Unity Focus: Unity for Wii U

Unity Focus: Unity for Wii U
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

November 28th 2012 at 12:00PM

With the launch of Nintendo's new games console, Develop looks at what Unity's Wii U deal mean to developers of every size

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

That the team behind Unity has moved to support the soon to be released Wii U is not in itself too surprising.

The engine is infamously prolific across numerous platforms, and has long supported the current generation Wii.

Unity has seen its foothold in Nintendo’s home nation of Japan increase significantly in recent years, and the Wii U’s variety of inputs is bound to attract the kind of developers that the tools outfit relishes in serving.

What is surprising, though, is the recent news that Unity’s deal with the platform holder will also grant Nintendo the right to distribute the development engine to its in-house, external and third-party licensee developers.

ACCESS FOR ALL

Put simply, access to developing for Wii U means access to Unity. It’s a big moment for the once diminutive engine outfit.

“This is a huge step forward for Unity,” confirms company CEO David Helgason. “We all know how big and current and historically important Nintendo is, so it’s really cool for us.”

And the reason this development is so significant? According to Helgason this is because the news marks the start of a process with dual benefits.

“Two things are happening,” offers Helgason. “Nintendo is taking Unity to its ecosystem of studios, from first-party to third-party and so on, making sure they have access not just to the engine, but to the support. And then at the same time, we’re turning that round and making sure those in the Unity community can have access.”

Just how that access will be distributed and shared is yet to be confirmed, and it will likely be sometime before the finer details are in place, but one thing is for certain. The Wii U deal further ices the cake that is Unity’s long established goal of democratising games development.

Too often, the concept of democracy as a way to share games making is seen as a process that only serves smaller developers, where once high-end tools were made accessible to bedroom coders and hobbyists. True democracy, however, means serving the games making community as a whole, from the hip microstudios to the giants of triple-A.

“Giving Unity to the really big studios, and to a big ecosystem like that of Nintendo’s, as well as all our existing 1.2 million developers really does extend that original vision of democratising games development,” offers Helgason, who hopes his company can smooth the process of development that connects every developer, regardless of size.

“Developing for new consoles can be scary for a lot of studios, and there’s all the horror stories about working with new consoles,” he states. “We’ve tried to offer a really smooth process with what we’re doing here, and I think doing that in a way in which all those very different developers work with is a huge part of that democracy too.”

SERVING THE SECOND SCREEN

The Wii U is, of course, a rather atypical platform, with its tablet controller, numerous inputs and second screen. Yet in spite of that distinctive make-up, Unity insists adapting its core technology to support the platform was not as complex as many might expect.

“It’s not actually so scary,” says Helgason of the technical challenge of moving to support Wii U. “Nintendo are very smart, and they’re an amazing company.

“They’re over 120 years old, and they run the company very conservatively. They know what they are doing, and yet they are very creative. And they take that approach to development tech too.”

From Helgason’s perspective, moving from making games for the GameCube to the development environment of the current Wii was designed by Nintendo to be a relatively smooth process, and the Wii U dev kit is, he says, comparibly welcoming.

“The hardware changes with each generation can be significant, but the development methodologies, tools and the APIs and stuff like that – while not the same – are certainly smooth transitions,” concludes Helgason. “That’s really good for Unity, as we already support the Wii.”

With the finer details still to be nailed into place, there’s much more to learn, but one thing is almost assured.

The Wii U deal will see more large studios embrace the engine, and more small operations have access to a next generation console. Unity’s founding dream of democracy is ever closer to being an absolute reality.