When Hamburg-based Exit Strategy Entertainment began looking for an engine on which to build what would become Pirates of New Horizons, the market initially left it feeling stranded.
“When the project started Unity wasn’t available for Windows yet, and UDK wasn’t on the horizon either,” says studio creative director Soenke Seidel.
“I tried a billion obscure open source engines which were all completely unusable. They were all bug ridden, had no proper tools and no design/workflow at all. Then a colleague of mine at IO Interactive recommended Unity to me.
“I didn’t try it before the first version for Windows was released, which I believe really was the flood gate opening that led to Unity’s current popularity.
"The tight design and workflow convinced me immediately that it was the one.”
Lead programmer Michael R. Schmidt agrees with the sentiment, tracing the line of Exit’s love for Unity back to 2007.
“We had been playing with the Unity engine way back at a Game Jam in '07, and already then it was love at first mouse click,” he says.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU
In terms of the things that stood out for Exit when they decided to work with Unity, the engine’s successful browser plug-in functionality was high on the list.
“Personally, I am still amazed each time I play a 3D title in my browser,” says Exit MD Friedrich Bode.
“The Unity plugin bridges a gap there, and while I’m sure many games can benefit from this, it just isn’t a crucial factor for us. However we did release a web player version of our prototype that runs in browsers.”
A game needs more than just browser compatibility however, and Seidel can pinpoint several areas of Unity that had a substantial impact on the development of Pirates of New Horizons.
“The friction-less asset import pipeline and the prefab system – I have never seen anything this well designed and user friendly in a 3D engine before,” he says.
“With Unity it’s simply Ctrl-S in maya, Alt-Tab to Unity and there it is.”
As Schmidt sees it, speed was also a major influence on the process.
“The sheer raw speed of which one can produce content is by far the most important feature in Unity,” he says.
Development can be a long and complex process, but Bode is entirely convinced that the expansive tool set offered with Unity made the creation of Pirates of New Horizons smooth sailing.
“Even though Unity comes with a great set of tools – you shouldn’t underestimate the workload you still need to put into the development yourself,” he says.
“3D platforming is not the only element of our game, but definitely the most central one. So getting the movements right and the controls tight is very important to us.
"We’ve spent a lot of time on this even after the release of the prototype and it’s an on-going task for us till this day.”
And as for the finished product, Schmidt has an interesting perspective on why Unity was the best choice for Exit.
“We can deliver this huge and beautiful world,” he says.
“And yet it runs great even on old laptops.”
UNITE FOR YOUR RIGHT
The team at Exit Entertainment are in no doubt as to their favourite elements of the Unity engine, on which they created their first full game, Pirates of New Horizons.
“I love our level building workflow and pipeline and how optimized it is. I am a big frame-rate-nut,” says Seidel.
“60 FPS is not enough, I need 200 FPS and once again Unity did not force a specific level structure or workflow on us – we could design our own structure that suited us.
"The programmers are probably most proud of our entity system and I have to agree that stuff is really powerful, I can control pretty much anything that Unity offers within a level trigger setup that usually would have to be done via code.”
And it’s in making use of Unity that Exit have seen its greatest successes as a studio come to them.
With the release of the full version of Pirates, the studio has moved into a permanent residence in its home city of Hamburg, Germany.
“Having your own office feels really good but searching for facilities, paying for the rent, reading contracts and signing them does not,” Seidel adds.
“I wish it were a lot easier to start companies up.”
Bode aptly sums up the Exit story so far.
“It’s a big adventure, lots of work but also tons of fun,” he says.