03 November 2009

Unity and non-uniformity

Blurst.com have set up their site as a portal for games (http://blurst.com/developers/) for indie devs using Unity, which is a great move on their part - hopefully this will increase their traffic (seems they've been struggling a little according to this post in their blog: http://blurst.com/blog/birthday-changes/) and further get more attention to Unity as a development platform. Blurst only really want games that match their current portfolio which does limit the types of games you can make, but it's a start.

I don't use Unity, I tried a 30 day trial a long while back but that was only enough for me to say, "oooh" for a bit and not really get a chance to try build anything with it (considering I get quite busy at work). But lo! Unity themselves are changing tack in a sweet damn awesome move. Various sources (Rock, Paper, Shotgun, TIGSource, plenty others) gave a heads up on Unity now being free for indie developers (http://unity3d.com/#freeunity), although it took a bit before the Unity site updated itself to reflect this (weird). I'm hoping this significantly increases their market share in regards to the internet, a place currently monopolised by Adobe with Flash (in terms of rich media dev - I'm ignoring ajax and the like until that can easily be used to create games as easily as one can do in Flash). Flash is, as I have decried before, a buggy mess of bad UI design and hackiness. Maybe this will cause Adobe to realise they can't just keep shoving out the same bug-ridden app with 3 new features haphazardly tacked on. Competition incites great development.

I actually like the potential of Flash itself so I'm hoping that Adobe can fix the issues people have with the platform. We need fewer features and more stability. I tried out Flash CS4 and even after patching it, I found it so non-functional I had to drop back to CS3. What a waste. Many people were annoyed by the user interface (UI) over haul done in CS3. It's not at all a bad as people make it out to be. Sure, there are some minor limitations and some things are slightly unwieldy but shoving it around enough (it's fairly customisable) presents are workable system.

CS4 went the wrong route. Where they should have tightened up the original UI, they instead redid it (it looks like they started from scratch with that as a concept, or at least rewrote large portions) and it became less functional and far more buggy. On both platforms (Mac and Windows), it can sometimes be seen to overlay standard UI controls (like close and minimise buttons) with it's own stuff. Icon usage is spotty with poor antialiasing (removing jagged edges) of many elements (including some text, which makes it nigh on unreadable). From what I can see, many people designed different parts of the same interface without having an overall guideline. The different apps in the suites have different ideas as to how to lay out exactly the same controls/tools. It really doesn't feel like they had a main designer or director of the UI at all.

Illustrating a point in photoshop: there's a ruler hidden behind my docked toolbar on the left

Application suites are difficult to set up. If apps are vastly different in the suite, how do you make the user interfaces similar enough without compromising functionality? You also have to have pretty strict control over how much one app can do that another app can (for example, Photoshop and Illustrator both have pen tools that do the same thing, although the Illustrator one works better. You can still do a lot of vector work in Photoshop although it is primarily a raster (bitmap) system). When do you force a user to switch to the other app to do something - they will then have to import that work into the previous app to carry on. Which leads to file formats that can be read by all apps in your suite, or at least being able to convert to the various file formats. A universal file format is really not something you should ever have (at least for a suite of quite different apps) as this will become a huge mess of intermixed data that chunks up your harddrive and is slow to work with (opening, saving, etc.). I can see why Adobe has problems trying to cater for so much. However, I hope that CS4 is their education and they work out what they should actually be doing from now on.

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