Thursday, May 3rd, 2018 Posted by Jim Thacker

Unity 2018.1 is now shipping. Check out the highlights here

Unity Technologies has released Unity 2018.1, the first of this year’s cycle of updates to the game engine and development environment, after four months in beta.

The update rolls out Unity’s new Scriptable Render Pipeline and shader graph, updates the post-processing stack, Cinemachine and Timeline, and improves workflow when roundtripping assets to Autodesk software.

As ever, the complete changelog is enormous, and even the overview on Unity’s blog runs to over 8,000 words, so below, we’ve picked out the main highlights for CG artists.

New Scriptable Render Pipeline, Shader Graph and post-processing options
From a graphics standpoint, the biggest new features in Unity 2018.1 are the much-trailed new Scriptable Render Pipeline and the node-based Shader Graph, both of which are now available as tech previews.

We’ve written about both several times in the past, so check out our story on Unity’s GDC 2018 keynote for a full run-down of the new features, plus those in the newly updated Post-Processing Stack.

Updates to Timeline and Cinemachine
Timeline, Unity’s clip-based cinematics editor, gets a number of improvements, including new keyboard navigation options and a zoom bar to zoom the view in or out of tracks.

There is also a new system of editing modes: on top of Timeline’s previous behaviour – to blend clips together to create a smooth transition – you can now do more standard ripple or replace edits.

Procedural camera system Cinemachine also gets several major improvements, including support for custom camera blend curves, a new camera shake system, and integration with Unity’s Package Manager.

There is also a new storyboard feature, shown in the video above, which is intended to enable artists to use Cinemachine to create animated storyboards, complete with accurate timing and shot framing.

Round trip cameras and animations with 3ds Max and Maya
The system for round-tripping assets between Unity and Autodesk software like Maya and 3ds Max via the FBX format, first introduced in Unity 2017.2, has been extended in the new release.

Lights, animations and blendshapes can now be roundtripped, as well as geometry and materials.

Other new features for modellers, shading artists, animators and FX specialists
Modellers and level artists get the new ProBuilder toolset: formerly a third-party add-on, but now integrated directly into Unity following the acquisition of original developer ProCore earlier this year.

Sister tools Polybrush and ProGrids have not yet been integrated, but are available free in the Asset Store.

Texture artists should note that native support for materials in Substance format has been removed in Unity 2018.1, although Allegorithmic is working on a free Substance plugin, currently available in open beta.

The CPU-based Progressive Lightmapper introduced in Unity 5.6 is also now officially no longer a preview – just in time to be rendered obsolete by the upcoming GPU lightmapper announced at GDC.

However, there is a new option to show objects in a scene which have overlapping UVs in baked lightmaps, helping to troubleshoot lighting artefacts.

Animators get support for weighted tangents on all animation curves.

FX artists get new particles options, including orbital particle velocity, making particles travel relative to a defined centre point; and the option to spawn sub-emitters via the Trigger Module or via scripting.

The particle system also now supports GPU instancing, enabling many more particle meshes to be rendered before frame rate drops to an unacceptable level.

Other graphics changes include support for dynamic resolution on PlayStation 4 as well as Xbox One, support for GI data in GPU instancing, and an experimental new Sky Occlusion feature.

New 2D layout, animation and physics tools
Changes to the 2D toolset include SpriteShape (above), a new sprite layout and world-building tool capable of tiling sprites automatically along a Bezier spline path, or within regions bounded by splines.

The release also introduces a new toolset for rigging sprites for skeletal animation: the first part of a complete new 2D animation system due to roll out over several successive updates.

And over in the 2D physics system, Unity can now use all available CPU cores for rigid body simulations.

Important non-graphics tools: new C# job system and compiler
Programmers get a new C# job system, intended to speed up the process of writing multi-threaded code, plus the new Entity Component System and Burst Compiler, both now available as previews.

They’re all major features, but beyond the scope of CG Channel, so for details, check out the video above.

The MonoDevelop IDE has also now been deprecated in favour of Visual Studio Community on Windows and Visual Studio for Mac on macOS, and has been removed from the Unity 2018.1 Windows installer.

Other non-graphics-related changes include native support for Resonance Audio, Google’s spatial audio SDK, and support for Magic Leap’s upcoming AR headset and Google’s Daydream standalone VR headset.

Pricing and availability
Unity 2018.1 is available for Windows 7+ and Mac OS X 10.9+ on a rental-only basis.

Free Personal subscriptions have a non-editable splash screen and can be used by anyone with revenue of up to $100,000/year. Paid Plus and Pro plans cost $35/seat/month and $125/seat/month respectively.

Read a full list of new features in Unity 2018.1 on Unity Technologies’ blog