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Entering the Atmosphir

Dave Werner and Martin Repetto explain the Unity-based user-gen platformer toolset

At this year's Unite conference in Montreal, lots of companies creating projects using the Unity engine gathered to hear the company's plans for the future, and pick up tips from each other on how to get the most from the middleware.

One such company was Minor Studios, currently in beta with a user-generated platform game creation title called Atmosphir. We caught up with CEO Martin Repetto and creative director Dave Werner to find out how where it all began. Where did the idea for Atmosphir come from?
Dave Werner

It was an idea I came up with in October 2006 - basically I had a portfolio online (I went to school for graphic design), and a venture capital firm in San Francisco saw the portfolio, told me that they wanted to start a videogame company, that they didn't know what it would be, but that they wanted me to start it. That kind of opportunity isn't... regular.
Dave Werner

No, it's not, it's a dream come true. I was working as a graphic designer for a company called Frog Design in New York at the time and I didn't know a soul in San Francisco... but it seemed like such a great idea, and I've always had this entrepreneurial spirit inside of me.

So I made the trip out, and very quickly we started working with these guys in Buenos Aires. The interesting thing about our company is that I'm the only one that's in the States - we have a development team of 14 people in Buenos Aires, that's where the programming happens, that's where the management is, and I deal with the creative stuff.

It's actually worked out really well - Martin first started with a company called Sabarasa Entertainment, they were the original developers of the game in the beginning. Then, Atmosphir was a Mac/PC download game built on a custom engine, but pretty quickly we decided we liked Martin so much that he started our own studio down there. Now, everything from artists, to programmers, to web guys are down there.

The basic idea for Atmosphir was to create building blocks for making videogames - we wanted people to now have to know programming or coding or 3D art or music composition, or anything like that, to make a really cool videogame.

We wanted people to be able to put an enemy in as a building block, or a time limit, or a power up, or the ground - all these different things - and as easy as it is to make a world out of Lego, to make a videogame world, and to have goals that anybody can pick up.

That's been the coolest thing - giving people the tools and seeing an 8 year-old being able to make a giant gravity roller-coaster... things that are on a par with a Mario or Zelda level, to be honest. It's great to see.

But we decided that we were reaching a point with our custom engine where we kept on hitting our heads with the technology - we found that we wanted to have multi-player, real physics, lighting and shadows... it was going to take us months, if not years, to do that ourselves.

Martin Repetto

We were a small team at the time, around six people, and we had to decide: Do we use the money to pay for 20 or 30 more people, to develop the technology to create that game? Or do we try and leverage an existing technology, and just focus internally on the game itself? That was the main challenge.

I come from a development background, and I've used many, many engines in games. I started to look at a few, and we saw Unity. It was a holiday in Argentina, and I took my two lead developers aside - the heart and soul of Atmosphir is the level editor, so I told them that if they if they could port it real quick, and show me that it works, and is exactly what we had, we'll discuss moving.

They did it over the weekend, and boom, we had the editor. I was impressed, but said, "Okay, but there's still a lot to do." They added multi-player on the Monday. They added shading on Tuesday.

Dave Werner

They really wanted to make it work, because our old technology was so cumbersome.

Martin Repetto

Yeah, it wasn't that friendly - you want it to be friendly, especially for artists, it's a huge deal. So we had a board meeting on the Wednesday and kicked off on the Thursday the migration plan. We ramped up a little bit, took on a few more guys, and in five months we'd completed ported it across. And how long had you been working on it up until that point?
Martin Repetto

About a year and a half. We had a lot of stuff, but it was 18 months with our technology, and five months with Unity, and it's been about another 18 months since then. The Unity version of the game features so many things - it wasn't just a port, because we had gravity, the ability to free place objects on the grid... Unity was magical for us, because it's a very friendly editor that we made even more friendly for people to use.

For the World Cup we deployed an interactive soccer ball and some goals, and people could play their own matches. People came up with some crazy ideas, using fireballs, and changing gravity, and so on. That's what Unity allows us to do - to deploy very simple, yet very powerful tools, to empower our designers.

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