How do we maintain the fast pace of innovation and maintain a stable product at the same time? Hack weeks are a part of the answer. The principle is simple: think of a project you want to do, find teammates, hack for a week, present the result. This year’s Unity Hack Week was the biggest ever, more than 80 projects made the finish line on Friday. And their quality was just astonishing!
Unity Hack Week 11 brought 300 Unity employees to Portugal in mid-May with a mission to spend a week working on whatever they wanted. The projects didn’t have to be related to anybody’s day job or any Unity features currently on the roadmap. The opposite is actually ideal: explore beyond your skill set, experiment and collaborate with people you didn’t know before. You can work without the pressure of considering the standard for Unity features.
Kuba Cupisz, a graphics programmer working out of Copenhagen, is one of the few people who have been to all 11 hack weeks, going back the past 6 years. “The first bootcamp was just a way to work together faster and get Unity 3 out of the door. People really enjoyed the format and wanted to use it to do some really creative work and try working in new teams,” he says. The first hack weeks took place in the Unity offices in Copenhagen, but for the past few years, we’ve grown too big to all fit in there. For Hack Week 10, we tried shipping everybody to a big resort in a place with a nicer climate and food. The experiment was successful, so this time the gathering took place in Quinta da Marinha Resort in Cascaís, Portugal.
Despite the summery weather in most of Europe that week, Portugal was actually fairly cool and rainy, keeping us away from the pool and the golf course. Small teams worked all around the resort, restocking periodically on snacks and catching up on the progress of others. Being in one big place together was great for getting to know each other better. Since we have more than 20 offices around the world, some of us met in person for the first time ever.
So what did all those engineers and UX designers make over the week? During the very intense few hours of Friday afternoon presentations, we saw over 80 two minute videos on things like 3D tile mapping, Adam demo video in VR, 2D animation pipelines improvements or a visual debugger. Some people worked on C# Scriptable Importers and some made a location based AR game called Duck Drop.
A lot of the projects were down to earth practical things that we know you need from all the information we get from you through our feedback page or other channels. The documentation team created better feedback forms. The networking team made more examples for the manual. A few teams looked into improving some of the editor functions like the bug reporter or searching for objects.
Some were proofs of concept for a particular approach to a huge possible feature or editor workflows. One team prototyped storyboard state machines, an authoring workflow for building out the states in your game, similar to animation state machines, that can also help visualize analytics. Another group looked into live collaboration in-editor, they didn’t quite get to Google Docs for Unity, but the results were nevertheless very impressive.
We also saw a prototype of a visual scripting implementation, based on marking C# functions with specific attributes. These define which nodes are available in the visual scripting window and which output and input pins they have. Another project used functionality already provided by the prefab code and the undo system to enable an equivalent of the functionality requested as nested prefabs in the past. The experience we got working on these projects will help us decide what is the right way of solving a particularly problem in Unity.
Other groups made original applications with Unity. A VR Rube Goldberg machine app included in-VR creation and manipulation of assets with Oculus and the touch controllers. The team integrated a 3D procedural generation technology called Sceelix for this project. Another amazing VR prototype was a real-life orthopedic surgery simulator using Vive. Unity for kids is a mobile app where children can easily create small games by combining primitive objects and basic behaviors. We also saw a painting app for iPad Pro made with Unity that also worked as a texture asset editor for Unity.
You can see a few of the projects in this YouTube playlist. Please keep in mind that these aren’t slick trailers of new Unity features. They were made in a few hours by some very tired developers trying their best to present what they built in less than a week. Right now, we have no idea of where some of the ideas may go. They might be utterly unpractical or lead us to amazing performance, functionality and UX wins. Consider this carefully before you get too excited or worried! Remember that we have a public roadmap, which is the best place to look if you want to see what we’re actually working on shipping to you.
It was so inspiring to be so many in the same room at the same time, watching the results of so many clever experiments. At Unity, you’re never really the smartest person in the room. Instead, we’re all learning from each other.
Do you want to hack with us next time? Check out unity3d.com/jobs!
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