Interview: Unity - Licensing Deal Means A New Era For Indies On Nintendo Systems

We speak exclusively to Unity's Tracy Erickson about the new agreement with Nintendo

Nintendo recently signed a worldwide license agreement with Unity Technologies to bring its multi-platform engine and development tools to the Wii U. To get a better idea of what benefits this deal will bring, we spoke exclusively to Unity's Tracy Erickson, who is in charge of Developer Relations at the company.

Nintendo Life: In simple terms, what does the Unity deal mean for Nintendo fans?

Tracy Erickson: Great games. Unity support for Wii U means a new generation of developers has the opportunity to create games on Nintendo's forthcoming consoles. For the first time, independent developers have a clear path to console and we're eager to see Nintendo embrace this new relationship with indies. On the other end, some of the industry's most recognisable developers and publishers - Obsidian Entertainment, Ubisoft, SEGA, even Nintendo themselves - are adopting Unity because it's easy to use. This makes it possible to develop high quality games in shorter time; more games from a greater variety of developers meeting the Nintendo Seal of Quality can only be a good thing.

NL: What benefits does Unity offer over other development tools?

TE: Unity offers two clear benefits: multiplatform reach and ease of use. Being able to create a game and take it to several platforms - iPhone and iPad, Android devices, consoles, Windows, Linux, etc. - while retaining the quality of that core experience is incredibly powerful. As a gamer, this is relevant - how many times have you seen a game developed for another platform and wished it was on your device, your console? Supporting multiple platforms involves a lot of technical work that Unity handles for the developer; in other words, Unity takes care of the boring stuff related to supporting multiple platforms and allows developers to focus on what matters: game design. And if the number of platforms that Unity supports still isn't enough, we help developers bring their games to other platforms through our Union program.

Second, Unity is easy to use and ideal for small teams. Our engine is designed to be straightforward and intuitive so that you don't need programming expertise to use it. Artists, designers, and coders are able to collaborate in the engine in ways that would be cumbersome in other engines. Unsurprisingly, this fosters more creativity and puts the focus on game design rather than building internal tech.

NL: What made you select Nintendo over rival firms?

TE: Timing dictated the partnership with Nintendo given the forthcoming launch of Wii U. Microsoft and Sony are valuable partners for Unity and we're working with them on a variety of levels. We support Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, too, which ensures Unity covers all current consoles.

NL: Only Wii U has been mentioned specifically so far in relation to the deal, but could the scaleable nature of the Unity engine mean increased support for existing systems, like the Wii and 3DS?

TE: Actually, Unity already supports Wii. Obviously, there aren't a ton of Unity games on Wii - that's a separate discussion as to why - and that's what prompted this unique partnership with Nintendo for Wii U. We knew that having a closer relationship with Nintendo was critical to Unity being a success on their console; Nintendo understood that embracing the Unity community is fundamental to the console's long term vitality.

Regarding Nintendo 3DS, that's kinda like asking about Pikmin 4 when Pikmin 3 hasn't even come out yet! The relationship between Nintendo and Unity has reached an exciting new level and we're focused on Wii U. Timing is important here since the console launches in this year, too. While there are no current plans to support Nintendo 3DS, we're always looking at what platforms make sense for us to support, where developer demand is, and the opportunities available for our developer community.

NL: What's the reaction been from existing Unity developers regarding the deal? Are they excited about Wii U?

TE: The response has been phenomenal. Unity developers see the opportunity on Wii U; they want to innovate, they want to push the hardware, they want to try new things. Many of these developers haven't worked with a console before or perhaps haven't interacted with Nintendo. Naturally, there's a desire to see how Nintendo moves forward in distributing Unity via the Wii U SDK - pricing, availability, options for publishing - these are important questions that will be answered in the coming months.

NL: What's the response been like from existing Nintendo third party developers and publishers?

TE The goal in supporting Wii U is mainly in bringing new developers to Nintendo's console. Existing Nintendo developers and publishers are wanted and welcomed by Unity, but the unique value Unity brings to Nintendo is in new developer talent. For those using other engines or internal tech, Unity support for Wii U is prompting a second look. It says a lot when Nintendo puts your tech in their SDK, which is an endorsement of sorts - that goes far in speaking well of our tech.

NL: Given the digital-only nature of many of Unity developers, it seems only natural that they will want to produce download-only software for the Wii U. Has Nintendo revealed any plans to you regarding its Wii U eShop?

TE: You'll have to ask Nintendo, unfortunately; they're in the best position to share details on the store and how it works.

NL: What does the future hold for Unity?

TE: Unity 4, our biggest and most ambitious version of the engine to date, is being released soon. We're already in public beta where developers can test out our new features including DirectX 11 support, shadows for mobile devices, updates to our particle system, and our innovative new animation tool, Mechanim. We're also working on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 support, which we recently announced at our Unite developer conference. Flash and Linux support is coming, too. In short, more features, more platforms. And more games: Wasteland 2, Offensive Combat, Metal Gear Solid: Social Ops, Republique, RAD Soldiers, MechWarrior Tactics, Pid - so much good stuff to play.

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