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Unity 4 upgrades focus on triple-A, with a dash of web and mobile

Upgrades to the upcoming version 4 of the popular game development platform include a robust animation tool, enhanced fidelity thanks to upgrades including DirectX 11 support and improved Flash deployment.
Unity Technologies has lifted the lid on the upcoming Unity 4, a major upgrade to the game development platform that currently claims over 1 million registered users. The upgrade brings an increase in visual fidelity to Unity games, DirectX 11 support, an enhanced exporting option to Flash, a preview of game deployment to Linux, and more. The biggest change Unity is touting for this latest release is the addition of Mecanim, a suite of animation tools the company acquired last year. Mecanim allows developers to create animation blend trees and state machines within Unity itself. We haven't seen it ourselves yet, but over the phone Unity CEO David Helgason tells us that it's "super high performance," and that developers using it as part of a beta program have been impressed by its polished workflow. "It solves a lot of things completely automatically, and figures out a lot of the beginning and end times, and how you group things, and so on," he says. "Copious amounts" of animations for Mecanim will be available in the Unity Asset Store on day one, Helgason tells us. With DirectX support, Unity 4 games should see increased shader capabilities and smoother models and environments (via tessellation). The company says mobile platforms will also see a boost of fidelity thanks to new features and optimizations. Promised improvements include real-time shadows, skinned mesh instancing, normal map baking, and a refined GPU profiler. The release also finally brings Flash deployment, introduced in beta form last year, to a fully functional release. It also adds a preview of deployment to desktop Linux machines. Additional features to be available in Unity 4.0, according to a list provided to us by Unity, include:
  • Shuriken particle system supports external forces, bent normals and automatic culling
  • 3D texture support
  • Navigation: dynamic obstacles and avoidance priority
  • Major optimizations 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 & lines efficiently
  • Search, live preview and buy Asset Store assets from the Project Window
Helgason says that upgrades and feature additions to Unity 4 should come at a quicker pace than they did for 3. "Even with 8 or 9 releases in under two years…we feel like we haven't been doing enough and actually want to speed up our releases. The goal is to only have a small handful of months between release dates." A release date for Unity 4 has not been set, though interested developers can pre-order it here. A demonstration of Unity 4 will take place at the Unite 2012 developer conference in Amsterdam this August.

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