Unite 2015 Boston Conference Highlights

raywenderlich.com Unity team lead Brian Moakley recently attended Unite 2015, the annual Unity developer conference – check out some of the highlights! By Brian Moakley.

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logo_boston_ff0066_00ccccUnite is a conference that is run by Unity Technologies to promote their key product, the Unity gaming engine.

It isn’t so much as a conference, but rather an experience. With a keynote being presented to an audience of over a thousand attendees to an expo with all the latest gaming tech, it was hard not be swept up in the festival like atmosphere of the convention.

As the Unity team lead at raywenderlich.com, I had a unique opportunity to attend the convention in my home town of Boston. Not only was great to be back again to watch some Red Sox games with my fellow New Englanders, but it was simply awesome to hang out in crowd of passionate gamers eager to produce and play content made in Unity.

In this article, I’ll give you a brief of tour of Unite, providing you a rundown of the various announcements and sessions, and ultimately give you the skinny of whether it is worth your time to attend any future Unite conferences.

Training Day

Like many conferences, Unite started with an optional training day. I assumed the training session would be in a small room with sixty or so other developers, but I turned out to be quite wrong. The room was quite big with around two hundred developers, sitting squeezed behind tables in front of two large screens.

The session was lead by Will Goldstone and and James Bouckley. The pair worked well each other, bouncing off jokes off each other as well as filling in details that the other may have forgot. It was a nice balance especially during the later half of the day when the content grew technical and the coffee grew sparse.

The training day focused on building a local multiplayer game called Tanks whereby two players battled each other in several rounds. With all the art assets in place, the session walked users through the process of making a game from it.

Tanks was complex, but a fun way to finish.

While Tanks turned out be a complicated project, the multiplayer match at the end was a great way to finish.

This turned out to be quite an ambitious exercise. Because the game was being built from scratch, complicated topics such writing the camera tracking as well as managing the game state had to be covered in a short a time as possible.

There was also extensive coding involved with some advanced topics covered as such coroutines. The trainers did their best to explain each line of code, but it was clear that some were lost.

The training day may have been better served with a less complex game, but the game itself really shined at the end of training. After a typical session of Q & A, the trainers randomly selected four attendees on stage where they played the game in bracket style competition with the grand prize winner taking home a Unity Pro license. It was a great way to end the session.


John Riccitiello lays out Unity’s vision.

John Riccitiello lays out Unity's vision.

The keynote started with John Riccitiello, CEO of Unity Technologies, taking the stage and laying out the vision behind Unity. Unity’s goal is to “democratize” game development. Instead of having a select few companies controlling the direction of game development, they want everyone to create games.

You can see this approach throughout the engine from the emphasis on visual design to the asset store that allows other developers to sell plugins. For Unity, game development is not island, but a thriving community that benefits when everyone participates.

Unfortunately, making a game, nevermind a good game, is not enough. Thus, Riccitiello announced that Unity would be assisting developers with not just the game tools, but the marketing as well.

Unity is offering a new service to help games get discovered. They are calling Made with Unty and you can investigate it but heading over the madewith.unity.com web site. The idea behind this site is to not only promote games that are doing awesome things with Unity, but also to allow developers to share their “stories” with the community. Unity is trying to find a way for developers to discover new fans.

You can think of it as a social network for game developers connecting with gamers. It’s a way for you to build your audience while building your game. After all, what’s the use of making a game if no one knows about it?

Made with Unity is way for game developers to connect with their audience.

Made with Unity is way for game developers to connect with their audience.

While this is a nice tool, I was disappointed that they haven’t appeared to address the real Made with Unity elephant in the room. That is, games made with the Personal version of Unity.

If you produce a game using the Personal version, your game gets a Made with Unity splash screen. Unfortunately, a lot of games produced with the free version haven’t been, shall we say, produced with high quality standards. Or in some cases, there’s been no quality standards at all. Some developers are just packaging assets with little care for design or quality, and pushing the product on Steam

Gamers are noticing this and there is some push back against Unity games. This is like readers blaming Microsoft Word for producing badly written Twilight fan fiction, but is a real problem in the Unity community and it would be nice to see Unity Technologies address it. Somehow.

Feature Announcements

And then came the announcements. Those glorious, glorious announcements.

Creating advanced platforms will soon done entirely inside of Unity.

Creating advanced platforms will soon done entirely inside of Unity.

Unity 2D is also getting tile maps with the ability to write custom brushes. This will allow you to create “smart tiles”.

For instance, if you were drawing a road using horizontal road tile and that road intersected with a vertical road tile, your brush will automatically select an intersection tile or maybe a curve tile. In other words, based on your brush, the tiles are context aware. Brushes are simply C# scripts that you write, allowing you to designate the layout rules of your tile map. You can also layer multiple tile maps as well as incorporate them with 3D elements.

In regards to building your game, Unity is now offering a free plan for their Cloud Build service. This service automates your builds for you.

Unity Cloud Build now offers a free tier.

Unity Cloud Build now offers a free tier.

Once you fire off a build, Unity does the grunt work then deploys your build to a device for testing. It’s now offering custom targets so that you can configure your build for various platforms. Cloud Build is now supporting PC, Mac, and Linux platforms.

For those of you with a heavy data bent can now integrate analytics into you game with a click of button. The SDK is now apart of Unity itself. This allows you to track how your players are actually playing your game, and give you the knowledge on how to tune it. One killer feature of analytics is the inclusion of heat maps. These maps visually show how your players are moving in your game. This allows up to determine bottlenecks in your level design as well as provide incentives to get players out of their comfort zone.

Unity is also providing a unified solution for in app purchases (IAP). Previously, to incorporate IAP required you to learn the target platform’s SDK then integrate the solution into your codebase. For one platform, this wasn’t a big deal but several platforms, it created a spaghetti monster of proprietary calls. Now, Unity will take care of it for you using a streamlined API. This is a huge win for developers!

IAP under one roof!

IAP under one roof!

That said, all in all, it was a great keynote with some awesome features that will keep us busy in the coming years. But don’t take my word for it, you can view it online over here.


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