Mediatonic: A Unity case study
How does a studio address the technical challenges of multiplayer gaming without sidelining their top developers? After a long history producing casual single- and two-player games, Mediatonic went massively multiplayer with Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. The game reached a new level of complexity for the studio, and its engineers had their hands full creating this action-adventure offering for up to 60 players at a time.
To enable multiplayer hosting and matchmaking with minimal impact on gameplay development
25+ across engineering, art, design, and production
230+ in Brighton, Leamington Spa, and London, UK; and Madrid, Spain
Unity + Multiplay keep them laser-focused on the game
Rather than devote internal resources to solving the complexities of setting up and operating their own 24/7/365 global game-hosting infrastructure, Mediatonic chose Unity’s Multiplay solution to carry the load. According to Stephen Taylor, Mediatonic’s technical director, “We want to focus our effort on building a great game that brings people together. With Unity for game development and Multiplay hosting the game, we’re focused on the fun.”
- Cost-effective hybrid cloud scaling and stable connections worldwide with Multiplay
- Capacity planning thanks to Multiplay’s massive amount of historical game data and their analytics experts
- Unity’s Matchmaking integrated with Multiplay's Hybrid Cloud gets the right players in the right game fast
- More creativity, better collaborations, and faster results with Unity’s wide-ranging tools for game designers, artists, and coders
Escalating chaos till only one player remains
With a nod to an early 80s, British TV game show where contestants competed in crazy challenges like racing in ridiculous costumes and chasing artificial sharks in swimming pools, Fall Guys takes similar zaniness online. In matches of up to 60 players, you’re a roly-poly contestant madly dashing through escalating rounds of explosive mayhem and race-ending obstacles until a single victor remains.
“It’s a different take on the battle royale genre, under the lights, where MXC meets Total Wipeout,” says Mediatonic CTO Adam Fletcher. It’s a game where players compete amidst bright, explosive graphics and lots of messes. The Fall Guys tagline? “Leave your dignity at the door.” It’s colorful, slapdash and fun, and in line with Mediatonic’s mission to create games that bring – and keep – people together.
Serving up a massively multiplayer environment
Designing, building, and operating a multiplayer game brings unique challenges, especially if there’s an unknown variable like a platform promotion. According to Fletcher, “The partnership with PlayStation, launching on PlayStation 4 where it will be free for Plus subscribers, has been incredible because it means so many players got to play Fall Guys on launch, but that obviously also brings a number of technical challenges.”
For its previous games, Mediatonic has a time-tested backend and content-management system to maintain accounts, level up between games, and perform similar functions. But for Fall Guys, Taylor says, “We needed to run dedicated servers at scale. With the game launching on PlayStation, PlayStation Plus, and Steam, our player count was a guessing game. Then, beyond launch, how do we adjust our infrastructure as the player base spikes around special promotions and times like Christmas holidays? This is not easy to solve for a real-time multiplayer.”
Invaluable insight from historical game data
Multiplay’s track record and their access to massive amounts of game hosting data were appealing. “We knew there was a lot of value on the table with the Multiplay offering, so we jumped on a call right away. The fact they put in a lot of legwork to get us to a point where we felt comfortable was really great. Their support was overwhelming, even before we entered into any business negotiations,” remarks Taylor.
Fletcher concurs, “Multiplay showed us what we’d need for resources based on their historical data and our marketing plans. They calculated server loads, capacity thresholds, and day-one expectations, and they interpreted all the data graphically so it was very clear for us.” Mediatonic was very happy when Multiplay took on the game hosting: “As developers, we want to focus on the game experience, and that’s what Unity Multiplay frees us to do.”
Designers and artists enjoy the smooth workflows
Mediatonic’s first games were written in Flash and C++ and leveraged open-source graphics libraries. Deciding to build fewer tools but more games, they adopted the Unity platform. Over the years, they’ve benefited from a number of Unity capabilities, but for Mediatonic, one of the most important has been how Unity enables collaboration, helping designers, artists, and developers work together with the same tools and terminology.
“Unity empowers our designers, making them much more effective members of the team,” according to Taylor. “If a designer wants to turn off a behavior, it’s just a tick box instead of rewriting a lot of code – it’s 10 seconds instead of 30 minutes.” They can experiment without needing to constantly interact with the coders, and the increased number of iterations significantly improves the gameplay.
Quick 3D model round-tripping
To speed and enhance their 3D modeling, Mediatonic uses Unity ProBuilder and it’s become a cornerstone of their early game-design workflows. “Our gameplay involves lots of distinct objects that have unique looks. With ProBuilder, we can export them to Maya for polishing, then reimport them relatively effortlessly,” says Taylor. During prototyping and beyond, they also take advantage of ProBuilder’s level design tools and Asset Store packages to rapidly mock up characters and gameplay.
Additionally, Mediatonic is doing a lot less hand-coding of animation systems and is instead making use of Unity Animation State Machines. “We have a ton of states and transitions between them, so just looking at the state machine on the screen is overwhelming,” adds Taylor. “With the complexity of our animations, using Unity takes a fifth of the time over any non-Unity option.”
Taylor also noted how Unity’s advanced rendering and post-processing for multiple platforms have increased Mediatonic’s productivity significantly. “From a very high level we’re writing the game from a platform-agnostic perspective, knowing that Unity has solved most platform issues. For example, a big Unity benefit for us is the abstraction of writing shaders. We can write them once and deploy them everywhere, including for different pipelines, platforms, and graphics hardware.”
In sync with Unity and Multiplay support teams
Mediatonic likes having easy access to both Unity Integrated Success Services and the Multiplay team. “We have problems at weird times, but there’s rarely a delay getting a response, so we chat on Slack with people who know our team and our product,” says Taylor. The Unity support package is, for Mediatonic, insurance against the unexpected. “In the past we’ve had issues crop up quite close to launch and have been able to work directly with the Unity team to put together a very timely solution.”
And because the Unity team has such a deep working knowledge of the studio and its products, they’re able to collaborate with development on Unity features that are still in the pipeline. “We’ll be working on something for our next game, and Unity will ask if we want to talk to their engineers who are working on a capability that might help out. Again, it’s all about collaboration.”
Matchmaking made easy
One of the benefits of syncing with the Unity and Multiplay support teams is early access to technology in development. For Mediatonic, a studio developing a multiplayer game of this size for the first time, being able to use Unity’s new Matchmaking solution (in beta at time of writing) was a blessing.
Taylor notes, “Many studios spend a lot of precious development time building a matchmaker – often for each new game – so being able to use an off-the-shelf solution and adapt it quickly to meet our needs has been great.”
The Matchmaking solution integrates with Multiplay’s game hosting “out of the box” so Mediatonic benefits from a system that not only groups players based on the required criteria, but finds them the right server too.
Teaming up for ultimate game success
Having just launched Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, Mediatonic has a full schedule ahead of monthly “new seasons” with fresh cosmetics and themes. They’re looking forward to trying out Unity Physics as well as voice chat, possibly using Unity’s Vivox solution. And of course, they’re keeping their most exciting plans secret.
Fletcher concludes, “Moving forward, we’re happy to have Unity and Multiplay as part of our team. We want our games to be available to as many people as possible, which means being on the latest platforms. Unity helps us stay ahead of that curve. And they work hard to keep us well equipped with the latest and greatest gaming and hosting resources.”