Unity 4 – Looking Forward

September 28th, 2012 by Anthony Capobianchi

Here at Infrared5, a good portion of our projects are based in Unity 3D. Needless to say, with the introduction of Unity 4, I was very interested in what had changed about the coming engine, and why people should make the upgrade. This post will look at few of the features of Unity 4 that I am most excited about.

The New GUI

The first time I sat down with Unity almost a year ago to work on Brass Monkey’s Monkey Dodgeball game, I knew practically nothing about the engine. That didn’t stop me from being almost immediately annoyed with Unity’s built in GUI system. Positioning elements from the OnGUI was a task of trial and error, grouping objects together was a pain, and all the draw calls that it produced made it inefficient to boot. At that time, I was unaware of the better solutions to Unity’s GUI that were developed by third party developers, but after I was made aware, I was confused as to why such a robust development tool such as Unity didn’t have these already built in.

Though the new GUI system is not a launch feature for Unity 4, Unity is building an impressive system for user interface that will allow for some really interesting aesthetics for our games. From the looks of it, the new system seems to derive from Unity’s current vein of GUIText and GUITexture objects. The difference is in the animation capabilities of each element that is created. You are now allowed to efficiently have multiple elements make up your GUI objects such as buttons, health bars, etc. Unity then allows you to animate those elements individually. Not to mention that editing text styles in the GUI is now as easy as marking it up with HTML.

One of the coolest additions is the ability to position and resize any UI element with transform grabbers that anyone who has used an Adobe product would be familiar with. This also allows for the creation of rotating elements in 3D space, which allows for creating a GUI with a sense of space and depth to it. This can lead to some really interesting effects.

The new GUI system will come packaged with pre-built controls, though there is no word as to whether or not those controls will be customizable. Unity lists one new control as a “finely tuned thumbstick [controls] for mobile games”.  A couple of months ago, I developed my own thumbstick like controls to maneuver in 3D space, and it was a pain. Hopefully these new controls will make it a lot easier. You can also easily create your own controls by extending from the GUIBehavior script. Developers should have no problem creating controls that handle the specifics of their own games.

Every image that you use to create your elements gets atlases automatically. This is a huge bonus over the old GUI system. The biggest problem Unity’s GUI system has right now is the amount of draw calls it makes to render all those elements. Third party tools like EZGUI and iGUI rely on creating UI objects that atlas images to reduce draw calls. It will be nice to have that kind of functionality in a built in system. I’ve spent a lot of time developing user interfaces in Unity over the past few months, so it makes me really excited to see that Unity is trying to correct some of their flaws for creating a component that is so important to games.

Unity’s current animation system is pretty basic- add animations to an object and trigger those animations based on any input or conditions that are needed. The animation blending was useful but could have been better. With Unity 4, it is better. Introducing the Mecanim: an animation blending system that uses blending trees for models with ridged bones to fluidly move from one animation to another. One of the biggest hurdles that we as developers need to overcome in projects that deal with a lot of animations is transitioning from those animations as seamlessly as possible. Not always easy!

Along with blending the animations, Mecanim allows you to edit your animations similar to how you would edit a film clip to create animations loops. Mecanim also supports IK, so for example it can change the position of a characters feet on uneven surfaces, bend hands around corners, etc. A couple of years ago I was fascinated by Natural Motion’s Endorphin engine for animation blending. Mecanim may not be as sophisticated as Endorphin, and only supports biped skeletons, but it seems like an incredible system that comes built in to Unity.

The best part is about this is that once you create a blend tree for your animations, you can drag and drop it onto another rigged model, and it will work even if the new model is a different size or proportion.

The Mobile Platform

The mobile scene is really where Unity shines. Most of the Unity projects I have worked on for Infrared5 have had some sort of mobile component to them. The mobile platform is going to get even better with Unity 4. The most interesting thing from a developer’s standpoint is the profiling system, which allows you to view your game’s GPU performance to determine where it runs smoothly, and where it needs more optimization. The addition of real-time shadows for mobile is a nice added bonus. It will definitely add a lot of aesthetic value to the products we make.

Unity 4 is going to hit the industry with amazing force. I, for one, cannot wait to get my hands on this engine and am already filled with ideas on how I want to utilize these new tools. My favorite part is going to be the mobile optimization. Mobile development is huge, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. With all the new capabilities of Unity’s mobile content, I should be kept interested for quite a while.

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From Pixel to Paper – The Story of A Mural

September 10th, 2012 by Rosie

Last month, Infrared5 unveiled something exciting- an 11 foot high custom designed mural in our entry space. From conception to completion, spanning almost an entire year, this project was a labor of love. The work was designed by LA based artist, Bradley Munkowitz. Rebecca Allen, Infrared5’s CEO and the fearless leader of this project, met Bradley at a FITC conference many years ago where Bradley made a lasting impression. “His work is just as engaging as his personality,” says Allen. When it became time to look for an artist to create a mural for our entryway, Rebecca knew just the person to call. “I was initially taken by the scale of the piece; being 11 feet square… So I wanted to create an artwork that had a great deal of dimensionality, because on that grand scale it’d feel immersive, which would really make for a captivating entryway mural,” says Bradley. The artist went about creating a series of images digitally, using Autodesk Maya and procedural textures, which allow for rendering at any size. “I think I submitted about 20 different designs and Rebecca and I chose the best one for the application.” If you feel like our entryway is playing a trick on your eyes, you are right- Bradley is heavily influenced by Op Art. “I just love the visual movement, the graphic nature, and obviously the trippy dimensionality,” says Bradley.

one of several options created by Bradley Munkowitz one of several options created by Bradley Munkowitz one of several options created by Bradley Munkowitz

