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Where'd It Go? It Was Just Here! Managing Assets for the Next Age of Real-Time Strategy Games
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Where'd It Go? It Was Just Here! Managing Assets for the Next Age of Real-Time Strategy Games


February 21, 2001 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

 

Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings consisted of more than 40,000 game and production assets, ranging from bitmaps and textures to 3D models, sounds and music, and source code files. However, with the exception of the source code, managing game assets at Ensemble Studios has largely consisted of editing, copying, and renaming files on local and shared network drives. This process has sometimes resulted in a number of problems, including misplacement, corruption, or accidental loss of game assets. All of these problems result in effort that must be spent finding or re-creating missing assets.

With the increasing number of assets and people involved in game projects, manually maintaining game assets takes on an ever-increasing portion of the project. In order to reduce, and hopefully eliminate, this time from future game projects, Ensemble Studios decided to evaluate its own asset management needs and implement a system for storing and managing all game assets. The purpose of this article is to discuss how we translated our asset management needs into an effective asset management system for future games, and the technologies that we utilized in doing so.

Needs of the Many

During the development of previous Ensemble games, game assets were managed using a directory structure that was centrally located on a network server and copied to the user's workstation as needed. Assets were edited locally with final changes copied back up to the server or edited directly on the server itself. To indicate successive revisions of an asset, incremental numbers were sometimes added to the end of the filename.

This combination of local and server files created confusion when two users both attempted to work on the same shared server asset, or they made different local versions that were later copied back up. It was also difficult to determine which older revisions of assets were truly good enough to keep and which could be thrown away.

Can you count the assets? Hundreds of new assets were created for the Age of Empires II: The Conquerors expansion pack, including those for this Mayan city deep in the Yucatan jungle

However, even with these potential problems, there were several big advantages to a centrally located, directory-based asset system. The first advantage was that the servers hardly ever went down. There were few times during the course of developing Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (AoK) when server or network problems disrupted access to game assets.

Another definite advantage was simplicity. Every user was already familiar with copying files between Windows folders. Updating an asset on the server, or adding an asset, or putting a new asset into the game was as simple as copying between Windows folders. We were able to use the pros and cons of the current directory-based asset management system to create a list of requirements for the new asset management system that built on the positives but removed the negatives.

Beyond these requirements, a new asset management system had to be able to handle a file of virtually any size, as art and sound files can range in size up to hundreds of megabytes. Another requirement was that the new system should be based on serving the asset to the user's local workstation for editing. This was especially critical, as our main 3D content package, 3D Studio Max, had problems editing files across the network.

The new system also had to be capable of exporting a complete set of game-ready assets from those under asset management. This would remove the onus from the project teams of trying to verify that they really had copied the very latest version of an asset into the appropriate game directory. As long as the latest revision of the asset was in the asset manager, they could be assured it would get in the game.

The final requirement was for a simple workflow system to help the art team keep better track of where assets were in the art pipeline. The workflow system would have three nodes, allowing an asset to be tracked from prototype, to ready for game use, to finalized.

Having established the requirements for the new system (Figure 1), we then faced the looming question: Build or buy?

Figure 1. Ensemble's requirements for their asset management system.

A Single Solution?

Because the programming team was already using Microsoft SourceSafe 6, the first task was to examine the viability of using it as an asset management system for the whole team. While SourceSafe offers a good user interface, a stand-alone version, and an API to create tools to interface with it, a number of concerns arose immediately. The biggest of these were issues of dealing with files, and even a moderate number of users.

With only 15 programmers using it, our SourceSafe system was having performance and consistency problems that resulted in a number of hours spent each month in maintenance and recovery. Working with Microsoft support, we found that the problems we were experiencing affected some number of SourceSafe sites with no discernable cause. Other problems with SourceSafe included a severe performance problem when attempting to check in large assets (anything bigger than about 10MB), even when the files were stored directly, and there was confusion when a user had files checked out on more than one workstation. Although we chose not to use SourceSafe, it did have two features that we could not ignore: its simple user interface and seamless integration with Microsoft Visual C++. These became our guidelines for usability in selecting an asset management system (see Tables 1 and 2).

Table 1: NT-based asset management products
COMPANY
PRODUCT
REPOSITORY
API?
ASSET SERVER?
LIMIT ON TOTAL BYTES OF ASSETS?
Bulldog Two Six Relational Database (RDBMS) Yes Yes Limited only by RBDMS
eMotion Cinebase3 RDBMS Yes Yes Limited only by RBDMS
Filemaker Filemaker Pro RDBMS Yes Yes Limited only by RBDMS
Microsoft Visual SourceSafe 6 File-based Yes No Yes, 4GB
Merant PVCS Proprietary database Yes No Not documented
NxN Ailenbrain RDBMS Yes Yes Limited only by RBDMS
 

 

In our quest to try to keep the whole team using a single asset management tool, we also evaluated Merant PVCS. With PVCS we came to some of the same conclusions that we had reached with SourceSafe. While PVCS is a good tool for simple programming projects, we found it to have many of the same shortcomings as SourceSafe for game asset management. It also lacked a good, intuitive stand-alone UI.


Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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