quinta-feira, 30 de agosto de 2012

Unite 12, a little about the experience

Alternative title: "How spending a week in Amsterdam made me fall even more in love with Unity".

Last saturday, after spending 13 hours of my day inside a plane, I finally stepped in my home town again. And although I was absolutely tired and affected by the jet lag, I was (and still am), equally satisfied.

The week was occupied with sessions, round tables, workshops and cocktails of incredible content not only about Unity but about development and the industry. I had acess to tools and resources yet to be launched and talked to developers with more than 20 years of career. And all of that contributed to make my opinion
about the future of the game scene even more positive.

Tuesday, August 21, the week began with Unity Training Day, a pre-conference event with the objective to teach the basics of the engine to new developers and prepare them for the events of Unite itself. Last year called "Flash Day", it had five moments: Introduction to the engine, Art Assets, Creating characters with Mecanim, Critical features for new users and a summary of the day. The content shown was in fact very basic (except Mecanim, which left a VERY good first impression), but it was enough to teach me a few interesting things. And it is always fun to watch someone create a First Person Shooter in ten minutes.
In the break between sessions I met the first brazillian besides me in the event, Filipe Romaneini, overlord from Corporate Monsters who is about to lauch his first mobile game. Also met some sociable hobbyists adventuring in Unity development.

That day there was also the welcome cocktail for the conference attendees, free drinks and food people from all over the world with all kinds of projects meeting and talking for the first time. There I met Lucas Machado, CTO from MobJoy, one of the two brazilian studios nominated for the Unity Awards in the category Community Choice and Jay, Unity's field engineer/evangelist responsible for Latin America. Both were extremely friendly and optmistic (with motive) about the game developers' future in Brazil.

Wednesday, August 22, was the day things got serious. Official opening of  Unite 12: Unity's CEO and CTO  showed the absolutely amazing new features of version 4.0, including Mecanim, the new GUI, new organizational system and an animation in real time showing Unity's compatibility with DirectX11:

They talked a lot about the engine's exponencial growth and how the colaboration between its 1.2 million users (around 300.000 active monthly) was a key element for the company's success, leading to the creation of Unity Developers Network: a junction of forums, help and direct feedback systems, acessible to all developers. And they promissed more news.

Another amazing anouncement that made me cry like a fangirl was the possibility to develop to Windows 8 and Windows Phone with the 4.0, expanding Unity's potencial with the already announced Flash and Linux support. Personal opinion: from now on they should consider the possibility of selling the mobile licenses in a bundle or something with discount.

And at least, but not in anyway less important, Peter Molyneux talked about the creative process in the independent development of his new game: Curiosity.
To the ones who don't know Curiosity, the game is a social experiment from the recently founded indie studio 22Cans. The objective of the game is to open a giant cube made of several mini cubes: everytime you touch a mini cube it is destroyed. Simples stuff. And there are 64 billion mini cubes. Yup.
But that's when the geniality of the game shows up: every player is connected opening the same cube and according to Molyneux (again for those who don't know: he's the creator of Fable and Black&White) the final content of the cube is something that will change the life of whoever manages to open it. And only one player will destroy the last mini cube and see what's inside. Yup.

Altough I was skeptical about the idea, I ended up impressed with it because of Peter Molyneux' passionate speech about the design, development and all the creation process. When someone with almost 30 years of experience in the industry talks like that it is impossible not to feel captivated. To those who still doubt the project, here's a little gameplay video:

With the presentations done, the rest of the day was filled with sessions that extended the content of the CEO and CTO presentation, specially Road Map & Wish List, session where the developers talked directly to the public about what should be implemented next. And where I was reprimanded on twitter by AngryAnt because I was twitting about the contents of the session. Apparently Unity's future new Debugger was supposed to be a secret.

That day I could also see not only the already mentioned Mecanim (state machines, I desire you), but also the new GUI system, with extremely valiable resources for those who have a hard time trying to create a good interface in Unity. The new system is manipulated through a native transform component, allowing the definition of properties like scale and position as static or dynamic. And it is possible to change the GUI from 2D to 3D by simply adding a traditional transform to it. Practical and extremely relevant for workflow.

Thursday, August 23, the day began with the session "The power of the Crowd" by Brian Fargo (creator of Fallout 1 & 2 and executive producer for Rock'n'Roll Racing), who talked about the difficulties of independent production and how collaboration between users allows indie games to survive. As passionate as Molyneux, he focused a lot on how tools like Kickstarter and Asset Store became essential to the developer, besides expressing his disappointment the the mainstream industry: "Corporations don't have artistic integrity, people do!". His new game, Wasteland 2, is being developed in Unity and was financed through Kickstarter. And according to him it already uses 49 different art assets available in the Asset Store.

Two products that really impressed me (and I intend to use them soon) were GameDraw and Substances. The first one, available in the Asset Store, is a modelling plugin inside Unity, allowing the editing of .fbx files without having to use an external tool. Besides other interesting things like 3D plane generation from 2D textures and mesh creation through digital painting in Unity's scene view.
The second one is a program that allows the fast creation of dynamic textures that can be changed during runtime. The tool generates a procedural material with public parameters associated to specific caracteristics that, when changed, modify the texture procedurally. And the cherry above the cake: the materials are optimized.

The brazilian presence in the event became even more evident that day with the session by Aquiris, the brazilian studio responsible for developing the Bootcamp demo. The session: "Transcending Unity's Frontiers: From game development tool to cross-media platform" discussed the potential of the engine for the development of projects that reach different medias, using as example the game developed for Coca-Cola: "O Segredo dos Vales Mágicos"(The Secret of the Magical Valleys in english) that besides the game also had a digital interactive book and an animation made through Unity.

And again the brazilian developers were noticed in Unite with the two nominees to the Unity Awards in the Community Choice category, with Road Warrior from MobJoy and Blood & Glory developed by the brazilian division of Glu Mobile. Unfortunately none of them won (Dead Trigger's fault), but it's still something to consider.
Brazil, the third country that downloads the most Free Versions of Unity, has shown an exponencial growth when it comes to game production and starts to be noticed in the international scenario. The platforms for digital distribution, accessible tools and extensive marketing have guaranteed the opening of the country to the creation of independent content. It's still a relatively small number, I met about 15 brazilians in the event, but it is a sign that Brazil is ready to face AAA development.

Brazilian presence in Unite 12

Friday, August 24, the last day of the event :(
Half of the participants were late and the other half was hungover because of the party that came after Unity Awards.
The sessions were a little weak, but I was still surprised with "Advanced Editor Scripting" (plugins, plugins, plugins!) and "Creating Interactive Instalations with Unity"(motion controls!). The session of the day I was expecting the most, "Linux and Flash Publishing with Unity 4.0", was a little disappointing, focusing more on the proccess of converting the source code during game compilation for the new platforms. I expected to see more about the integration resources with Flash and something deeper about Linux, operational system which I unfortunately don't have much knowledge about.

It was kind of sad to see one of the most exciting weeks of my short life as a game developer end, but everything I learned and the amazing people I met were enough to keep me studying and creating the best I can until next year. I don't know if I'll ever have this opportunity again, but if I do I'll enjoy every minute of it, because it is an amazing experience. The knowledge I have acquired will follow me till the end of my life, and that's something you can't put a price on.

P.S: To the ones interested, the Unite 12 sessions will soon be available here.
P.S.2: Sorry about the delay in the post. Really busy week.
P.S.3: 1000 acesses in the portuguese version of the blog! Awesome! :D

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