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Unity 5.0 announced, with direct-to-web, plugin-free publishing
March 18, 2014 | By Gamasutra Community

March 18, 2014 | By Gamasutra Community
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Today at GDC, Unity announced Unity 5.0, which will add a host of new features to the engine -- notably an overhauled lighting system and direct build-to-browser via the WebGL standard, which means that in the future, a browser plug-in will not be required to play Unity games.

In the works for the release -- the timing of which is yet to be determined -- are also an entirely new, physically-based shader system, a new audio system, Unity Cloud support.

Unity 5.0 will also adopt global illumination middleware Enlighten as its built-in lighting solution as well as, real-time light map previews from PowerVR. The engine will now support direct importation of SpeedTree files, too.

Upgrading to Unity 5.0

"It's such a big release for us," Unity CEO David Helgason told Gamasutra. "The biggest thing is that the whole rendering and lightning system is upgraded massively," he says.

Unity has fully integrated Geomerics' Enlighten global illumination technology in a "really tight collaboration" that will see it as a key part of the engine, not as external middleware that developers have to "spend months integrating," in Helgason's words. "We've had to work closely to make it perfect for Unity," he says.

When it comes to the addition of this and Imagination Technologies' PowerVR raycasting middleware, says Helgason, "it makes me really proud, because with these things we can really add value."

"We've got some really smart engineers, but there are still teams in the world that can build things better than we can -- unless we spend unimaginable amounts of energy on it," he says.

You can see the lighting and other highlighted functionality in the video embedded at the top of this story.


Unity's new physical shader editor (Click to enlarge)

The engine's audio system has been entirely revamped, and Helgason maintains that "audio designers, for the first time, can be fully productive members of the team with Unity instead of working through another program."


Unity's new audio editor (Click to enlarge)

Unity 5.0 will also be "much smarter about scheduling" on multithreaded processors. "We've learned how to do it really well on multiple platforms, including mobile," says Helgason.

The company has also upgraded the engine's 2D physics, its Mecanim animation system, its NavMesh pathfinding, and added loading optimizations. Unity Cloud cross-promotional marketing functionality will also launch with 5.0.

The engine's WebGL integration is perhaps the biggest deal of the new release. A new WebGL build button will be added to the engine, and Unity projects will play plugin-free in browsers that support the standard.

Helgason puts it this way: "We're coming into a world where some browsers will not support the [Unity] plugin, but some browsers will not support WebGL. Us having both means you can cover every browser."

Unity has spent two years working closely with Mozilla to ready this technology, which is being demoed live at GDC in both Firefox and Google Chrome browsers.

"We've been hiring like absolute madmen," says Helgason. " Now that the core engineering team is 150 people... it definitely is the biggest core engine engineering team in the world."

What Going on with Unity 4, Applifier, and Unity 5.0 Free?

Unity is not ending support for the 4.X line of its engine, with the 4.6 release coming soon. "There are very significant things left in the 4 cycle, but we're so close to 5.0 now so we wanted to able to talk about," says Helagson.

The 4.6 update will include the long-awaited GUI system announced at the 2012 Unite conference in Amsterdam.

The full integration of the Applifier technology that Unity acquired last week -- its GameAds video advertisements and Everyplay social video sharing -- will not be part of Unity 5.0, though Unity plugins for these technologies already exist. This will come later in the 5.X cycle.


Unity 5.0 (Click to enlarge)

Though no pricing details on the engine have been released, nor has the company announced exactly what functionality will be in the free and pro versions, Helgason did say this: "The difference [between them] has been shrinking if anything else... We'll be adding some new features to the pro version and the free version. Our philosophy is that if we have something to add, we add some version of it to the free version."

The Philosophy of Upgrading Unity

Though the engine's complexity is increasing, Helgason says that the company has learned how to handle adding new features while keeping Unity's core goal of being a simple, powerful tool intact. "It's definitely a balance, but we've gotten really good at it," he says.

He characterized the company's approach as three-pronged: "replacing something with something else easy to use, because at the highest level it's just drag and drop." Then the are "features that are really hard to use, but you have to expose them or otherwise people can't do what they want... it's not dumbed-down technology."

