From Shockwave to Unity 3D
Hello! This is my first blog, and my first post. My name is Ben Pitt, and I’m a programmer. I’m also known as “robotduck”, “duckets” or “duck” (both online and off) because I used to run a games site called robotduck.com, which featured my own games and tutorials. I currently work at Skive.
For the last ten years, I have been working in the field of game programming, mainly producing Shockwave 2D and 3D games for the web, using Director (not to be confused with the Flash plug-in, which is sometimes referred to as “Shockwave Flash”).
During that time I’ve developed dozens of games, from two-dimensional retro-style games, to larger and more complex 3D games. I started programming games for the web in Director instead of Flash because – at the time – Director had a full, capable scripting language compared with Flash’s, which was originally very limited and slow, it could handle bitmaps (Flash couldn’t), and it ran orders of magnitude faster. Over time, Flash’s capabilities improved, and Flash’s popularity went from strength to strength – while Shockwave’s plateaued, and now seems to have entered a decline. Macromedia launched Director 8 in 2000, which introduced powerful image manipulation commands, and version 8.5 in 2001, which saw the introduction of hardware-accelerated 3D capabilities for shockwave browser-based games. Equipped with these, in the earlier days of 3D web-based games, Shockwave’s capabilities were so far ahead of its time that the main consideration when developing a 3D Shockwave game was whether the average home user would even have the hardware required to run the game.
Since then however, much to the disappointment and frustration of many Shockwave game developers, upgrades to Shockwave’s 3D and game-related capabilities have been almost completely negligible. At the time of writing, Shockwave still has pretty much the same 3D feature set that it had in 2001, and we are now in almost exactly the opposite situation, where most modern computers – even cheap home PCs – have advanced 3D graphic capabilities which the now antiquated Shockwave plug-in simply cannot make full use of.
Adobe’s claim that their long-term plans include making Director “the preferred environment for games creation” seems at odds with their release of Director 11, which was generally poorly received (except for one seemingly ill-informed review on gamedev.net), and offered no new 3D features. The release of Director 11.5 made amends somewhat with a sorely overdue audio overhaul, but still no significant 3D improvements. Will the next version of Director have any substantial 3D updates?
For me, the time to seriously investigate alternatives arrived around December last year. I had the opportunity to research and evaluate some of the modern alternatives for a new project, and of these, “Unity 3D” emerged as a clear winner. I had been keeping an eye on a few of the 3D alternatives over the recent years, but it wasn’t until I actually got stuck in and started trying out Unity 3D that I realised the extent to which it feels ‘alive’ as a tool. The community is buzzing with new ideas and talent, the company is responsive and easily approachable, and the engine’s capabilities are modern and expansive.
As well as the technological advantages, it has also highlighted some of the things that were sorely missing from the Shockwave / Director scene. For example:
- Unity has incredibly active forums, and many Unity engineers and product specialists are active and helpful there.
- Unity has a User Feedback Forum where ideas and feature requests can be added and voted on. Members of the technical team actually comment on these ideas, and some of them do end up getting implemented!
- Unity has a public roadmap. They tell you what they’re working on, and roughly when it’s due for release.
- New communities are growing around the technology. People are tweeting and blogging about Unity. There are typically 40-80 users in the IRC channel at any given time (including regular Unity staff). By contrast, the community around Director feels as though it has been dwindling since around 2004, and those remaining are mostly old-timers.
So now, having completed my first (rather large) Unity 3D project, I’ve come away very impressed with Unity – with both the product itself, and with the company and community that comes with it! And on that note, I’m hoping to dedicate a little more time to such things as blogging about my experiences, experiments, pet projects and research over the next few months.
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