No, we're not talking a "kumbaya" scenario here. Unity is the graphics engine/web client being used to build Fusion Fall. Unity is a browser-based fully 3D engine. Unity will come to players via a small download (similar to but definitely NOT Adobe's Flash).
Originally, Fusion Fall began development using another engine but when developers got a look at Unity, they switched gears. Luckily, their work was able to be ported into the Unity engine.
Unity, because of its flexibility, offers players of any type of computer to play Fusion Fall with its built-in streaming technology. It is both Mac and Windows compliant and it also offers cross-browser support. What makes it attractive to Fusion Fall's development team is the fact that kids, who generally have low-end hand-me-down machines, will be able to access the game. Unity has built games for both casual and hardcore graphics which will allow kids to access a great looking game despite their machines. If the screenshots are any indication, this one's a homerun.
You can get a look at it at http://www.unity3d.com and see how cool it is through an on-site demo.
IT IS, AFTER ALL, A KID'S WORLD
So how does a kid stay safe in a game designed to appeal to the so-called "tween" crowd (8-14 years old)? We've all read the stories about internet predators and seen the inappropriateness of most online worlds for this age group. So what about that?
Fusion Fall developers wondered the same thing and, in the process, found Crisp Thinking, a chat filtering, monitoring and relationship analysis software group. Crisp Thinking's Tommy McClung spent some time explaining exactly what it is that will be going on 'behind the scenes' of Fusion Fall.
McClung stated emphatically that Fusion Fall will be a safe environment for kids to play in. He and his team are taking extraordinary steps to make it safe and secure. For instance, Crisp Thinking has developed a real-time 'bad' word filter. It analyzes conversations and provides alerts. It further looks for patterns in conversations between players over a long period of time. If 'relationships' are detected, the warning flag is raised.
While there will not be in game mechanics for reporting inappropriate content, players (and parents) will have an opportunity to file reports at the game's information and help center.
Everything gets the once-over (or twice-, thrice-...) from Crisp Thinking including names, forums, etc. Developers have also worked within this framework to create a 'menu chat' with preset phrases and parental consent will be required for more open avenues of communication between players.
Fusion Fall expects to earn a 6-14+ ESRB rating though the 'sweet spot' for players is the 'tween' 10-12 year old crowd. Also, Fusion Fall is COPA (Child Online Protection Act) compliant already even though it isn't live yet. But ensuring the safety of Fusion Fall's players is paramount in the minds of developers.
Without actually seeing the game in action but hearing the overt enthusiasm of developers, I can only be encouraged by Fusion Fall. It appears to have the right mix of proven techniques and sounds like a winner.
Next week, the press corps has been invited to lunch by the Fusion Fall team at the Austin Game Developers' Conference. I know I'll be grabbing some photos and more information to report.
Fusion Fall is scheduled for beta this fall, with full release by the end of 2008. You can check it all out and sign up for the beta at http://www.fusionfall.com