March 23–26 marked the twelfth annual PAX East expo, which took place in Boston. One of the biggest gaming conferences on the U.S.’s east coast, the event is well known for being a hub for video games, board games, and everything games have to offer in between. Unity’s Alain Wong shares his experience as a first-time PAX attendee.
Hi, I’m Alain, a senior partner advisor for Customer Success at Unity. Our team’s mission is to help Unity creators succeed with their projects, and, as part of this, I get to speak with Unity Pro, Starter Success, and Enterprise customers on a daily basis, usually online.
But, at PAX East last week, my fellow colleague Ryo Sakai and I finally got the chance to meet some of our creators face to face and chat with them about their next hit. In this blog post, I’ll share some of the highlights from the event.
As part of our customer-facing role, Partner Advisors help connect the dots between creators and all the resources that we have at Unity, like our best practice guides, tutorials, and documentation. We also collect feedback to inform product roadmaps in order to focus our efforts on what creators need most. Most importantly, we’re the human face of Unity, and we’ll always do our best to help at any phase of game development, including when games launch.
During PAX East 2023 in Boston, my goal was to meet developers at the launch of their games and help them celebrate this important milestone as they showed off demos and embarked on the quest to build up their audience.
For every convention, the PAX team creates a curated list of games dubbed its PAX Rising Showcase. The games are selected for their ingenuity and innovations in gameplay.
In Paper Trail by Newfangled Games, players move through the world and solve puzzles by folding paper to create new pathways. The game is a stylistic mix of printmaking and watercolor, blended together to create a beautifully unique environment.
For Paper Trail, the team needed to prioritize rendering the paper optimally. This was achieved by creating a custom scriptable render pipeline in Unity. They also made heavy use of 2D tools and the Addressables package, which allowed them to create platform-specific objects. From there, all cross-platform assets were contained in a single branch, meaning no more messy, platform-specific branches or chaotic merging.
“One thing I'd really recommend other Unity devs look into is the Unity Build Server license,” shared Newfangled Games’ Henry Hoffman. “If you're an indie and want to host your own build server, allowing you to automatically build and deploy to multiple platforms, then buying pro licenses for Windows, Mac, and Linux build agents will mean paying for three pro licenses, which is expensive.”
From Prideful Sloth, the creators of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles and Grow: Song of the Evertree, comes new city simulator Go-Go Town! When planning to build this game, the devs loved Unity’s adaptability because it enabled them to build their own framework on top of the engine – an engine within an engine.
To achieve their vision, the Go-Go Town! team created a custom version of the Universal Render Pipeline (URP) and even developed a custom entity component system (ECS) setup to make the game run smoothly, with help from the Burst Compiler and C# Job System. They also incorporated Addressables for streaming assets and providing the foundation for a future content modding system in the game.
Fireblade Software’s SENTRY combines beloved tower defense gameplay with fast-paced FPS combat. This small team of four developers found that Unity empowered them to realize their vision, eventually choosing URP with low-poly, simple textures to keep the workload manageable for their sole artist. SENTRY’s fast and responsive gameplay differentiates the experience from others in its genre and successfully treads the line between FPS and tower defense.
Explore a dark and mysterious London in Sovereign Syndicate, a Victorian, steampunk-inspired cRPG from Crimson Herring Studios. To help the game’s writers with its interactive narratives, which involve tarot, action, and magic, the team imported scripts from Celtx Gem into Pixel Crushers’s Dialogue System (from the Unity Asset Store).
As a highly narrative game with over 500,000 words, the cost of localization is significant. The team is currently looking for a publisher to help fund the localization efforts in order to make the game more accessible to players around the world.
In The Wandering Village from Stray Fawn Studio, players work to build a village on the back of a gigantic, wandering creature in a post-apocalyptic world. The game is available now in early access, and it was a thrill to hear a bit about the choices Stray Fawn Studio made as part of the development process.
One such choice was electing to mix 2D sprites with their large, 3D creature. While this combo made for a stylish and unique look, it also required Stray Fawn Studio to develop its own shaders. Using the Unity Sprite Packer with the team’s custom shader and render pipeline, the developers were able to establish a way to manage camera transitions while moving around the 2D and 3D space.
