The Wii U toolkit for the popular, easy-porting game development engine Unity3D gives developers access to just about all of the console's features, as was demonstrated in a presentation given at GDC Europe 2013.
The Unity tools can be acquired for free by any authorized developer who registers with Nintendo's licensing program using a simple click-through application. The license's cost is waived for developers on Wii U; though builds generated in Unity still have to run through a Wii U dev kit purchased from Nintendo. The price of that dev kit is private under a non-disclosure agreement licensed Nintendo developers have to agree to.
A representative for Unity ran through how the development tools had been optimized for the Wii U version of the SDK. Most of them were fairly esoteric: The Wii U version of Unity supports DX10 level graphics, deferred rendering, GFX output support on the Wii U GamePad (using its forward-facing camera) and a few other specification-heavy tweaks.
Its support for Wii U hardware is much clearer to understand — using similar console or PC inputs as the other versions of Unity, developers can utilize the GamePad, its second screen, camera, microphone, and even secondary or Wii-generation devices. That includes the Wii U Pro Controller, Wii Remote, Wii Motion Plus and even the Balance Board.
The console's software can be accessed through Unity as well, enabling developers to utilize Miiverse connectivity in their games through a native plugin distributed with the Wii U Unity installer. The company hopes to develop a repository for these plugins, letting developers take advantage of even more system-side tools like showcasing games users are playing on other players' friends lists, user accounts and voice chat, to name a few.
Unfortunately, the only piece of Wii U software demoed during the panel was a relatively simple cinematic demoing the tools' visual capabilities. Another Wii U Unity project, a port of a PC title called Wooden Sen'Sey, was playable in the expo hall of GDC Europe, and did a much better job of showcasing the toolset's strengths. It was a simple, but fun platformer with grappling and swinging mechanics and — according to a Unity representative at the booth — was ported to Wii U after its developer, Upper Byte, had only had a couple of days with the console's dev kit.
That's always been the premise of Unity, which carries the mantra "Build Once, Deploy Anywhere." Unity hasn't produced any of the AAA hits that the Wii U's limited library needs, but the thought of easily-adapted versions of mobile and PC games that have been built upon it coming to Wii U — games like Slender, Knights of Pen and Paper, Gone Home or Shadowrun Returns — is certainly promising for the console and its early adopters.
The release candidate for Unity for Wii U is available now; its final release, and the expected arrival of Unity-developed games on the Wii U eShop, remains unannounced.