This is the seventh installation of our Games Focus series, which covers key product development initiatives now and into the future. In this blog, we cover graph-based tools and DevOps solutions to help artists, designers, and programmers create faster, together.
My name is Ashley Alicea, and I'm the product manager for Unity Visual Scripting. I’m joined by Marc-André Ferguson, the product manager for codeless creation. Our combined experience includes over a decade of developer advocacy and work in film and television, and we both believe in the power of making the Unity Editor more accessible to creators of all backgrounds.
Joining us is Marie-Christine Babin, whose eight years of game and interactive experience helps her lead the Plastic SCM product team’s collaborative tools, along with Marc Nelson, who oversees our Cloud Build solution and is guided by deep experience in fast-paced web and enterprise infrastructure environments.
This post gathers several solutions that might not seem to be related – a version control system here, a node-based authoring system there. But these tools are all designed to drive faster, smoother cooperation across teams by shaping better collaborative workflows.
Creating any game or real-time 3D experience brings unique challenges around integrating team members’ different skill sets, processes, and content into workflows. These complexities often grow as teams scale and hire more non-programmer roles like artists, modelers, and designers. Projects see an increase in the amount, type, or file size of assets, and team workflows become harder to adopt, especially by those with less Editor experience.
No one tool covers every unique production need, so many of you are left to create and manage your own custom solutions. This practice often provides a near-term solution, but it can introduce inefficiencies or friction as your team and projects grow. It puts strain on the programmers and technical artists who need to context switch between their primary work and maintaining these custom tools, supporting artists and designers with version control systems, or imposing limitations on how teammates can express their creativity within a project.
Midsize teams often have many more artists or designers than programmers, so non-programmers are sometimes frustrated by suboptimal workflows or blocked while they wait for support. As we’ve heard speaking to you, many artists and designers would rather not work with code, even if they know how, and especially if they’re used to working without writing code within other game development and authoring tools.
Unity’s latest solutions for DevOps and codeless creation help users address these challenges. Read on to learn how we’re empowering teams to customize and optimize the way they work.
Everything starts from your source code and data. Plastic SCM, Unity’s version control system (VCS), bridges the gap between the unique needs of code development and creative workflows. We’re particularly proud that it provides robust code review workflows, but can also handle large repositories and binaries with ease. This means that you can use Plastic SCM to create workflows that are tailored to your needs. For example, if you’re an artist working on textures for the next sprint, you don’t need to sync the entire repository to find the file you need – you can just work with the files that are relevant to you directly from the Unity dashboard.
To empower your teams with agility, you need to not only be able to easily make and review changes, but compile those changes into a build for testing. That’s why we’ve ensured that Cloud Build integrates tightly with common VCS solutions like Plastic SCM, enabling creators to automate builds for complex RT3D projects in the cloud across platforms. It’s designed for rapid iteration to achieve higher-quality production in less time. As Cloud Build evolves, we’ll continue our focus on improving performance and reliability alongside more robust oversight over build failures. This work ensures project remediations can be made swiftly and are timely.
Our other recent efforts towards supporting team workflows include Unity Visual Scripting and Shader Graph, which allow creatives to create in RT3D using familiar principles and workflows. These tools make collaboration more efficient while allowing both programmers and non-programmers to work with greater autonomy.
We’re continuing to invest in tools that make it easier to onboard users, work with other teams, and streamline approvals processes for all functions. That’s why the new Plastic SCM web experience introduces a code review workflow to the Unity Dashboard, where you can discuss and validate the work submitted by a team member with the intent to merge. This ensures producers and other decision makers can review both content and code directly from the Unity Dashboard, eliminating the need to download or boot up the Plastic SCM client application to execute code reviews or review project content.
Unity Visual Scripting (UVS) comes out of the box with the 2021 LTS release to help you create, integrate, or connect gameplay content in your game without programming. It offers a more accessible way to work with Editor features, Unity APIs, and even your project’s own codebase by allowing you to author content via drag-and-drop nodes within graphs instead of writing C# scripts.
