http://www.totalxbox.com/74116/featu...aming-on-xbox/It's saying something about Unity's spread that when Ubisoft unveiled Assassin's Creed: Unity last week (after a helpful "push" from the gentlemen and ladies of Kotaku), I sincerely thought that Uncle Ubi had enlisted the hitherto Mac-only game engine to the Assassin cause. Once deemed fit only for dinky browser affairs, Unity is now the basis for projects as far flung as Max and the Curse of Brotherhood, Slender: The Arrival, Abe's Oddysee: New 'n' Tasty and Temple Run.
And Unity is still accelerating. Members of the ID@Xbox self-publishing program will get free access to a custom Xbox One toolset once it launches later this year - thus moving Unity to the centre of the emerging indie scene on Microsoft's new console. In September last year, OXM editor and self-styled tech savant (he used to edit Windows magazines, don't you know) Jon Hicks spoke to Unity Technologies CEO David Helgason about the challenges of the transition.
So, how does this work? Is there just a button that says "export to Xbox One"?
That will pretty much be how it works from a technical perspective. There is the toolset that we have been working on for many years that supports many platforms. From a technical perspective the idea is that you work on your game once and then you can bring it to any platform. But we also make sure you can really make use of the hardware. So if you're running a really high-end device, you want to go crazy with shaders, you want to go crazy with particle systems, you want to really use what is there.
So we still see how developers go crazy, think about the platform itself, controller and everything like that, but yes. Once they've worked out these issues and decided how they want to play that, there will simply be a new export option. We already supported the 360 for a while and now we'll have the Xbox One export. They can also build games for Windows Store, for both the desktop and for mobile.
Depending on which platform there are different costs, but the fundamental thing is that the tools themselves are the same. And once you build what you want to build you can just export it directly. So now we're adding, in collaboration with Microsoft, Xbox One support later this year and we also worked with them to make the Windows store export free.
So is the Xbox One support superior to what you offer with Xbox 360?
Absolutely. So Xbox 360 support was something we did on our own to support some of our customers, we came in really late in the cycle, so we kind of knew it wasn't going to be a huge business for us. Because you know late in a cycle, people will have picked their technologies, built their own, there weren't really a lot of needs. So we did because we had customers who wanted to export games and they did that.
Here we're coming in really early in the cycle with a lot of support from Microsoft, also the difference is a few years ago we were a small company with a new toolset and now it's a massive community with almost two million people. Tens of thousands of games, is our last estimate - on mobile especially, but also elsewhere. And of course you know Microsoft is excited to work with us to bring the best of that community to their ecosystem.
How important is Xbox One support to the future of Unity?
We're really excited to do it. We were thinking about it when this new next-gen, this gen is coming up, whatever we're calling it, we were thinking about what we should go about it, and we decided that a partnership strategy would be the best way for us. So we actually partnered with all three new console manufacturers.
Is there anything distinctive about the MS partnership versus your relationship with Sony and Nintendo?
There'll be more to tell soon, we'll be announcing, it's just that we'll be a bit early in the cycle so we've barely started talking about it. One of the intentions is to go deep on hardware support and make sure that we export basically the best of what the Xbox has to offer, obviously the new Kinect is a kind of particular focus there. Because it's so powerful - it's actually... I don't know which kind of words to put on it . If I say it's ridiculous it sounds negative, but it's just an amazing piece of hardware. And the software behind it is actually a big part of that, the software that the engine has to support well to make this good. And so we're working on that.
But also we're working on other things to make sure that we support the best of the rest of the platform. That'll be things like matchmaking, that we support the SmartGlass concept, and make it easy to tap into Microsoft's cloud infrastructure. Because that's - Microsoft is pushing it but I think it's a general trend that gamers expect their state to be saved, they expect to be able to log in on different devices and things like that. So of course we're working with Microsoft's platforms to make it really easy there.
I guess it'll depend on the game, but you're trying to make it easy to identify things that could be pushed to the cloud?
What is actually really exciting is - it's not as if it's been completely impossible to do some of these things in the past, but people haven't started doing them a lot. But in the last couple of years we've seen people ramping that interest. And now that it's really easy on the Xbox One, I think it'll be interesting to see what developers come up with.
