The Unity and Microsoft Partnership, a Match Made in Game Developers Heaven…

Microsoft and Unity3D have this week announced a partnership that will make it easier for all inspiring developers to bring games and apps to life, especially on Microsoft’s platforms.

This new agreement brings optimizations for Microsoft’s latest platforms to Unity’s development environment (Windows 8.1, Windows Phone and Xbox One). Unity Pro licensed developers will receive free access to the ‘Windows Store Add-on’ which includes support for Windows Store apps and Windows Phone 8 apps.

Starting life as an OS/X game development tool in 2005 Unity has grown into a highly advanced multi-platform game development environment. Version 4.1 was released in March, version 4.2 is now in testing and includes all of the latest optimizations for Microsoft’s platforms.

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Unity3D
At its core Unity is a AAA quality 3D game engine that includes a comprehensive IDE (Integrated Development Environment). Providing all of the core tools required to create that next classic game.

Game development interface
Game development interface

With Microsoft’s co-operation Unity will expand to include new XBox One features such as multi-player matchmaking, SmartGlass support, Kinect gesture recognition and access to cloud storage and processing all in the pipeline.

There are a multitude of licenses available but only two to consider initially for the new game developer. The first license simply called Unity is free while the Unity Pro costs $1499. A number of other device specific licenses are also available, required to develop for those platforms, the Wii license costs $30,000 per title, ouch.

 The free Unity license applies a splash screen in standalone games or a watermark in web games otherwise the toolset is pretty complete. The Unity Pro license brings all of the options required to do a full AAA quality game. Such behind the scene technology as render to texture, occasion culling, global lighting and global effects.

Map design and movement.
Map design and movement.

Taking multi-platform development to new levels the Unity environment is optimized for the four major platform groups; Mobile, Desktop, Web and Console. Mobile includes iOS, Android and Windows Phone. All major desktop operating systems are supported, Windows 8, OS/X plus Linux. Console platforms include the PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii and Wii U.

Off course nothing is ever as simple as advertised; the complex licensing requirements to develop for each platform would require a license from Sony, Google, Apple and Microsoft. in order to develop for every platform.

Another major highlight of Unity is its vibrant community that not only provides a valuable knowledge base but also makes many talented artist available. Helping to solve one of the other major issue when developing a game, assets. All of the objects or assets within game must be created, wire models drawn, textures applied and movements applied. Which is where the community and Unity’s store can help, making available many assets for download and talent for hire.

Game Development Environments
One of the most important decisions facing any aspiring game developer is the question of environment, which game development tool to use. With a daunting number of choices available the question can become a very perplexing one.

Demo
Demo

Here at Highpants we are immersed in this very decision, as a collective of small time game developers we will have limited resources, both financial and man hours available. This does necessitate an efficient and reasonably easy to use environment. While some of us have been called cheap in the past, we are willing to pay for quality software, free is not essential. Finally being able to develop games for multiple platforms would be very desirable.

It turns out these fairly loose requirements yield a very long list of potential dev tools. At the top of the list are the 3D engine based integrated development environments. The list reads like a game studio who’s who including big names such as Unreal Engine 4, CryEngine 3, Unity 4, Infernal Engine, Havok Vision Engine, Hero Engine and Blitztech. Each built around a fast 3D game engine these dev tools require good programming skills and many man hours to complete a game.

highpants-microsoft-and-unity-game-dev-God-Of_War
God of War mobile

Many excellent game creator tools are also available. Typically these require less work to produce simple games. GameMaker, GameBryo, App Game Kit by The Game Creators and Big World can all churn out games in a single night but it is very rare that these games earn money.

Those with a sizable budget have a fairly simple choice between Unreal Engine or CryEngine, the best 3D game engines available. There is a third option of course, for those willing to write their own engine there is always Microsoft’s Visual Studio, the software used to write many game engines.

The world of totally free development environments is dominated by Eclipse, XNA Game Studio, MonoGame and the brand new Android Studio. With the use of plug-ins and libraries all three can be very powerful environments in their own right. Although none of them claim to make the game developers life very easy, at times feeling reminiscent of working with HAL, the 2001: Space Odyssey computer.

highpants-microsoft-and-unity-game-dev-logoIn recent days XNA has been removed as an option for potential game developers starting out. Via a leaked internal email news has emerged that Microsoft would be dropping support for XNA on April 1st 2014. Those currently using the tool will still be able to develop games, but alas there will be no further developments or upgrades for XNA. Many XNA developers are now moving to Mono to continue developing.

This seemingly baffling decision left many wondering if Microsoft had a plan, was there a method to this madness. While nothing has been made official yet it seems Microsoft is working with third parties through partnerships in order to keep the grass roots developers happy, and working away. The partnership with Unity3D may just be the first example.

Conclusion
While many dev tools highlight their ease of use the reality is that producing a AAA quality game is always going to be a lot of work, no matter which dev environment is chosen. Game creators now have more options than ever before, depending on your requirements there are generally a number of options to choose from. Make your choice carefully though, the games you create can only be as good as the tools they are built with.

For us Unity looks to be the perfect choice, providing and easy to use set of tools and with an 3D engine capable of producing the type and quality of game we hope to create. The partnership with Microsoft only sweetens the deal. Now the hard work begins.

Reference: Unity
Reference: Destructoid: Microsoft Abandons XNA
Reference: Unreal Engine 3
Reference: HotHardware: Unity and Microsoft