off edges? Other locations have invisible barriers so that you can’t pass with your vehicle, why not just block all the deadly areas for the Mako, too? I mean, if you’re so concerned about the casual gamers that surely would have halved their death rate. And we all know that dying in a video game is what often makes people quit the game.

The Passion Of The (Game) Developer

Ever since i got notice that the GDC Europe in Cologne is looking for lecturers i’ve been thinking whether i should take that opportunity and submit a lecture proposal. Moreover, and more specifically, i’ve been thinking about what the heck should i be talking about?

Soon i was questioning myself: what am i really good at? Do i have anything to say that intelligent people of the games industry would enjoy hearing me talk about? What kind of knowledge, or experience, do i bring to the table to justify the talk, to be taken seriously, with the necessary authority. Like most potential lecturers (i assume) i don’t want to come across as a douche bag who is talking about something he doesn’t really have a clue about, experience with or worse yet, lecturing to people who actually know a lot more about the subject matter.

So i’ve began wondering … somewhere in the 10 years of my experience as a professional game developer has to be something compelling, some concentration of knowledge that is so utterly groundbreaking, earth-shattering that everyone would just love to hear me talk about. I did not see it. I did not find it. But i knew it was there, it was just hiding. That thing that would make the crowd roar. Which would everyone leave the session with a feeling of joy.

What could it be?

I digged. I digged deeper. I even went as far back as my childhood. Still, nothing. Is my professional game developer life really all about, well, scripting Lua? (that’s just too basic and boring) Or grinding through numerous localization problems? (i’d prefer to never touch that subject again) What is it that i perform well … writing an excellent database frontend tool? (most of my internal users would beg to differ) Producing great code under pressure? (i’m not even a great coder to begin with) Or … what?

It left me stumbling for quite a bit. I even considered reverting to the obvious … something like a BattleForge Postmortem. Most of which i would have to piece together through interviews with various of my coworkers, and honestly, there would be better people for that kind of lecture. Producers or Manager with the oversight, and insights into the business side. Who experienced all the difficult decisions first hand. No, it would feel like i would just be a representative of something bigger. But my consideration was to take the lecturing opportunity for two reasons:

  • Attend the GDC. Network. Learn from others. And to get myself out there.
  • Lecture about something that i really feel passionate about – because that’s when i can deliver great lectures.

I didn’t think it would be so hard to find something i’m really passionate about. It was actually (and is?) kind of depressing. I’m questioning my whole life here – as i do frequently, i mean just for fun, you know. We all do it. So i do what any man would do … i called my girlfriend for advice.

I asked her: “What am i really passionate about?”

Without even a fraction of a second thinking about it, she answered: “Sex.”

Well, not quite the topic that i could present during the GDC, i believe … but it got me thinking. I asked for more examples but she just couldn’t think of anything else other than sex – weird, because that’s normally how my brain is wired. Anyway, at least i knew I was looking for something that is really comparable to passionate love, or lovemaking for that matter. And then i wondered … when was the last time i felt like this? Absolutely passionate about what i do, how i do it, and why i do it. I was slowly unfolding the things that made me happy when i do them. Like being helpful, enabling people to do their job, to solve problems for them. Most problems … hmmm, for most of them, anyway. So the team factor is also important for me. But there’s more, for example developing something i truely believe in, something that would make everyone’s job better, easier and would allow them to work more efficiently. Like that SpellForce 2 dialog scripting language i wrote a few years ago. There were some more examples but actually they aren’t the point.

The point is that i realized: the work i really loved doing and kept coming back at with joy, is the work i started on my own accord and (for the most part at least) owned it. I drove the direction of the work, i designed and defined it, i improved it by working in the feedback i got. I thrive on feedback if it is given properly and i have my hands free to do that work the way i want it to be done, and when. But it all works best if i can feel that others around me work on their tasks with the same passion than i do. Otherwise, it can quickly turn frustrating and depressing. Wrong people, wrong time, wrong tasks – and it all goes downhill before plummeting into a bottomless, black pit. I’ve been a programming, thinking and designing tool who put the work and dedication into what i did so others who may be “technically challenged” can benefit by leveraging the powers invested into the tools by me.

Now if that tool is a game or used to build a game’s core features … then that’s my passion. It’s as simple as that. Helping others make great games, and making great games myself. Directly without outside influence unless it comes in the form of user feedback and meaningful suggestions.

Still, i got no further with my idea for the GDC lecture. What am i going to say … that i’m a helping hand, putting myself in the service of the greater good? That i deliver such outstanding tools that everyone watching my lecture should listen to my every word in awe?