The Expo floor was packed with hundreds of games, as is typical. My team and I spent four days meeting as many Unity-made titles as we could. Here are a few we got to know:
Goodbye Volcano High, by KO_OP, is a branching narrative game about bands, high school, and the possible end of the world. The gameplay offers a stunning visual novel and a cast of fully voice-acted characters. The studio prioritized marginalized voices, employing trans, BIPOC, and queer actors as part of the game’s cast.
Last year, publisher Devolver Digital won the hearts of many gamers with its instant hit Cult of the Lamb by Massive Monster. The team has since announced an upcoming content update for the game, and we found them on the show floor with two new games: Terra Nil, a reverse city builder about ecosystem reconstruction, and Anger Foot, a kick-and-shoot frenzy in formidable footwear, both by Free Lives and releasing later this year.
Devolver Digital always keeps both marketing and accessibility in mind when creating game titles. Check out an accessibility review below from a fellow PAX East attendee.
Gather your fighters and head out to become the undisputed wrestling champion of the world in Wrestle Story, the new beat-‘em-up, RPG adventure from Tic Toc Games. To build this game, the team made use of Addressables, visual scripting for cut scenes, position matching, and IK for grapples between characters of different sizes, using scriptable objects to reference values as inspired by Unity Atoms.
Players use strategic tower defense gameplay to defend mythologies from a corrupted god in Bishop Games’ Towers of Thana, releasing this summer. The technical artist I spoke to shared that the team used Unity’s Point Light system to create procedural texture for the game’s corruption effect. By doing this, they can adjust the intensity or spawn a new Point Light in real time. Bishop Games also made use of Addressables, custom pathfinding, and custom AI.
Mix hockey with magic in RageCure Games’ sports-focused beat ‘em up on ice, Goons: Legends & Mayhem, which will be released later this year and was developed by a team of only nine devs.
I’ll admit that, as someone from Montreal, I have a soft spot for hockey games. What I found notable when talking with the Goons team is that the developers made intentional design choices to strip down the sport of hockey – removing rules, penalties, referees – and make the game more accessible to everyone. They’ve noticed this has helped break down barriers for younger players, who often do not yet know the rules of the sport.
Team up with friends in BEGONE BEAST, a spooky action game from Tandemi that has players hack and slash their way through ancient beasts. This top-down survival game features a dynamic AI director that personalizes the experience for each player by adjusting the pacing and difficulty, making each run more tantalizing and terrifying.
Demeo is a cross-platform, multiplayer adventure of magic and camaraderie by Resolution Games. Players settle into a virtual reality (VR) tabletop, using strategy and cunning to fight off the forces of evil with dice and cards. The game is so immersive that Unity advocate Thomas Winkley dubbed it his “favorite VR game” in a conversation on Twitter.
In Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly, put on your headphones and enjoy brewing coffee and striking up conversations. The original Coffee Talk conversation simulator proved that there was interest in cozy, chill games with minimal objectives – in this case, making conversation and brewing drinks. For the sequel, Toge Productions stuck to its winning formula, focusing only on expanding the storylines of existing characters and introducing some new ones.
There were so many more games made with Unity on the show floor that are worthy of your attention. To name just a few others, my team and I enjoyed checking out:
As part of my trip, I also met members of the Boston Unity Group (BUG), which hosts a monthly meetup for developers in the area. BUG was founded in 2010 by Alex Schwartz and Elliott Mitchell, and is currently organized by Elliott, Christine Hart, and Graham Pentheny. Over the years, they’ve hosted many guests, such as renowned speaker Freya Holmér.
Back at PAX East, I joined the festivities for its Made in MA party, a gathering designed for participants to connect with and celebrate local creators. During the party, I met with Gillian Smith, director of the Interactive Media & Game Development program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), who shared that many of WPI’s students use Unity in the program. I also got to know Michael Carriere, a long-time Unity developer and head of local studio Zapdot, who mentioned that the studio “survives and exists because of Unity,” citing the versatility of the engine.
Finally, in a moving tale from another local game developer, Mark Radocy, I learned that Mark quit his day job at a larger studio in order to start Seafloor Games. Through the newly formed studio, Mark was able to focus on Moonlight Pulse – his passion-project game – full time. Keep an eye out for the title’s release in 2024.
All in all, PAX East 2023 was an eye-opening trip that led to discovering many of the ways creators are using Unity to realize their dreams. My team and I can’t wait to keep connecting with you – and to play all of these games!
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