Game tech has come a long way since Unity’s inception 18 years ago. It’s being used by a wider array of creators for a more diverse spread of projects than ever before, in tandem with the gaming medium’s tremendous increase in breadth as well as scale. As such, the Unity engine has had to continually evolve, both setting and supporting trends in the game dev space.
Tech Stream releases – the latest 2022.2 version of which is ready to download now – have for some time now stood as a key force for Unity in guiding that evolution, offering a chance for users to taste and feedback on the future.
“Something I feel Unity really can be proud of – and something that’s really been part of Unity throughout our history – is that we do a lot of community co-development,” offers Ralph Hauwert, SVP and GM of Core Unity & Cloud, as he ponders the effort and aims of 2022.2. “In the very early days that literally meant developers and the earliest Unity team calling each other and working stuff out together. That spirit remains a foundation of who we are as a company, but nowadays there are so many more Unity developers out there, so we have to have new mechanisms to co-develop the engine in collaboration with our community.
"Tech Stream, for us, is about the future of Unity"
“Tech Stream is one of those mechanisms, essentially. What our Tech Stream release is really about is being part of the journey to the next LTS release; LTS being the full Unity release for creators who value maximum stability. LTS is the version where hopefully and probably most leading titles will be built. Tech Stream, meanwhile, lets people try new and in-development features, lets them give feedback and help us co-develop those features, and lets us share these new features and what we’ve been working on. So Tech Stream is almost this taste of the bag of new goodies that will or could be included in a more developed form in the next full LTS release.”
As with every Tech Stream release, 2022.2 presents an effort to broadly improve the Unity Engine across its feature set. And at the same time the second update of the year absolutely has areas of focus; particularly productivity, multiplayer and design and development ambition.
“Often Tech Stream is about updates or changes that might seem minor, but that can have a profound impact on productivity, or free people up to focus more on creativity,” states Hauwert. “That’s something of a focus for 2022.2. So many things like improvements to 2D workflows, upgrades to the prefab system, the Paint Detail brush in Terrain Tools and so on now bring more speed; all of those will really help with productivity while maintaining that quality, and there’s plenty of those direct time-saving improvements in there.
“Also there’s IMGUI, which has been a staple of extending the Editor, but that had its own little things that maybe took up more time or slowed that work down. Now, though, UI Toolkit is reaching parity with IMGUI for customising the Editor. One of the things that introduces is that it is becoming much easier building custom inspectors, across all the basic types that you’d want for inspection of types inside the Editor. That’s huge in terms of improving your own workflow. In terms of homemade or self-made Editor-extensible layers, things really become a lot easier. What’s important about that is we’re saving you time, which you can spend on creativity, fun, refinement, iteration and so on. So we’ve added all these little quality of life improvements that 2022.2 is littered with, and they really stack up, and in doing so they let you make better, more beautiful games while having more fun doing it.”
Unity, like any engine, has always been productivity focused, of course. With 2022.2 Unity has simply had its productivity leanings modernised and enhanced. The same, ultimately, is true of the new effort to support ambitious development. Unity has always endeavoured to let developers push themselves and their ideas, but with 2022.2 much has been done to meet the contemporary ambitions of game makers, with a view to letting them pursue greater immersion and grander experiences.
“I’m super excited about Entities being included in 2022.2 at this time,” enthuses Hauwert, giving a nod to ECS (Entity Component System), which delivers a data-oriented framework compatible with GameObjects, promising to provider greater control and determinism with a view to letting creators do be more ambitious.
"Titles that are using ECS and DOTS are doing increasingly impressive things"
“We’ve been working on DOTS for quite some time out in the open – that brings a range of technologies that lets developers apply a data-oriented design approach. One thing we wanted to be sure to do was step back and give the community a foundation to build off in terms of data-oriented work. That foundation to build off in this release, ECS, is about building more ambitious games at a larger scale with better performance and more ability for creatives to do things with.
“Now, we’re building on top of that ourselves so that we know it works – and works with what we’re doing elsewhere on graphics and physics and so on. But what does ECS provide to users? Well, titles that are using ECS and DOTS are doing increasingly impressive things. Games like V Rising are using DOTS, and the quality there is amazing. But then you’ve also got something like the physics JellyCar Worlds being powered by ECS to implement the physics, and it’s an amazing game with an amazing reach, but it's very different from V Rising and largely made by one person. So these features that help people be more ambitious in what they’re doing help a wide variety of teams.”
Unity, of course, built its reputation and community on ‘democratising game development’. In the years since, it’s grown into a platform for crafting all manner of projects inside and outside of games, including the AAA and otherwise high-end. And yet the likes of newcomer, student, homebrew and proudly lo-fi creators will always be part of the Unity community and user base.
There are a wealth of other features and concepts to explore, including that evolved multiplayer support, inspired by a relative explosion in gaming experiences that bring numerous players together. Netcode for GameObjects comes with 2022.2, providing a package that simplifies the implementation of multiplayer capability, whether you’re eager to provide couch co-op or team-based combat. Elsewhere, there’s new and refined systems that strive to provide more power and flexibility in terms of scalable graphics, and much more besides - most of which are detailed thoroughly in Unity’s recent post on 2022.”
“Tech Stream is about seeing the feedback we get from the features we’re building,” Hauwert concludes. “So the next release will be LTS 2022, and that will have been informed and guided by so much of what we and the community explore in the Tech Stream releases. We’ll find out from our community what was great that deserves even more time from us. We’ll find out where we missed things too. So Tech Stream, for us, is about the future of Unity.
“We’re all excited about the next rock-solid, fully supported, entirely stable LTS release. But right now the focus is on 2022.2, and honestly, I’m really excited to explore it more as a user myself over the holidays. That, and playing some more Unity-made games.”