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Drinkbox Studios

New Gaming Documentation Tool

Drinkbox Studios - New Gaming Documentation Tool

The language of video game programmers is code.

Millions of lines of codebase make up each and every game engine a programmer will ever work on. If any parts of the code are altered, even in a small way, everything can change. Even for an experienced programmer, the process of developing and managing game engines is very time consuming.

Due to the complex and ever changing nature of a game engine, it can be difficult for the individual members of a team to keep track of the engine's features. In practice the solution is to document the engine, both with comments in the code itself and with a general help file that describes the system's features and functionality. Producing this documentation is time consuming, and as changes occur the documentation quickly goes out of date.

Drinkbox Studios, a Toronto-based company that creates and publishes its own games, wanted to make this process more efficient for its small team. It decided to develop a software documentation tool, or help system, for their proprietary game engine. 

The help system would have to be automated and user-friendly to allow less technical people to use it while decreasing the chance of repetitive errors. As a small business however, it did not have enough staff to make it one of their priorities, despite how beneficial it was anticipated to be.  

Headshot of Andrew HogueChris Harvey, co-owner of Drinkbox, already had a working relationship with Dr. Andrew Hogue, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Business and Information Technology at UOIT.

Dr. Hogue had previously been interested in finding a hands-on, industry-based project his students could work on to give them insight on the business of game development. Drinkbox’s need for the software documentation tool became that project.

They sought out funding to cover the costs of the project and were awarded a grant from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) through its Applied Research and Commercialization (ARC) Initiative. ARC aims to accelerate innovation and improve productivity for globally competitive southwestern Ontario companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. FedDev Ontario accomplishes this by providing funding to universities so faculty and students can work directly with industry businesses on innovative projects.

Once the project approved by FedDev Ontario, Saad Rustam Khattak, a master’s student in the Computer Science program at UOIT, was selected to work on the project with Drinkbox.

Khattak spent just under a year working part time for the company. When he wasn’t in class, researching for his thesis, or being a teaching assistant for undergraduate students, Khattak was at Drinkbox adding an internal editor to the help system, fixing bugs, and learning about the industry – which he said was invaluable. 

Khattak said working on the project helped him make a real comparison between his course projects and real-life work. “When I was at Drinkbox, I realized all of my skills transferred. I realized I can actually do this and it’s not an unknown anymore. I was really excited about seeing how the industry works and seeing the internals of the company,” said Khattak.

As a result of the collaboration, Khattak said he feels confident that he will be successful in this industry. “Now I have tremendous perspective I didn’t have before. Being exposed to an industrial-level game engine broadened my horizons and apply what I had learned from my courses. It made me feel much more capable,” he said.

While the project provided Khattak with valuable industry experience, Drinkbox will also see long-term benefits of the collaboration. 

“We are already able to use the system. It works. It cuts down on time the team has to spend on projects and we’ve become more productive,” said Harvey.

If it had not been for the FedDev Ontario collaboration, Harvey says he isn’t sure if the project would have taken off. “We wouldn’t have done it without Saad. Having him work here and focus on just the development tool allowed us to focus on our other tasks. We did not have the time to experiment with the process the way he did,” said Harvey.

While the help system certainly improves productivity for the team at Drinkbox, Harvey said it could also contribute to the company’s marketability in the future.

“If we were to consider licensing out our game engine, a built-in help system like this is a component that would substantially affect the success of our product,” he said.

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