Finally, there are APIs that "experts tend to use" and most others ignore. These can also be exposed to less experienced developers by extensions sold on the Unity Asset Store because "you can create systems on top of them." All in all, the goal is to create an increasingly robust engine that can still power developers both great and small.


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Comments


Phil Maxey
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As an indie dev all this high end stuff is no interest to me, I couldn't make a AAA by myself even if I tried. I want to make cool 2D games, and I would love to use Unity to do it, but the prices are just way too high.

Give me a cut down version of Unity which focuses on 2D, no splash screen, $49 pm and I'm in.

Kujel s
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I'll second this motion.

Micah Hymer
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Unity already has a huge following in the Indie base (I'd safely venture the majority of indie developers). They're now looking to broaden the base to larger studios as well as the small independent devs. The move makes sense from a business perspective and its nice to know that as your game/studio grow, the technology and opportunity is there for you without needing to look for new tech elsewhere.

Rey Samonte
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I'm currently using the free version of Unity to develop a 2D game and the only thing I've purchased are the plugins that I need so I am not re-creating the wheel. I currently use 2D Toolkit and it's a great tool to work with.

As an freelance developer, I primarily used Flash / Adobe AIR / Starling to develop 2D games, but since I migrated to Unity, it's been a night and day experience. You should definitely check it out.

Lars Doucet
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If you're looking for a free alternative for 2D games using the Flash/AIR/Starling framework, definitely give OpenFL a look:

http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LarsDoucet/20140318/213407/Flash_is_de
ad_long_live_OpenFL.php

Wendelin Reich
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@Phil: I'm an indie too, and "this high end stuff" makes a whole lot of sense to me. Actually, many of the new features aren't high-end at all, just ordinary progress.

Unity have always been crystal-clear about their commitment to the Free version as well as to the difference between Free and Pro versions. You do realize that you get a lot of stuff for paying nothing, do you?

Kyr Dunenkoff
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I absolutely had to register here to tell you just one thing you couldn't make anything worth mentioning no matter how you try while thinking "all this high end stuff" is for developers and not for players.

Will Hendrickson
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No splash screen? Unity is a company that needs to make money. Multiple successful games have been built featuring the splash. Don't be greedy.

The indie version already includes a hugely robust feature set that dwarfs the paid version of other engines like Game Maker.

Jed Hubic
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What more could you want? Half of these features make AAA features attainable for indies. I'd rather Unity err on the side of people being overly ambitious vs wanting more for less.

haim ifrah
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the UNITY splash screen is something you should show with pride! even if i had the pro version i wouldn't remove it. players expect quality when they see this logo.

Aladine Dhiabi
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Your argument is true only for the Pro version of unity, but for the Free version you can have everything you want, plus do not forget that unity is originally made for 3D game "only", they are focusing on 2D now and as a Freelancer game developer (and indie too) i can tell that it's VERY helpful and fast to integrate.

About the splash screen,
you are using their tool for free, i think it worth mentioning the people who made it

Payne McDowell
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I'm particularly excited to see that we'll be able to deploy to the web without a plug-in. Here's hoping that feature is available with the free version!

Wendelin Reich
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10 bucks that it won't even be in the Pro Version, but an add-on like iOS & Android...

Ryan Christensen
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Well the Unity Web Player will be broken at the end of the year due to Chrome discontinuing it via the drop of NPAPI on which it is built (Flash is converted to PPAPI - Unity/Silverlight 8 months out are not).

I bet this is included in core as Web Player was before. I would have said different if they didn't have their subscription but I am hoping it is a replacement export similar to web player now or NaCL export. Both part of the core desktop/web exports. The mobile add-ons are more since there is so much more work there. The console ones are almost all paid by console platforms now (xbox/wii).

I hope you are wrong about the add-on, I think it needs to be core if they want free users to spread Unity WebGL games. I think it would be smart to stay along that else they are talking about a 3k per year license, starts to get above indie there.

To stay relevant for web games Unity has to go to WebGL (you can still run Unity player on all but Chrome at end of year but can also export NaCL for Chrome if need be, and Mozilla is also fighting plugins leading to WebGL being the only solution) so making people pay for the replacement web export I think would be a wrong step and one in the wrong direction considering other webgl/html5/native platforms out there that compete both pay and open.

