inXile Chooses Unity for Wasteland 2

We recently announced the choice of Unity as the game engine for Wasteland 2 development.  Many of our supporters are curious about why we chose Unity over multiple other options, and whether Unity is able to meet the requirements of the project.  In this post I will talk about the factors leading to our decision and how Unity addresses the needs of Wasteland 2.

Background

Before diving into specifics I’d like to take a step back and talk about inXile’s approach to game development.  We are decidedly not a technology development company.  We are a game development company.  We pursue game ideas first and then decide what technology to use to best realize our ambitions for the game design and our business goals.  Consequently we have used several different game engines and multiple third party tools and solutions over the past decade.*  There is inevitably some engine-level work that we do to tune the engine for the particular game we are making, but we try to make initial choices that minimize that risk factor.

From a lead programmer perspective, my goal is always to enable the designers to most directly implement their vision by providing tools that keep me out of their way.   That requires analyzing the game design up front, and with budget and time in mind, deciding what technology I should license and what I should write.  I want to license enough and develop enough that the designers have all the tools they need, but without wasting money on overkill solutions, whether licensed or developed.

Wasteland 2

So along comes Wasteland 2 and we began the familiar yet always unique process of identifying the requirements so we can evaluate game engines and tools that will get the job done most efficiently.  The original Wasteland was party-based and turn-based with a top-down POV that relied heavily on text-based story and drama achieved through deep connections and consequences between story and character.

For Wasteland 2, with the help of our Wasteland fans we decided to keep the focus on story and character, retaining the party-based and turn-based mechanics.  The top down POV would remain as well but we would go with a full 3D render to bring it into the modern graphics era.   During our Kickstarter we also promised to deliver on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms, and to provide support for the modding community.

With those broad strokes on requirements, we began evaluating engines and tools.

The Influx of Support

It’s been a great pleasure to feel all the support from fans of the game during Kickstarter, and that has continued during our engine and tools evaluation.  Multiple vendors who also supported the Kickstarter came forth with their products, not just to hawk their wares, but to offer genuine encouragement and generous offers of custom support.  Among them were prominent engine vendors as well as specialized tool vendors, and of course Obsidian.  We necessarily must decline some generous offers as we let the game requirements drive us to single solutions in each category, but we do so with great appreciation for the genuine good will expressed in the offers.

There was a broad enough offering just from the vendors that came to us that we prioritized our evaluations to these products first, hoping to find our solution amongst the ones making generous offers and hence help devote more resources to the game.

Development Requirements

Besides the items mentioned above, high on our list of requirements for an engine was ease of use by the artists and level designers for getting assets into the game and editing levels.   We are a small team and must be able to work very efficiently.   This became a first-pass filter when evaluating engines.  Also very important was ease of development for the promised target platforms.   Following a close third was amount of support from the vendor and general availability of expertise for crowd-sourcing, contracting or hiring.  Putting it all together we came up with a list of engine requirements that looked like this:

  1. Ease of use by artists and designers
  2. Targets Windows, Mac and Linux
  3. Support and expertise available from vendor and in community
  4. Adaptability for player modding
  5. 3D rendering, pathing, AI, phyics, character animation tools

The 3D rendering and other game systems at the bottom of the list are very important as we plan to make a great looking game with physics and effects.  But these things, at the level we need them, are commonly provided by full-fledged engines, so they end up lower on the list in terms of differentiating factors.

Given the top down POV and camera height required to show a party of characters and enemies, it would be overkill to spend too much of our resources on detailed character models and all the cutting-edge rendering and animation techniques associated with that level of detail.

If we plan well, then we can put just the right amount of resources into modeling and animation so that it looks great from our camera POV without wasting effort on detail that will never be seen.  Then we can spend more time working on other enhancing effects that will be noticed from or POV, such as physics for ragdolls and flying debris, and the fire, smoke and particle effects for the gunfire and explosions that cause those ragdolls and flying debris (hopefully of for your enemies and not your party of rangers).

Unity

Unity Technologies, with their Unity 3 game engine, was among the vendors that came to us with congratulations, goodwill and offers of support.   Their engine stood out as an early front-runner on point 1 of our requirements.  The artists loved its support for the native formats of the art tools we already use (3DS Max and Photoshop).   I also like its built-in version control for assets and code.

