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Unity CEO John Riccitiello
Unity CEO John Riccitiello

Unity Technologies, the company behind, the popular Unity game engine of the same name, unveiled a brand new version of its product at a press event held in San Francisco’s Hotel Intercontinental. Unity 5 is a significant upgrade over its predecessor, with improved audio tools, upgrades to its physics engine and support for new platforms.

The company showed off some whiz-bang technical demos that showcased the engine’s new lighting capabilities, complete with bounce lighting and real-time global illumination. Developers can perform edits to the lighting while the game is running with changes shown in real time.

Ryan Payton
Ryan Payton

Those tools powered the recent launch of “Republique Remastered” by Bellevue-based game developer Camouflaj. CEO Ryan Payton took the stage to show off how his company updated its Unity 4-powered iOS and Android game to take advantage of the new lighting capabilities. The lighting engine led to significant changes with the look and feel of “Republique Remastered” because Camouflaj was able to rely on Unity 4 to light a whole scene rather than having to build the lighting effects into the game’s scenery.

The company also announced the general availability of its Unity Cloud Build feature, which automatically builds a game whenever a team’s source code repository gets updated with new code. Once the build has completed, developers will get an email that allows them to install new builds of the game on their devices. Starting today, it’s available at a number of price points, starting at a free tier, with a $25 per month Pro plan and a $100 per month Studio plan.

Unity 5 supports 21 platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Xbox, PlayStation and the web. Today, the company also announced support for WebGL, through a partnership with Mozilla. Developers building web games will now be able to create an experience that runs inside a browser without requiring users to install a plugin.

Oculus Founder Palmer Luckey announced an alpha version of built-in support for the company’s virtual reality hardware inside Unity 5, so developers can quickly deploy their games from the editor onto an Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR.

The new engine comes in two flavors: a Personal edition that’s free to use for teams that have under $100,000 in revenue or funding, with no royalties, and no other costs. Larger teams can use the Pro version of Unity 5, which starts at $75 a month or $1,500. Paying that price gets a team access to the full engine and other features including the Pro tier of Unity Cloud Build and access to beta features like Unity Analytics Pro.

The technical upgrades are an important move for Unity, since the company is facing increased competition from Epic Games’s Unreal Engine. Just yesterday, Epic announced that Unreal, another engine that’s particularly popular among large AAA developers, would be available for free going forward. (Developers have to pay a 5 percent royalty per quarter on all products they ship with Unreal that make more than $3,000.) That change puts the two companies in even closer competition over the growing independent game development market.

It will be interesting to see how the fight between Unity and Epic shakes out, since each company brings a different set of strengths to the table. Epic has Unreal’s comparatively long history, technical capabilities and deep roots in AAA, while Unity has a lot of goodwill among independent developers and a royalty-free pricing model.

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