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Unity Technologies is unveiling Unity 5, the next version of its game development engine, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The updated version packs a lot of new features that developers can use to make more advanced multiplatform games that run across the web, mobile, and social platforms. It’s a big deal because Unity has grown so big — with more than 2.5 million developers using the game engine — that any innovations it embraces mean that thousands of games coming in the near future will be more advanced as well.

Unity 5 is available for preorder from the Unity Store and it includes access to Unity 4 and all of its upcoming updates. Unity 5 is a “massive update” to the existing Unity Engine, with features such as Enlighten. That is a real-time lighting system that makes game scenes look much more realistic with accurate lighting and shadows that move as the scene shifts or characters move. If a developer places a sun in a scene, the shadows will move accordingly as the light source changes positions.

The engine also has physically-based shaders that provide the “power to render stunning high-quality characters, environments, lighting, and effects.” The engine is also more efficient when it comes to enabling game creators to create effects with a unified shader architecture, in-editor real-time lightmap previews, and better asset bundling. The game engine also has an overhauled audio system with a new audio mixer for creating dynamic soundscapes.


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Unity 5 will also feature the Unity Cloud ad-sharing network, which will enable easier cross-promotion of mobile games. In collaboration with Mozilla, Unity will also support WebGL, a web format that makes it easier to create 3D images on web pages. Developers can get early access to Unity’s WebGL add-on to create interactive experiences for games that don’t require plug-ins when used with WebGL-compliant browsers. Madfinger Game’s Dead Trigger 2 game, pictured at top, runs on WebGL, and Unity will demonstrate it at its booth at the GDC in San Francisco this week.

David Helgason, CEO, Unity Technologies, said in an interview with GamesBeat that Unity has about 160 engineers now, and roughly half of the team worked on Unity 5 or things related to it. The whole effort took about 18 months.

The real-time lightmap previews will tap Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR Ray Tracing technology, which will also result in better realism. The Unity engine also supports 64-bit processing, Nvidia PhysX 3.3, and other special effects. The lighting system comes from partner Geomerics, wihch is owned by ARM.

“We’ve got the most complex lighting in the industry now,” Helgason said.

Unity competes with rivals such as Crytek and Epic Games. Helgason said that Unity’s 3D graphics are more functional than Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, and new features will approach the quality of Unreal Engine 4.

“We think we can get to the point where we beat everything else out there,” Helgason said.

Helgason said Unity 5 would be available in a couple of months or so, and the final purchase price has not been set yet.

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