Today in Seattle, Unity kicked off its annual Unite conference with a keynote by CEO David Helgason.
While Helgason didn't announce a release date for the 5.0 version of Unity's engine (first revealed at this year's GDC
in March), there were still noteworthy points from the presentation.
For starters, Unity 4.6, which includes the long-promised brand-new UI system, goes into public beta today -- and is ready for download
The open-sourcing of Unity components begins
Alongside the public beta of 4.6, the company announced it is open-sourcing parts of the engine, including that new UI system, under an MIT open-source license
. "We plan to open-source more pieces so our customers can not just see but work on and distribute in a very liberal license," Helgason tells Gamasutra.
The first portion of the engine that will be open-sourced is Unity Test Tools. According to an official blog post
from Unity, "Beyond that, we don’t have a concrete plan, but we have a lot of things in the pipeline."
The company plans to isolate the components it open-sources from the engine in a way that allows developers to use modified versions in their own projects. " We’re excited to see what you do with it," the blog post reads.
To contrast, Epic Games has launched
the Live Source Access program, which opens up the entire Unreal Engine 4 project to registered developers, while Crytek doesn't believe in the need
to share its CryEngine technology in that way.
Coming up fast: Unity Cloud Build, thanks to an acquisition
More major news out of Unite is that the engine provider has made another acquisition: Tsugi, developers of a cloud build functionality that will be integrated into the Unity engine directly from now on.
Tsugi's technology, Unity Cloud Build, automatically monitors your project's source control repository (with support for Git, Subversion and Perforce) and creates new builds for you -- currently on iOS, Android, and the Unity Web Player.
Unity Cloud Build
The goal of the project, Helgason says, is to "solve a problem that is surprisingly tricky for game companies." The build process sucks up time and energy that could be better spent: "Even on small teams... We see one person going full time into this process."
If you're interested, Unity is running a beta for Unity Cloud Build
Tsugi is based in Austin, Texas and that also means that the company has booted up a new office in Austin, which it plans to further staff with engine developers. "It's a fantastic team -- a really, really sharp team out of Austin. Old hands in the game industry," Helgason says.
Unity's ongoing push into services
The company also launched its open beta for its Unity Ads-based cross-promotion solution. The long-promised discoverability initiative allows Unity developers to cross-promote games between their own titles, titles developed by others, and even the entire Unity development community that uses Unity Ads.
The company also announced that it expects to pay out $20 million to developers using Unity Ads
in 2014. Helgason said the company offered the network to its developers to help offset "high-activity, low-monetization days," since the company knows "how frustrating it is to see 97 percent of your players never pay anything to you."
All of these are examples of Unity's drive to move beyond basic engine technology into services, which Helgason acknowledges is a major drive for the company moving forward.
"We've been working toward this for many years," he says. But it can only go full speed ahead now that the company has achieved its goal of first providing developers a solid foundation -- its game engine -- to build upon.
Collaborations with big companies continue
Unity also announced that it's partnering with Intel to make sure that the engine supports Android development on the company's mobile chips in upcoming versions of Unity. Intel's mobile chips haven't been popular so far, but Helgason says, "we expect them to take off in the next couple of years."
Other newly announced collaborations include two new publishing options: Support for Samsung's Smart TV products, and Google's Android TV set top box.
Helgason says that the company is now "getting to the point where we can get ahead of technology" and offer new features to developers in advance of their relevance, rather than playing catch-up, and that's what these announcements represent.
The company is also working on support for Apple's Metal graphics renderer, which was announced
earlier this year and will be part of this fall's iOS 8 release.
Helgason sees it as crucial for Unity to have great Metal support, because it offers tremendous performance gains on iOS. The company has already been testing it: "A really complex mobile game one of our customers did that really pushed the technology... during development it was at 10 frames per second. With Metal support, they went to 30 frames per second without doing any other optimization, so the performance is just incredible."
"Like all the modern rendering layers, you need some wisdom to use it well and use it to its best. We have a lot of people with that kind of experience. We do the work, and it benefits our developers, basically all of them."