Unity Focus: Air Band

Unity Focus: Air Band
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

October 24th 2011 at 8:00AM

We look at how Relentless crafted the first Unity-authored Kinect game

[To read Develop's collection of Unity Focus articles, go here]

When Microsoft threw open the doors of the Kinect Fun Labs to developers, the Relentless Software team knew it had to move fast.

Earning a space in the area would give the Brighton studio a chance to engage with consumers through some of its most experimental concepts; an alluring opportunity that would prove equally popular with developers across the globe.

Fortunately, as a company already au fait with using Unity as a rapid prototyping tool, Relentless was primed to pounce on the Kinect Fun Labs prospect.

“When we were bidding for the Kinect Fun Labs project we wanted to show we could turn something around quickly, so we used Unity to make a demo – of a similar Kinect Fun Labs-style game – in two weeks with a handful of us,” says Tim Aidley, lead programmer of Relentless’ Fun Labs game Air Band.

“This must have made an impression - we started on Air Band almost immediately after that.”

In short, Unity was an obvious choice for a tight schedule, even though it had not been used to author a released Xbox 360 or Kinect title previously.



“We worked closely with Unity to make sure all the functionality we needed for Air Band would be ready in time,” states Aidley on the matter of project speed.

“This, combined with our own plug-in provided, meant we could achieve the quality we wanted.”

BAND TOGETHER

Air Band itself is a music game free from the shackles of scoring, winning or losing, and it demands no musical skill.

It’s also one of the first games on Xbox 360 to augment the player’s image with virtual objects; a factor that is a testament to Unity’s potential.

“What impressed all of us most is the level of productivity we can achieve with Unity,” says Aidley of the technology’s attributes.

“The intuitive layout and interface are straight-forward and the online reference manual is also a great feature – it’s comprehensive and very accessible.

“Many ready-to-use features cut down the need for what normally takes programming time, like the integrated audio filters. Our audio designer was impressed with the ability to embed audio trigger events into animations, as it was a great way to get audio quickly synced to some of the art elements in the game.“

Air Band’s game designer, meanwhile, was also particularly impressed by the ability to quickly tweak values and see the results in real time.

“From a production perspective it was incredible to have a team who could be really versatile and adaptable, thanks to what Unity had to offer,” confirms Aidley.



But it wasn’t just that Unity allowed Air Band’s artist, audio designer and game designer to add or tweak elements in the game without assistance from a programmer.

For the game’s all-important audio the engine was particularly useful to set up animation curves that mixed the balance of individual music tracks according to the dynamics of a player’s movement, all of which could be quickly modified in the Unity editor.

WELL KINECTED

Looking forward, it’s likely we’ll see many more Kinect games authored using Unity. The engine now supports most of the Kinect APIs, leaving Relentless most eager to access the ability to connect the motion detecting hardware’s input into the Unity editor.

There were, of course, challenges in crafting Air Band, Microsoft certification and timing being the most prominent.

But despite working on a new platform with an engine yet to be used for Kinect, and having to overcome the problems inherent in trying to blend multiple music stems, Relentless and Unity prevailed.

“Thanks to Unity’s strength, the team was able to spend more time focusing on the game and less time wrangling with the engine. Also, the 360 Unity code was very stable,” concludes Aidley.