Next-Gen Technology: How new Xbox devices, Unity and one man’s vision combined to create the visually stunning, The Falconeer
The Made with Unity title, The Falconeer, will be launching exclusively on the Xbox family of devices, including Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, and PC on November 10, 2020. We talked with the game’s sole creator, Tomas Sala, who shares details on his development experience, what he discovered while building a game for the new Xbox series, and what he’s most excited about for this upcoming new console release.
How has Unity as a platform enabled the development of The Falconeer? Anything that has been particularly beneficial?
I’ve been working in Unity for close to, if not over a decade now. I was a visual artist by trade, but have always done coding and animation as well. For me, Unity’s standout feature is its flexibility and being able to adapt it to what I need. It can be molded to the way my personal pipeline is set up. It makes Unity one of the essential tools in my development toolbox, in that sense. I’ve basically taken the parts I like, such as the textureless workflow I’m using, and added the shaders myself to build upon that.
Are there any specific tricks or discoveries you’ve made?
I like minimizing my art, as I spend a lot of time in my pipeline. Making sure my art setup works seamlessly so I can introduce my assets, what can be essentially quite simple assets that look great, is very helpful. I spend a lot of time with the lighting, for example. So one of the coolest things I’ve done is replacing textures with math. Such as where you’d have like fog or atmospheric scattering going on to make your scene fade into the cloudscape. Whereas I deduced that to gradients and the sky is a gradient going up and it’s a gradient going across, which are merged into a color palette. That color palette is then applied to every shader, so every shader is then responding to the color of the sky to get its color information. Every object is getting its shadow and lighting color from that palette. Even the clouds themselves take their color information from the sky. It allows for some really impactful scenes, especially at sunrise and sunset. Everything gets reduced to a strict gradient of color palettes so that everything I put into the world is then adaptive to what is around it. It all meshes and merges immediately. It was something I spent a lot of time on, but that set of colors, all handcrafted and individually tweaked, provides so much immersion to the world.
Regarding Xbox Series S/X, how has Unity helped aid the boost in development you can get with these consoles?
The core strength of Unity for me is its flexibility across platforms. It’s so well thought out how you can switch platforms on the fly. I’ve had great porting support from Wired Productions, and we have created the tools that we can switch platforms at the press of a button, where everything is rearranged for that platform so I can assess how we are on Xbox One, Series S, and Series X. That is such a great thing to have when you are developing solo or have a micro team. Some of the coolest tricks are the things that can save you time and concentrate more on how something looks and feels within the world. Being able to quickly create these tools has been essential in creating The Falconeer.
These tools allow me to focus on how I’m using that additional performance that the Series S and Series X possess.
How has coding on Series S and X gone with Unity? Any particularly cool things that have stood out as you’ve been working on the new hardware?
One of the big surprises for me is just how powerful the Series S is, it’s such a significant piece of hardware in a small form factor. This is a powerful piece of next gen hardware. With the Falconeer, on Xbox Series X we’re running at 1800p 120fps or 4K 60fps, so we’ve got the option of the super smooth frame rate or the full 4K output with the full 60fps. So there’s really no tradeoff between graphics and performance with this generation; we get both! Series X is running on that full PC spec, all the anti-aliasing, all those fancy effects are there on Series X with no compromise. That wasn’t possible on the previous generation of consoles. You’ll have a very similar experience between the Series S and the Series X.
Curious to learn more? Be sure to check back on November 10 for the dedicated Creator Spotlight featuring The Falconeer, which will include an exclusive podcast interview with Tomas, and a special Tech Talk that takes you on a journey into the world of The Falconeer; the inspirations and the evolution of design that led from a dark and imposing world to an open world full of wonder and possibilities.
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