Tom, from Unity 3D, talks about their cross platform game development tools
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Interviewer: Hi, I’m here at Casual Connect and with me is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Tom: Hi, my name is Tom Higgins. I’m the Product Evangelist for Unity.
Interviewer: Unity, for those of you on iTunes, is helping to sponsor a contest that we’re having on the Indie Game Podcast Show, basically giving away a free Unity iPhone SDK license or something like that. So, for those of you who are interested and want to win that license, just go to the site and submit your iPhone idea, and the best one voted by the community will get the license.
So, let’s move on to the interview. Basically, what is Unity about?
Tom: Well, Unity is a cross platform game development tool that lets you author either from Mac or Windows and lets folks target the desktop or the browser, Mac and Win, all browsers. And then, of course, the exciting thing, of course, in the last nine months for folks has been our iPhone support, let you target the iPhone and iPod Touch.
Interviewer: You guys had a hit with the iPhone, or someone had a hit using your platform. What was that?
Tom: Yeah, that was earlier this year in the spring, a game called Zombieville USA, which every time I talk to people about it and say, “Oh yeah, we had this hit game, Zombieville USA, they usually beat me to the punch by pulling their iPhone out or their iPod and showing me the game. It’s a great story of a small indie developer getting a hit game and getting it up on iTunes and becoming a dominant hit for a long time.
Interviewer: We did an interview during GDC in San Francisco. What’s changed since then, and where’s Unity right now?
Tom: Well, you know, a lot. Of course, at GDC our big news was that we had just released the Windows version of our editor. For our history we have been Mac-based for content authoring. Since we got that Windows release out, of course, there is still a huge storm of attention around the iPhone and iPod Touch, but we’ve been bringing on a lot of new users, coming on board because of the Windows editor.
Whether these are schools and universities, development shops, what have you, everybody seems to be giving us a lot of attention. Really, that Windows push brought a lot of those new folks on board because they couldn’t tap into us because they were Windows-based before.
Interviewer: Why is it that, because I keep on hearing more now about Unity? Why do you think that is now? It seems like to actually… You have other competitors, but I’m just hearing Unity more and more. What’s changed?
Tom: Well, I just think we have the right combination of price point, of licensing terms, features and functionality and, of course, when you can deliver all of that sitting on top of a nice smooth, elegant optimized authoring experience. We have all of those pieces in place right now.
No, we’ve got work to do. We’re not done yet, but it is, compared to whatever else is out there, any of our competitors, they might have one piece or another piece, but we’ve got them all in place. I think that’s what really attractive to people is the fact that they can step into a tool, know that they can be productive, know that they can create excellent content and get it all at what’s a fair price and nice licensing terms.
Interviewer: I noticed on your site you just cover a lot of platforms. Aside from the iPhone and Windows and Mac, can you talk about some of the other platforms you guys have tools for?
Tom: Sure. So, of course, Desktop and Web on Mac and Windows, iPhone, iPod Touch and then the Wii console, whether you’re doing retail or WiiWare titles. We’ve got more on the way. We’ve got some interesting development kits in the office. You know, the Wii and the iPhone work for a smooth author attritional desktop and web space, but certainly it’s not our last.
The mobile space is extremely exciting because all the Smart Phones are presenting developers a real opportunity for success and, of course, millions of these handsets are going out. So, we’ll continue to grow in the mobile space and, of course, keep working on the console side because we can’t ignore that. That’s a really nice, attractive item for the bigger studios and then for the indies that can graduate up.
Interviewer: What about Android? Are you guys going to do anything with that?
Tom: Well, you know, nothing firm to commit to. Clearly, it’s an exciting platform. We get a lot of requests and interest in it, but it’s one among many right now that we have to consider in terms of what’s going to be the next thing for us.
But, a nice part about what else has changed since GDC is the fact that we’re staffing up quite a bit, and we’re doing really well business-wise, but we’ve been able to handle things in series. We do one new platform and then another. We’d like to take on a bit more aggressive of an approach and take a few on in parallel. A big part of that is going to be the mobile space.
Now, I’ve danced around the question of not answering Android, in particular, on purpose, but clearly a high level of interest because we’re getting interest out of our developers and community. But, that’s one out of many that we have to consider.
Interviewer: Another that they are trying to tap into is the game mystery, that companies will have a game service, and then it will be spread out across multiple platforms. You have the Web. You have the iPhone and, maybe, even the console or something else like that.
Does Unity lend itself to that or is it a different development? Even though you have different platforms, is it still a different development cycle or a different development code for each of these different platforms?
Tom: Well, you know, the dream for us all is this lofty goal of author once deploy anywhere. We’re not there yet. That’s an ideal situation. That’s the perpetual motion machine kind of goal, but the truth is that you do have to target each platform uniquely.
You talk about the iPhone or iPod Touch. It’s a phone. It’s not a desktop machine, so you have to dial back the art work. You have to think about using a touch interface or the phone’s accelerometer or orientation information which is very different than the keyboard mouse on the desktop which is different than the Wii modem [?] on the Wii console.
Each platform does require some tweaking and customization. I don’t want to mislead anyone on that, but through smart content authoring you are not starting from zero with each platform. It’s the same work flow. It’s the same editor environment you’re in. It’s the same RSS pipeline, and so you can do some of your work and have that transfer right across from platform to platform. And then try and keep the shell of what you have to change per platform or per target environment to a minimum.
So, we want to work towards that author once deploy anywhere. We feel that we’ve got that for a lot of core content that you can do, and then you get to change the window dressing and custom made [?] on the outside and really take advantage of each platform that’s specific.
Interviewer: You know, another thing that is popping up on these iPhone games is augmented reality gaming where they’re literally taking images from the iPhone and then putting some gaming structures on top of that. Is that something that Unity can help with, with the SDK? Is that something that would be supported, or is it mainly just 3D games within iPhone itself, like within its own environment?
Tom: Sure, first of all, 3D versus 2D. Unity is a 3D environment. It’s, first and foremost, that’s where we’re coming from. 2D development content is entirely possible. You’re not limited to 3D in specific and going back to the example of Zombieville USA, it’s in 2D sides crawling shooter using some of the 3D functionality, of course, taking advantage of it where necessary but it’s 2D game play. You’re not boxed into 3D only in that sense.
Now, augmented reality is an exciting new area, and if you go on our website and you look at our current shipping version today the feature set that is there. Can it support it right out of the box with no extra stuff? No, you’re going to have to do a little tweaking, but we’re about to put out an update release to our iPhone product that is going to allow folks to write their own custom X code or custom objective C, excuse me, and then call into that from inside the Unity content. So, where we don’t support features like accessing a live camera feed to do an augmented reality, you’re going to be able to go in a simple way and let that support yourself.
Can you do it right out of the box today? No. Can it be done with these new features we’re about to put out in the next couple of weeks? Yeah, you bet because augmented reality is always kind of an exciting new playground for everyone. And when we can’t do features, we want to give you, the developer, the necessary hooks to add that functionality that you really require.
Interviewer: Now, I was looking at Unity for what development, like Unity versus Flash. The thing about Flash is that you get this player. Unity, you do kind of need an install on the web. Where’s that going? Is that going to change?
Tom: Well, you know, until we become embedded as part of the OS or built into a browser, yeah, you’re going to have to install our run for content that is going to be played on the web. We tackle that in a few ways, and the first is no, we don’t have that 98 or 95 or whatever the number is today for Flash.