At first it seemed to be missing a leg on point 2 (support for Linux platform), but I knew that we could get source code and therefore could provide the Linux port ourselves.  Given that the engine is designed and structured to support multiple platforms, I felt it would not be insurmountable to port it to Linux (or actually hire some outstanding external contractors we’ve used before to do the job).  After talking to Unity about this, we found they’ve already been working on a Linux port, so Unity is supplying inXile the linux port alpha source code.  InXile will work with Unity in order to port Wasteland 2 to linux.

Where Unity really bowled us over was on point 3.  Besides generous support available from Unity staff, the Unity Asset Store is a treasure trove of assets (3D models and code) provided by the large and growing community of Unity users.  A recent Unity newsletter announced that the Asset Store customer base has topped 100,000, and the catalog has reached over 3,000 packages!   We’ve been able to find all kinds of useful 3D assets and code in the Asset Store ranging in price from cheap to free!  Having an organized marketplace like the Asset Store for finding assets and expertise fits right in with our desire to leverage and give back to the community.   While we cannot share engine source code changes, we can share script code and components, as well as graphical assets as part of our modding support.

On the Modding front, we always figured we would have to provide custom tools to users, so we didn’t rank modding support high on our list of engine requirements.  We’ve also had generous offers from the Wasteland community of coders to help with developing those tools.  And yet I think the fact that Unity provides their basic engine/editor for free is a big plus as a starting point for providing the tools necessary for supporting modding of Wasteland 2.  And there again, I think the Asset Store will facilitate ongoing collaboration with the community on modding tools that can be offered in the store for free.

Finally, from looking at Unity demos, other games developed with Unity, and conducting our own art and coding tests, we are convinced that Unity delivers on the game system that we need to build Wasteland 2 in style.  This includes advanced 3D rendering, pathing, physics (PhysX), multiple options for scripting language, advanced 3D level editor that is customizable with scripted components, and much more.

Summary

In summary, Unity hits the sweet spot for us defined by the specific requirements of the Wasteland 2 game design, deployment plan, and the unique circumstances of the development effort which includes community involvement on an ongoing basis.

It has been my experience over decades of game development that no engine or tool is ever perfect for the game you want to build.  Any engine or tool will have points of weaker comparison to other options, but you have to evaluate how the whole offering matches up with your resources and skills to make a good choice for the project at hand.  Unity is an excellent choice that will allow us to deliver the great game we’ve promised in Wasteland 2.

Best Regards,

John Alvarado
Director of Technology
inXile enterainment

*Technology inXile has used:  Snowblind Engine, RadTools, UE3 Engine, Gamebryo Engine, RKEngine, and various smaller third-party tools for game sub systems such as, path-finding, physics, character animation and lip-synching, etc.

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32 thoughts on “inXile Chooses Unity for Wasteland 2

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  2. Pingback: Gaming News, July 29 2012 « Gaming News

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    • New information would be welcome, it’s been almost 2 moths since last blog update. We can hardly call it blog.

      • Guys, in game development terms, they are still only just getting underway. In marketing terms, it doesn’t behoove them to start updating in earnest until closer to the release date. In Kickstarter terms…well…that’s terra incognito. I have no doubt that they are keenly aware of the transparent process they want to have, and are figuring out how best to do that without spoiling the game or disrupting the development process.

        Many of us have been waiting twenty-five or so years for Wasteland 2! I think we can bear being patient between blog posts.

  4. Pingback: Для разработки Wasteland2 inXile выбрали Unity | Все по игре Wasteland 2. На русском.

  5. well, this game interested me right up until the point i read this blog post and these comments.

    sorry, but anything based on the unity engine just doesn’t interest me.

    i wish more game developers would look at things the way john carmack seems to: release the game, make money, then release the engine under the GPL.

    • I’m curious…what exactly do you expect this game to look like? It was never going to be some sort of FO3 or even XCOM remake powerhouse. I don’t expect it to look too much different from the first two FO games. You don’t need some powerhouse, expensive to license engine to execute that kind of game. If Unity, which comes cheaply *and* a working partnership with the engine’s creators, frees up cost for added gameplay content, that’s something to applaud.

