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Unity makes iterative design easy

We are cur­rent­ly in the mid­dle of a project for which we are using Uni­ty 3D to quick­ly cre­ate a work­ing pro­to­type. We had want­ed to use Uni­ty for a while now because oth­er tools felt too con­strained. Now we final­ly have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do so.

Oth­er design com­pa­nies and depart­ments are also find­ing out about the ben­e­fits of Uni­ty. I saw two jobs for Uni­ty experts through my net­work in the past weeks as opposed to absolute­ly none before. IXDS were look­ing for a Uni­ty expert and this week I saw that HERE have a per­ma­nent posi­tion for a Uni­ty pro­to­typer.

There are two main rea­sons why Uni­ty is a great tool for iter­a­tive design.

First, Uni­ty is a pro­duc­tion qual­i­ty tool in which you can pro­to­type quick­ly. Uni­ty will allow you to drop your assets into it and place them in a 2D/3D scene. Uni­ty will take almost any­thing you throw at it and if not you can find a library for it (for exam­ple see this work­flow by Zach Gage). If you add some behav­iours to these objects, you can then quick­ly have some­thing that is inter­ac­tive. These behav­iours can be pro­grammed ful­ly but Uni­ty is aimed fore­most at non-pro­gram­mers. Final­ly you can pub­lish your project with a sin­gle action to a mobile device, desk­top or web­site. There are sim­ply no oth­er tools that sup­port this work­flow and are this mature.

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Sec­ond, the fact that the edi­tor and the engine are with­in the same appli­ca­tion enable things that are oth­er­wise impos­si­ble. In Uni­ty you can declare any prop­er­ty of an object to be pub­lic. Uni­ty will then auto­mat­i­cal­ly gen­er­ate a con­trol in the inspec­tor which you can use to tweak this prop­er­ty. You can then run your appli­ca­tion in the edi­tor using the play but­ton and tweak the val­ue while it is run­ning. In the GIF above (from this tuto­r­i­al) you can see some­body play­ing around with the speed of a car. This ‘live-cod­ing’ capa­bil­i­ty is one of the most impor­tant fea­tures of Unity.

Dur­ing almost every project we have done we want­ed to be able to tweak vari­ables of a run­ning appli­ca­tion. When you want to do play­ful design, you need to fine-tune things to make your game or app feel just right. Cur­rent­ly the only way to do this is through a dif­fi­cult and time con­sum­ing edit-com­pile-run-test cycle. Xcode has some ways to expose vari­ables but they are dif­fi­cult to set up and share with­in a team. Uni­ty has this as a key feature.

This being said, actu­al­ly get­ting start­ed in Uni­ty isn’t easy. There are lots of ways to do every­thing which does­n’t make it very straight for­ward. But the doc­u­men­ta­tion has improved mas­sive­ly since the last time we tried it and the basic ver­sion is now free. There are also many pow­er­ful libraries built on top of Uni­ty for peo­ple cre­at­ing games. It seems like a mat­ter of time until there will also be libraries and assets for peo­ple mak­ing oth­er things.

Uni­ty is one of the most pop­u­lar engines for doing game devel­op­ment right now. Larg­er com­pa­nies pick­ing it up for design pro­to­typ­ing is an inter­est­ing devel­op­ment. It shows the need for hav­ing tools that allow design­ers and pro­gram­mers to be able to pro­to­type togeth­er. One of the few oth­er tools out there that facil­i­tates such an inte­grat­ed pro­to­typ­ing work­flow is the increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar Framer. I look for­ward to see­ing more tools for bet­ter iter­a­tive design like these emerge.

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