Ludia’s Jurassic World Alive: A Unity case study
Developing your own game engine is no small thing. And when you’re also using it to create a major title like Jurassic World Alive under a looming deadline, the pressure is on. So Ludia had a major decision to make – proceed with internal engine development or convert to a third-party platform. Read this story to learn why they chose Unity.
Jurassic World Alive brings awe-inspiring dinosaurs to life with location-based technology and augmented reality (AR)
Convert from an internal engine to Unity midway through production and meet their tight deadline
~60 (~120 at peak production)
HQ: Montreal, Canada
Switching to Unity midway through development
Moving a major title from one game engine to another halfway through development takes strategic planning, rigorous migration processes, and timely training. Fortunately, Ludia chose Unity. With millions of pre-registered players eagerly awaiting the Ludia/Universal Games and Digital Platforms launch, Unity stepped in with Enterprise Support, onsite experts, and a wide range of training options. Ludia – a veteran, 350-person studio known for best-selling titles such as Jurassic World: The Game, Battlestar Galactica, What’s Your Story?, and Dragons: Rise of Berk – not only met their launch date but also benefited from workflow enhancements and cost reductions.
- Unity Enterprise Support, onsite experts and training made for a smooth conversion
- More autonomy for artists and fewer bottlenecks in the production pipeline
- Less expensive than developing and supporting an internal engine
- The game renders in several hours vs half a day for the pre-Unity version
- Game crash rate is much lower on Unity-based games than other games
Moving to a real-time, 3D content-creation platform
For many reasons, large game studios create and support different titles on different game engines. Ludia is no different. Around the time they started developing Jurassic World Alive, they had an older C++ engine and were also developing a second game engine with better features.
However, according to Jimmy Beaubien, Ludia’s Programming Studio Manager, they “realized that it really was not ready yet, and the turnaround to make it work properly was really too long, so we started to look at different third-party solutions.”
At this point, they were six months into development on Jurassic World Alive. After reviewing a number of commercial software options, they chose Unity for a small pilot project. It went so well that they decided to stop work on their own engine and migrate Jurassic World Alive to Unity.
Changing the focus from programming to content
Moving to Unity proved a fundamental switch for Ludia because the internal engine had been a programmer-centric development environment, whereas Beaubien says “Unity is not like that – it’s content-centric where everyone can contribute to the game, which appealed to us since we integrate a lot of content using tools like 3ds Max.”
Catherine Barbeau, Lead Programmer on Jurassic World Alive, concurs: “With Unity, our artists are more autonomous and less dependent on programmers. On the previous engine, we needed our programmers to do a large part of the visual integration and now the artists can do more on their own. Without naming any key feature, I would say this is ‘the Big Win’ for us.”
And she jokes that she’s “noticed that our programmers are no longer being asked to move things two pixels to the left or do other trivial things like that.” More seriously, she likes that their artists do a lot more experimenting now and can propose things such as new shaders.
While she will ask a programmer to review the shaders for performance before they go into the game, “the Unity tools encourage creativity and take some pressure off our developers since they no longer have to build everything from scratch.”
Getting the right assistance at the right time
Given the looming deadline and the number of developers working on the game, there were many serious considerations migrating to a new platform. Fortunately, Maggy Larouche, Jurassic World Alive’s Senior Producer, had seen Unity staff in action at her previous company and knew how responsive and helpful they could be.
“When Ludia decided to move to Unity one of my first recommendations was to get Unity Enterprise Support for fast assistance. And because it was the first time Unity was helping us – and due to the size of the project – they put in place onsite engineers to work closely with our people and answer their questions in real-time. Unity showed a ton of flexibility and foresight by placing these engineers, which gave us key support when we started.”
Beaubien adds, “Having a Unity engineer talk to our engineers was the best strategy because they speak the same language. It’s much better than speaking to remote support people where they might not know exactly what you’re struggling with. And having someone onsite means they can open our code and point out stuff and do deep-dive reviews – which made a huge difference. And that’s why we stayed on Enterprise Support even after the first year ended.”
Leveling up their Unity skills
Since 95% of the Jurassic World Alive devs had no Unity experience prior to the migration, training was essential. According to Larouche, they began with what they called a few “days of freedom”: “We started by leaving our dev team alone in front of Unity, where they had access to all the Unity training videos, so they could dig into whatever they wanted.”
They followed that with three days of classroom training for programmers / designers and two days for artists, which Larouche says, “were very helpful to bring people to a certain level, and then we left another few days for them to experiment and investigate further.”
After the initial training, they began the transition to Unity. During the first three months, they got additional personalized courses, including a lot of UI training because they needed to create their own editors and windows.
Ongoing learning and certification
Growing their Unity expertise
Now with the team going strong on Unity, Ludia’s planning for ongoing training tailored to their needs and have invested in Unity Learning Credits, which give them flexibility in training types, formats, and scheduling. “We’re definitely interested in getting advanced classes in topics that can be difficult to learn on your own,” says Beaubien. “At this point, we want people to be introduced to more complex features and subjects.”
Beaubien sends surveys to his developers to see what their interests are and to make sure they’re aligned with current projects and challenges, and then they set up specific Unity workshops. “Currently, there’s definitely a lot of interest for shaders and graphics programming, for example. That’s because it’s something that we don’t use enough of in Unity so we can exploit those features more, which taps into optimization – an important topic for mobile.”
Another area they’re exploring is Unity certifications. “We have a couple of people certified as Unity Developers and we want to go beyond that so that everyone has a chance to learn and develop. We’re aiming to have more Unity experts who can tackle new kinds of challenges as we develop new features or other games,” says Larouche.
That will also help them attract Unity talent, and they’ve started listing Unity experience as either a key qualification or desired skill in many job postings.
Results and benefits
Full steam ahead like a hungry T. rex
Since Jurassic World Alive was launched, they have millions of active players and are growing with thousands of new players a day, so it looks like Ludia’s production strategy really paid off. (One typical 5-star review: “Great new game by Ludia, better than Pokémon GO in most aspects.”)
So, what were some of the additional benefits Ludia enjoyed after migrating Jurassic World Alive to Unity? One thing that Barbeau noticed was that the crash rate on games made with Unity is on average much lower than on games made with other engines, including “code-mature” games that have been available for several years.
Beaubien likes that with Unity it’s easier to build for different devices and that their build times are two or three times faster compared to the internal engine. “In the past it would take an entire afternoon to compile a build, whereas with Unity it takes only a couple of hours.”
And Larouche adds that they spend less for Unity than they did to develop and maintain their internal game engine, though those numbers obviously remain confidential.
Finally, while they switched to Unity primarily to populate the world with lifelike dinosaurs, other games are benefiting too. In parallel to Jurassic World Alive, another team produced and released What’s Your Story?, and the Unity-powered and much-anticipated Warriors of Waterdeep – Dungeons & Dragons is coming soon, proving Unity’s versatility for a wide range of Ludia’s wildly popular mobile games.