When writing this, the website asks me which category this blog post is in... Programming? Design? Production? Maybe it's a bit of all of them, maybe not. There's no "tool" or "pipeline" category.
Just for fun, next time you go to work, ask who's the tool specialist, that strange man who dedicate his time to making sure people work faster and more efficiently. I came to understand that in most companies, there is no such person dedicated only to improving how people do things. Most of the time, the task will fall in the hands of someone who has something else, something more important to do. Or worst, it will be given to someone who doesn't want it. I'm not generalizing here; I'm sure some team around the world do take tools production seriously.
I only have eight years of experience, but I came to understand this; tools are not a priority. Most of the time, tools are somewhat of a medium to long term investment. I even been told "We ship games, we don't ship tools", or worst "We are used to work this way".
I've worked with some of the biggest editor/engine there is out there and some of the smallest, and I've come to this conclusion; tools are often not made to be fast or to be intuitive, even when the tools itself is the product.
We have specialists that spend years learning how to make a video game interface as intuitive as possible. However, I haven't met a single interface specialist working solely on tools. When a new tool is to be created by a programmer, nobody will say anything on how it works, as long as it works.
Maybe you would think this is only true for in-house editor, right? I've worked on Unity, Unreal and Source, and they are among the worst of the lot. With an in-house editor, when I find flaws, I can fix them. With a third-party engine, I'm stuck with whatever they decided over there.
I like to see tools as being the same thing as a video game. You can look at Starcraft pro-gamers who pull some four hundred actions per minutes and be amazed how well the game responds to those inputs. Why can't I do the same in an editor? Of course, it would be silly to do that much action per minutes in a creative environment, but most of the time I'm not feeling like I'm the bottleneck, the editor is!
We get editor with full of drag and drop (DnD). Some programmers tell us it's cool! You can drag anything anywhere. It's fast, isn't it? And yet, you don't see any Starcraft player doing DnD, because it's slow. Sometimes I wonder just how much DnD is my nemesis. When I learn a new editor, the first thing I want to do is to burn all the DnD. Just making people unlearn that concept is a tedious task in itself.
What's better? What's faster?
When I decide to create a new object, let's say a light, my eyes are on the map, level or scene, exactly at the spot I want that object. I was working, and I decided I needed a light there! If I take my eyes off, for any reason, I'm wasting time. If my mouse is going somewhere else, I'm wasting time.
Shortcut! I press a shortcut, and a list of object I can create pop-ups exactly where my mouse and eyes were. Automatically, there's a search field already focused and I type L and I. The first item on the list is most likely "Light" and it is already selected. I press Enter, and there it is, where my mouse was, a new light. If I redo that shortcut, my last search is still there, so I only need to repress Enter to create another light. A pro-gamer always uses shortcuts. My editor should always give me the relevant options where and when I need it. Creating a new object should take me less than a second. If it takes you more than a second, you're doing it wrong.
But you don't see that in any editor, right? You'll have to search folders, menus, contextual or not to find what you want. You'll have to do right-clicks, search in x submenus, drag and drop, or something else. In some cases, it won't even create it where you wanted it!
One day, I'll make game the same way I play them!