    • Well, I do like the way Jonh Carmack do things.
      But the situation here is very different. First of, they don’t have John Carmack. If you speak of these things, you probably realize how incredibly hard it is to make a game engine from scratch.
      Though the budget is quite bigger than expected, it would still take at least a year to pop a good engine.

      AND it would cost even more than that, because it takes different people. Game making and game-engine making are two completely different jobs.

      Working on top of Unity certainly cuts a tremendous amount of expenses.
      Exactly the kind of money that can help the game go from mediocre to pretty good. So I’m glad they made that choice: after all, their goal is to make a videogame.

  6. I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining but it has almost been a month since the last update. I know you are all probably super busy with the project but seriously guys, get an intern!

  7. unity is not a bad choice, thou I feel it was choosen motly for the price point and future option to port it to the IOS.

  8. So, if I get it right, Wasteland II using Unity will actually help Unity get ported to Linux faster ?

    Is there any way in which this game doesn’t make our lifes more awesoome ?
    I had to put Unity aside (with much regret) because of Linux support in my own games. Something like this would make my future so much easier :) !

  9. Hello All,

    I will be posting monthly updates, unless something special warrants a more frequent post.

    To clarify about being unable to share Linux source: I meant the changes that we make to Unity’s native source that they are providing to us. That will go back to Unity so they can use it and make it available to others at their discretion as part of their source code licensing program. But the terms of the source license prohibit us from sharing their source code, including our changes, with other developers directly. Unity is better-equipped to handle source code support anyway, so it’s better this way.

    Scripting on the other hand, we can share—although it seems unlikely that there will be any Linux-specific scripting, as scripting is usually game related and not platform-specific.

    Best regards,

    John Alvarado

      • I’m assuming that’s up to unity whether or not they make it available to ALL unity users or just the people who got the source package.

      • unity engine only for browser games, hardly even called game engine. they’ll never make it binary. it always online browser game. 3 million dollars lol

  10. Thank you for the work you’re doing with Unity3D+Linux. I don’t game but I will be purchasing your game when it is released.

  11. Congrats on the choice!
    Its nice to see you dont derail when it comes to choices like this, and this looks like an excellent choice, one that points towards a better future of games.

    On update regularity: I would rather stick with the monthly/half monthly longer articles as it is now, than weekly… Not fed with a spoon every day is reassuring for me that this team has the confidence :) Also its much more retro to have it monthly(Y) :D

  12. Hmm, nice to see the thought process behind the decision. Question though: You say “we cannot share engine source code changes” Does that mean the Linux support changes won’t be ported back into the main unity engine? :( It would be awesome if we get not only wasteland 2, but get unity ported to Linux as a side bonus

    • I don’t want to speak for the developer but what I think he meant was that since Unity itself is not open source they cannot share the changes they make with the community. However, since Unity is already working on this I am sure they will be working closely with the developer to facilitate the port and incorporate the new features back into their Linux support.

  13. I don’t think so that you guys have to do weekly updates. In this case you’ll spend a massive amount of time with blogs. One week in software production is nothing and the team is small. Maybe this half monthly or monthly is enough.

    Seems like you’re thinking the same way like software engineers like me :) All the features and requirements considered… Great! I’ve just started to feel that somebody is really going to create a good game.

  14. I’d also like something like weekly uptade (as they do in grimrock).
    To the subject of unity – Jagged Alliance online works on unity, and although the game is simplistic, it shows what can be done with turn based fights in Unity, and with some tweaks it would be pretty great and i wouldn’t expect more from W2

  15. Intriguing to see the thought processes that go into deciding on a game engine. Do games designers work to a set of requirements like other IT systems development, or is it a much more fluid process?

    • Agreed. Not because I want to pressure you guys to dance for our amusement (much) but because this stuff is really interesting.

      • I feel the same way, seeing how this is the industry I want to work in, I find literally every aspect of it very interesting. But at the same time I don’t want Weekly updates to get in the way of the development. I hope that they don’t because it would be pretty sweet to get to hear more a bit more often.

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