My thoughts on Unity Free

Just recently, like, very recently (maybe a few hours ago) Unity released their base-level product, Unity Indie for free.

This is pretty huge news for the game development community. It is, as they say (and forgive the pun) a Game Changer.

If you don’t already know, Unity is a very powerful tool for rapidly building games. (it is billed as a 3d game engine, but it also works quite well for 2d games) One of the many features of Unity is the ability to take the game project you have built, and with the click of the mouse, build a version for the mac, a version for the pc and a version that runs in a web browser. This is excellent for distributing your game but it has other side benefits as well. I collaborate with people all over the world, and we use the in browser games to share our ideas quickly and easily, not to mention it is much easier to get your testers to test out your prototypes if all they have to do is open a browser window.

Before now, the indie version was not very expensive, less than $200 or so, but now that it is free, I think we will see a flood of new and interesting games come out in the coming months.

What does this mean for indie game development?

Well, the obvious thing is that we will see a ton more web based titles, probably lots of crap, but there will always be a few gems in there.

I think that Flash development will start to see a big challenge from the Unity guys. I know a ton of flash guys who have been eyeing unity for awhile now and this will most likely push them over the edge. dont get me wrong, flash is a great tool, and it is great for making games, but it is not a game-building-tool. Unity is designed from the ground up to make games. Here is a good post to read if you a flash dev who is on the fence: http://diamondtearz.org/2009/01/14/10-reasons-for-flash-developers-to-learn-unity-3d/

The even bigger news for me as an iPhone developer is that I think many many more people will start to use unity to build games for the iPhone.

Now, Unity iPhone Basic (the cheapest iPhone license) is still about $400. And some of the zero budget indie developers might have to think twice about that kind of money (it is totally worth it, trust me) But now you can download the Unity Free and prototype your game, or release a web version or just get to know unity and then be ready to port it over to the iPhone version. We are doing that right now with ‘Mole’ and I will be blogging about what it takes to move a prototype level game from the desktop version of unity into a working iPhone version.

I will also be interested to see how this effects the other iPhone game-focused APIs like cocoas2d. Cocoas2d and the like are still free (so still $400 cheaper than using unity to develop your game) and if you are building a 2d game it makes a lot of sense to start with cocoas2d, but I can tell you from my personal experience that building a 2d game with unity is very easy and if your time is worth anything to you then the $400 investment to upgrade to iPhone Basic is well worth the money. Also, I cant stress this enough, you can now prototype your game in Unity for free. Even if you then decide to use cocoas2d to build the deployment version (a few reasons you might want to do this, more on that in a second) you can still do a rapid prototype with Unity to figure out all your gameplay mechanics and decide if the game is fun or not.

So, Unity is great, but what are the downsides?

Well, in terms of desktop or web development, there aren’t any real downsides. Go get a copy and start making games.

In terms of iPhone development there are a few caveats.

First off, as i have mentioned, it is not free. But $400 is very cheap for what you get.

The biggest issue with using Unity Basic (and to some extent this applies to the pro version as well) to develop iPhone games is that your app size will not be under 10M (which is the size limit for apps to be able to be downloaded over the cell network). For the most part this is not a big deal, most games with any amount of depth tend to be bigger than 10M no matter the development tools used.

However, the casual games that you are trying to sell for $0.99 and you want to be an impulse buy, and so you want them to be less than 10M, these are nigh impossible to make with Unity. Why is that? Well, the unity engine is very capable, comes with all sorts of great things like built in physics, scripting, shaders, and lots of other goodies, but all that comes at the cost of size. If you spring for iPhone Advanced then you can strip out parts of the engine you are not using, and possibly get under the 10M mark, but this is a very hard thing to do.

My advice: even if you are looking to build small casual games for the iPhone, I would still suggest you get the now free Unity and prototype with it. Then once your game is working fall back on one of the other frameworks like cocoas2d to build it. However, if you have even an inkling that your game will exceed the 10M limit, then just get the iPhone version.

Cheers!
-B

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