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mudstack: Boosting Efficiency for Game Developers and Artists

mudstack's Jordan Stevens provided us with a comprehensive walkthrough of the platform, discussed details of an upcoming release of the new version, and shared an exclusive sneak peek into the platform's opportunities for the creative community.

80.lv: Please introduce yourself to our readers. What got you into the industry? How did you get the skills you have? What projects have you contributed to?

Jordan Stevens: My name is Jordan Stevens. I’m a technical artist turned software engineer. I went to art school for game design and development, originally wanting to be an environment artist. It didn’t take me long to realize that my skill set was more technical than artistic, especially when I spent my days building character rigs, writing tools, and experimenting with shaders and rendering pipelines rather than 3d modeling or texture painting like my peers.

After university, I worked contracts for a few years while building my own game and selling 3d models and animations online. Some of the fun projects I worked on were Smite by Hi-Rez Studios, Enlighten & the Unity Standard Shader in the early days of Unity 5, and a platform that converted Autodesk Revit projects to real-time rendered VR experiences in Unity.

After working in VR for what felt like too long, I had the opportunity to run engineering at a startup building a product information and digital asset management platform. My experiences there led me to believe that if a similar problem could be solved at scale for product manufacturers, then maybe I had finally developed the skill set necessary to solve the same problem for artists and game studios.

80.lv: Could you please introduce mudstack to those who haven't heard about the platform? What services do you provide? How do Game Developers and Artists benefit from using it?

Jordan Stevens: While managing the pipeline for an architectural visualization firm, I recognized many of the same struggles I experienced working on games and film — managing versioning of files at scale, getting reviews and approvals, and just understanding the state of content in the pipeline was extremely challenging.

At the same time, I was transitioning more into software engineering and working with tools like npm, GitHub, Figma, and Notion. There are just so many tools, platforms, and communities out there for engineers. So much dedicated innovation goes into tooling for software devs. It was a sort of “light bulb” moment for me. I asked myself “Why don't digital artists have the same focused tooling? Outside of the content creation suites, why don't we have tailor-made tools for every occasion like everyone else?”

Trying to cobble together off-the-shelf tools to build and manage art pipelines is a constant struggle. Artists either use tools purpose-built for someone else, like Jira, Perforce, and Git or have to try and force generic audience platforms to their whims. There are a lot of great tools, but they just don't fit like a glove. I started to wonder—what if there was a platform that had an experience customized to the way artists think and work— with version control that worked at the file level, easy access to all your teams content in a way that was sortable and searchable, with integrated reviews and approvals? What if there was a sort of GitHub for artists?

So eventually, I decided that I wanted to build that platform since no one else seemed to be and I was sick of waiting. So that’s mudstack. It’s a platform that combines asset management— tagging/sorting/filtering/organizing content— with artist-friendly version control and integrated review tooling. It’s the one-stop shop for managing your teams' art pipeline without juggling multiple non-custom-built tools. We've only just begun to scratch the surface of what's possible, and with our v1 launch finally here we are excited to dig deeper and build more for artists and game studios.

80.lv: Now, let's discuss your upcoming version 1 release, what do you have planned for the launch? Could you please provide a brief overview of the new features and improvements in mudstack v1?

Jordan Stevens: We’ve spent almost 2 years in our beta phase, taking feedback from our early users and customers, and that feedback from thousands of artists and hundreds of studios has culminated in our v1 release. The biggest drawback in our beta was the last-mile integration into the artists' local workflow. We had a desktop app but it needed to be much more tightly integrated into each artist's local machine.

With our v1, you can now connect a cloud workspace to a local directory and mudstack will watch that directory for changes and manage all the versions for the artists as they continue to work normally.

When artists are ready, they can selectively sync— that is push changes to, or pull updates from, their shared cloud workspace.

Artists are able to request reviews from their peers, assign change requests, manage libraries and tags, and support files/attachments all within this cloud-synchronized environment.

80.lv: You mentioned that the release brings the ability to selectively sync data and content from the cloud for each user of mudstack, what does this update mean for development teams? How does it improve artists' workflows?

Jordan Stevens: This means that instead of a manual upload/download process as in our beta, mudstack is enabling each user to specify what files and folders they care about in their shared cloud workspace.

Next, mudstack ensures that they are always up to date with the state of this content in the cloud. As artists work locally, mudstack is watching for changes and creating new “local versions” for each save. As content is pushed to the cloud, mudstack ensures that artists working locally are always working with synchronized content.

80.lv: You also stated that mudstack v1 will add the ability to commit and push changes to the cloud in just one click, could you please tell us more about this novelty and how it will enable teams to iterate faster?

Jordan Stevens: Right— this work that each artist does locally eventually needs to make its way into a shared team space. So mudstack gives each artist a unified view of all their local changes, allowing them to commit and push their work to the cloud at the end of the day (or anytime they want!).

Artists don’t need to worry about iterative saving or tracking which files they’ve worked on and need to push to the cloud. mudstack does all that work for them in the background.

Finally, because our version control is file-based and not project-based— artists almost always only care about the files they are working on ‘right now’— we made sure it was a non-destructive process so that unintentionally destroying someone else’s work would be quite difficult.

Even in the case of conflicts— where multiple artists are working on the same file at the same time, mudstack is aware and informs these users of potential conflicts and gives them multiple ways of resolving the conflict without destroying any work— in the cloud or locally.

80.lv: Earlier this year, you made mudstack free for artists, could you please tell us more about this decision? What motivated you to make mudstack free?

Jordan Stevens: Sure. In the course of talking to prospective customers during our beta, we realized that the industry is gravitating more and more to utilizing outsource art vendors. This means that a relatively small in-house art team can actually oversee a large volume of content production.

Our pricing had been per user, and this reality meant that teams would have a very hard time actually predicting their costs for licenses since it is the artist numbers that can fluctuate dramatically during the course of a project.

So we decided to make all our plans include unlimited artists — that is users who only need to be able to upload content— for a fixed base price.

We charge license fees on top of our base price for users who need admin and review rights— teams typically don’t outsource these roles so they now have a lot more predictability when it comes to their costs to adopt mudstack.

80.lv: What are your current plans? When do you plan to release mudstack v1? Where can people learn more and get started with your platform?

Jordan Stevens: Funny you should ask! mudstack v1 has launched today— November 15, 2023. People can head over to our website to download the latest build and give mudstack a test run.

We also have brand new documentation that can guide you through the onboarding and setup process.

Finally, our team is active on our Discord and available to answer questions and provide support.

Jordan Stevens, Founder & CEO at mudstack

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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