Key Release: xaitment

Key Release: xaitment
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

May 2nd 2012 at 10:00AM

Develop looks at the tech outfit's new high-end AI plug-ins for Unity

What is it?: A pair of AI plug-ins for the Unity game engine
Company: xaitment
Price: $499 each
www.xaitment.com

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Traditionally the likes of pathfinding and character behaviour AI are playthings of triple-A games, where finance and timescale allow for the creation of NPCs with sparkling neurons and a knack for navigation.

Yet, as game budgets and team sizes have contracted, and small-to-medium studios have flourished, simpler approaches to AI have blossomed across the tools sector.

But in the gap that divides lo-fi and triple-A AI, there is something of a chasm; an inane valley that prevents top-of-the-range techniques and tools making their way to the hands of mobile, social and casual studios.

That may be about to change, however, as AI specialist xaitment has decided to repackage its high-end solutions and distribute them all the way down the games development food chain.

It is doing so by offering two of its most significant products as newly released Unity plug-ins; namely pathfinding and NavMesh tool xaitMap, and game logic and character behaviour technology xaitControl.

UNITED THEY STAND

While integrating xaitment’s AI tools with Unity has always been possible, doing so had until now taken substantial effort.

That is all set to be a thing of the past, thanks to the easily installed plug-ins, which xaitment designed to offer affordability and advanced functionality.

“We’ve taken our triple-A technology and pushed it down to the masses,” explains xaitment CEO Mike Walsh.

“We’ve taken two of our products – xaitMap and xaitControl – and we’re making them available as plug-ins for all Unity users. We’re setting up an online store, so the product can be downloaded right on our website.

"The plug-ins will work with Unity out of the box, and the xaitMap product will work inside the Unity editor. XaitControl is a little different, but both products are fully integrated with Unity.”

The plug-ins deliver an ambitious range of functions and features to the interface and dev environment of Unity engine, such as NavMesh generation, pathfinding, collision avoidance, character movement, and graphical character behavioural modelling.

The xaitMap plug-in will let Unity users create NavMeshes on scene objects, customise collision avoidance parameters, and even comes with an xaitment ‘Starter Pack of Movement Behaviours’ for developers new to the technique.

Meanwhile the xaitControl Unity plug-in includes runtime libraries and a graphical finite state machine editor created to function smoothly within Unity’s scene editor and Mono Develop environments.

WORKING TOGETHER

Many readers will of course be aware that the recently released 3.5 update to Unity, which was aimed at making the engine more relevant for triple-A studios, introduced many new features including pathfinding functionality.

However, Walsh is confident xaitment’s experience in AI tech means its plug-in will remain an appealing tool for Unity developers looking to push their creations to a new level.

“We were certainly fully aware while developing our plug-ins that Unity were working on AI tech, and we talked with Unity and its CEO David Helgason, and his stance was ‘look Mike; the way we work is that we don’t force anything specific on the customer’.

"Unity allows the customers to chose what they want. We are helping with that choice.”

Walsh adds that with six or seven years development behind it, xaitment’s plug-ins provide Unity users with a tool that boasts a heritage few rival solutions can best.

As for the motivation behind xaitment’s move to better support Unity, Walsh suggests it is part of a wider industry paradigm shift set to benefit developers, and tool companies.

“It’s about what we’re calling ‘smarter AI for all’,” he confirms. “Unity has created a way for people with great ideas and great designs to realise those ideas relatively inexpensively, and things like iOS and web games have become important platforms.

"It’s part of a broader move in that direction, and we think there is a need for those going in that direction to have quality AI and pathfinding. Those genres still need quality AI and character behaviour.”

Priced at $499 each, both xaitMap and xaitControl Unity plug-ins are available now for download on xaitment’s web store, and each features community support, full documentation and a variety of video tutorials.

At the time of writing, a ‘buy one, get one free’ offer exists for those considering investing in both plug-ins.