I've been reading around online and through books and still can't quite figure out what exactly tool pipelines are within the game industry.
The tool pipeline is the set of tools that an asset has to go through from the original creation to the moment it's used in the game.
- An artist makes a 3d model in 3dsmax
- A converter transforms the 3dxmax format into something the game engine can use to render it
- Script extracts the images data from the model, and place the image in a certain folder, while placing the model into another folder.
At the same time
- A level designer imports the model into a home made level editor that can edit the 3dsmax model, and adds paths for AI in a separate file based on that model
- Another converter loads the AI file and outputs it in binary format
- A script places the binary file in the correct folder for the game to load it based on information in it
All of these tools have a purpose, and must be executed in the proper order on the assets.
Each company has its own unique set of pipelines for different purposes (e.g. one for 3d models, one for the audio, one for the AI, etc.): they evolve out of the needs of the company and the engineers who think about them.