Making Unity mainstream

Making Unity mainstream

While Unity 3D has rapidly established itself as one of the leading mobile development tools, developer Unity Technologies is now looking to court larger teams with its 3.5 update, due this Autumn. We caught up with company CEO David Helgason to discuss competing with the major engines, not leaving indie developers behind and expanding the company.

How will the 3.5 update change Unity’s position in the development tool market?
?It actually goes back to a decision we made around a year ago to make Unity really good not just for small- or medium-sized projects but for big projects, too. There’s a whole bunch of stuff involved in that, and we’ve been getting people from all over the world and ramping up our engineering team incredibly fast. We feel the product is only going to get better for the small teams, but really wanted to focus on the high-end.

So we spent a lot of time building a fully multi-threaded renderer to take advantage of the increasing prevalence of multi-core systems, including phones, now. Then we’ve been working on workflow: we have the best workflows for small or medium sized teams, and we want to make it the best for large teams, too. Like having different people be able to work on the same scenes and levels simultaneously.

There’s a whole bunch of really little things that matter a lot, like the way we do prefabs – building blocks in games. We have a pretty old system which is starting to show its age, it’s difficult to change things, understand what happened then merge different parts and so on, so that’s another thing we’ve been working on a lot.

These are the main ones, then there’s a range of improvements like rewriting our occlusion culling system with [Finnish company] Umbra Software. When we launch 3.5 in the Autumn, we basically want to make it so that really big teams can work on Unity 3D really efficiently.

Unity CEO David Helgason

Could you explain the Cache Server feature that you’re prototyping??
Typically when you have a large project there’s thousands of data files, animation files, images and textures. Almost every time we visit a big production, whether they’re using unity or something else, you have these hour-long import times and if you switch to a different branch it’s another hour of loading.

We’re writing a system that brings these hours down to minutes – for personal projects, seconds. The only way to do that is saving [assets'] state and sharing that within the studio. So as long as somebody in that studio has ever importED or pre/post-processed this file, then everybody else can get it right away. It’s a simple technical idea, but it’s a big deal – waiting is annoying even for small teams, right?

The typical way we do things is to look at the big picture and figure out where the real pain points are hidden and then attack them. It used to take us a much longer time because we used to be only a few engineers, and now we’re nearly 60 and hiring a lot more over the summer. In total, Unity’s 125 people now and we intend to be 200 people by the end of the year.