Red Button Bulletin 3 - Goodbye, XNA. Hello, Unity.

As a heads-up to non-developers: today's entry will be a little technical, but I've had a lot of mini-discussions about our shift in development tools, and I wanted to address it fully for those that are interested.

Our previous two games, Olu and All Your Creeps, were both written with Microsoft's game framework XNA.  Our next game, currently just called Codename: Jenga, is being written with Unity.  There's a lot of reasons behind the shift (rather than just a bulleted list), and it isn't any one reason why we're switching - it's a combination.


Engine/Editor instead of API

XNA does one thing very well - provide a managed framework for programmers to build games.  However, for any non-technical team member, it's a headache to use.  It's built around the idea of a codebase, with some afterthought put into content management.  There is no designer to speak of, and there's technically an "engine," but really it's just a set of classes that saves you some time.  Unity, on the other hand, is an editor and engine first, with the ability to customize any object with your own scripting.  At any point during game execution, you can pause the scene an inspect it and change any publicly-exposed variable (such as location in a scene or material). Also, it is generally more malleable since everything is exposed through the editor.


3D support versus 2D support

Although both tools can do both 3D and 2D, XNA is targeted towards 2D games, and Unity is targeted towards 3D.  XNA includes an extremely optimized sprite batch system, and Unity's coordinates are always three dimensions - even if one is only used for layering.  Throughout the process of building Olu and All Your Creeps, many systems I built from scratch would have been available from the start in Unity.  This sort of leads into the next point as well...


Many more systems included in the engine

XNA provides very few systems out of the box.  For example, you can draw a 3D object, but without animation.  If you want animation (2D or 3D), particles, or physics, you'll have to find a third-party library to use.  Unity provides all of these (and many more) in the engine.  It provides plenty of options to manage content, adjusting import settings, swapping textures, changing shaders - all through the editor.  In XNA, you'd have to develop your own tools or solutions to these problems.  Either that or just change a setting in the game and restart.   And in case Unity doesn't include a solution or the included solution isn't good enough...


Unity's Asset Store

XNA's community is strong - at least, in the early days it was.   However, one area I felt it always struggled was sharing reusable code and systems.  A few solutions became pretty popular to solve common problems (EasyStorage comes to mind), but it was hard to seek out solutions and spent time integrating them into your codebase.

Unity's solution to this was the Asset Store.  It provides a place for anyone to sell anything related to game development - from game assets to UI systems.  It created a culture that sharing your reusable content was valuable - and the more "plug-and-play" your system was, the more valuable it was on the Asset Store.  So far I've only bought a pathfinding and UI system, but these polished systems saved me dozens of hours in work.  And due to the modular structure of Unity's scripts, they're much easier to "plug-and-play" than a normal addition to your codebase.


Same development environment

This is a short note - but I'm still using C# and Visual Studio for "scripting," so there isn't much of a transition from a programming perspective - I'm just using different systems.


Easier and wider cross-platform development

This is the BIG one.  If there was one reason that I chose Unity over XNA, this is it.  XNA lets you develop one place and deploy to Xbox 360, PC, or Windows Phone 7.  The codebase can stay the same - but many limitations of the deployment you can only determine by testing.  Graphics card not working well enough on a testing PC?  Then you'll be troubleshooting until you figure out what part of the code to revise.  They've improved this by creating two "profiles" of PC's (high-end and low-end), but you're still left with the risk of PC development - every system is different.  Not to mention that you're limited to XBLIG, Windows Phone 7 Marketplace, and PC.  I'm not going to address XBLIG concerns in this post, but I will say that many people would not expect their game to succeed on XBLIG.

With Unity, there are 6-7 different platforms you can develop on (depending on how you define "platform").  We're targeting PC/Mac/Web at first, but can easily expand to mobile when we decide to go down that path.  And for PC - there are already predefined performance profiles for different graphical levels (which can be further customized).  It helps mitigate some of the risk associated with deploying a game to PC, along with not knowing every iteration of PC specs.



Although we used XNA for our previous two games, Jesse (our Art Director) has used Unity for over 2 years - so we have a resource on the team that's very familiar with the tools.


XNA is still a good choice for many people - it just didn't make sense for our next project.  My hope is that this info doesn't necessarily drive people away from XNA, or blindly toward Unity, but educates on the benefits and risks associated with both.  As always, you can contact us with questions, either on FacebookTwitter, or email (info [at] redbuttongames [dot] com).  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook as well!


Red Button Bulletin 2 - What is "Codename: Jenga"?

