Easily one of the most popular game development engines around, Unity has managed to gain a high level of developer support in large part due to the fact that it makes it easy to build a game once and then port it over to other platforms (Android/iOS/PS3/etc) without too much effort. Now a good tool is about to get even better as Unity 5 has officially been announced at GDC 2014.

The latest version of the engine adds improved lighting, higher quality visuals, better physics, a new audio system for providing the best possible sound and so much more. For those that like playing browser games, Unity also adds the ability to add games directly to browsers, without the need for additional plug-ins.

While it will be a while before we see any games that take advantage of Unity 5, the most important takeaway is that games that use Unity in the future will be able to provide even more immersive gaming experiences than they are already capable of. For those looking for a more in-depth look at what’s all new in Unity 5, here’s a list of key features straight from Unity’s official press release:

Physically-based Shading
Unity 5 will launch with a new built-in physically-based shader system. It is designed to cover a wide variety of real-world materials under all lighting situations and includes a vastly improved workflow, from the art pipeline all the way to the UI. Unity 5 also introduces full deferred shading and baked reflection probes for realistic environment-based specular highlights.

Real-time Global Illumination with Enlighten
Unity has entered into a partnership with Geomerics to integrate Enlighten, their industry-leading real-time global illumination technology, into Unity 5. Enlighten is the only real-time global illumination technology optimized to deliver fully dynamic lighting in game on today’s PCs, consoles, and mobile platforms. Animate lights, emissive material properties and control the environment lighting in real-time. Enlighten’s technology also brings dramatic workflow improvements, enabling artists and designers to work directly in Unity 5’s editor to create realistic and engaging visuals for all game styles. The technology is the lighting solution of choice for some of today’s most advanced and best-selling titles.

Real-time Lightmap Previews
In partnership with Imagination Technologies, Unity 5 will be the first-ever development platform to ship with in-editor real-time lightmap previews based on Imagination’s ground-breaking PowerVR Ray Tracing technology. This exciting addition allows for near instantaneous feedback from changes to global illumination lightmaps by displaying an accurate preview in the editor’s scene view of how lighting will look in the final game. With this technology, artists can continue to iterate and refine the look of a level while final lightmaps update and bake in the background, dramatically decreasing the amount of time needed to make artistic adjustments to scenes.

Audio Overhaul
Unity’s entire audio pipeline has been rewritten to be more efficient and flexible. The first big feature included with the overhaul is an Audio Mixer designed to allow highly complex real-time re-routing and effects scenarios. Designers can take snapshots of mixer settings for dynamic transitions between sound profiles during gameplay.

WebGL Add-on Early Access
Unity’s multiplatform functionality remains one of its most valuable aspects and Unity Technologies is happy to announce its collaboration with Mozilla to bring WebGL and asm.js support to Unity. Starting with Unity 5.0, developers will be able to get early access to Unity’s WebGL add-on to begin creating interactive experiences for plugin-free play made possible in supported modern browsers. Attendees at GDC can stop by the Unity booth to see a demo of Madfinger Games’ Dead Trigger 2 running on WebGL.

Unity Cloud
Unity 5 will also see the launch of the Unity Cloud cross-promotion network, enabling mobile game developers to run full screen interstitial ads in their mobile games, as well as exchange ad units with other Unity developers, to unlock the combined power of over half a billion mobile game installs for free.

Furthermore, Unity 5 introduces many other additions and improvements:

  • Unity is now 64-bit
  • New multithreaded job scheduler
  • NVIDIA PhysX 3.3
  • Easier and incremental building of Asset Bundles
  • New 2D physics effectors
  • SpeedTree Integration
  • NavMesh improvements
  • Mecanim StateMachine Behaviours
  • Loading optimizations
  • And many other improvements

Developers interested in pre-ordering Unity 5, you can do so by going to the Unity Store. As an added bonus for pre-ordering Unity Pro 5, you’ll also receive access access to Unity Pro 4.

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