Petr Vlcek is a qualified developer and one of Bright Future's three founders. He has been working in the games industry for over 16 years, including as a programmer at Electronic Arts in Germany and Canada. Petr Vlcek is CEO of Bright Future and heads up the technology and development areas.
With tight release cycles, continual quality assurance and de-centralised teamwork, computer gaming is a highly complex business. It demands that developers are rigorous about documenting all their processes and development sequences. At Bright Future, this is all managed by Perforce. The software version management solution enables the German-based games development firm to work at least twice as fast.
Many of us have dreamt of stepping into the role of football manager. Now, thanks to the PC game FIFA Manager, more than 300,000 people get to do this dream job every year. The 3D game - originally created by the well-known games firm Electronic Arts - has been developed by Bright Future since 2006. "FIFA Manager is the top product in our games portfolio," says Petr Vlcek, CEO and one of the three founders of Bright Future. "About half of our 42 people work on this game and we release a new version every year."
However, there's a very long road leading from the initial work on a new version to its official launch. A mass of project data - such as information on the footballers - needs to be acquired externally and imported into the system. Builds are generated every three or four weeks and sent to internal and external testers who detect and document any errors. When a part of the game has been completed, it is sent to localisation teams in Germany or other countries. Later, the translated versions are reimported. Quality assurance processes run in parallel so that errors are detected and corrected quickly and new versions sent out to replace the defective ones. Last but not least, the company receives about 100 customer queries per release on possible errors, so it needs to answer customer messages while checking the source of the bug.
Automation is the key
"Every new module, update and language version generates a new development path," notes Petr Vlcek. "Every bug must be corrected. However, it may have been found by the developer before the tester has documented and reported it. So it has to be crystal clear who has done what, as well as when, where and how they did it. Otherwise, the whole development effort would just collapse. Every games development firm knows that the communication and coordination efforts alone represent an enormous workload. If we didn't have tools to help us with this, our work would take at least twice as long."
From the outset, it was clear to Vlcek - a qualified software developer - that he'd never be able to get his company off the ground without the support of a software version management solution. It would need to work automatically and - most importantly - fast, considering all the things it needed to manage. These include branching and merging development paths, version management, the documentation and synchronisation of all changes, simultaneous collaboration on one file by multiple people and much more. "Long waits are just not acceptable - there's nothing worse for software developers than being interrupted in the middle of their work," emphasises Petr Vlcek. "That's why stability is the most important characteristic in this type of solution, along with speed."
Perforce runs and runs
Almost as soon as the company was founded, Bright Future decided to work with Perforce tools to manage its development work and artefacts. Along with its speed and range of functionality, the solution is extremely reliable - and that is what impresses Petr Vlcek the most. "You'd think that reliability would come as standard with this type of solution but this really isn't the case," he says. "Since we founded the company six years ago, we've been working with a single repository that's scalable while remaining extremely compact - we haven't even needed to increase server hardware capacity as there's still plenty of space available. In addition, we haven't had a single crash or emergency and can count support queries in all that time on less than one hand," he adds.
These strengths of the Perforce solution make a big difference to quality assurance processes. When newly developed parts of a new version are sent to the testers, the developers continue their work - even on the files that have already been sent out. This is why several errors have already been corrected before the testers' bug reports come in. However, no time is lost due to the duplication of queries because the testers - both internal and external - are all working with the same Perforce data repository as the developers. That enables them to check the modification lists for each file and compare changes with the list from their own bug tracking system. That eliminates the risk of errors being reported back to the development team when they have already been corrected.
Perforce strength: Ease of use
The success or failure of any software solution is judged on user acceptance, especially if the types of users differ. If the solution is too complicated, the learning curve is just too long. "With Perforce, we don't have this problem - we need one day of training at most, and the user's then ready to work with the solution," says Petr Vlcek.
The team at Bright Future is growing all the time. It recruits young games developers who were used to managing source code files with tools like SVN or GIT when they were at college or university, rather than with Perforce. "That can be a challenge sometimes," smiles Petr Vlcek. "But after a couple of days working with it, they're always converted!"
As Bright Future wants to remain true to its name, it will soon evaluate Perforce's newest products. Petr Vlcek is interested in the new Sandbox function, which acts like a small local Perforce server. It enables developers to test out a new technology or prototype in private, without making the results of the test available to other team members. In addition, Bright Future may want to expand its collaboration with external organisations - such as the localisation team and the FIFA, which the company works with on licensing questions. "This type of usage requires something even simpler than Perforce. We need a tool that has been divested of its developer-specific functions but can still track changes in Word and similar documents automatically," says Petr Vlcek. "Perforce recently launched the Commons solution, which is designed for exactly this purpose. We'll definitely be taking a close look at that!"