×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Unity Pushes For Unreal Parity as Next-Gen Approaches

At its annual keynote at GDC 2019, Unity Technologies debuted a swath of improvements to its popular Unity game engine and development tools. This was business as usual for the company, whose presence at the show is a given year after year, especially as the pre-eminent tool for mobile game and independent video game development. However, while speaker after speaker presented a host of changes and improvements aimed at helping developers get better results on phones and tablets, Unity appeared to have another goal in mind.

Epic Studios Unreal Engine 4 has become the leading platform for current generation console and PC development, though it hasn’t found the same level of market penetration in mobile. Unity Technologies suite has, fairly or not, been seen as a more entry-level tool, or an engine for smaller, less graphically and systemically sophisticated games. Much of Unity’s presentation at this year’s GDC was oriented around marquis graphical features that appear poised to put the engine at parity with Epic’s Unreal Engine, seeking to shift the existing narrative around Unity as developers and publishers contend with what Unity CEO John Riccitiello referred to as unannounced platforms. Riccitiello specified Google’s cloud gaming initiative, set to debut this week at GDC, but it seems all but assured that he was also alluding to next-generation platforms from Sony and Microsoft.

This seemed clearest as various Unity presenters elaborated on what the company calls its High Definition Render Pipeline, or HDRP, which supports high end features including physically based rendering, which allows developers to work with materials in-game that mimic the qualities and appearance of real materials, simulating the behavior of light on those surfaces, among other things. Enhanced subsurface scattering support in Unity was also emphasized, which allows for more realistic organic materials including skin.

However, these are industry-standard features in 2019, particularly in AAA and AAAA development, with games supporting these techniques and technologies for several years. Similarly, Unity announced a partnership with physics middleware company Havok to greatly increase both Unity’s built-in physics and its integration with more dedicated Havok tools, which is once again fairly pedestrian in console and PC game development (and whose support on mobile platforms is limited by the power constraints of those devices).  

Acknowledging this, however, Unity spent an extended period of time dedicated to what is likely to be the most-common development buzzword coming out of this year’s GDC: real-time raytracing. Raytracing is a technique by which light, color, shadows, and reflections are calculated with potentially dramatic increases in fidelity and realism by using virtual “rays” that emit from light sources and “bounce” around the scene in a manner similar to the way light behaves in the real world. Raytracing has until recently been seen as an impossibility to achieve in real time in video game engines, but work done by companies including Microsoft, graphics card developers Nvidia and AMD and numerous others has seemed to put the tech within reach.

Unity’s real-time raytracing solution was impressive if a bit fuzzy on the details of the hardware running it, but it signaled that Unity Technologies is no longer satisfied supporting cutting edge video game development trends and tech years after the fact.

Much of Unity’s keynote this year seemed oriented around this idea. Two of the main moments of the presentation revolved around ambitious projects outside of the generally accepted idea of Unity projects — Warren Spector and Otherside Games’ “System Shock 3” and Lorne Lanning and Oddworld Inhabitants’ “Oddworld Soulstorm.” These are projects that have high expectations around them, and not just from a gameplay perspective. The demonstrations for these titles emphasized high-end production values that didn’t seem like compromises made in light of Unity’s ease of use. They looked exciting and legitimately contemporary in a way Unity-powered titles are not typically expected to, outside of some sidescrolling titles like “Inside,” “Ori and the Blind Forest,” and “Cuphead.”

The message seemed to be a hybrid of Unity’s previously understood place in the game development pecking order and loftier ambitions. Unity reps returned again and again to the ways in which the engine and its accompanying tools and middleware could be used to sustain a game as a service and support a variety of business models, while preserving affordability and ease of use, including for distributed teams, all while achieving results that didn’t seem like the aforementioned compromise. Even Unity’s pitch on raytracing stressed the cost-benefits of its blend of raytraced visuals and more traditional approaches in order to save on the costs of asset creation, currently one of the most expensive resource drains in modern game development.

To cap off Unity’s pitch to game developers, many of whom are currently investigating and planning for next-generation development projects, it debuted its latest engine demo: “The Heretic.” A fully real-time graphical showcase of Unity’s most cutting edge tools, it’s an impressive example of what can be achieved, and, potentially, what gamers may be able to get their hands on in the years ahead. 

More Gaming

  • Timothy Olyphant Once Upon a Time

    Timothy Olyphant Explains Why He Did 'Hitman' Movie

    The 2007 film adaptation of the “Hitman” video game franchise is … not good. It received a score of 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, with many critics panning its incoherent plot and terrible dialogue. So, why did actor Timothy Olyphant take on the lead role as Agent 47? He had a mortgage to pay, he told [...]

  • GOG Debuts GOG Galaxy 2.0 App,

    'Witcher' Developer Debuts GOG Galaxy 2.0 App

    CD Projekt’s digital distribution platform introduced the newest version of its software client, including some of the features users can expect to see when it debuts. GOG Galaxy 2.0 gives users a way to combine all their games and friends across clients into one place. This new version of the old GOG Galaxy client was created [...]

  • Riot Forms Scholastic Association to Oversee

    Riot Forms Scholastic Association to Oversee School Esports Efforts

    “League of Legends” developer Riot Games is forming a new governing body for its college and high school esports activities called the Riot Scholastic Association of America, it announced on Tuesday. A board of advisors will work with a team at Riot to continue its scholastic esports support, including scaling competitive operations and creating a [...]

  • Raleigh, NC Preparing to Host Major

    Raleigh, NC Preparing to Host Major Esports Events

    Creative services company Big Block is teaming up with the city of Raleigh, NC as it prepares to host major global esports events, it announced on Tuesday. Big Block, which specializes in esports consulting, will now help the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau (GRCVB) and the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance to evaluate local facilities, [...]

  • Microsoft Introduces Improved Xbox Game Bar

    Microsoft Introduces Improved Xbox Game Bar For Windows 10

    Microsoft unveiled its newly-updated Xbox Game Bar for Windows 10, meant as part of the company’s efforts to “improve the gaming experience” on the platform. The Xbox Game Bar is a customizable gaming overlay that comes built into Windows 10 directly. It’s compatible with most PC games, except for some titles that use the Vulcan [...]

  • Slakoth Featured for "Pokemon Go" June

    Slakoth Featured for "Pokemon Go" June Community Day

    The “Pokemon Go” Community Day is returning next month, and Niantic is urging players to not slack off and to be sure and nab a Slakoth, the featured pokemon this event, as seen in a new promo video. The video, shown above, features the augmented reality version of the normal-type pokemon who will appear more [...]

  • Valve Launches Steam Chat Mobile App

    Valve Launches Steam Chat Mobile App

    Steam Chat is now available for iOS and Android devices, Valve announced on the Steam Blog on Tuesday. The app functions similarly to the Steam desktop chat, allowing users to see which of their friends are online and what games they’re playing. The app also supports “Rich Chat,” meaning users can send GIFs, emoticons, tweets, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content