Moving Unity on

Dom Raban of Corporation Pop examines the factors that make Unity more than just a great tool for traditional game development.

Moving unity on

This article first appeared in the January issue (#232) of .net magazine – the world’s best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

Even if you’re only mildly interested in gaming and game development, you can’t really have helped but notice the recent meteoric rise of Unity to become the chosen development environment for small and medium size outfits around the world.

From humble beginnings in Denmark in 2001, Unity Technologies now employs 150 staff, has opened offices in the UK, USA, Canada, Lithuania, Sweden, Japan and Korea, and quotes a user base of over 1.3 million registered developers. With more than 2,000 games developed in Unity for the iPhone alone, it’s likely that even if you haven’t used the software yourself you’ve played a game developed in it.

What makes Unity special is the wide variety of platforms that it supports. The same Unity project can be published to the web, to iOS, to Android, to Wii, to Xbox and to Playstation. And then there’s the development shipping soon that will enable Unity projects to be exported to Flash – which has been made possible by Adobe’s Stage3D with hardware accelerated 3D support.

Controlled environment

But Unity isn’t just of interest to traditional game development shops. I run a creative agency
delivering projects across a range of media and devices, and we’ve been developing using Unity for almost two years now. One of our first projects was a ‘traditional’ game for iOS.

Goldfrapp Pinball uses a selection of the artist’s samples that are triggered by collisions within a Goldfrapp-themed pinball gaming table. More recently we’ve been using Unity for a range of projects from architectural simulations to prototypes for new TV platforms.

We originally came to Unity seeking an alternative development environment for our work in virtual worlds, delivering events, training and simulations – primarily for the education and
corporate sectors. Like many other companies working in the field, we started out developing solutions using third-party platforms such as Second Life and its open source equivalent OpenSim. But, frustrated by the pace and direction of platform development and the inherent usability problems, we began looking for options that would enable us to deliver multi-user online 3D environments on, essentially, our own platform.

Unity provided us with the ideal solution. As a development environment, rather than a proprietary platform, we can now build, deploy and host entirely bespoke solutions where the design of the interface, the security of access and the stability of delivery are all under our control.

One of our  recent Unity project, Lives at War, is an educational game for secondary school children learning about life on the Home Front during World War Two. Launched in September, the project was originally destined for Second Life when we started scoping it more than two years ago. Had we followed our original deployment plans it would have been a much less interesting and engaging game than it is now.

Immersive experiences

Lives at War is a virtual world presenting a fictionalised English seaside town of the 1940s. The environment uses game mechanics to draw players into the lives and experiences of the townspeople.

Embedded within it are archive films that support and enrich the gameplay. By developing in Unity we were able to create an engaging educational experience that lived up to children’s expectations in terms of both the quality of scene building and the gameplay.

What excites me most about Unity is that it’s the technology that makes gamification a reality. Some of the most exciting projects being developed in it at the moment are in the areas of training, education, simulation and prototyping.

Whether you’re learning what it takes to become an air traffic controller (Heartwood Inc’s Aircraft Marshalling Virtual Trainer), a health professional (CliniSpace by Innovation in Learning) or a reallife crime scene investigator (IC-CRIME from the University of North Carolina), the technology that will be facilitating your immersive experience will most likely have been developed by a bunch of very nice guys from Denmark.

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