A few words fist.
BTB is flawed. We all know this but we still choose to use it. There's a good reason for it: no other 3D program offers such a workflow that keeps your creative juices flowing. Only other program that comes close is Sketchup in it's originality how to solve puzzles fast and intuitively. Once you get used to BTB, you can do major projects in brainhurting pace.
But this requires some workarounds and pre-emptive steps you need to do. This is where solid project management comes in to picture. Tips given here are what i and numerous veterans have found not only useful but mandatory. I hope that when times goes by, you have contributed to this article so i can remove all i words from this.
BTB is prone to crashing, the code is not idiot-proofed in a huge software company so you can do actions on it that can render it useless or straight up crash it. So backup. Good guidelines when to backup are:
- Every hour
- Start of a new day
- After major changes
- After particularly tricky edit like placing an object like startlights. You don't want to find that sweetspot between your viewpoint and tool limitations.
Use short names
Use something that's 6-7 letter but still easily recognizable. If you are doing for ex Castle Combe, good name is "combe". You can use renaming software for easy batch editing of your other project related stuff like textures etc. Having a "combe" in the start or end of your filenames makes them fast to separate and later batch edit. There are several good softwares, Advance Renamer is one. Google "batch rename freeware" and pick your favorite.
Use sequential version numbering
This step requires a bit of namespace defining. It's fancy way of saying " how many versions until you expect the project to be finished". If you choose "1# you'll got nine versions (combe1-combe9) until you have run out of numbers. After "9" you have to go to "10" and files and folders are not always in order. "01" gives you a hundred and "001" a thousand. I recommend the last option.
Define naming rules
This a step that you have to create yourself. Every project has it's own naming rules (in software houses there are also house rules) Do not deviate from your naming rules, never! If something is out of naming rules, it is automatically deleted when project needs purging. When files in the whole project are counted, including old, parallel and experimental versions, you'll end up with tens or even hundreds of thousands of files. No person alive can go thru them manually. Sticking to a good naming rule thru out the whole project timeline enables batch and search filters to be used for selection, renaming and deletion.
Anything not fitting is going to be removed from history when it's time to do some housekeeping. Often people use temp folder that they use as a scratchpad or sandbox that can be deleted at any given second. It creates a buffer between your main work and your creative chaos. Stop every now and then, grab a cup of coffee and modify your creations to fit to the project. Do not modify your rules to incorporate a new model or texture!
Example of BTB project version name numbering rule is "combe054", "combe055", combe056 etc.
Textures can be renamed as "wall_pit_combe.dds", "road_dark_tarmac_bumb_combe.dds" or "pitwall_spec_combe.dds". Or you can put the name first: "combe_pitwall.dds". Modified textures can get their own version names too: "pitwall01_combe.dds". You make the rules that you have to follow.
Do regular maintenance
Clean up, in plain english. After a burst of creativity it's time to organize it rationally. Try not to leave this for later. You may have to use additional maintenance softwares like renamers to make this process smoother. You often have to open everything in their source programs (Photoshop, Sketchup, XPacker) and rename everything. This is maybe the most laborious step but very very important. Basically this is the core of project management, the essence. A lot of steps given here concentrate making maintenance happy. Unhappy maintenance equals a messy project. Messy project increases the chance of catastrophic failure rendering the whole project useless.
Keep your folders and files in order
Use folders and subfolders to keep everything separate. For ex, unless specifically required don't store models and textures in the same folder. Keep softwares and files separate! Never store anything anywhere where it doesn't belong. This step halts the creative process so we rely on everything above to keep things smooth, error and frustration free.
Keep your workflow effective
This means also effective XPacker file management and smooth pipeline. What i mean by pipeline is the steps that are always followed each other when exporting and editing your models and textures, importing and exporting between several softwares. Main pipelines are for ex Sketchup -> XPacker -> BTB -> Game. Texture pipeline can be Google images -> Photoshop -> Batch converter. And you need create pipelines for feedback too, the first model is not always the final so you need to think about what you do and try to make everything still fit to rules given above. We are delving so deep in to this subject that there are less obvious guidelines so you need make these yourself. Different needs and methods require different measures.
Optional: Follow the data and map it.
Here's one approach, it maybe too complicated for simple test projects but if you want to really make a grade A release, you may need some help. Having a good system improves the effectivity and simplicity of collaboration.
Use pen and paper or flowcharts to mark every step and think about the process where you can improve it or make it more comfortable. It doesn't need to be very complicated, for ex draw a box for each program and use their export/import format as parameter that's been passed between different softwares or boxes. For ex Sketchup most often you input .skp and output .dae which then serves as input for XPacker (which has two inputs, .dae and .dds and one output "XPack.zip") This will give you the whole picture how data moves between different "departments" and softwares. It also helps defining naming rules as you see what and how often programs exchange data and how much user, you, need to type same thing over and over again.
Photoshop produces a texture for Sketchup which is then briefly tested. Required changes are done in PS; this a feedback loop that contains only information, no data. After editing, Photoshop "outputs" next version to SU and this cycles until we are happy. Then both PS and SU "outputs" .dds and .dae respectively for XPacker and… In this case, we like to keep the fast creative cycle as lean as possible so we use sandbox rules and go thru maintenance before XPacker. We'll get full copy from all necessary files with proper naming rules while keeping creative process as fast as possible. I assure you, this is a one time job. After one good chart the projects that follow will get a lot better base which to build on. Short burst of creativity don't need to go to waste anymore..
You may want to add batch converting and renaming between steps to speed things up. One good place is between sandbox and importing the results to the main project. Check where you can use softwares built-in features for ex "recent files" list and "recently saved folder" to speed things up. Creating small batch scripts is one very good solution to automatize things. You can create one that move all files from certain folder to another and replace all duplicates (or even rename them) with a single click, no confirmation screens etc. Google " command batch script " to find out more. Using duplicate file finder can be effective too to merge projects easily, they come in all shapes and sizes and a lot of them are free. Using small utilities and scripts can modify your desktop to be fluent, effective, fast and reliable. Using macro softwares can even combine all of them to a single automated process..
All of the above is made so that you can keep a balance between chaos and order. Creativity often is chaotic and impulsive but we are still creating thru technology and thus we need to keep things in logical order. Hour or two spent on project management early on can save hundreds of hours and/or catastrophic failure.