Unite 2013

The annual conference by Unity Technologies was held August 28-30, this time in VFS Game Design’s home city. For three days, the Vancouver Convention Centre was swarmed by hundreds of Unity developers, from all over the world – four days, if you count the August 27 Training day, a bonus for those new to the technology.

Again, the Unite conference showed what a great piece of software Unity is, and will become.

The opening keynotes by CEO David Hegalson and CTO Joachim Ante described the evolving technical and philosophical direction of the company, with the expected amount of touchy feely about democratizing game development, and changing the world, both of which appear to be going according to plan.

David’s new announcements included Unity Cloud, a mobile ad service going into closed beta, and Unity Games, which sounds like an evolution of Union, Unity’s publishing platform. Joachim primarily talked about improvements to Unity’s GUI and 2D systems in version 4.3, both a long time coming, as well as some great improvements to the Mecanim animation system. No firm date on the next version, though. Understandable, given 4.2 shipped shortly before the conference.

Then, legendary game designer Richard Garriott, back from Earth orbit, gave a guest keynote that was a nostalgic stroll through his three decades of game development. The perspective made one appreciate how far game development has come, and the remarkable tool that Unity is.

Days were filled with sessions, panels, and lectures on a variety of Unity specific and game development topics in general. Speakers included Unity personnel, independent developers, and a variety of vendors. VFS Game Design mentor, and Blackbird Interactive CTO, Yggy King gave a great presentation on managing large Unity projects. VFS Game Design graduate Lance Mueller, also of Blackbird, co-presented a look at their HUD system, with Gerald Orban. Both talks gave tantalizing glimpses of Blackbird’s game in development, Homeworld: Shipbreakers.

One of the most popular sessions continues to be the Unity Road Map and Wish List session with Unity engineers. A Twitter-free zone, Unity shares their long-term, blue sky ideas, and invites feedback from the audience of developers. The session includes a lengthy Q&A, that generally evolves into a dynamic back and forth between Unity and its community. It’s extremely rare for such a dialogue to occur in this, or any, industry, and just another way that Unity demonstrates its fundamental commitment to meeting the needs of its broad user community.

The small exhibitor floor included a number of interesting booths. Oculus VR demonstrated the high resolution consumer version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Houdini and Simplygon showed integration of high end content creation pipelines into Unity. Qualcomm featured Vuforia, their augmented reality SDK for Unity, and revealed AllJoyn, a cross-platform multiplayer solution.

Vendors this year were falling over themselves to get game developers onto their platforms. Microsoft and Blackberry particularly were extremely generous, giving away phones and tablets. “Port your game, keep the phone!” was Microsoft’s challenge, from their hands-on porting lab. Sony and Nintendo came to the mountain this year, and even Facebook showed up in person to court Unity developers. Most have programs to support independent developers porting to, or developing for, their platforms.

Thursday evening was the Unite awards show, where Unity honours the year’s best of Unity development. the coveted Golden Cube went to Amplitude’s 4X game, Endless Space, which also won the Community Choice award. Fireproof’s The Room, an intriguing 3D mystery/puzzler, took the Best Gameplay award. Best 3D and 2D art went to Guns of Icarus Online and Year Walk, respectively. VFS Game Design wasn’t represented in the Best Student Project category this year, so the torch that Pixel Pi (Pulse) carries from last year goes to Girish Balakrishnan for his very cool “virtual cinematography” software, SmartVCS.

It was great playing host to the Unite conference this year, and if attendance is any indication, I think it was a great success. It was practically a reunion, seeing so many members of Vancouver’s game development community, including tons of VFS Game Design graduates. Very special thanks to Unity as well, for inviting a number of our current Game Design students to attend the show, and to Unity evangelist Carl Callewaert for his visit to the school Friday afternoon.

A good time was had by all, and Vancouver would be pleased to see the Unite conference again!

Bren Lynne teaches Technical Design, Unity and Cinematics at VFS Game Design