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.

Some of my old games from robotduck.com

Some of my old games from robotduck.com

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.

Some of the games I have developed at Skive

Some of the games I have developed while employed at Skive

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.

Unity Editor Screenshot

Unity Editor Screenshot

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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22 Responses to “From Shockwave to Unity 3D”

  1. Interesting post. I’m starting to wade into Unity from a Flash Dev background and I love hearing ppl like yourself who have a ton of game dev experience tout the platoform.

    Def lends more credibility to Unity as I hear more and more ppl impressed with it’s capabilities.

    rss’d your blog –

  2. Glad to see you posting, ducks!

  3. @samBrown: check out our plans for Unite ’09, our yearly developer conference being held next week in San Francisco. We’re having a few folks speak about the transition from Flash to Unity, including John Grden (one of the developers behind Papervision) and Paul Tondeur (author of a book about Papervision).

    @darrelplant: I couldn’t agree more, it’s great to have more and more of the old crew from the Director days getting on board with Unity. Not just for old times sake, but because Unity really is a step (a hundred steps!) ahead of Director in terms of interactive 3D content. 🙂

    • @Tom Higgins : interesting that you should mention that – Unite ’09 has been on my radar for a week or so and I’m pushing hard to make it for the whole time (including the Flash -> Unity session on the 27th). So (hopefully) see you there…

  4. Also a former Director (6.5) 3D developer moving to Unity to create online collaboration spaces. There is simply no contest, loved you Director but the king is dead, long live the king…..

  5. Great post — I remember the 3D snowfight game and several others you made, Duck.

    And count me among the former Director 3D users who’ve recently made the move to Unity. It *is* good to see some familiar faces and such an active “support group” (the guys on IRC have been extraordinarily helpful, especially for guys on IRC 🙂

  6. Thomas Westin Says:

    I really like Unity too, but the widespread Shockwave plugin is what makes the difference for me. I’m also much into audio so the audio features in D11.5 is also important. Regarding 3D graphics, yes Unity rocks in comparison.

  7. Interesting post.

    I wonder what Director 12 will have on its plate relative to 3D engine?

    In the meantime, a few years ago, coming from Director (4 to now 11.5), I looked for an alternative to shockwave 3D.

    After a lot of reading, there were essentially 2 remaining : Unity (that had my preference for a start because it runs natively on Mac) and Torque Game Engine : they were cross-platform, and networkable.

    I chose Torque from GarageGames because we have full access to source-code : that enabled me to prot WiiRemote to this environment (wiiRemote + Nunchuk + classic Controller + BalanceBoard and soon Motion+) on Mac and Windows !

    And then, TGE evolved into TGEA, TGE for iPhone, and now Torque3D : shockwave 3D is out of the race in term of capabilities.

    Unity seems easier to use (like Director), but Torque is more powerful at the end. So, it’s all a question of usability and productivity, but they are 2 great products that are evolving very very well.

    And of course, the move of Tom Higgins from Macromedia to Unity drove a lot of attention of Director developers to Unity : the last good advice from Tom when he worked at Macromedia. 😉

    Nicolas Buquet
    [url]http://www.buquet-net.com/cv/[/url]

  8. I looked at Unity too, but went with Torque because of full access to source-code : that enabled me to plug WiiRemote to this environment (wiiRemote + Nunchuk + classic Controller + BalanceBoard and soon Motion+) on Mac and Windows !

    And Torque3D is now really powerfull!

  9. We jumped to unity too 🙂 sooo refreshing to have a vibrant, growing and supported game dev platform.

    Still publishing shockwave tho, the plugin’s still got some mileage in her yet!

  10. […] El motor 3D de Unity es, en muchos aspectos, superior al de Director, y algunos desarrolladores han empezado a plantearse el cambio. […]

  11. Totally agree. Unity has done nothing but impress – it’s a really cool working environment as well as an awesome engine. Having worked with Director for so long, it was hard to let go and say goodbye to Lingo but I don’t regret it one bit. C# is a great language! There’s only one downside to Unity and that’s the debugger. I REALLY miss Director’s debugging capability – trying to find crash bugs in Unity is a complete nightmare. I’m told that a debugger is in the works, but I just hope it comes sooner rather than later since it’s Unity’s biggest let down.

    Good luck with your new direction, Ben! Having seen what you did with Director, it’s great to see you rocking out with a more powerful engine like Unity and I can’t wait to see what awesome stuff you will create with it 🙂

  12. Michael Says:

    I really enjoyed playing Snowfight. Is there a way to purchase the full game, or play it online somewhere?

  13. Duh. Look at Adobe’s pathetic We Love Apple campaign at the moment..

  14. Hey, this is an unrelated question but… what ever happened to the amazing music on robotduck.com? It was probably the best electronic music i have ever heard… do you still have it? please reply.

  15. There he is ! – I started programming from the director tutorials on your site an age ago and had a good year or two of lingo before I went Flash-shaped. I assumed you had joined the army or something, so it is a delight to see you’re still In Games. I hope you still get some drawing in there amongst all the poly wrangling that Unity involves as your art style was top !

  16. hey when are you going to be back up and online? cause i cant find another game on the enter net that has your game its the one where you are a crane and you destroy the cars b4 they finish the race i am 14 and the last time i played that was when i was about 4-5

  17. Sigh… i deeply miss your website when it had all those games. I really loved them as a kid and i remember the day that i went to robot duck, and it was down. i continuously checked back over the years, still down. checked back today, there were actually links to things, everything except those games i loved when i was younger. If only there was a way i could play those games again.

  18. Is Unity 3D also good for interactive 2D games. Trying to port my Director programs to something else. Is Unity a good choice for 2D animation games?

    • Yes it is. A large number of the 2d games on the app store are made with Unity and there are even better 2d tools coming very soon such as a built-in tilemap editor.

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