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Unity at GDC Showcase 2021: Visual scripting, new releases, and other moments from the keynote

March 16, 2021 in Games | 10 min. read
GDC Visual Scripting
GDC Visual Scripting

“Unity for All 2021: Tech and Creator Showcase” offered an overview of recent and upcoming features and behind-the-scenes stories from the teams who created Oddworld: Soulstorm, Humankind and Crash Bandicoot: On the Run! 

Watch the full keynote or read on for highlights. 

GDC Showcase 2021 looked and felt different than the conventions we’ve known and loved in the past. But what stayed the same was our excitement to share what we’ve been working on with the whole Unity community and see how the platform continues empowering creators.

We filmed each segment remotely in advance, then stitched everything together before going live. Unity’s General Manager of Games, Kat Strafford, hosted the event as different Unity experts and creators joined in to unveil recent and upcoming tech, provide an overview of the features in this year’s new LTS and Tech Stream releases, and more. 

For us, the best part of the keynote was the creator stories peppered throughout the presentation, from teams behind games like Oddworld: Soulstorm, Due Process, Subnautica: Below Zero, and Humankind. These creators ranged from solo devs to big studios, and their projects were totally different – but they were all powered by Unity.

Product vision

While keynotes usually showcase show-stopping, bleeding-edge tech, this one started out by emphasizing improvements made to give Unity developers a rock-solid foundation on which to build their game. With a focus on quality, productivity and performance, some of the most impactful updates in the Unity engine aim to improve user experience with more efficient workflows and stable features. 

Unity 2020 LTS is out now, and the Unity 2021.1 Tech Stream is coming soon. Both releases are designed to offer you the right solutions for your needs – LTS versions, our default, ensure greater stability with two years of support, timely bug fixes and regular improvements. Tech Stream versions offer access to emergent tech and in-development features for those who want to stay on top of what’s next. 

The Tech Stream releases are also being bolstered for stability as we change from three to two annual releases. Longer release cycles extend the stabilization phase, giving us more time to validate and improve the stability and quality of our tools between releases. And we’ve also changed our package lifecycle – to clarify how we label features’ readiness and stability.

There are three key areas of focus for the newest releases: Visual scripting, netcode and our render pipelines. You can read more about visual scripting and netcode below, but the big news shared about the pipeline is that graphics packages are being integrated into the core Unity engine in the new Unity Tech Stream 2021.1 release. This shift will simplify your work with new graphics features and ensure that you’re always equipped with the latest verified graphics code – the most recent versions of the Universal Render Pipeline, High-Definition Render Pipeline, Shader Graph and VFX Graph.

Unity 2020 LTS is already available. Here are just a few of the hundreds of small-change improvements in the Unity 2020 LTS that will substantially impact on your workflow:

  • Arrays and lists can now be reordered
  • Updates to the mesh static batching process dramatically accelerate how quickly you can enter Play Mode
  • Enhanced Prefab workflows enable greater productivity in large-scale scenes, and these now perform much faster

Check out some of the key changes in the Unity 2021.1 Tech Stream release, mostly geared around streamlining workflows for greater efficiency: 

  • Search has been integrated into the core Unity Editor to help you find assets – animations, timelines, textures and more – quickly with complex search queries. 
  • LODGroup inspector improvements allow you to view LOD relative screen size percentages in table-formatted views, so you can input precise values. It also supports multi-select editing and displays triangle counts for LOD levels, as well as triangle count changes between them, so you can expose an object’s local space size setting.

Key features

Visual scripting

In the 2021.1 Tech Stream release, visual scripting will be available as a core part of the Unity Editor. Here’s what this change means for you. 

Visual scripting lets you use node-based graphs instead of traditional code to create interactions and behaviors for games. This grants visual thinkers and non-coding creatives an easier way to contribute and test game logic and mechanics and enables smoother collaboration between different parts of the team. For artists and designers, this means they can get more done in the Editor without requiring help from programmers while maintaining more direct control over their work.

