Thursday, March 2nd, 2017 Posted by Jim Thacker

Unity Technologies unveils Unity 2017 product roadmap

Unity Technologies has revealed its product roadmap for Unity 2017, the next major release of its game engine and development environment, including a scriptable render pipeline and new cinematics tools.

The features were announced during the Unity Keynote at GDC 2017.

Unity 2017: targeting photorealistic AAA content?
According to Unity Technologies CEO John Riccitiello, a major focus of the 2017 release will be to improve workflow for artists using the engine.

“[In the past] we focused entirely on programmers and artists were left to fend for themselves,” he said. “That changes with Unity 2017.”

The release will also continue Unity’s push out of its traditional heartland, indie and mobile titles, into the territory staked out by its Adam tech demo for Unity 5.

While the Adam demo proved that Unity was capable of creating the kind of photorealistic content traditionally associated with UE4, Riccitiello now sounds intent on taking the two engines head to head.

“Our ambitions for Unity 2017 are nothing short of having Unity be the best tool for making the most beautiful and amazing games,” he said.

Currently in beta: new Timeline cinematics toolset
In the GDC keynote, the most fully realised expressions of that intent were Timeline and Cinemachine, which you can see demoed from 1:35:35 in the video at the top of the story.

The former is a track-based editing tool along the lines of UE4’s Sequencer toolset, providing a drag-and-drop workflow for choreographing animations, events and audio.

The latter is a “smart camera system” for Unity, initially available as a third-party add-on – you can currently download the Cinemachine BaseRig free in the Asset Store – but recently acquired by Unity itself.

The system is intended to enable artists to create complex procedural camera rigs without coding.

The GDC demo showed the two toolsets in use together, including the creation of a procedural camera that automatically tracked a character’s head, then blending to it from the gameplay camera.

You can read more about the tools and download an experimental preview release of Timeline here.

Due in Unity 2017: scriptable render pipeline, new C# job system
Another feature confirmed for Unity 2017 is a new scriptable render pipeline.

Whereas Unity currently provides two fixed C++ render loops for forward and deferred rendering, the new system will enable users to create their own custom render loops using C#.

According to Unity Technologies CTO Joachim Ante, it should enable developers to create custom render pipelines targeting specific hardware platforms or build targets.

“I think this architecture is a huge step forward for flexibility and performance in Unity,” he said.

The release will also introduce a new C#-based job system, with new APIs enabling users to schedule C# jobs to “easily write safe multithreaded code”.

Other features including detailed error logging and a new compiler capable of automatically vectorising code. According to Ante, Unity’s aim is to “enable programmers to write C# code that outperforms C++”.

Further off: new visual scripting tools, automated content generation
After that, things get less specific, although Ante does say that visual programming will be a “key focus” of future releases, and discusses the need for a system that can be customised for individual use cases, like audio programming or shader editing.

At 01:22:00 in the video, you can also see Unity Technologies’s new graphics director, Natalya Tatarchuk – previously graphics lead at Bungie – discuss what sound like considerably more blue-sky technolgies.

Examples include a new system for placing light probes within a scene procedurally; a “scalable representation” for content in which LODs are represented inherently in the asset, along the lines of a mipmapped texture; and automated asset-generation using neural-net-based deep learning techniques.

Pricing and availability
According to Unity Technologies, Unity 2017 be a “phased release”, with the initial version, Unity 2017.1, due to become available in beta in April 2017.

The current stable build, Unity 5.5, is available for Windows 7 and above and Mac OS X 10.8 and above.

The software is available on a rental-only basis, with free Personal subscriptions are available to anyone earning under $100k/year. Commercial Plus and Pro packages cost $35/seat/month and $125/seat/month.

Read more about the new features due in Unity 2017 on Unity Technologies’ blog