Unite Unity

Unite 10

I was at Unity’s UNITE conference in Montreal, and it was both informative and fun UNITE is an annual conference to showcase and educate users and developers using Unity technologies. This conference is the largest annual Unity developer conference and is the tenth such conference. UNITE is often the platform Unity uses to announce new releases and features, as well as gain feedback and interact with the Unity developers.

Unity appears to be gaining popularity with more mainstream game and interactive media companies. They have begun to announce more pronounced companies such as EA, Disney, Marvel and Nokia developing software using Unity. Unity has currently carved out a niche market with its attempt to support as large a range of platforms as possible (mobile devices to high end consoles) and have attracted more attention because of this business model. With fiercer competition in the game and web/browser market it is important to get additional training and knowledge directly from the source.

The conference allowed developers to have one-on-one talks with the Unity developers as well as see demos of competing vendors and hear about alternative implementations and solutions for development problems. The networking opportunities also provide us additional information about how Unity is being used.

The main keynote presentation was broken into two main parts. The first part was a talk by David Helgason (CEO of Unity Technologies) and Brett Seyler, who presented information about some current Unity stats and upcoming Unity enhancements (of course mentioning the release of Unity 3.1). The information provided included the current number of Unity plugins installed at 40 million, and over one thousand iPhone games produced using Unity’s iPhone license (including some top selling games). Helgason also showed Unity’s commitment to the indie market with what would become the common phrase of the conference “democratization” which when used by the Unity team, described a philosophy of providing more large scale production tools and options to indie developers. The major democratization addition was the Unity Asset Store, which allows developers to buy, sell and share content through the Unity editor (similar to the Apple App Store, but embedded in the editor) The focus on the indie developer can also be seen in the announcement of the Unity Union, which allows companies to get into a contractual agreement with Unity to provide custom licenses and options for developing Unity game on a platform currently not supported by Unity (such as the Nokia phones).

The second part of the talk was by Jesse Schell a game designer (previously a creative director at Disney’s virtual imagineering studio) but the focus of Schell’s talk was not specific to Unity, but mroe on game character’s and virtual characters. Schell provided a of his predictions on the direction of game and character interaction, including a focus on: facial expression tracking; persistent databases; speech recognition; natural language understanding; emotion sensing; integrated multi-platform games; interface to everything; cognitive tutors; intelligent actors; and augmented reality. Schell also mentioned that he is doing work on ‘The Mummy Online’ in collaboration with Universal and Bigpoint for launch in Winter 2010.

I learned some new things about Unity and how it was used, although much of the conference was focused on the high level introduction, and since I have been using Unity since 2007 in many forms (Mac, PC, Unity source code, web and iPhone) I would have liked to have had a bit more indepth approach about the low-level details.

A number of talks were focused on developing tools for Unity that more commercial engines (such as Unreal or the Hero engine) already have and maintain. It did not appear that many companies were using Unity for large scale MMOs (outside of the mention of the upcoming Mummy MMORPG) and Unity’s immediate focus still appears to be indie (over large scale commercial) support.

I really enjoy Unity and feel like the company has a bright future, with Unity 3.X and their support for consoles, more and more companies will look to Unity as their potential engine. As always, it is so important to use the right tool for the job, and I can’t stress that enough. Unity covers a wide range of options, and feel like it is a great engine to use for an indie to intermediate sized project. Unity has a great and helpful community and you can make some fun games. It is always worthwhile in doing your homework on any engine, and look at what kinds of games are produced, and make sure that these are the approximate types of results you would expect. One caveat though, Unity also deals with some additional licenses for undocumented features which may give other companies a competitive advantage, some other companies also purchase the Unity source code and develop their own plugin that gives them additional features that do not exist “out of the box”. There are some fun games and applications made with Unity, and I wish you best of luck with yours.

Unite Montreal,
Michael Hubbard

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