I attended the first two days of the Unite '09 conference, for the Unity game engine. Unfortunately I'll be out of town to miss the rest, but I saw quite a bit.
In case you don't know, Unity is a super great game engine. You can develop on Mac or PC, and you can publish to Mac, PC, and web. You can also get upgrades that let you publish to Wii and iPhone as well, and they finally announced that Xbox 360 publishing is coming soon, though I've known about that for a while. The ability to publish the same game to so many platforms (in one click) is pretty game-changing in our industry. The web player is especially game-changing because it allows full 3d games in a browser that are just as fast (hardware accelerated!) as the downloadable versions!
I'm particularly interested in turning Yomi and two other of my card games into online free-to-try web games, along with a puzzle game. I was wondering how to integrate the Unity 3d web stuff into an actual website in a nice looking way, but the conference answered that too! Two speakers showed how to integrate Flash (for non-game stuff like profiles, chat, nice menus, etc) with Unity (for the actual game). Very impressive results. Now I just need some way to actually make it all happen. ;)
Unity increased its amazingness today by releasing version 2.6 with a great new animation editor (allows you to carefully integrate script calls with animations), a profiler (to watch cpu usage of everything in your game to find out what's slowing things down), and several more features, fixes, and speed increases. But the biggest news was that their Unity Indie license (which lets you do like 95% of what the full version can do) went from $200 to free. Yes, FREE. That's a bold move on their part, but when you look what the small percentage of revenue that version made them overall, it really does make sense to open it up to everyone for free. Your whole classroom can use it for free. Your garage band of game-makers. Your professional studio even. Pros will surely upgrade to Unity Pro anyway, just to remove the Unity slash screen, but there's no break in workflow by upgrading, so you could start your project for free and work as long as you want with that free version, then make the upgrade anytime. Or never. You can ship commercial products with the free version, ha.
Anyway, I'm really impressed. I just need a team now, and we can get to making things. ;)
Special thanks to Mauricio Longoni for making great looking games in Unity, Paul Tondeur for his work on integrating Unity and Flash (Mauricio too), and everyone at Flashbang Studios for being all-around cool guys. Perhaps the special-est thanks of all to David Helgason, CEO of Unity. He explained that one of the things you can do at the conference is book time with just about anyone at Unity you want and ask them any question you want. Like "why doesn't my game controls work right?" and then show them what you have. Or "how would I make an AI system that does X,Y,Z in Unity?" He said last year someone booked time with him, the CEO, and asked "How did you manage to create a community so infused with love?" Interesting question, but one way or another, that is the helpful vibe I get from everyone involved. Unity seems to want to actually enable people to make games, as opposed to some other game engine companies that seem a bit more interested in making Gears of War. Not that there's anything wrong with that engine either, but hey, it's hard to beat free. And it's hard to beat publishing to mac, windows, web, wii, iphone, and xbox 360, too.