Let’s face it: Getting a studio of talented artists and engineers aligned on a single production process is challenging. Those moments when teams are scrambling to track accidental file duplication or overwriting are often the result of mismanaged assets and departmental silos.
Canadian studio KO_OP experienced some of these frustrations firsthand. While Git initially seemed like the right version control platform for their programmers, not everyone felt comfortable using it. This eventually resulted in a general slowdown in production – something they needed to mitigate (and fast) ahead of their massive upcoming release, Goodbye Volcano High.
While searching for a solution that would serve their whole studio, KO_OP selected Plastic SCM Cloud Edition as their new version control system (VCS). Find out what led them there, and what’s changed since making the switch.
Rapid release cycles, large file sizes, and distributed teams can become difficult to balance in even the most well-coordinated companies. Workflows can get messy; marked by questions and confusion around who’s working on what part of a project, what changes are being made, and when.
That’s how artists and engineers can end up working on the same file without the other’s knowledge, leading to inevitable merge conflicts. Despite the fact that creative and technical teams tend to work independently, their lines cross more than is immediately apparent. Both are essential through all phases of production, from the initial conception and creation of a game, all the way to its release, revisions, and ongoing updates. This is, similarly, the case at KO_OP’s Montreal-based studio, where all full-time team members are equal owners of the company, and as such, share in key decisions surrounding game design, development, and just about everything in between.
Founded in 2012 by studio director Saleem Dabbous and programmer Bronson Zgeb, KO_OP has always valued a more democratic and experimental approach to their interactive projects. Production highlights like the Lara Croft GO expansion The Mirror of Spirits and the Apple Arcade game Winding Worlds have required a serious team effort, and in turn, equally well-rounded support for their team. As Dabbous explains in the company’s recent Vice profile, “This studio exists to support the people who are part of it, not the other way around.”
At the time, however, the team felt somewhat stifled in their mission. KO_OP used Git for version control, which they found lacked the sort of overarching, panoramic visibility that would help them collaborate more efficiently. While programmers had relied on Git for source code management throughout their careers, the creatives with less technical expertise did not intuitively grasp this seemingly mysterious system. And once the pandemic dispersed everyone, forcing them to work remotely, communication only worsened, errors proliferated, and the team at KO_OP knew that they needed a change.
While working on Goodbye Volcano High, KO_OP finally turned to Plastic SCM. As a Unity studio, it seemed like an obvious step. Plastic SCM is a version control system that serves to refine workflows and enable smooth collaboration without compromising on performance or branching and merging capabilities. Perhaps most importantly, it ensures the team’s reliance on a single source of truth.
Migrating from Git was strikingly simple and straightforward. KO_OP’s team appreciated Plastic’s detailed documentation, which provided best practices and other methods for efficiency. “Plastic showed [us] how to set up a branch model at a much more granular and effective level than what we were used to,” says Dabbous. Its approachable and visually rich tools appealed to artists and engineers alike.
Before making the switch, KO_OP’s artists relied on programmers to bring assets into their projects safely. Now, thanks to Gluon, a user-friendly GUI and workflow, just about anyone can pick up the files and handle large binaries without much oversight or deep knowledge of branching and merging. Developer Jacob Blommestein refers to this as “a surprise for artists [who could] just add in their .psd files. The versioning was transparent.”
At the same time, writers on the narrative team gained visibility into project status, whereas developers were taken with Plastic’s branching visualization. “Plastic is easy to parse and much easier to navigate than Git,” shares Dabbous. “People can jump around the project in ways that won’t be destructive.”
To better integrate Plastic with other vital communication tools (think Slack and Jira), KO_OP’s programmers have even started working on a series of DevOps tools. As Dabbous puts it: “We felt we should take the next step and improve collaboration across the board.” That drive, paired with the newfound ability to rapidly reuse code, refine it, and keep track of KO_OP’s other interdependent systems has been a turning point for the team.
Plastic’s unique approach to version control, ultimately, provided KO_OP with the perfect occasion to reboot and redefine their production line in a way that goes far beyond project planning. It offers the capacity for open communication and quick iteration to get to market fast. The team’s alignment to a unified workflow has since served them well in preparation for Goodbye Volcano High’s hotly-anticipated release. Everyone is now more aware of what others are doing and how their own work fits into KO_OP’s shared vision, operating less like a series of independent contributors and more like a connected group of likeminded people.