Unity 5 and Democratizing Development: An Interview With Founder David Helgason

Unity founder talks about the engine’s newest features and upcoming plans.

Posted By | On 02nd, Jun. 2015 Under Article, Interviews


Unity started out in an industry dominated by Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. id Software’s technology seemingly fell by the wayside as more studios developed their own proprietary engines. Rockstar’s RAGE, Ubisoft’s AnvilNext, CD Projekt RED’s REDengine and many more engines emerged in the meantime but in terms of licensing, Unreal Engine was always king. However, with Unity 5, the company has made the leap from fledgling indie engine to a sophisticated game development suite capable of delivering AAA visuals. And best of all, with its wide range of support and affordability, it brings top-tier tools to any and all studios.

GamingBolt had a chance to speak to Unity founder David Helgason about the changes and improvements that Unity 5 brings to games, the engine’s biggest strengths and what we can look forward to in the future.

République Remastered

" We do the hard work behind the scenes so that developers can focus on making games rather than porting to different systems. Unity 5 adds a lot of incredibly powerful features that will help developers create even prettier games and push the limits of hardware on devices."

Rashid K. Sayed: Republique Remastered is the biggest stand-out from the jump to Unity 5, especially when it comes to the improvement in lighting. How have you improved the global illumination in Unity 5, especially with regards to the different workflows?

David Helgason: One of the great things about Unity 5 is the inclusion of Enlighten from Geomerics. It’s known for in-game real-time GI, but it also provides is a vastly improved lighting workflow for artists. Faster workflow means faster iteration which means better looking levels and content in general. Part of this is due to an iterative mode which removes the need for explicitly baking the scene. This basically means the scene will pre-compute and bake in the background and the Editor will automatically track changes made to the scene and execute the tasks needed to fix up the lighting. Many of these lighting iteration tasks will be nearly instantaneous.

Rashid K. Sayed: The biggest strength of Unity throughout its history has been its wide range of support across platforms. How will Unity 5 influence the development and porting of new titles on mobile platforms, high-end PCs and gaming consoles?

David Helgason: Unity 5 supports even more platforms than ever, and we just announced support for the New Nintendo 3DS and HoloLens, and we are working on some other things in the lab. We do the hard work behind the scenes so that developers can focus on making games rather than porting to different systems. Unity 5 adds a lot of incredibly powerful features that will help developers create even prettier games and push the limits of hardware on devices. The introduction if the groundbreaking IL2CPP technology will also increase performance to native speeds on all platforms, eventually making it even easier to bring the best quality games to multiple platforms.

Rashid K. Sayed: Mobile devices haven’t quite had games with AAA production levels, especially in the graphics department. With the ever-increasing power of mobile phones – the recent Tegra K1 allegedly outperforming the PS3 and Xbox 360 – how will Unity 5 help developers leverage the hardware for better quality visuals?

David Helgason: Mobile devices are getting more powerful with each new release and the energetic competition from entrenched device manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, and newcomers  such as China’s Xiaomi is accelerating that improvement. As you know, Unity 5 is a graphics powerhouse with features like physically-based shading and real-time global illumination using Enlighten. If target device hardware supports what you want to render, Unity has the power to display it. As each year’s new generation of supercharged mobile devices comes out, Unity 5 helps developers be prepared for the transitions, especially with huge performance boosting backend features like IL2CPP.

Unity 5

"Unity really stands out is in workflow and the ease of making games work on many different platforms, with Unity having support for 23 platforms including the recently announced New Nintendo 3DS and HoloLens."

Rashid K. Sayed: Unity 5 is available for free to start-ups with less than $100,000 of revenue or funding. While this helps the vast majority of indie and crowd-funded devs, especially those which can’t reach Star Citizen levels of funding, how does it ultimately benefit Unity as a whole?

David Helgason: One of Unity’s core principles has always been to strive towards the democratization of game development. The end goal is to get these creative tools in the hands of as many people as possible so that the world can be full of as many creators as possible and not just consumers.

Having those who may not have a technical background have access to some really powerful tools like these is likely to spark some really imaginative ideas which ultimately has a great and positive impact on the industry as a whole. From our standpoint as well, we want developers to be successful.

Partly because it’s a great feeling to know that we’ve had something to do with that, but selfishly, we hope they become successful enough that they can invest in the Professional Edition which helps us invest into making the core technology (and our range of services that help developers in various ancillary ways) even better.

Rashid K. Sayed: How would you contrast Unity 5 with Unreal Engine 4, especially since both engines are becoming more and more accommodating of smaller devs? What features of Unity 5 do you believe will ultimately help distinguish it in the current generation?

David Helgason: Unity really stands out is in workflow and the ease of making games work on many different platforms, with Unity having support for 23 platforms including the recently announced New Nintendo 3DS and HoloLens.

Rashid K. Sayed: Tell us more about “The Blacksmith” demo and how you went about creating it. What various graphical features of Unity 5 does it best show off?

David Helgason: The Blacksmith was created by a team of three full time developers out of our Stockholm studio and supported by some contractors creating art and music. Of course, the demo would also not have been possible without the work of the core team creating all of the wonderful features in Unity 5. The demo was created to show how far Unity has come and what can be accomplished with a small team in a realistic technological setting (a reasonable gaming PC that anyone can buy, and not a futuristic rig which is what new demos are often shown on).

OculusConsumer

"We have been able to hire many of the world’s best game engine developers to work with us, and the intention is to make Unity impossibly good to use. In short you’ll see massive improvements, tons of innovation, and a torrent of incredible games made by an insanely talented community of game developers."

It takes advantage of pretty much everything in Unity 5, but the showcase features are physically-based shading and real-time global illumination. It makes an incredible difference to the look of a realistic environment to see materials and shaders functioning in a way that’s predictable to real-life and have Enlighten working with those surfaces to calculate correct bounce lighting. It really is easier to believe in a place as being real with those kinds of features working in unison.

Rashid K. Sayed: What kind of impact do you think DX12 will have on Unity when used in conjunction with the Xbox One?

David Helgason: The API alone doesn’t give a significant performance boost, it simply allows scaling on multiple cores, and that’s what we demonstrated at GDC.

Once our code is ready Unity rendering will just be faster – most users probably won’t have to change a thing in their projects to receive the performance improvement,  because all we will do is scale their rendering on to multiple CPU cores.

Rashid K. Sayed: Oculus Rift support is another key feature of Unity 5. There will be a wide variety of VR devices in the coming year though with HTC Vive, Sony’s Project Morpheus and Samsung Gear. Will Unity cater to these devices as well?

David Helgason: We haven’t announced anything specifically about official support at this time for Vive though nearly all of the demos shown at Valve’s GDC booth were made with Unity. Morpheus is part of PlayStation 4 and we already support that system. Samsung Gear VR is also already supported as part of the upcoming Oculus integrated support currently in beta.

Rashid K. Sayed: With all the improvements made with Unity 5, what does the future hold for the engine?

David Helgason: The result of our intense commitment to the quality and usability of Unity is that we are able to pour ever-increasing resources into the platform. We have been able to hire many of the world’s best game engine developers to work with us, and the intention is to make Unity impossibly good to use. In short you’ll see massive improvements, tons of innovation, and a torrent of incredible games made by an insanely talented community of game developers.


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