[This feature was published in the October 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad]
What is it? A new set of 2D-focused tools and workflows for the Unity engine and editor, to be delivered as part of Unity 4.3
Company: Unity Technologies
Seeing a 2D game made in Unity is nothing new in itself. For many years savvy developers have been using the engine to build games constrained to two axes; so much so that it is easy to forget that Unity made its impact on the games industry by bringing a 3D engine to the masses.
More recently, the Unity Asset Store has let the technology’s vast user community craft and release their own 2D-focused extensions, but one fact remains. Until now, Unity has not at its core been tailored for 2D games development.
“A lot of people use Unity for 2D, and it’s perfectly doable. But we just looked at the workflows, and there were some fundamental sillinesses,” admits the outfit’s typically frank founder David Helgason, speaking to Develop.
“People were kind of fighting the engine, and there were some tricks you had to play to do it, especially to do really complex 2D games with lots of layers and stuff.”
BEYOND THE 2D HORIZON
And so it was that the Unity team took a long, hard look at what was needed to properly support 2D games developers at a base level. After much work, a range of 2D tools and workflows – such as native support for sprites for the engine and editor – have been fleshed out, and are now ready for users as part of Unity’s 4.3 update, currently in beta, and due during autumn.
“We also looked at other 2D engines, and I usually try not to say anything about others, but when we looked at what other 2D engines are doing, it’s all kind of primitive,” states Helgason. “There weren’t really any workflows that we fell in love with and thought that game developers were well served with. Either the low-level source code bases that they have to hack or the really contrived tools really weren’t designed for it in the first place.”
SCENE TO BE BELIEVED
Unity 4.3’s new 2D-focused elements include a dedicated scene view, which with it debut specialised 2D scene manipulation tools. A devoted 2D physics engine that supports the likes of rigid bodies, colliders and joints will also be made available, as well as an ugraded animation window with dopesheet-style view and quicker parameter animation. Integration with the animator to enable for relatively simple creation states for 2D animated characters will also be introduced.
Initially available to beta-registered users, the ‘2D-first’ updates to Unity are supported by a sample product to demonstrate how the tools function, which is conceived to highlight the parallels between Unity’s 3D and 2D workflows.
“We’re also focusing on how to strip the engine down so you don’t have to ship the entire 3D engine when you make a pure 2D game,” reveals Helgason.
“The whole thing could be more lightweight when not shipping a full-3D engine, and so that’s also something we’re going to be working on.”
For the time being no separately licensed version of Unity’s 2D technology is imminent, but the company is quick to highlight that over the coming months and years many more features will be added.
“We’re actually pretty much putting almost all of the 2D into the free version,” confirms Helgason to Develop. “So you can pretty much do anything with 2D you want without paying us. It just feels right. Simple technology is less maintenance and I think it’s only fair we don’t charge so much for it.”
And Helgason is quietly confident that, bolstered by its new functionality, Unity’s technology is now set to wow those familiar with parallel 2D games development technology already available on the middleware market.
“I think even the stuff we’re launching on day one is going to be ahead of what anyone else is giving,” he offers Develop in conclusion. “And then, of course, we are really going to try and make it perfectly ‘Unity-style’ over the next 12 months.”
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