The task of getting this mural hung fell onto my plate sometime in late spring, 2012. I was new to Infrared5, still figuring out what my position here really meant, when Rebecca asked me to look into having someone come to hang the mural. I’ve come to think of myself as the resident ‘figure-it-out-ologist’.  Much of my job entails putting the time and focus into getting things done that take a lot of research time, tasks that have historically been put on the back burner in favor of focus on client work. I try to adapt IR5’s motto ‘yeah, we can build that’ into my own ‘yeah, I can research that’ in order to get things done.
I knew that finding someone that had the skill to hang this mural was going to be a tricky task. After all, the mural was shipped to us as three panels, 11 feet tall by roughly 3.5 feet wide. These panels have a back that peels off to reveal an adhesive that would stick to the wall. As our project manager Kelly Wallick said, “Its hard enough to put contact paper into drawers!”
I hit the internet. Companies that specialized in large scale vinyl installation wouldn’t install anything that they had not produced, and finding contractors proved a challenge. After weeks of telephone tag, multiple early saturday morning phone calls from one terrifyingly overeager applicant, and many frustrating stops and starts, we found our way to Abigail Newbold.
Abigail, a fellow MassArt graduate, is an artist who creates installations that confront ideas of comfort and survival.  On her website, Newbold states “I am motivated in my quest to evaluate and distill by a desire to be able to feel at home anywhere.” We were referred to Newbold via her coworker at the Decordova, and she proved to have just the patience and attention to detail to take on this project.
Abigail and her partner Ricky Marsee arrived at 10 am Sunday morning to begin work. Stunningly confident in the face of a meticulous task, the duo set to work. It was nearly 7 pm when they wrapped up. It had been a long battle, but the mural was finally up.

Taking almost a year from conception to execution, Infrared5 is thrilled to be displaying a mural as dynamic and contemporary as the work we hope to put out. No one is more excited to have the mural up than Rebecca. “I am so glad that we all persisted and have an amazing piece to enjoy and set the tone for clients!”

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Unite 2012 – The Unity Developer Conference

September 7th, 2012 by Elliott Mitchell

Unite 2012

Last week, Unity Technologies held their 6th annual Unite developer’s conference in Amsterdam, Holland. Approximately 4.5 thousand miles from last year’s venue in San Francisco, Unite was attended by developers from 26 nations along with Unity’s 200+ amazing employees!

The conference featured several excellent keynote talks, a look at some exciting things to come for Unity, and an opportunity to engage in an exciting community. The following is an overview of my time at Unite 2012.

Unite 2012 Jack Lumber talk

The conference was spread over 4 days and 3 venues:

Day 1 – Training Day and Unity Mixer
Day 2 – Keynote & Main Conference
Day 3 – Main Conference, Unity Awards & Unity Party
Day 4 – Main Conference & Sad Goodbyes

Amsterdam was a great choice for Unite 2012. The international nature of the city, it’s rich cultural identity, excellent public transportation and welcoming nature of the people all synergize to elevate the conference to a new level.

The bulk of the conference was filled with interesting sessions on topics such as: art pipelines, rendering pipelines, virtual worlds, running an indie studio, advanced editor scripting, super cool simulators, creating universes, making tools for Unity, using Flash and Unity together, animation systems and so on. You can view video recordings of many of the talks on Unity’s website. Hopefully, all the talks will be added in the near future.

Between sessions, meetings, and meals, time was allocated for developers and artists to network, catch up, drink, play J.S. Joust and talk shop. This time was truly priceless.

J. S. Jousting at Unite 2012 (Photo and J. S. Joust courtesy of Julie Heyde)

I was honored to participate on a panel geared towards organizing and supporting user group communities with folks from Unity (Joe Robbins, Will Goldstone, Mark Martin, Russ Morris, Carl Carth ) and a few other fellow user group organizers (Grant Viklund, Brandon Wu and Robert Brackenridge). We had good turnout, great pointers, super questions from the audience and momentum moving forward in a more organized manner.

Unite featured keynotes by Unity founders David Helgason, Joachim Ante, Nicholas Francis and infamous Game Designer Peter Molyneux.  All the speakers delivered fascinating keynotes. You can watch the official video of the Unite 2012 Keynote here.

My Short List of Unity 4 Keynote Announcements:

  • Mecanim – next generation character animation system
  • Shuriken Particle Engine – Collision with Particles
  • Mobile Shadows
  • Bumpmap Terrain
  • New Project Browser
  • Improved Lightmaps
  • DirectX 11 Rendering
  • Ship Unity 4 Beta to Prepaid Customers
  • Adobe Partnership for Flash Export
  • New Unity GUI!!
  • Linux Support
  • Future Windows 8 Export
  • Future Windows Phone 8 Export

I thought the most impressive keynote highlight was the 3 minute short “Butterfly Effect” created by Passion Pictures and Unity technologies.  Not only is it visually stunning, the film is real-time rendered in DirectX 11. Butterfly Effect is completely filmic with SSS Shaders, stunning procedural explosions, high quality animation and rendering. Butterfly Effect is a work of art to behold!

David Helgason (Unity) & Elliott Mitchell (Infrared5) Unite 2012 Party

As always, the Unity Awards and Unity Party celebrated so many great Unity games and projects in the wild at the Muziekgebouw. See the award winners here.

I’m looking forward to Unite 2013 rumored to be held in San Francisco. If your a Unity developer or interested in making games with Unity, then Unite it’s a must attend event! Hopefully, I’ll be speaking at Unite again next year. See you there!


-Elliott Mitchell

Technical Director Infrared5

Co-founder of the Boston Unity Group

@MrT.3D on Twitter

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