AI company xaitment on its move to support the everyman engine

Interview: xaitment’s Unity plug-ins

AI tools company xaitment yesterday released a pair of plug-ins developed specifically for integration with the Unity platform. Develop caught up with company managing director and CEO Mike Walsh to find out more.

What motivated xaitment to create AI plug-ins for Unity?

A lot of our customers have been coming to us over the last six or nine months, and asked us about Unity engine support. We would have to say that, yes, they can buy our license, and it can be integrated into Unity, and we would help with that integration and so on, but it would take some effort.
That was fine, and we could do a lot to help, but then we started to see lots of casual and social developers looking for AI products, and they were using Unity as their engine. We also saw that while there were a few AI products in the Unity Asset Store, which were some great products that offered things like simple pathfinding solutions, there was nothing really professional out there. I don’t want to knock the effort of those guys, as I’m sure they work very hard, but we knew we could offer much more.
From listening to these casual developers and our customers, we knew there was a need for a high quality, fully featured and proven pathfinding solution with good NavMesh features. That was really what they were after in Unity.

So we’ve done that. We’ve taken our triple-A technology and pushed it down to the masses. We’ve taken two of our products – xaitMap and xaitControl – and we’re making them available as plug-ins for all Unity users. We’re setting up an online store, so the product can be downloaded right on our website. The plug-ins will work with Unity out of the box, and the xaitMap product will work inside the Unity editor. xaitControl is a little different, but both products are fully integrated with Unity.

So what differentiates the new plug-ins from the existing xaitment products, which offer some integration with Unity?
Traditionally we had customers who would say they were using the Unity engine, and the integration would take quite a lot of work on their side and ours. We could give a lot of guidance, but it wasn’t as simple as a plug-in at all. We had to make sure we could make it work from a business perspective, but we had so many people say they wanted triple-A AI in the Unity engine, we knew we had to make it work, and we have. We’ve fully integrated it, and it works great.

Only recently Unity 3.5 came out, which introduced Unity’s own pathfinding tech for the first time. That considered, why should a developer choose xaitment’s plug-ins?
How do the two compliment one another? We were certainly fully aware while developing our plug-ins that Unity were working on their AI tech, and we talked with Unity and David Helgason, and his stance was ‘look Mike; the way we work is that we don’t force anything specific on the customer’. Unity allow the customers to chose what they want.

It would appear the existence of the Asset Store demonstrates that.

Exactly. I think the bottom line is that xaitMap has literally been in development for six or seven years. It is a product that has been used by triple-A developers all over the world for years for years. So we’re taking that trusted, tested product and making it available to everybody through the Unity engine.
Sure, it is the first version for Unity, but it’s been in development for so long we’ve really refined the product. All the bugs and kinks have been worked out of it, and now we’re making it available to Unity.

And Unity is starting to attract more triple-A users itself. Is that important to xaitment?

Absolutely. And we can offer all those Unity users a lot. xaitMap is our pathfinding solution, and it does nav mesh generation, pathfinding and movement. But we’re also offering xaitControl as a Unity plug-in, and nothing on the Unity-side of things is like that.
It’s a character behaviour tool that allows you took create individual or group character behaviours, and there’s nothing like that in Unity yet.

A lot of the feedback we getting from potential Unity customers and even Unity employees is that there’s really a space for something like that in the Unity engine. People have been asking for it, and now we can provide it.

Why do you think there’s a need to take xaitment’s technology to this wider ‘mass’ audience?
It’s about what we’re calling ‘smarter AI for all’. Unity has created a way for people with great ideas and great designs to realise those ideas relatively inexpensively, and things like iOS and web games have become important gaming platforms. It’s part of a broader move in that direction, and we think there is a need for those going in that direction to have quality AI and pathfinding tools. Those genres still need quality AI and character behaviour.

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