Wasteland 2 Project Update – Designing on Unity

I am always, a bit behind the story on this one, but as a “Backer” for Wasteland 2, last week I received a fresh status update on the project, this one penned by John Alvarado, the game’s lead designer. In it, he discussed the team’s (his) decision to use the Unity 3 engine to power Wasteland 2. Danielle could surely tell you much more about Unity than I can. Mostly I know it’s supposed to be a great tool for delivering 3D-driven applications (primarily games) to multiple platforms. Given the team’s pledge to support Windows, Linux, and Mac, it’s easy to see the appeal there. (Evidently Unity, which doesn’t currently port to Linux, is working directly with inXile on the Linux port of Wasteland 2.) But does it suit a game like Wasteland 2? That’s what the rest of the update (which you can read in full here) is there to explain. Here’s a notable chunk…

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.

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.

As long as we get a well-done party-based post-nuke apocalyptic RPG, they could use the engine from an ’81 Chevette and it’d be Jim Dandy by me. Still, it’s cool to see the team talk about the direction they’re heading and how they’re settling on decisions that will have a huge impact on how the project ultimately turns out. Traditionally we don’t hear these kinds of details until a game is much closer to release.

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

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