This week, we'll be addressing some questions about the next project, Codename Jenga.  I'm sure there will be questions left unanswered, and some purposely left vague, but this will be the "go-to" post for a while describing what Codename Jenga is.

Q: Tell us about the game already!

A: Now, now, patience is a virtue, but all right, you've been reading patiently for a couple of sentences!  In essence, Codename Jenga is about building a world and managing the chaos that affects it.  This is purposely a vague term, because it shares similarities between games as broad as Dwarf Fortress to SimCity, although the depth has more in common with the former.

Dwarf Fortress is about (among many things), building a world that feels alive, due to the depth of gameplay detail its creators have attempted to create.  However, anyone who has played (or tried to play) Dwarf Fortress is very aware of its faults.  Its interface and graphical design are dated and hard to use.  Its player feedback is confusing at best and non-existant at worst.  Its world feels alive, but the graphics don't do it justice - a deliberate choice made by the designers that we're taking a different path on.

SimCity shares many of the core "fun ideas" that Dwarf Fortress uses, but is a lot more accessible.  Both games share the activity of creating a world, and managing the chaos that ensues.  Codename Jenga will be doing the same, although with a different theme than either Dwarf Fortress or SimCity.


Q: That sounds awesome, but I still want to SEE it, and play it!  What's the release schedule??

A: We'll announce formally as soon as we have something to show (right now, things are very prototype-ey).  The formal announcement will probably be sometime in July or early August, with the demo and preorder becoming available in late August or September.  The demo will be available for free to play on the web, PC, or Mac.  If you preorder, you'll receive the latest version of the game as its updated, leading up to the release, at a cheaper price than the final cost.


Q: Can't you tell us ANYTHING ELSE?

A: It has tiles, but they're in 3D, sort of.


And that's it for this week!  As always, you can contact us with questions, either on Facebook, Twitter, or email (info [at] redbuttongames [dot] com).  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook as well!


Red Button Bulletin 1 - Day One

This is the first of many posts, hopefully weekly, to let all our fans know about what we're doing.  We'll talk about what we were able to do this week and provide updates that might not fit into a press release, as well as review important news snippets from throughout the week.

Although Red Button Games has existed for a few years in various states, June 1st marks a milestone for us - our first (although non-paid) full-time employee.  It means iterating faster on game ideas, quicker turnaround, and more focus on our next project.  We're not ready to formally announce anything, but we want to give as much details to you, our fans.  So until we can formally announce anything, we'll be calling it Codename: Jenga.

Codename: Jenga will be developed in an "pre-order alpha/beta" approach, similar to Minecraft, Cortex Command, and plenty of other games.  Once we have something playable and fun, we'll release the alpha, and allow preorders, which will give people instant access to the current version of the game and all future versions.  We'll be using Unity, and we'll be targeting PC/Mac/web for the initial release.  We may expand to other platforms later, but for the discernable future, we'll be focusing on gameplay rather than platforms.

Next week we'll be addressing more specifics about Codename: Jenga.  If you have any specific questions, you can ask them on the Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail us at info [at] redbuttongames [dot] com.  You can also join our Facebook page or follow us on twitter to make sure you don't miss anything.


Red Button Games Releases "All Your Creeps" Video Game

Choose to fight as the Soviet Comrades or Capitolist Swine in a fast-paced team-based tower defense game

Red Button Games has announced the release of their second game, "All Your Creeps", on Xbox LIVE Indie Games.  Up to 4 players on one Xbox 360 can take the side of Soviet Russia or the USA in a cold war-era standoff on Russia's soil.  The USSR is about to reach space - can the Soviet forces defend the launch pad long enough to hold off the invaders, or will America prevent this event and win the space race?

Players have the freedom to choose one side or the other, without the need to have balanced teams.  If you have four players, you can have one versus three, two versus two, or have all four play against the computer player.  Players choose from a variety of towers and creeps to use that have strengths and weaknesses.  Are the Soviets destroying you with their laser turrets?  Toss the bulkiest creep you can.  There's an opening between towers that leads right to the launch pad?  That's a job for the fastest option on the team.

"All Your Creeps" is available now on Xbox LIVE Indie Games.  A trial version of the game for 2 players is available to download for free.  Search for "creeps" with Bing on Xbox LIVE.


All Your Creeps a candidate in Summer Indie Games Uprising!

Today voting starts on candidates for the Summer Indie Games Uprising, and All Your Creeps is among the list!  Voting is restricted to Xbox LIVE Indie Games developers, with a fan vote occurring later.  We thought now would be a great time to publish a gameplay trailer, along with a few screenshots of development.

All Your Creeps will be available on Xbox LIVE Indie Games in August 2011.