Visual scripting is offered alongside scripting in C#, so you can work in either visual scripting or code, or you can discover great benefits using both together, For programmers, this means an alternative solution to help you quickly prototype and implement ideas. You can also create custom nodes and tools for your teammates.

Now that visual scripting is native to Unity, all you need to get started is add a Script or State Machine component. As part of this release, we’ve also optimized the native visual scripting workflow to maximize productivity by consolidating its tools into a single window. Visual scripting also now provides dedicated support for the new Input System

Check out this demo to see just how easy it is to get started.

Netcode

The first experimental Unity package of Netcode Core will be available alongside the new Tech Stream release on March 23rd, 2021. Netcode is the system of solutions and resources for managing networked multiplayer games. Last year, thanks to your feedback, we renewed our focus on delivering a netcode solution for GameObjects – and we’ve decided to do it in the open, alongside the talented netcode community. 

We are investing in two key areas in our journey toward a first-party, fully supported netcode solution:

  • The stability and support of the Unity Transport Package, which is becoming the basis for all netcode inside of Unity – DOTS or GameObjects.
  • Evolving MLAPI to become the core netcode package for all GameObject networking. This represents the common utilities needed across many kinds of games. 

We’re also investing in learning materials to help you get the most out of netcode, and unveiled our first sample game, Boss Room, a small-scale cooperative multiplayer game. Each character has a different ability, and this ability is paired with a tutorial that’s designed to show you some element of how to network this type of game. Boss Room is just the first in a planned line of educational templates for learning how to create and network different types of multiplayer games.

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Boss Room

The Boss Room sample game will be available on GitHub alongside the Tech Stream release, so it can continue to grow with the community. You can save the date to download an early-access version of the Boss Room sample on April 7 here

Graphics and performance features

Next-level 2D graphics performance

In 2D, we’ve focused on enhancing performance and usability to give more power to the many graphics features we’ve introduced in the last few years. In the 2021.1 Tech Stream release, you’ll find: 

  • a new Camera Sorting Layer Texture, which grabs all the pixel data up to a frontmost Sorting Layer and can be used to create refractive water and heat haze effects
  • a revamp of the 2D Renderer internal code to make it more efficient 
  • pre-rendering light textures to save memory bandwidth on mobile devices

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Next-level 2D games made with Unity

We have collaborated with Arm to reduce memory bandwidth by decreasing the number of unnecessary transactions in lighting systems. They have also reduced the number of renderpasses for significant improvements in bandwidth and frame time. These gains make Unity creators’ content more energy efficient across a broad range of mobile devices – without creating any more work for you. 

Our new Dragon Crashers 2D demo was made to show you Unity’s 2D tools in action in a hands-on sample project – you can download it for free from the Unity Asset Store.

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Dragon Crashers 2D demo flyby

ArtEngine

We’re thrilled to announce the launch of Upres 2.0 in ArtEngine, which promises to raise the bar and set the industry standard for remastering tools. Upres 2.0 lets you take old, outdated assets and elevate them to today’s standards to extend their life. It helps studios future proof their content, so that it will look amazing on the next generation of consoles and platforms.  

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Upres 2.0

ArtEngine, Unity’s assisted creation tool that uses AI to remove time-consuming and repetitive material creation tasks anywhere in your pipeline. To celebrate the GDC Showcase and the launch of Upres 2.0, we are offering ArtEngine at a massive discount. Find out more here. 

Nathaniel Bell, principal technical artist at Insomniac Games, highlights Upres 2.0 as “the best remastering tool on the market” while discussing the ArtEngine features used to develop their new workflow for games’ material creation.

Better testing, better games

Unity Game Simulation, our automated playtesting solution, lets you simulate thousands of playthroughs of your actual game in the cloud to dramatically improve the number, frequency and scope of your tests. 

The results are pretty incredible: 

  • In top-down shooter Death Carnival, the team at Furyion balanced their entire weapons system in just three days, condensing the equivalent of 165 million playthroughs into 10 efficient simulations – and saving 600 hours of testing and $80,000 in testing budget. 
  • Canadian studio iLLOGIKA balanced different card and power-up combinations for their endless runner card game Rogue Racers. They condensed 1,125 hours – that’s equal to 46 days of unbroken playtesting – into just four hours of automated playtests.

