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Friday, June 14, 2024

[INTERVIEW] AI will transform gaming industry, Unity says

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Marc Whitten, Unity Create Solution's senior vice president and general manager [UNITY TECHNOLOGIES]
Marc Whitten, Unity Create Solution’s senior vice president and general manager [UNITY TECHNOLOGIES]

A new era is imminent for game developers to dramatically shorten the manual efforts of their creative process through integrating artificial intelligence, according to U.S.-based software company Unity Technologies.

It’s not the first-ever instance for the company to incorporate AI elements into its game engine, but Unity isn’t quite as far along in the field as its competitors, such as Roblox or Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. However, the two AI tools released last month — Unity Muse and Unity Sentis — will hopefully help Unity close that gap.

The tools are currently available in closed beta versions, and the full versions will be released by the end of the year.

These tools will “maximize the efficiency of the game industry,” according to Unity Create Solution’s Senior Vice President and General Manager Marc Whitten.

“AI can be a powerful tool for creators and artists to realize five, 10, even 100 times or more productivity,” Whitten said in an email interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily. “Game developers routinely spend significant resources creating assets such as characters and sound effects.”

He added, “[With our development], developers can visit Unity’s AI marketplace, select an AI product such as an artwork generator, and be able to use it to instantly create content.

“In gaming, Unity’s AI marketplace will be the gold standard for creators and partners looking to unlock the full potential of generative AI and expand their player or user base.”

Unity Muse is a platform consisting of tools for users to accelerate 3D creation. One of its tools, Unity Muse Chat, allows users to type in orders in a chat in which AI automatically generates a 3D creation such as characters and their movements based on the users’ directions.

Unity Sentis is an AI solution to help immerse users and game developers into the game universes, allowing people to embed neural networks directly into any platforms run by the Unity game engine.

Neural networks are used to control game agents such as non-player characters, and with Unity Sentis, Whitten says even these characters could function and act as if they have free will.

“We expect AI to revolutionize gaming, much like the transformative impacts we’ve seen from 3D, mobile, and the internet,” Whitten said. “We believe that Unity’s new AI platforms will be powerful for creators and artists as we expect Unity Muse to make them 10 times more productive while Unity Sentis will help them bring their creations to life with interactive intelligence in a way never before possible.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. You said that Unity’s AI tools will revolutionize the game industry, but it’s still hard to grasp how they will shorten, simplify the creative process or expand the games’ universes. Can you give me an example of how that would be achieved?  

A. Before the integration of AI, processes such as creating realistic characters’ motions and skin animations required considerable manual effort, often involving weeks or even months of dedicated work by artists and animators. This process included rigging the model, creating animation sequences and perfecting the skin weighting for optimal deformation during animation, among many other tasks.

With the integration of AI and machine learning tools like the ones offered in the Unity platform, the time spent on these tasks can be drastically reduced. Specifically, AI can help automate the rigging process, generate realistic animation sequences and adjust skin deformation, often cutting down the required time by more than half. However, it’s important to note that the exact time saved can vary based on the complexity of the character and the level of detail required for the animation.

Recently-launched Unity Muse, for instance, consists of tools used to accelerate the creation of real-time 3D (RT3D) content. Unity Muse encompasses AI solutions that accelerate how creators make RT3D content for games, applications and digital twins. The platform consists of tools accessible in the Unity Editor and on the web for developers who want to create assets and animations faster without interrupting their workflows. One of the first tools available now is Unity Muse Chat, which speeds up troubleshooting and access to information anywhere in the Unity workflow just by typing into the Muse Chat prompt. Over the coming weeks, Unity Muse will introduce additional functions, making it easier to create assets and animations with just a text prompt or a doodle.

A screen capture from the beta version of Unity Muse Chat shows a character performing a backflip based on a user's direction. [YOUTUBE CAPTURE]
A screen capture from the beta version of Unity Muse Chat shows a character performing a backflip based on a user’s direction. [YOUTUBE CAPTURE]

The bubble for metaverse and nonfungible tokens (NFTs) burst quickly. Silicon Valley Bank, for example, went bankrupt. Did this affect Unity in some way or another? Do you see the burst of the bubble for metaverse and NFTs to be temporary?

The “metaverse” is certainly an overhyped and nebulous concept, but smart enterprises have already found practical and extremely valuable uses for the technologies behind what has been called the metaverse.

At Unity, we think of the metaverse as the next generation of the internet that is always real-time, mostly 3D, mostly interactive, mostly social and mostly persistent. What we mean is that step by step, we’ll see more websites and applications that are increasingly real-time, 3D, interactive, social and persistent.

Real-time 3D is the underlying technology building the metaverse, and Unity is helping enterprises create digital twins to develop real-time 3D simulations of physical spaces, such as airports and factories. In the industrial worlds of manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, retail and more, major investments are being made in building digital twins and augmented reality applications.

For example, one example I really love is the Vancouver Airport (YVR). YVR leveraged the slowdown in traffic during the pandemic to drastically improve its operations by building a digital twin with Unity’s help. Using 3D, virtual reality (VR) and AI tools such as location tracking and people flow analysis, YVR has successfully integrated the location data with the digital twin, leading to more efficient routing and improved airport operations. This spring, we announced a partnership with YVR to commercialize the digital twin model they built to the broader aviation market so other airports can advance their digital transformation.

A screen capture from a YouTube video introducing Unity Sentis shows a Unity AI powered hyper-realistic character named Orb, who can answer random questions about itself. [YOUTUBE CAPTURE]
A screen capture from a YouTube video introducing Unity Sentis shows a Unity AI powered hyper-realistic character named Orb, who can answer random questions about itself. [YOUTUBE CAPTURE]

What about the trend of user-generated platforms? Having something like Unity AI will enhance this trend as users turn into creators, but won’t such a rise of user-driven platforms threaten engine makers such as Unity?

The rise of user-generated platforms and user-driven content is indeed a significant trend in the gaming industry and one that Unity is well-positioned to support and benefit from.

Rather than posing a threat to game engine providers like Unity, this trend actually presents a significant opportunity. Unity’s tools are designed to be user-friendly and accessible, enabling more and more people to become creators. Unity AI and other technologies further enhance this by automating complex tasks, thus lowering the barrier to entry for game creation.

The rise of user-driven platforms can actually increase the demand for Unity’s products and services as more users seek to create their own content. Unity is not just a game engine. It is a comprehensive platform that supports the entire game development lifecycle, including design, development, testing, publishing and monetization. As the number of creators grows, so will the potential user base for Unity’s platform.

BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]