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New Unity updates target programming, graphics, quality of life improvements

Today Unity’s newest TECH Stream launched, which aims to improve stability and performance for developers who use the ubiquitous game engine. We speak with Unity's Brett Bibby.

Kris Graft, Contributor

December 15, 2020

5 Min Read

Today Unity’s newest TECH Stream launched, which aims to improve stability and performance for developers who use the ubiquitous game engine.

The 2020.2 TECH Stream update is notable as it adds a number of improvements to quality of life, programmer tools, and artist tools.

The video above runs down these updates, including arrays and lists that are now reorderable in the Inspector; a new high definition render pipeline (HDRP) sample template; ambient inclusion in the universal render pipeline (URP) and more.

In an interview with Gamasutra, Unity Chief Product Officer Brett Bibby said improvements around the programmer tools and performance, graphics rendering and performance, and quality of life represent the “three-legged stool” for the update.

“[2020.2] is now going to bake into the LTS [long-term support]," he said. "That LTS is what's going to be there for the next few years--super stable, super well supported, and that's going to be what everyone's going to build their console titles on. Next-gen consoles and, of course, all mobile and other platforms as well. It took a lot of work to get here, but I think we've got an amazing foundation for the next year.”

The coming years in game development will involve newly-launched next-generation platforms from Xbox and PlayStation. Unity has made platform-agnostic development a focus since the start, but it takes work to make this as straightforward as possible for game devs.

“The trick is, how do you make your content run everywhere, but also take advantage of the individual capabilities of the machine,” said Bibby. That takes close work with platform holders as well as Unity customers.

"We've known about [next-gen platforms], been working hard on [them], put a lot of effort into those pipelines, put a lot of effort into performance, making sure that we had everything that you need in the box to take advantage of all the current platforms, but all the future ones," Bibby said.

Going forward, Bibby said two of Unity's main focuses will be on improving networking services and providing artists with better tools.

“We've got great, scalable multiplayer services powering games like Apex Legends,” he said. “But we think we can make it a lot easier to make network games out of the box.”

“Second one up, is clearly visual scripting--making sure that we're enabling artists,” Bibby added. “I think these two things--enabling the creators and enabling network experiences--are probably the biggest standouts of the TECH Streams for next year.”

Full list of updates below, via Unity

Quality of Life Improvements

  • Arrays and Lists - These are now reorderable in the Inspector. Developers can use the attribute [NonReorderable] to disable this function according to preference.

  • Texture Import Pipeline - When using this for 2D Array and 3D textures, users can import the flipbook array/3D textures to preview them directly without writing custom C# code.

  • Mesh Inspector - Users can visualize blend shapes in the Mesh inspector when present and drag multiple Prefabs into the Scene simultaneously.

  • Quick Search - Creators can now search through all the Scenes and Prefabs of their project at once with the updated Quick Search package.

Programmer Tools & Performance Improvements

  • Unity Safe Mode - To counter any errors which may occur during startup, Unity now prompts users to enter the new Safe Mode, where they can manage their project, solve compilation errors, and bring the project environment back into a working state.

  • Deterministic Compilation - When compiling C# scripts, deterministic compilation will optimize compilation times by avoiding unnecessary recompiling of assembly definition references, creating a more efficient conversion process that greatly improves workflow.

  • PhysX - Improvements include linking RigidBody hierarchies to ArticulationBody hierarchies that have regular joints with PhysX. This is particularly helpful if you work in robotics or physics-based games.

  • Performance and Stability Improvements - Unity 2020.2 features significant optimizations in several areas, including speedier searches in the Editor scripted importers registration function, which are up to 800 times faster, and improved Nested Prefabs, which are up to 250 times faster.

  • Profiler - The Profiler includes more visualization options, allowing users to read and display statistics in Players with the API.

  • C# 8 Support - This release adds support for C# 8 features and enhancements, while the Switch expression has been updated with pattern matching to offer a more streamlined way to write conditional code.

Graphics & Artist Tools

  • High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) - This includes tools to help users debug lighting, and comes with improvements to the decal system. It also contains new path-tracing elements and subsurface scattering, as well as modifications and new features for Ray tracing (in Preview).

  • New HDRP Sample Template - This is a great starting point for projects aiming at high-fidelity graphics that are targeting high-end hardware. The template provides a great starting point for exploring, learning, and creating realistic scenes with different light intensities. Download it from the Unity Hub.

  • Universal Render Pipeline (URP) - The updated URP introduces new features that bring it closer to parity with Unity’s built-in renderer. Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO) improves the quality of ambient lighting, and there is a new Lit Shader with additional surface inputs.

  • Shader Graph - The enhanced Shader Graph includes several new features that improve workflow for technical artists, such as better Graph Editor performance.

  • 2D Animation - In addition to improved 2D default assets and menus, the latest 2D Animation comes with integrated 2D Inverse Kinematics (IK), allowing animators using 2D skeletal animation to expand animation possibilities and save time.

  • Improved Workflows and More - There are new updates to the Shader Graph, VFX Graph, and Animation Rigging Package - now out of Preview. Global Illumination and Recorder API also help creators bring their projects to life with more precision and less effort.

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