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SIZE FIVE is a BAFTA-winning indie video game developer.

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‘The Swindle’ Ported to Unity

Sep 282012

It hasn’t been the best few months, to be honest. Things went a bit pear-shaped. I’ve turned my back on a year and a half’s work, and I’ve reluctantly had to turn my back on XNA.

There have been some rumours flying around that Microsoft were doing away with XNA, which would be bad for me, because XNA kind of underpinned completely and utterly absolutely everything in The Swindle. Back in July, the game was still a year away from completion, which in game-making terms we all know means at least 18 months.

Seeking clarification, I spoke to a man at the Windows 8 booth at the Develop Conference. He was very nice, but informed me that no, XNA games would not be supported on Windows 8. At all. Ever. Not just the trendy Metro bit, mind, on any of it.

I honestly felt like the world had crumbled out from under me. I’d been working on The Swindle for about a year and a half at that point. So much hard work gone to waste?

How true all this is, I’m still not entirely sure, but it was the shot I needed that no one really seemed to understand what future XNA had. Maybe he was wrong! I think he must have been wrong. It certainly seems unlikely… but I found little further hard information online, just more rumours and people assuming it’d see “legacy support” and endless muttered clarifications at conferences, and Gabe Newell who is important calling Windows 8 a ‘catastrophe‘. Research I’ve done today (the first time I’ve looked into it since July) suggests that XNA should run fine on Win8, and it looks like there are some who have done it. So PHEW.

I love XNA, it’s a beautiful set of tools. But I can’t keep developing a game over the next year or so when I don’t really know if it’ll be supported on future platforms. Being tied to one platform, coupled with some problems we’d had getting Privates to run consistently on different setups, it was all just looking so uncertain.

As an indie, I haven’t got a massive amount of cash and being faced with having a game ready that potentially wouldn’t run on people’s trendy, futuristic computers was a huge worry. I was in a very dark place. I made a heart-wrenching choice to stop development and start over from scratch.

Over the last few months, the game has quietly been “ported” to Unity, and has seen dramatic progress. Turns out porting isn’t so much “copy and pasting” as it is “completely rewriting”.

I’m not the sort of person who’ll wallow and moan and grumble in public about things until I’m able to do so from a point of superiority. Which is where I finally am. I’m delighted to report that everything in The Swindle Unity, from the animation to the sound and overall visuals has seen a massive boost. It’s running better, faster, slicker – and will now be available on Windows and Mac, and hopefully Linux and consoles as well. I honestly finally feel like the move has wound up being a huge force for good – something unimaginable during most of the summer, back when I was a complete wreck.

Here’s some lovely new screenshots of The Swindle running in Unity, with its bold new unique visual style:

It’s not quite at the same level gameplay-wise yet. I’ve hired an exceptionally clever guy called Tim, who knew Unity inside out and has been laying the foundations while I work out how Unity all hangs together. So progress is much faster than when I was doing everything solo – I’m hoping before Christmas we’ll have it to where the old XNA version was. There’s no AI or RPG elements in yet, but it’s running exponentially better than it was before, and visually is waaaaay superior. What’s more, there are already some nice new bits and bobs already in, which I hadn’t gotten round to doing in the XNA cut.

There’s so much more to say. I want to explain how it’s not Microsoft’s fault. I want to sing Unity’s praises. I want to explain more just exactly how vague and confused everything was even just a few months back. But this is getting a bit long now. Another time.

So that’s what’s happened. I have been on a weird horrible unpleasant rollercoaster that shook me to my very core, but it’s all amazing again now so don’t worry.

I’m in a position to discuss development again now, so if you want to find out more, follow @danthat on Twitter.

If you like the look of The Swindle and want to help keep lovely Tim working on it as long as humanly possible, there’s a Donations page here or you can buy/ gift copies of Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please! through Steam. That sort of thing is all impossibly helpful, so if you’re one of those heroes who owns several copies of my games by now: thank you.

