For Black Horizon Studios, succeeding as a Unity Asset Store publisher has meant striking a balance between being accessible enough for hobbyists and flexible enough for pros. By striving to meet both needs, this small studio has created incredible programming systems for dynamic world-building that take your project to the next level, wherever your skills are.
“Sometimes I feel like there’s not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I want to do,” says Will Shaw, the owner of Black Horizon Studios. Looking at the publisher’s Asset Store offerings, it’s easy to see why: Black Horizon’s assets are sprawling in their scope, ranging from small 3D art packs (like medieval boots or potion-making packs) to complete systems for generating dynamic skies or spawning AI wildlife. A wide-ranging curiosity and passion for programming drive this small studio to continue exploring new ways to create tools for creators.
“I first started using Unity back in early 2010 because I was fascinated by programming and game design,” Shaw explains. “I started creating various simple games and tools to build my skills as a programmer. I used the Unity Tree Creator to make tree and nature packs, which I sold on my own website until a few users on the Unity forums recommended that I try selling them on the Asset Store. So I put them on, and they started selling the day they were accepted.”
While Black Horizon Studios still has a few art packs up on the Asset Store, it’s shifted toward larger programmed asset systems. Today, this long-time publisher is focused on Emerald AI, an all-in-one AI creation tool; Crux Procedural Spawner, which spawns AI and objects to populate specific biome environments in runtime and despawns them once they’re no longer needed; and UniStorm, a system for producing customizable AAA-quality skies, including volumetric clouds with shadows and accurate star constellations. Shaw has big plans to build on these three main products, including a tool for breeding wildlife and herds in Emerald AI and a new feature to let users customize ambient sounds, weather, and music for discrete biomes in UniStorm.
He’s inspired by games like The Elder Scrolls, which “create a true sense of immersion with their environments, their AI, and their dynamic combat interactions.” This desire to create cohesive worlds motivates his approach to designing assets that can breathe life into any environment.
“I think it’s important to create high-quality assets with complex functionality, but to allow the system to be versatile enough to be used by both hobbyists and professionals,” says Shaw. To this end, Black Horizon Studios’ systems can either be controlled from a simpler Editor extension or a more complex but versatile API to meet the needs of both groups of users, and they support a wide array of other character controllers and AI systems.
“A large portion of my motivation is my customers. I love seeing my assets help their dreams become a reality,” he explains. “I try to make my assets as versatile as possible by adding a deep layer of customization. With my Emerald AI system, I created an ability system with my latest update that allows users to create customizable abilities through Ability Objects that they can then add to their Emerald AI agents. My customers created all sorts of cool spells, projectiles, and other abilities with these Ability Objects, just as I had envisioned. They even created abilities that I didn’t think were possible.”
Shaw has created a few prototypes and self-published apps to play with programming, but for him, the real thrill is making demos and engaging with customers.
“I love that my assets can help make it possible for customers to build their games by providing tools or systems that would be much too time-consuming or complex for them to write themselves,” he says. “I think that one of the most important things as a publisher is to listen to your customers and their feedback. It can be tough to find a balance between what direction you feel the assets need to take and where the customers feel like the asset is lacking, but it’s important to work towards that.”
With an amazing product, strong relationships with customers, and support from the Asset Store, the future of Black Horizon Studios is looking pretty bright.