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Unity 4 Brings DX11 To The Huddled Indie Masses

Hey, developers! Erm. Just wanted to say hi, like. Also, you might be interested in the next version of the increasingly ubiquitous Unity engine, which is toting all sorts of hypermodern features (they even say 'hypermodern' themselves in their press release, so for once I'm not to blame for a superlative-based portmanteau) aimed at making it desirable to indies, mainstream, mobile and mucking-about devs alike.

DirectX 11 (as shown above, apparently), a new character animation tech called 'Mecanim' and publishing to Flash and Linux are the headline features of Unity 4, though there's also (and less relevantly to this blog) a bunch of additional mobile gaming stuffs in there too. Basically, it's Unity putting its arm around the Unreal engine's girl, curling its lip into a knowing smirk and intoning those most sacred of words: Come at me, bro.

It's probably painfully obvious to all that I'm not a game developer (maybe one day, if someone will have me), so it's best for all concerned if I simply quote bits about the new features rather than pretend to assess whether they're as useful as they sound.

Let's start with Mechanim (oh hey, another portmanteau). Apparently it "brings your characters to life in a few mouse clicks with incredibly fluid and natural motion. Mecanim combines a slick interface with powerful tools for creating state machines, blend trees, IK rigging, and auto retargeting of animations all inside of the Unity editor." So that's increidbly, slick, powerful. If they say, I guess.

The DirectX 11 bump adds in features we often hear mentioned in graphics cards ads but not in so many games as yet. To whit, "increased shader capabilities with shader model 5, tessellation for smoother models and environments in game worlds, and compute shaders for advanced GPU computation."

The Linux support aspect I will say something about, because if Microsoft is determined to push its Windows 8 app store as the exclusive way to get hold of whatever PC games it elects to get behind, it could well be that some of us start looking for a garden without quite so many walls to frolic in. I don't see Linux making huge leaps and bounds in terms of being gamers' go-to PC OS any time soon, but the more games and dev tools that support it the more it can thrive. So yeah, good call. Unity estimate some 10% of gaming PCs run Linux, which frankly does sound a little high to me, but hell, I've not surveyed anyone.

There's also these things, which I quote partly because it's relevant but mostly because "bent normals" is a ludicrous and possibly inadvertently offensive phrase.

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

A beta version of Unity 4 will be available soon to anyone who pre-orders the $1500 Pro version, but at an educated guess it will filter down to the free license version once it's on general release.

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