It's always this way - when things go from being really hard to being really easy, or at least a lot easier, and a lot of developers go and work on these things, you always get this very rapid iteration of innovation where you'll see the first generation of games, second generation of games, third generation of games, coming in waves, right. And every generation - every micro-generation on the console generation - will have different ways of doing this. And we've seen this with all new controls, on new hardware, whether it's on console or elsewhere, where we just see how people use the hardware changing very quickly.
Because even just in tablet where people used - the thumbsticks were invented and then at some point somebody realised that you didn't really need the right thumbstick because you could just drag the whole screen. And these things will change on a six, nine-month cycle. With the cloud infrastructure and how to use that, I'm expecting a lot of innovation. What's neat about Unity is that it has a huge community behind it and there are big studios and loads of loads of small studios and small teams. And often this kind of innovation comes from them. So I think we can expect to see interesting things happening. I'm not going to try and predict which ones because you never know what's going to work. But that's from a gameplay and usability perspective. It'll be interesting to see.
Is it going to be easy - I always hesitate to use that word...
Developers get cross when I say that. Butwill it be more straightforward to move a game from PC to Xbox One and add Kinect and cloud support, thanks to Unity?
Yes. From a technical perspective we make it as easy as is reasonable! You still need to give people flexibility, you still need to give them low-level tools to do more specialised things. But we make it as easy as is reasonable and from thereon removing a lot of the technical friction so that people can dive in and work on the actual experience instead of first having to build a bunch of infrastructure. Our small customers love it but it turns out the big customers love it as well. And of course that's why something like Unreal is popular, and Unity is popular, you skip a whole bunch of steps in production.
The last stage, which is making something that's actually enjoyable for games, that's the really hard thing, and that's something that we only help at a distance by making everything so simple that you can actually spend a lot of time on it. But that's another thing where if you say something is easy, developers get really offended. And they should do, because that's the bit where they really have to think deep and hard. There's nothing easy about making things that are fun.
Do you facilitate any contact between Unity developers and Microsoft Studios?
We can't take responsibility but we do have good relationships, so when we do see something really good come out of the community, Microsoft and other publishers are interested in hearing about it, so we try and connect the dots. But in the end of course we're out of the loop on actually making decisions.
Is it a complicated process, adding support for Kinect and the Xbox Live cloud?
We already support the old Kinect, Kinect 1.0 - it was a lot of work but we did it already for the Xbox 360 Unity support, and the community has also made it work on desktop. We only started recently on this project, it's always a lot of work, there's always some interesting challenges on the way, but we're pretty good at technology and we don't find many crazy challenges trying to build something new.
Support for Kinect has been out for a few years and is still available. The Windows Store support for desktop in mobile, that has been in beta, people have actually released games on it already. It's coming out of beta reasonably soon. And then Xbox One support, timing of that there is no comment on that yet except that we're hard at work.
Can any of those games being made in Unity now appear on Xbox One?
Yes. From an [engine] perspective there won't be any major hurdles, however some of these games will have been built for specific platforms or inputs. So not all of them will flow naturally. But from a technical perspective and if the developer finds it to be the right thing, if Microsoft is convinced it's the right thing, there should be no games that absolutely couldn't go across.
Of course, the benefit there is that the Xbox One has so much processing power that all of the existing games can run on it. So there's no fundamental technical challenges. How many of them get ported across, I have no insight into that, that's between Microsoft and the developer, but there are definitely some games that I think should come across. So I'll be crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. And the community at some level will decide there's a lot of interest in certain games, you know, the publishers and the developers tend to take notice.
It's going to be exciting for us to join this world. Although we supported the 360 we haven't been a major player in that world, so it'll be really exciting to see how the consoles of this generation shape up. I'm sure there are still a lot of announcements from all the console makers about exact timeframes and other details so it'll be exciting to see how it plays out. People have been a bit depressed about consoles, I think, until they started to see them in action. "You know, these are pretty damn powerful devices. There's something here." People's imaginations fall short, you know, they see the new tablets and think that's all there is.
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All for One: how the Unity Engine empowers indie gaming on Xbox....
Unity sounds like it's going to be a good thing.
I'm glad to see that MS is doing something proactive with indie devs.
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