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The Wolfram Language will soon be integrated into Unity Exclusive
The Wolfram Language will soon be integrated into Unity
March 10, 2014 | By Mike Rose

When Stephen Wolfram released the first proper video demonstration for his Wolfram Language last month -- a programming language that has been in the works for around three decades -- heads were well and truly turned.

But for those game developers who questioned what this new language could do for them, the next piece of the puzzle is here. The Wolfram Language will soon be integrated directly into the widely-used Unity engine, allowing game devs to implement the language in their projects.

The Wolfram Language will be implemented through Wolfram's Mathematica program, provided as a transparent object in the Unity editor called "WolframCore." This object will have a script, and an extra Wolfram engine will appear in your task list, capable of implementing a wide range of computations and calculations.

Whether you're in the editor or in-game, Unity will have access to all of the Wolfram Language libraries, and you'll be able to build dynamic, interactive controls with just one or two lines of code, to create complex objects in the scene.

Wolfram Alpha executive director Luc Barthelet, previously studio head at Electronic Arts and general manager of Maxis (where he was a driving force behind franchises like SimCity and The Sims), talked to Gamasutra about what the Wolfram Language will mean for video games when it is released in the coming weeks.

"When I showed this to the guys at Unity, they were very interested," he says. "Nobody has any kind of interface like this. Everything is just too complex, but with the Wolfram Language we can do a ton of things, and barely have to worry about the interactive -- it's extremely simplistic."

wolfram example.jpgWolframCore running in Unity

"Most languages -- take Java or Python or anything -- people like to define them in a minimalist way," he continues. "They want the language to have the minimum best set of instructions. It's like games -- the language needs to do just what it needs to do, and nothing else. The Wolfram Language is very different, because the goal is that every time you need to do something, it's only going to be a line or two of code."

It's all about allowing for the largest number of quick applications as possible, he notes, such that someone who isn't a mathematician or computer science genius will be able to implement Wolfram Language into their games.

"When you start programming, you know what you want to do, but half an hour into it you're solving a totally different problem that has been created through the process of you trying to do something that should have been simple in the first place."
Another problem with currently languages, adds Barthelet, is that, "You also have to be able to understand what libraries are compatible with others. You end up with a lot of unrelated problems which have nothing to do with what you are trying to do at he beginning."

"When you start programming, you know what you want to do, but half an hour into it you're solving a totally different problem that has been created through the process of you trying to do something that should have been simple in the first place."

Since almost everything in Wolfram can be done in one or two lines of code, this isn't a worry anymore. "It's programming for the people who are not computer scientists," he says. "You have to be somewhat smart, but not a PhD student or hacker."

"Anyone who is at least interested in the subject should quickly be able to figure it out," Barthelet adds. "That's the goal of the language, to make computation available to everybody. It's a democratization of programming. That's the motivation."

I asked Barthelet whether games were always planned as a core focus of the Wolfram Language, or whether this move into video games has simply come as a natural progression of the language's development.

"It's definitely something that has naturally progressed," he answers. "The number one market for Wolfram is education. It has been for 25 years. Education is colliding with gaming, because of the interactivity, and the fact that when you teach something to someone, getting them engaged is a critical thing."

"It's a collision course that is unavoidable in terms of motivation and interactivity," he adds. "One of the big challenge in games, and bringing games in education, has been the cost."

But with the Wolfram Language, and with Unity too, says Barthelet, it's now far cheaper to integrate games into educational curriculums and beyond.

"I think in the next 10 years, we're going to see a real revolution in education, where everything builds up through a much more motivational environment," he continues. "It's not that we are concentrating on games -- the penetration of the Wolfram Language in the game market at this stage is pretty much nil -- but it's a collision course that is almost happening by accident, because we are designing an interesting language that has a lot of capabilities, and usually game makers will try to leverage everything that is possible to make a difference."

One area in which the industry veteran believes that video games can benefit greatly from the Wolfram Language is when it comes to AI and simulation, rather than graphics.

"If you look at the evolution of games over the last 25 years, as soon as it was clear that most games would be 3D, we've spent all our time working on the polygon count and the realism of the graphics," he muses. "The realism and simulation at the moment is pathetic."

He adds, "People try, but really the quality of the simulations -- everything is very orchestrated. If you compare the processing power supplied to the graphics, with the processing power supplied to simulation and AI, it's a big joke. And we're going to continue to crank up on the graphics more and more, because people are learning, and we're still differentiating games on the quality of the graphics."

When it comes to solving the architectural issues of simulation in video games, Barthelet believes that it's all about gaining more real-life data, and utilizing it better in games. This is where Wolfram comes in.

"That's the goal of the language, to make computation available to everybody. It's a democratization of programming."
An example: "It turns out that in real life, steel and aluminum don't have the same behavior. At some point in the future, in the simulation environment, you'll take that into consideration. We have capabilities that ask, how are you going to start to model and keep track of all this?"

Another example: It's currently rather difficult to implement real-life, real-time weather data into, say, a racing game. The Wolfram Language helps to take the next step in making that easier to implement. Barthelet also mentions how game devs may be able to finally, properly integrate social media into games, injecting data that will have meaningful effects to the gameplay.

"Games are trying to be different and fantastic and liberating, but they also try to have a set of limitations," he notes. "I think for simulation, we'll start injecting more real-world data into games to make them interesting."

"When we did SimCity, clearly we had to create models that were very artificial, because they were purely based on our interpretation of basic systems, and how to simplify them," he continues. "The problem we had was to simplify them. Nowadays, people don't want to work with overly simplistic models - they want to slowly build more and more complex models, because their capability to understand those models is increasing dramatically, and they get bored by the overly simplistic ones."

When can we expect Wolfram for Unity to land, then? Barthelet tells me, "It's a question of weeks, maybe a couple of months I would say." He also notes that the Wolfram Language is coming to Raspberry Pi, the Intel Edison and the Intel Arduino Galileo, through various partnerships, with more devices on the way.

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