Unity Technologies announced today that the next version of its 3D game engine and editor is out now. And it is! They were totally telling the truth at the press conference I attended this morning, where Unity co-founder and CTO Joachim Ante called Unity 5 a "massive release."
The Unity engine has been used for a lot of games, especially indie and mobile games, but I've always thought of it, perhaps unfairly, as 'Unreal-lite.' I've heard lots of great things about cross-platform productivity, and I don't doubt that it's great for developers, but Unity hasn't done as much as Epic to appeal to consumers with neat lighting and shader demos—i.e. the stuff I can appreciate from a non-technical perspective, because it looks cool. The layman's hype reel.
This morning, however, terms like "reflection probes" came out in force. Unity 5, says CEO John Riccitiello, is a "graphics powerhouse." We saw a very nice-looking demo (embedded below), which in my opinion (totally divorced from whatever the sophistication of the technology may be), looks nicer than a well-modded Skyrim and a few recent games, but certainly isn't as impressive as one of UE4's ridiculous (and not-really-seen-in-an-actual-game-yet) demos. As achievable fidelity in an engine popular among small teams, it's very inspiring—games developed with Unity 5 for PC can look like this, according to Ante. It's definitely much prettier than anything produced with older Unity tech, with improved lighting, physics, and animation among the long list of changes in the release notes.
Later on, Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey took the stage. "The majority of the virtual reality experiences we've seen have been built with Unity technology," he said, leading into a brief talk on their cooperation. "We're trying to make virtual reality available to everyone, not just consumers, but developers."
To that end, Unity 5 will soon have built in Oculus Rift support. "We've been collaborating for over two years with Unity and the results are awesome." said Luckey. "It is really smooth and seamless now ... we have the ability to preview and publish to GearVR and Rift instantly."
"We've also made huge gains on performance," he continued, followed by several terms I'd have misspelled if I tried to write them down. I'll take his word for it. Unity and Oculus have had a good relationship for a while, so this collaboration is unsurprising but good news for VR.
As for making things available to everyone, Unity 5 remains very accessible. With the Professional Edition, developers get everything for $75/month or $1,500 to buy it outright. There are no royalties on games made with it, meaning that it's ultimately much cheaper than the free-to-use Unreal Engine 4 (which carries a 5% royalty after $3,000 in sales per quarter), assuming you ship a successful game.
More exciting is the Personal Edition, which is for educators and developers with revenues or funding under $100,000—it's completely free with no royalties. It doesn't include everything (see the breakdown here), but certainly everything needed to develop a game. You can download and try the Unity 5 Personal Edition here.