Unity 4 unveiled

Unity 4 unveiled
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

June 18th 2012 at 4:00PM

DirectX 11 support, trial Linux deployment and bolstered animation abilities spearhead new feature set

Unity has revealed version 4 of its popular eponymous games engine.

The announcement of the engine comes with details of a wealth of new features, which demonstrate a continued focus by Unity on the triple-A space, and ongoing interest in the small studios with which the tech outfit established its early success.

Unity 4 includes a significant overhaul of the entire engine, and the tools suite that underpins the platform. A new high-end character animation system named Mecanim brings Unity users one of the most high profile features, which also include DirectX 11 support, 'hypermodern' mobile graphics, and the addition of Adobe Flash and Linux as new publishing platforms.

“We’ve been working on Unity 4 for a long, long time and are happy to finally be able to unveil its imminent arrival and outline its core features that will change the industry,” said David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies. “The revolutionary animation system and add-on deployments to Adobe Flash and Linux are some of the critical features introduced in Unity 4, which together maintain Unity as the strongest, fastest evolving modern games development platform available.”

The Mecanim technology promises to breathe life into games characters to life, apparently delivering fluid and natural motion with a highly efficient interface. Mecanim lets Unity 4 users create state machines, blend trees, IK rigging, and practice auto retargeting of animations, all from within the Unity editor.

“The introduction of the Mecanim suite of animation tools into Unity will completely change how developers integrate interactive animations and will result in awesome new gameplay experiences from the Unity community,” said Robert Lanciault, lead animation developer at Unity Technologies. “These tools will allow animators to work directly in Unity to create advanced and detailed animation blend trees and state machines for incredible and natural character animation.”

Mecanim will also be supported by retargetable animation in the Unity Asset Store, giving developers access to a range of options from the start.

Unity 4 is also to support Microsoft’s DirectX 11, giving developers the chance to harness the GPU for increased shader capabilities with shader model 5, tessellation for smoother models and environments in game worlds, and compute shaders for advanced GPU computation.

The forthcoming version of Unity also supports mobile platforms in various new ways, introducing real-time shadows on mobile, skinned mesh instancing, the ability to use normal maps when baking lightmaps, and a newly refined GPU profiler.

The new engine will also introduce a full version of the Flash deployment functionality introduced with Unity 3.5, and include a preview of a new ability to publish games to Desktop Linux (pictured running Shadowgun), enabling users to target the estimated 10 per cent of the PC market that uses the OS. Desktop Linux standalone publishing will be available for all Unity 4 users at no additional cost.

Unity 4 also introduces, as written in a statement to the press:

• Shuriken particle system supports external forces, bent normals and automatic culling
• 3D texture support
• Navigation: dynamic obstacles and avoidance priority
• Major optimisations in UnityGUI performance and memory usage
• Dynamic fonts on all platforms with HTML-like markup
• Remote Unity Web Player debugging
• New Project Window workflows
• Iterative lightmap baking
• Refined component-based workflows
• Extensible inspectors for custom classes
• Improved Cubemap import pipeline
• Geometry data improvements for huge memory and performance savings
• Meshes can be constructed from non-triangle geometry - render points and lines efficiently
• Search, live preview and buy Asset Store assets from the Project Window

The new version to the engine is available now for pre-order from the Unity store.

Unity 4 will be revealed to the engine's community in further detail at the Unite 2012 developer conference, which takes place from August 22nd to 25th in Amsterdam, where Develop will be in attendance.

For a gallery of screenshots of Unity 4 in action, and some games made using the new version of the engine, click here.