Unity 3D Software
UNITY 3D SOFTWARE
WORKS WONDERS FOR SCION AND MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT
BY JUDY SECKLER
Unity Technologies CEO and co-founder David Helgason was always a gamer, as were his two 20something buddies Nicholas Francis and Joachim Ante. They teamed up to develop an innovative interactive 3D software for building video games that could be used on the Internet, iPhone, iPad, Android and console. Thus, the co-founders launched their product to great success in 2005. Named Unity 3D, it’s since become the No. 1 3D software.
A winning outcome for an idea that spent four years in development with modest seed money, undergoing “trial and error every day,” remembers Helgason. He, Francis, the company CCO and Ante, the company CTO, anticipated that the public would embrace games through the Internet and mobile devices.
The software is versatile for small teams of designers who want to turn out polished, sophisticated visual information, as well as for powerhouse game publishers like Electronic Arts and Bigpoint. “It’s like Photoshop in 3D with greater technical capabilities,” explains Helgason. “There are layers [that are easy to use]. Another element that’s secured Unity’s popularity is the cofounders’ vision to make their product “democratic, simple, affordable and accessible.”
“People love to share information,” he observes. It’s most meaningful to the Unity cofounders that a community of Unity users from around the world has sprung up and connect through the company’s website. Users get answers to their questions, share work in progress and recruit designers. Unity has also received hundreds of suggestions through its online suggestion box.
The co-founders’ business model has been more about building a community of users and establishing affordable price points than runaway profit. In 2009, the company quickly racked up 13,000 users, charging a licensing fee of $1,500 for professionals and $200 for hobbyists. Currently, the number of registered users worldwide has jumped to more than 500,000. Profitable from day one, the company eliminated its licensing fee for hobbyists in 2009 and today it provides its base product for free for all users, according to Helgason.
“We [manage to] balance profitability with altruism,” he says. The company and its 125 employees are focused on improving the technology for the future. When TVs become computers, there’ll be a place for Unity 3D. As it stands now, the disciples of Unity cut across hundreds of industries.
In one instance, Scion Canada, a newly introduced brand by Toyota Canada, approached the marketing firm Works Zebra USA Inc., in early 2010 to develop promotional materials that would create buzz for the new brand. Works Zebra’s solution to the request was to “create the most robust, interactive 3D vehicle configurator ‘Build and Price,’” says Jaja Ishibashi, creative director of business development for Works Zebra.
As a result, prospective buyers can use the website configurator to create millions of combinations of their dream car, selecting multiple accessories and mix and match color choices. The selections can then be printed out with a price summary for the dealer. Show it to a salesman and tell them “sell me this,” says Ishibashi.
The car on the website is based on precision factory data, making it extremely accurate. Whether someone is looking at the interior or exterior of the car, they can scroll around and get the feel of fabric patterns and textures and see the size relationships of different parts of the car inside and out. “It feels like you’re sitting there,” he says.
One of the reasons the cars look so real using Scion’s online Unity tool is because Works Zebra customized it with “custom shaders.” These shaders calculate light as it would hit a metallic surface to make it as realistic as possible. “It’s like clothes. It’s image-based. Your car’s got to look sexy,” he says. When Ishibashi visits dealerships and asks about the Scion car configurator, he’s often told: “Your stuff is wicked and nothing else out there compares.”
Another Unity-based experience was introduced online in mid-April, when Gazillion Entertainment, a video game developer launched the Marvel Super Hero Squad game in partnership with Marvel.
Probably Marvel’s most ambitious game yet, the development team has access to a library of more than 5,000 heroes and villains. And unlike a console game, “we can always add content like characters and locations,” says Jason Robar, vice president at Gazillion Entertainment’s studio The Amazing Society.
There’s a lot of room for a player to express how they’re feeling through a character, which takes on the role of a virtual puppet.
“It lets you tell your own story, whether you’re sad, happy, or angry,” says Robar. “For example, if someone picks the Human Torch, they can have him juggle fire balls or make a s’more [chocolate, graham cracker and marshmallow] on his head.”
The company has built in a social component to the characters so that they can do other things besides fight. Characters have a range of motion. They can dance, cheer, stretch, clap, salute, and more. Robar expects players to collect characters like toys. “People like variety,” he says. To that end, the online platform allows the designers to make changes to keep the game fresh. Unity has allowed the designers to program a lot of variety. “Players are going to say to each other ‘Who’s in your squad?’” he says. Players can also set up a clubhouse/headquarters for their characters.
Unity’s powerful tools made it possible for designers to construct prototypes quickly and to include cinematic music throughout the game. Plus, add Foley, a staple of movie sound, to produce sound effects like the whoosh sound of characters flying or squishy sounds when a character is climbing up a building.
Helgason, Francis and Ante could not have imagined when they created Unity 3D that it would have so many uses. For them, it’s simply about being in “the content business and building cool things. Now, it’s about keeping the revolution going,” says Helgason.