‘Unity 4′ Reveal – Indie Game Developers Are Ecstatic, But…

Today marked the reveal of Unity 4 – the next version of the game development engine that so many indie game developers have used; hence its rise in recent years. Its appeal lies in its ease-of-use, particularly for creating games in 3D, as well as its pretty extensive free versions that are available for those who can’t afford the price of the full package. Not to mention the range of platforms it is readily available to distribute games to. With Unity 4, developers were hoping to be excited with the additions it would bring but the question remains as to whether they are truly satisfied (though it’s unlikely that anyone will ever be with anything in this world).


Amongst the most noteworthy of additional features are Linux and Adobe Flash support for publishing, a new animation system called Mecanim, plenty of graphical add-ons and touch ups for mobile platforms and DirectX 11 support. It’s a combination of fulfilling requests by the many indie game developers who use Unity, as well as pushing the engine’s capabilities, particularly in the production of of AAA-like quality games.


Will Goldstone, Unity’s Content Manager and Development Tutor, was keen to outline what the new additions in Unity 4 will mean for indie game developers:


“Naturally Unity 4 will continue the trend of democratising. The biggest feature being added this time around is the Mecanim Character animation system – some people may mistakenly think this is a high end feature for larger studios, but if you know Unity, you’ll know that we do things our own way – and have ensured that even people with no character animation experience can use it. You just have to take a rigged character from any art package into Unity, and you can apply stunning animation in about 15 minutes – I made a video showing how you can do this.”


“So for me – indie developers really get a level up that they’ve never had access to before, because they’ll get the same access to motion capture data as large studios via asset store from us, for free – this is big, and helps level the playing field for talent,” Will continued.


“Another huge thing I think this means for indies is the ability to publish to Linux. The gaming market on Linux is blossoming right now with things like Humble Bundle, Steam and other distributors moving there, publishing your standalone game straight to Linux should really help users reach more targets. Also of course the Flash add-on, means that on the web, our users get unparalleled reach.


In addition to what we’d tout as ‘features’ there’s a ton of workflow improvements coming too – lots of better component workflows such as copy pasting, ordering and a new project panel too. All of which make all users’ lives easier, but apply to indies as much as anyone else I guess!”


You’ll notice a trend starting to emerge, as the developers who offer their verdict on Unity 4 seem to all be pretty excited about both Mecanim and the Linux publishing support. It’s not all smiley faces though, as can be seen in the Unity forums where some have found disappointment in the reveal. It’s not unjustified either. The biggest let down for some is that they paid for the full Unity 3 license expecting an improved GUI system to be added after it was promised for Unity 3.5, but this hasn’t been produced. Now with the focus shifted on to Unity 4, those promised features aren’t likely to appear on Unity 3, meaning that those who still want them will have to pay extra once again. That is, if they decide to.


This has been the first sign of upset from Unity’s customers so you would hope that they would have a response to those who have brought up the issue. Unfortunately, nothing has been said about it yet, nor has it even been acknowledged it would seem. Some don’t expect them to respond either, on the basis that Unity kept very quiet on any upcoming Linux publishing support which developers believe was so they wouldn’t fall short on a promise they couldn’t keep. In any case, we’ve asked for an official response on the matter and will update you if we get one.


Moving on to the positives then, what did indie game developers have to say about the Unity 4 reveal? First up we have Sophie Houlden, who has made a number of her own games with Unity. As ever, she was keen to be detailed in her response:


“For me, the two big things are Linux build support, which has been at the top of my wishlist for a long time. It’s something I get asked about a lot by gamers when they see my stuff, they ask if it will be on Linux. So it’s nice whenever I don’t have to say ‘sorry my game won’t work for you’.


After that is the animation system. I don’t think it’s so important to most indies as it is to me, but I like games with characters in, and animation blending has always been a bit of a headache – one of those things you have to plan ahead before you even build a character skeleton and re-do if you mess up. It’s nice to know that will be a lot easier. The inclusion of DX11 I really can’t care too much about, I think it’s good that it’s there (if a little late), but I don’t see myself using it for a while since the average laptop doesn’t support that stuff. Like I say, I like being able to have as many people play as possible, there’s other ways for me to keep my game pretty.


Mostly I think this new version of Unity is trying to be attractive to AAA types more than before. I think the indie community is already in love with Unity for the most part, and the Linux build target support in all versions of Unity (meaning it’s in free) sounds like Unity letting indies know they are listening to us. There are some features we only know as bullet points so far, such as remote web player debugging and a few other things that could potentially be huge time-savers for developers.


It is of course always a bit of guesswork which of these features will make it into the free version, but it does seem to me like the major version number increment is justified.”


Next we had Thomas Pasieka offer his views on Unity 4, positive once again. Thomas is the head honcho behind fantastic looking sidescrolling platformer, The Other Brothers, which is of course made using Unity.


Unity 4 is a big step forward for the engine, they have put the pedal to the metal with this release and it really shows! As well as opening developers up to an entirely new platform with the Linux support, they’ve brought in DirectX 11, shadows for mobile and the awesome Mecanim toolset which really cement it as a AAA contender. We’re rather excited by the Linux support specifically as we’ve been wanting to get The Other Brothers into the hands of the Linux gaming community!”


Our next verdict comes from Danny Goodayle, who has developed a number of iOS titles and is also working on upcoming survival horror, Thanatophobia, for the PC.


“Well, my reactions to Unity 4… It looks fantastic! The animation system will allow for better animations due to the blending and what seems to be a easy to use state machine. Honestly I can’t wait to use it. As for downsides, the pricing for the pro license seems a bit expensive however I guess that for the extra features it’s worth the price (not to mention the amount of time it will save in the long run).”


Lastly is Rob Storm, who has developed both Project Stormos and Intruder using the Unity engine and to great results.


“I’m glad that they are pushing forward in a time where the new batch of what people call ‘Next Generation’ hardware and software are coming out. DirectX 11 and especially nabbing a AAA animation system is important for letting the small companies like us make big projects and realize our big ideas and games faster. Also, that Unity always seems to time their releases perfectly for exactly when we’re working on a part of our game that needs those new features. Maybe a coincidence but awesome none the less.”


In any case, the Unity 4 reveal has gone down well, but some feel that they have been short changed after paying for a full license for specific features which haven’t been delivered, and may only be if more money is handed over. Unity 4 is currently available for pre-order in the Unity Store, and more details can be found on the official website.


Valuing gameplay and innovation over everything, Chris has a keen eye for the most obscure titles unknown to man and gets a buzz from finding fantastic games that are not getting enough love. Chris Priestman, Editor-in-Chief of IGM

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