Eventually i pondered about this back and forth, going from enthusiastic to giving up on myself – until i realized: all i really need to do is to talk about passion! How passion affects us all and how not doing what you’re passionate about will ultimately lead to a 9-5 job (or drive you insane). And the seductiveness of that. How easy it is to lose your passion, giving up hope (unless used as a strategy), and just doing your job as good as you can under the circumstances – each and every day, thinking you’re just passing through a depression in your life and everything isn’t as bland as it seems. How it should actually be great, if it weren’t for …. things like whether the light is too bright in the room, the noise outside is too much, it’s too hot or too cold and bickering with your colleagues about all of that. No big fights … just nuisances. Every day a little bit. And trust me – people obsess about that irrelevant stuff as if it were heartfelt. With passion, if you so will. I know i did, too.

In that situation, the only thing you can agree about with your coworkers – due to a lack of common interests or shared goals – is the fact that the others aren’t really doing their job like they’re supposed to. How the recession is just going to fuck us all up. How utterly wrong and completely ignorant decisions are being made. Stuff like that. Things that we obsess about only in the absence of passion. And the worst part is: that kind of behavior/thinking re-enforces itself.

While on the other hand great work was and is done if it is done with passion. And i usually didn’t even realize that it was passion that made me love my work, that helped me crack the hardest coconuts and allowed me to push through mundane tasks without taking some form of cellular brain damage. Just like good sex makes you feel more powerful even though you’re completely exhausted. For the moment.

And that is what i would like love to talk about during this year’s GDC Europe. No authority needed, just passion and a long experience going through uphill joyrides and downhill battles. Giving my experience to the audience – with passion. And maybe throwing in a sex joke here and there.

If they let me.

Itunes Connect Thinks Your Iban Is Invalid Heres The Solution

All that was left for me to be fully registered with Apple to receive money was to enter my bank account into iTunes Connect. However iTunes Connect refused to accept my IBAN, telling me it’s invalid. Since i’ve opened a new bank account on the same day i thought it was simply because my account was so brand new.

But as a matter of fact, other people seem to have the very same problem. After researching it a bit more i found nothing but cryptic comments, the best was that it could be resolved by adding missing zeros. So i tried all kinds of things with my IBAN without any luck, thinking it may simply not appreciate my german IBAN for some reason. But iTunes Connect was persistent that my IBAN is invalid even though IBAN checking programs all concluded that the IBAN is correct for my country, and i got the IBAN from the IBAN calculator of my bank. So what was going on here?

The answer is simple: the IBAN is indeed correct but the bank account number i entered was missing the leading zeros that do appear in the IBAN!

So, for example if your Bank Account number is 123456 then the IBAN for a german bank account will look something like this: DE60 55599900 0000123456

Since german bank account numbers can have up to 10 digits, those 10 digits are reserved in the IBAN and filled with leading zeros if your bank account number has less than 10 digits. In this example case, what you have to do in order for iTunes Connect to accept your bank account & IBAN number, is to enter your bank account number with the correct amount of leading zeros! It’s not the IBAN that is incorrect, it’s the bank account number!

In this example you would simply have to enter 0000123456 as your bank account number instead of just 123456 in order for iTunes Connect to accept your IBAN. The message that the IBAN is invalid is misleading because it’s actually your bank account number missing the leading zeros that appear in the IBAN.

I hope this helps people who have the same issue with iTunes Connect. Please leave me a comment and place a link if you had the same problem, i suspect there are many with that exact issue. It’s not limited to german IBANs by the way, other countries just have longer or shorter IBANs and in turn a different maximum of digits that can appear in a bank account number. You can look up how the IBAN for your country should look like on Wikipedia.

Auf deutsch: falls iTunes Connect deine IBAN nicht akzeptiert und meint, sie sei ungültig, dann liegt das womöglich an fehlenden, führenden Nullen vor der Bankkonto Nummer! Es ist also nicht die IBAN die nicht korrekt ist, sondern die Kontonummer der Bank muss im Eingabefeld mit führenden Nullen eingetragen werden, so das sie exakt 10 Stellen aufweist (für ein deutsches Bankkonto).

Also, nicht iTunes Connect glauben das die IBAN fehlerhaft oder inkorrekt sei, sondern die Bankkonto Nummer überprüfen ob sie tatsächlich 10 Stellen hat, und wenn sie weniger als 10 Stellen hat diese mit führenden Nullen auffüllen, z.b. so: 0000123456

Und bevor jemand frägt: ja, das ist korrekt. Man kann seine Bankkonto Nummer überall so schreiben wenn man das möchte. Nur normalerweise lässt man die führenden Nullen der Einfachheit halber weg, deswegen ist es den wenigsten bekannt das dies funktioniert. Entsprechend oft scheinen Apple Entwickler bei der Eingabe der Bankverbindung auf iTunes Connect genau auf dieses Problem zu stossen.

Bitte hinterlasst mir eine Nachricht und verlinkt diese Seite wenn euch das geholfen hat. Das würde mich freuen!