SundayTOZ, the studio behind beloved Korean match-3 game Anipang 4, release 20 to 30 new levels every 2–3 weeks – and they can test each level over 1,000 times to check for difficulty and balance.

Unity creators

Creator stories

We think nothing tells the Unity story better than how creators use it to succeed. Unity for All featured appearances by Unity creators of all kinds, each with their own challenges and goals – and their own story of how Unity helped them to succeed: 

  • Humankind, Amplitude Studios – See how the ease of adding custom tools in Unity helped them to create dynamic environments, produce AI animal behaviors, and import data for animal animation in this hotly anticipated historical strategy saga.
  • Morbid Metal, Felix Schade – This young solo dev’s first game, a mix of dark action and sci-fi combat, is getting a lot of buzz online. Felix walks us through how he created realistic lighting and atmosphere in outdoor scenes with HDRP real-time lighting.
  • Ferocious, Leonard Salfraank – Another much-hyped solo dev, Leonard demos how he created incredibly realistic interactive water effects using HDRP and Shader Graph in his gorgeous multi-platform FPS horror game.  
  • Crash Bandicoot: On the Run!, King – Learn how the DOTS framework allows King to deliver console-quality graphics and a great 3D player experience to reach the widest possible audience on a broad range of devices.
  • POPULATION: ONE, BigBox VR – Discover how DOTS, the Addressable Asset System and the Scriptable Render Pipeline enabled this multiplayer, vertical combat FPS VR to achieve a high and steady frame rate and amazing free-range gameplay on the Oculus Quest and PC VR headsets. 
  • Due Process, Giant Enemy Crab – The team behind this multiplayer tactical FPS is using Multiplay for smooth game server hosting and Vivox for in-game communications thanks to Unity’s easy API integration.
  • Insomniac Games, Nathaniel Bell – Principal Technical Artist, Nathaniel, explores how developing a new scan-based workflow, using engine-agnostic ArtEngine might redefine the future of content creation.  
  • Subnautica and Subnautica: Below Zero, Unknown Worlds Entertainment – Learn how Unity Professional Services helped them port both games to Nintendo Switch, including the original title made before the platform came out. 
  • Oddworld: Soulstorm, Oddworld Inhabitants – Discover how the team built a one-button cinematic workflow on top of Unity and was able to push the quality for PlayStation 5 while achieving comparable quality on PlayStation 4. Curious to know more? Executive Producer and Partner Bennie Terry III dives deeper into the game in a Fireside Chat

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Brilliant, breathtaking games made with Unity

Unity for Humanity

Creators around the globe are using Unity to tell stories that power real-world change – and help us to better understand one another and our shared world. In 2018, we founded the Unity for Humanity grant program to celebrate and support these creators, their projects, and the social issues they’re tackling. The program provides technical, marketing and monetary support to creators who address themes like education, economic opportunity, sustainability, health and well-being, and inclusive storytelling in their projects.

Each of the five grant recipients from the program’s last call for submissions will receive $25,000 USD, along with $4,000 worth of Unity Professional Services support, and mentorship from Unity employees. We’ll be sharing more information about the grant recipients and their inspiring projects on the blog this week, so stay tuned. 

Our next Unity for Humanity Grant’s call for submissions opens on April 22. If you’re working on a big idea that could change the world, stay tuned for details and apply here.

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The GDC Showcase 2021 was so much fun. It was also a reminder of just how tough and strange the last year has been. Around this time last year, we were just getting ready for GDC 2020 when the pandemic arrived and the event was cancelled at the last minute. We were thrilled to be back this year in digital form to look back on the essential role that games played in 2020, as they allowed us to connect with friends and escape for a while. 

You can see the full keynote here, and check out the full GDC Showcase 2021 lineup of talks, presentations, hands-on workshops, demos and more. 

March 16, 2021 in Games | 10 min. read
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