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Eye candy: Unity’s amazing photorealistic Adam demo

Monday, June 20th, 2016 | Posted by Jim Thacker

Originally posted on 17 March 2016. Scroll down for the link to the full short.

While Unreal Engine has a reputation for creating large, photorealistic games – a reputation bolstered by the steady stream of tech demos Epic puts out – most people associate Unity with smaller, more stylised titles.

That seems to be a preconception that developer Unity Technologies is trying to overcome with the release of Adam, an impressive new real-time demo that has been getting a lot of coverage at GDC 2016.

A cut above the traditional ‘Unity game’
The enigmatic short seems to show the consciousness of human prisoners – perhaps convicted criminals – transferred into robotic bodies on what seems to be a prison planet.

But regardless of the finer points of the plot, for most viewers, the striking thing about Adam will be the visuals.

The short shows off a lot of things that people don’t normally associate with Unity, including some fairly complex lighting and post-processing effects, volumetric fog – and towards the end, an extensive crowd scene.

Nice visuals: when will we see them in commercial Unity games?
But it’s one thing to sustain high graphical quality over the course of a 150-second demo: it’s quite another to do so over tens of hours of gameplay. So what does Adam tell us about the way Unity games will look in future?

The hardware on which the demo runs is certainly accessible, if fairly high-end.

According to Unity Technologies, Adam runs in real time at 1440p on a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 GPU, which means a card with a current street price of around $500.

Created in Unity 5.4, but with a lot of custom and third-party tools
The software is a slightly different matter: while the demo was created in Unity 5.4, the beta of which was released at GDC, the key tools on which it relies aren’t actually part of the public build.

According to Unity Technologies, Adam makes use of “an experimental implementation of real time area lights”, plus the company’s work-in-progress cinematic sequencer.

Unity also created custom tools for volumetric fog and motion blur, and a custom transparency shader.

The firm says that users can expect to have access to the new tools some time after this year’s Unite Europe conference in early June, where an extended version of the short will be released.

Adam also makes “extensive use” of CaronteFX, Next Limit’s Unity physics tool, currently priced at $95 on the Unity Asset Store.

More details to come at Unite Europe this summer?
So far, Unity Technologies hasn’t released the source files for the short, so it’s difficult to tell how much of the physics is pre-baked, and how much is calculated on the fly.

But those caveats aside, it’s an impressive-looking piece, and a far cry from most people’s preconceptions of how a typical ‘Unity game’ would look. It’ll be interesting to see the full short later this year.

Updated 20 June 2016: Unity has just released the full, nearly six-minute version of Adam. See it above. The custom tools developed to create the short will be freely available “soon”.

Read more about Adam on Unity Technologies’ website

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