BrainWave – Idea Management for Game Developers

Project Management – It’s perhaps the least sexy part of independent game design and development. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have struggled endlessly with existing products trying to cram your “unique” workflow into their stubborn interfaces, only to not even bother opening it again after a handful of attempts.

I’ve often resigned myself to the fact that project management tools just don’t suit my style of game development. It is true afterall that developing games for the iPhone involves a much shorter time frame – rapid development and multiple iterations are key (at least for me). Still, without these tools I find myself floundering. Where do i write my new ideas? How do I track my progress? What are my next steps?

At the end of last week I decided that I would invest my time this weekend creating my own project management tool – concept through to creation. A tool that suited my workflow. Something I could use on a daily basis to manage development of my current game. It has to be said that I have not considered anyone else when creating this tool, chances are it doesn’t provide one tenth of the functionality you require as a game developer.

Why existing tools don’t work for me

There are a number of really excellent project management tools on the market. Web applications such as the excellent Basecamp, Pivotal Tracker and Trac. Desktop applications such as OmniPlan and Process. There are also a whole host of GTD/TODO apps such as Things and The Hit List.

Oh, and just quickly, I should mention that I currently use (or rather don’t use) Pivotal Tracker and relied on Basecamp when developing Rocket Santa.

When I open the more powerful of these, i’m swamped with features. Lists, timelines, gantt charts, settings, users, the list is seemingly endless. I find myself with too many options. As I mentioned before, I believe that iPhone game development requires you to rapidly evolve your ideas and plans.

GTD lists on the other hand are far too simple even for my own needs. They lack the creative scope required to drive the development of an iPhone game.

My project management tool isn’t intended to compete with the like of these Applications. My humble offering is merely an attempt to write a tool that fits my, perhaps overly simplistic, workflow.

What I need from a Project Management tool

I have lots of ideas. I don’t think i’m unique in that respect. When i’m developing a new game I often think to myself – this feature would be cool, or I wonder if I could include this, or I should research this… you get the point. Funnily enough, my thoughts aren’t always text-based either. I’m often inspired by images and want to capture these for future reference.

These idea’s don’t appear as a list in my head. They are a jumble of thoughts and imagery. If i’m to use a project management tool I need to be able to throw these ideas onto the page quickly.

I also need a checklist of items to work form. My current game is changing daily but there remain tasks that need to be implemented – driven by my ideas. I’d like to be able to track these and check them off once complete.

Outside of this, I want it to look and feel good. I know this is subjective but if i’m spending lots of time in this tool then I want it to be awesome.

BrainWave

A weekend’s worth of design, coffee, and coding has produced “BrainWave” – an Idea management tool for game developers.

The screen is split into two sections, Ideas and Tasks. Ideas are created by clicking anywhere within the Ideas space. This will create a box for you type directly into – it will accept text or image url’s (Image url’s are automatically converted into images).

You can drag ideas around the idea space and leave them there if you desire (everything is saved of course). If you don’t like one of your idea’s you simply click “Trash” and the idea is removed.

Here’s the important part of the workflow. If you like one of your ideas, you can click the “Convert” button. This moves the idea from your Ideas space into your task list ready to be worked on. The task list is currently managed simply by clicking the “Done” button when you complete a task.

…and that’s as complicated as it gets. This workflow may not fit your style but for me its exactly right. An idea hits me, or I see an image that inspires me, so I create the idea in the idea space. Later on I can sort the idea and decide it’s actually rubbish or move it to my task list for development.

Screencast

It’s difficult to convey the system using just text and a screenshot so i’ve put together a simple screencast to demo the system.

What’s next

I plan on using and improving BrainWave throughout the development of my current game. If interest is high enough i’d certainly consider making the tool public. I’m also thinking about bringing it to the iPad as a native application – since I feel that I would find it benficial to have it on a large touch screen device whilst working.

Let me know what you think of BrainWave, and if you’re interested in using it, in the comments.

16 Comments

  1. It is looking good; I especially like the ideas space. Some things I would add (and I know adding features willy-nilly is a dangerous path):

    – WordPress style delete link? (http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2010/03/the-opposite-of-fitts-law.html)
    – Drag & drop ordering of tasks in the lists
    – Maybe multiple projects (probably just adding tabs to what you currently have, 1 tab per project?)
    – Show/hide done tasks
    – Being able to have normal links in ideas and tasks
    – Undo would be nice too :)

    I am really looking forward to this, cause you are right; finding the sweet spot of simplicity and features in current offerings is almost impossible for small iPhone developers. Good work!

  2. Chris says:

    Hi Miguel,

    Thanks for the comments. I already have provisions for or have planned the majority of the features you suggest.

    The WordPress style delete link is a good comment that I hadn’t considered – i’ll definitely look into implementing a less prominent trash link.

    Undo is also interesting. A non-destructive workflow is nice so the ability to store history would be good.

    Glad you like it.

  3. What a great idea Chris! Nice and simple. It’s a bit like that Windows thing we saw the other day, a place to just jot things down. On iPad this has the potential to be a killer app.

    I was going to suggest tabs like Miguel, just a way to sort and organise specifics. The tab names might then become List Headings with each page’s ideas shown under the relevant List Heading when Converted.

    Sorry, getting a little ahead of myself there!

    Good job Chris, like others I’d be keen to try it out too when you’re ready.

    :-)

  4. Chris says:

    Hi Elliot,

    Glad you like it – thanks for the kind words. Yeh I didn’t think of that but it does have a similar vibe to the Courier device.

    Nice idea with the tabs and thanks for volunteering :-)

  5. Hi Chris,

    Looks good! I think the key to making this workable will be how streamlined you can get it. A couple of thoughts:

    – Supply a hot key that lets me enter an idea / paste a link while I’m using another app, without the need to click new, place an idea and then hit save…
    – Ideas should not be deleted, rather archived – it’s good to clear out the ‘ideas’ space, but you don’t want to lose the history.
    – Add the ability to tack notes onto an entry.

    I’d be happy to give this a go when you need testers – good luck!

  6. Its something similar to brainstorming using Mindjet MindManager, but way more practical and simpler.

    I would like to give a try :)

  7. Anthony Karanovich says:

    I think Brainwave is outstanding and would like to ask to use it.

  8. Chris says:

    @Alfred, @Anthony – thanks for your comments. If you would like to try BrainWave, you can sign up here -> http://brainwave.bytesizeadventures.com/

  9. Max says:

    Can’t wait to try : D

  10. It looks great. One thing that might be cool is to leave completed tasks in the task area with a check or something, that would make it easier to track progress.

  11. jay says:

    hi,

    this is fab! thanks.

    where can i get brain wave from?? i would like to install in on my domain!! thanks! email me please!

  12. Chris says:

    @jay

    Thanks.

    Brainwave isn’t installer based. Its web based and you can sign up to the private beta here: http://brainwave.bytesizeadventures.com/

    Something to bear in mind – I’m not currently actively developing Brainwave. Its something I plan on coming back to soon though.

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