At the launch of this most recent wave of consoles, indie games have appeared inescapable. The Xbox Series X's launch was populated with many small-scale projects such as Yes, Your Grace, Manifold Garden, and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, with The Falconeer used to showcase the newer hardware and some of the impressive feats that it can accomplish. All these aforementioned projects, and more, have been powered by Unity, a real-time development platform that has been allowing creators to bring their wildest ideas to market since its launch in 2005. Recently, we were able to speak to Unity's Chief Product Officer Brett Bibby and The Falconeer developer Tomas Sala about the platform and how its continuing to support its creators moving into a new console generation
Brett Bibby: We have been working with Microsoft for two years. We were, I think, the first people outside of Microsoft to have actual software and a game running (on the new hardware). When Microsoft did their event, Xfest, which was for developers, we were the only people at the private show that actually showed Unity running already. We have been just been leaning into and leading this charge to make sure we have the absolute best day one technology there is, and then we can connect that to our users and - wow - what a difference that is, right? I mean, you look at a normal console generation, and you would have what, five or ten titles max? Usually it's less than ten. There are all the big franchises. Some of them are great, but you don't really feel like it's creator first. This has been part of our dream and part of our users, and creators, and customers' dreams is "how can we partake in this history-changing event?" Well, here you go.
Gamereactor: It was very different this time around to see an independent title like The Falconeer become an almost poster child for the Xbox Series X. It's pretty insane, right?
Brett Bibby: It is insane, and I really think this is what drives growth. I mean, it's like this idea that one action movie is enough, or one comic is enough, or one rock song is enough. That's just nonsense, right? We love creativity, we love to enjoy, we love to experience that moment, and humans have the capacity to experience many games, many stories, many creations. And so we really need to open the door as wide as we can and let all these amazing stories and points of view be told.
Gamereactor: We're seeing a lot of one man teams out there these days. Are there any plans to make Unity more accessible, or do you feel like you have already hit the sweet spot?
Brett Bibby: I think there's two parts to it. I think Unity is extremely accessible today. We obviously have the free version, you can download it, it's the full product, it's not hampered in any way. And then, to make it actually more accessible, what we're doing is investing incredible amounts of time and energy and money into supporting visual thinkers, to supporting people who haven't built games before. If you look at how the games industry has grown, most games, especially the larger ones, are made up of 30, 40, 50% who have never made a game before, because the industry is growing so rapidly you've got to be able to take in new people and have them work on stuff. And so, those are sort of the obvious ones, the less obvious ones that we're investing a lot in now are our strategies that we call 'assisted artistry'. This is bringing to bear AI and machine learning with example-based workflows to make that single indie developer into a studio.
Gamereactor: What tools are available to Unity developers to take advantage of Smart Delivery on Xbox and bring their projects to multiple generations?
Brett Bibby: So with Unity on Xbox, we allow the developer to produce two types of packages. The first is a package and executable compatible with Xbox One|S|X and the second is compatible with Xbox Series S|X. If the developer configures their game correctly, Smart Delivery will then push the appropriate package to the appropriate console.
Gamereactor: How did you approach building a launch game for the Xbox Series X just as a lone developer?
Tomas Sala: I don't know, it was very comfortable for me to work by myself rather than working in a team. Working by myself is strangely relaxing. I think what I do is I enjoy crafting the worlds I make, and that is so enjoyable and easy for me to do that it comes naturally. So whenever I am doing the parts of development which are less natural, so where there's programming that's very intricate or systematic, I'll always fall back and make an extra bit of the world. So that's why there's a fairly expansive open world within the game because every time I got stuck I would add a little bit to relax myself. So, it's a fairly chaotic development process I'd say. It's more like gardening for me. George R. R. Martin said you've got two types of writers, you've got architects and you've got gardeners, and I think I'm a gardener.
Gamereactor: Did you encounter any difficulties developing for a brand new platform?
Tomas Sala: I think for the Series S and X it has been fairly smooth. When you are at the start of a generation there is so much that is unknown and so much untapped potential. In a way it is easier, as the amount of knowledge is limited, so once that you accept that you can't tap into the 110%, which you do at the end of a generation where everything is known, it's kind of cathartic to dive into the machine and push it until it breaks.
Gamereactor: Why did you select Unity in particular to develop the game and how you feel this choice benefitted you as a developer?
Tomas Sala: I think Unity is such a versatile tool, and I have the most experience with it, so that helps a lot. It's just a very versatile tool to do these very free things in. If you want to walk besides the lines and want to render in a certain way that's not the 'norm' as it were, Unity is very easy in allowing you to do that. It is a fairly freeform engine and it has a toolset that allows you to dig in quite deep to the low level stuff and do things differently than say, make a template-like game for a shooter or whatever, where you can get all the building blocks online. In Unity you can dig in and make something, because it's so wide and open, you can make things quite different which I like.
Gamereactor: What do you think is going to be the biggest difference we're going to see in indie games this generation?
Tomas Sala: I think if you progress towards the mature end of the hardware cycle, you'd see some of the things which are now exclusive to AAA titles falling into the hands of indie developers through tools like Unity that are already unlocking ray tracing and all the fancy stuff. So I think that's logical that those things will open up. Personally for me, the available hardware performance that you have at the moment with something like Series X, there's very few limits to what you can do that I hope somehow that this generation will allow us to focus on the other things besides graphics. That the obsession with "these are great graphics" because it is all going to be great graphics, but we can start progressing towards something being a great design or artistically different.
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