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Exploring Unity
September 2, 2005 | Michael Scarpelli

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You wish you could make trees this nice.
The Macintosh gaming community has, after many years of toil and struggle, begun to come into its own. Concurrent releases for major titles are more common and, failing that, ports are typically quick to follow their PC counterparts. While this coming of age is a good thing in and of itself, it's an indicator of a larger problem: Mac-exclusive titles are a rare breed indeed. This is due in large part to the fact that game creation tools for the Mac crowd are still notoriously underrepresented. With any luck, that's about to change.

Enter Unity, a game creation tool from Over the Edge Entertainment (OTEE). OTEE, based out of Denmark, has developed a professional grade engine for the Macintosh OS that clocks in at about $250 for independent developers. While this price is much higher than free—the cost of some of the current Mac development tools available today, such as Dimension3—and more expensive than Torque's indie license ($100), it is cheap when weighed against some of the other retail standards for the game creation world. This is true of other aspects of game design as well: potential designers can use a free modeler like Blender, but one of the professional standards for modeling, Maya, will run a Mac user around $900 simply for the latest upgrade.

Now we come to an important point for anyone who reads "game creation application" and thinks that they've found the end-all, be-all of development tools. Game development is a lengthy and involved process. Newcomers will face a daunting number of tasks including learning how to model 3D objects, animating characters, creating textures, and learning how to create lighting and particle and shading effects. This is to say nothing of making your life easier by trying to learn Javascript, C# (read: Javascript) or C++ so that you can code specifics into your game to make it more your own. Each of these steps requires, at the minimum, learning a new application and, at the most, mastering a programming language. Unity, clearly, won't get it all done, but it can be the glue that helps hold it all together and will definitely iron out many of the painful steps involved in blending all these myriad aspects together. It's a relatively new idea for the Macintosh-specific world: a simple and accessible design and layout tool for game creation.

Unity covers simple modeling (mostly good for placeholders), script editing, shaders, animation, physics powered by Novodex, bump maps and many more items that adorn a features list or the back of a product box nicely. Unity runs the gamut of the game design app standards. There are a few items that would have been nice to see but are not included, such as a terrain editor. Overall, Unity seems to lack a focus or preference for internal or external environments, and there's no real specialization towards a genre of game, which could be a crutch for users who have grown faithful to apps that cater to the specific environment style that they work most with.

The application functions for game design like InDesign or Quark does for a desktop publishing project; there are a good many things that will be easier (and better) created in other applications. You'd never put all the pieces of a newspaper together in Word, nor would you do all your word processing in InDesign. The two need to work together. So, maybe landscapes and character models are made in Blender, textures are laid out in Photoshop (or even better, the totally free GIMPshop), and finally Unity is the place where it's all brought together. Objects are placed in the game scene, behaviors are applied, light sources are added, physics are modified, and finally the game is built. This is not to say Unity doesn't try to fold some of these outsourced projects into itself, however. If you already own a copy of SubEthaEdit or similar text editor, go ahead and code with that; otherwise Unity's built-in coding functions can be used to edit all manner of scripts and other elements used to create your game.


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