Wendelin Reich
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Ryan, you are definitely making sense. The only argument speaking against you is that WebGL export is likely to be very challenging to make fully reliable. As hinted by Jonas below, it's not reliable yet. So there is a cost problem. But your reasoning is correct, Unity may have no choice but to make WebGL export free...

jonas echterhoff
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Unity WebGL will be a purchasable add-on. We will keep supporting the Unity Web Player and that will continue to be free.

Gery Arduino
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nice features, but after investing in Unity 4 last year and moving to a country with a weaker currency than euro, it's really too much 600e sorry guys... in Lithuania that would be 2040Lt just for upgrading to 5, 75% of revenue...

Will Hendrickson
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Yeah the cost of a Unity Pro license is huge.

However, $600 for upgrade from basic Pro 4 to 5 is actually pretty good, considering the new features implemented into the engine.

Gery Arduino
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As i already have a pro licence I'm the kind of guy who thinks "Will that cost be reflected in my productions?" and indeed for unity4 it actually helped me get a job in the game industry, but despite my very much wish to buy and extensively exhaust unity5 it's release is paradoxally too close the the release of 4 for an indie like me to have been able to put a stack of gold on the side, (and i dont really want to get the free version i got tired of the absent features)

Lars Doucet
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Sounds cool, so long as they stay out of the "Extract Phase:"
http://www.lostgarden.com/2011/03/gdc-2011-game-of-platform-power
.html

Wendelin Reich
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From a technical point of view, the promise of WebGL export really stands out. I knew Unity had been trying to find "alternatives to Mono" for a while, but I would never have guessed that this would include export to WebGL.

With C# having become the standard language for Unity developers, build-to-WebGL must mean that they either cross-compile C# to Javascript (unlikely) or decompile IL code into Javascript. It would be an amazing feat of engineering if this worked reliably. Also, the scope is mind-boggling - many programmers make at least some use of the .NET framework libraries, so all this would have to be provided in Javascript libraries that are bundled up with the built WebGL-game. And it would have to follow .NET versioning.

The more I think about it, the more questions this raises - what will the limitations be, and what performance penalty (esp. during loading time) will have to be paid for a 'reasonably' complex game? And I guess it's gonna be months before this all becomes clear, because Unity say that version 5 will only feature a preview/beta of WebGL export. Dammit, we programmers aren't patient when it comes to our tools! :-)

Lance Thornblad
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It appears that they are taking the same approach as the Unreal Engine and converting their own source to asm.js. I don't know how this will apply to C# code.

jonas echterhoff
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"or decompile IL code into Javascript" - that is close to it. What we are actually doing is to cross compile IL to C++ code, which then can be compiled into JavaScript using emscripten. While that approach may seem like a detour, it is much more flexible, as we don't need to maintain two different JavaScript compilation pipelines.

"many programmers make at least some use of the .NET framework libraries, so all this would have to be provided in Javascript libraries that are bundled up with the built WebGL-game" - Not really. Since most of those .NET framework libraries are in fact just IL bytecode themselves, we just need to feed the dlls into the cross compilation pipeline and have it working. At least that's the idea :)

Wendelin Reich
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@jonas: thanks for the quick clarification!

So, C# to IL to C++ to Javascript to native code. You do realize that debugging issues that are specific to a WebGL build will become a nightmare, right? Of course you do. That's why you're probably working hard to make sure that the new WebGL-pipeline is absolutely, totally error-free! =)

Christian Nutt
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I'll have some more on this soon, just been crunched with GDC stuff.

Christian Nutt
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And here it is:
http://gamasutra.com/view/news/213459/Indepth_on_Unity_5s_WebGL_p
ublishing_tech.php

jonas echterhoff
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Yes, debugging WebGL content will be a pain point in initial releases.

I think that problem can be solved, however. If we emit source maps all the way through the conversion process, you should in theory be able to debug your original C# scripts in the browser's JS debugger:

http://www.html5rocks.com/en/tutorials/developertools/sourcemaps/

Adam Campbell
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This is definitely the standout feature, though somewhat predictable for me. It will be interesting to see the long-term implications of Unity's official support WebGL.


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