9 Comments

  1. Sep 282012
    Catalin ZZ,

    Just one thing: XNA continues to work in Windows 8 Desktop flawlessly, it’s just not an option for Windows 8 Metro (apps distributed through the Windows 8 Applications Store).

    But I totally get your perspective. I’ve been using XNA for 6+ years, and it’s frustrating to see it’s fate now.

    I would probably have gone with Monogame, but I see there are some quite nice advantages to moving to Unity, and I’m glad it’s working out for you.

    Good luck going forward!

  2. Sep 282012
    dan,

    Yes – hopefully I’ve made clearer here this decision wasn’t purely Win8, there were a huge number of factors. Uncertainty at the time was a big one, but by no means the only problem that was niggling.

    The fact The Swindle’s come along so well so quickly has more than validated the decision as far as I’m concerned.

  3. Sep 282012
    Magnus,

    Super happy it worked out, Dan. It looks great.

  4. Sep 282012
    Lars,

    There is also ANX, monogame and sharpDXs graphics toolkit. Monogame and anx already have apps on the win8 store, and sharpDX toolkit looks really, really good. I too have a couple of years invested in XNA, but I’m not worried.

  5. Sep 282012
    Ellis,

    This is really an unfortunate situation where if people simply tried the free version of Windows 8 out there, most of your concerns would have instantly gone away. You might not like parts of the new interface, but I’ve personally gotten used to it. In the end, that’s a subjective opinion thing.

    But for objective reality like backwards compatibility, it’s always been clear that *EVERYTHING* that runs on Windows 7 will continue to run on Windows 8 on the desktop. It’s stupid that someone told you otherwise, Dan, but it’s plain simple to see by simply installing the OS and trying it out for yourself. Free test versions have been available for well over a year now.

    For months now it seems like people have been fretting over what’s still “up in the air”, as if Windows 8 wasn’t a known quality, even though it’s been essentially done for 6 months. So much of the fear and hysteria could have been allayed by simply…using it.

    Regardless, seems like the move to Unity is the best choice regardless of Windows 8 support or not – and hey, if you do ever decide to submit it to the Windows Store, Unity has announced that it’ll work there. So win-win I guess!

  6. Sep 282012
    Evgeny,

    I’m glad you’ve found a way out of a difficult situation. Even if XNA technically can run on Windows 8, it’s still pretty clear that Microsoft isn’t committed to it. Some degree of backwards compatibility may be there, but it’s not a good starting point for a new project. The Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) is not some kind of superficial add-on for tablets – it’s proper Windows. That’s why it’s not enough for a new game to run “on the desktop” on Windows 8. You might as well snub Windows 8 and say that the game is officially compatible with Windows 7 only.

    And if the move to Unity can help bring the game to non-Microsoft platforms, it makes the whole thing even better.

  7. Sep 282012
    Adam,

    I’ll second the recommendation for MonoGame. I’ve been porting my Windows Phone XNA games to Windows 8 using it, and it’s been extremely straightforward — I can generally get something up and running in minutes. This allows me to create real Windows Store apps too, not just desktop apps.

    I do think that the ongoing loss of XNA is desperately sad, and I can’t see any rationale for why this move is necessary. What makes it worse is that there isn’t any sight yet of a replacement from Microsoft. What are .NET developers supposed to do to create high performance games for Windows 8 and WP8? I certainly don’t fancy going back to C++ and DirectX, I left them behind years back and was please to say goodbye…

    Unity does look like a promising alternative however, especially with the announced support for Windows Phone too. I’ll be eagerly watching this to see how it matures in these environments over the coming months.

  8. Sep 302012
    Jellonator,

    IMO you hould have gone with OpenGL.

  9. Oct 42012
    mtoivo,

    Great story, glad you got things rolling with Unity. I’ve just finished my first game (ever) with Unity, and I’m quite happy with the weapon of choice. While I’m still learning stuff and nowhere near pro, I begin to understand the potential of the engine. The Swindle looks great, btw, will get it when it’s out there.

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