You can use these nodes in countless ways and even watch the visual flow of their graphs and nodes in real-time to understand how their logic is executing.
Visual Scripting also has extensive customization options that you can use as a programmer to adapt the feature to best meet your teams’ creation and collaboration needs – like the ability to create nodes with custom fields and properties or allow elements of gameplay code to be exposed as nodes. If you’re a coder, this reduces the need to create and maintain custom tools for your team while allowing all users to prototype, create, and iterate much more quickly.
The 2021 LTS improves rapid iteration features for Shader Graph. For example, the new Branch on Input Connection and Dropdown nodes allow you to define subgraph node default values and drop-down UI elements to more easily integrate and customize subgraph workflows for production use cases.
Other recent Shader Graph additions include custom interpolators for improved shader performance, updated preview customization options for all nodes, category grouping for variables in Blackboard, and better node search results.
There are also improvements to the Scriptable Render Pipelines, like High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) Tessellation support within Shader Graph and console and PC support for the Universal Render Pipeline (URP) in VFX Graph.
In 2023, we’ll be bringing new innovations and quality-of-life improvements to both the Plastic SCM web experience and the Plastic client application, with general usability improvements that include an improved onboarding experience, connections management, and repository browsing, all prioritized based on your feedback.
If you’re a Plastic SCM Cloud Edition user, you will also be able to increase your productivity by eliminating redundant tasks in the merging process with Cloud Mergebots. Mergebots are currently offered as an on-premises feature, and we’re excited to make this available in the cloud in 2023. We will also be building a 3D previewer for the web experience in 2023, allowing you to preview any file in your repo directly from the Unity Dashboard. This is the first step toward a series of visual workflows tailored to RT3D that we plan to deliver next year and beyond.
For Cloud Build, we’ve heard our users loud and clear. We’re prioritizing dramatic improvements to our service’s reliability with robust build failure categorization and observability efforts, while delivering premium compute hardware and incremental build support to further optimize your build performance. We’re also expanding platform reach, with upcoming support for consoles, as well as AR, VR, and XR projects and applications on the horizon.
For the future of our codeless features, we’ll be expanding their production use cases and improving unification with Editor workflows. The first aspect of this involves a new runtime for Unity Visual Scripting that will significantly improve graph execution performance, reduce memory allocation, stabilize platform support, and enable DLC graphs.
The second aspect involves Graph Tools Foundation, a UI Toolkit-based framework for developing graph-based tools. It will become the common front-end for Visual Scripting, Shader Graph, and other graph-based tools over time. This update will make it easier to learn and shift contexts seamlessly across these workflows as well as unify their customization capabilities.
While we continue to develop these over the next two to three release cycles, our focus in the coming year involves working with studios and creators like you to ensure these additions and improvements make a difference in how artists, designers, and other non-programmers create and collaborate in the Editor. While we won’t be launching any big, shiny features for UVS in 2023, we will be releasing some fixes to top-priority issues like IL2CPP builds, along with quality-of-life improvements such as the ability to add comments to your graphs with sticky notes.
Lastly, the coming year will also bring new audio authoring tools for your daily sound design tasks. You’ll soon be able to preview audio files before you drop them in your scene, adjust or randomize volume and pitch, and add them to a playlist. Creators will have the ability to randomize audio assets within a playlist, like what’s done for a character’s footsteps, without having to code. This change will enable non-programmers to create more elaborate soundscapes in Unity.
We’re continuing to invest in creating documentation and educational content to improve how you learn and use these tools. If you’re looking to get started today, these links are a great place to dive in.
All the efforts we covered here are only possible thanks to the valuable feedback and input you’ve given our teams through the forums, user research studies, and our social channels. Please continue to share your input with us through the forums and our new roadmap portals, which is where we’ll also post updates about these features as they come.
Each card shown on the roadmaps is clickable, giving you more details about each topic while also providing you with the option to add feedback. Click on a card, select the level of importance of the topic to you, add your point of view, and choose Submit. Feedback is directly routed to the proper product teams.
Stay tuned to the blog for our next Games Focus post, which will tackle multiplayer games.