Unity 5 wants to be the game engine for everyone, everywhere

Today at GDC 2015, Unity released the latest version of its eponymous game engine: Unity 5. The company emphasized the egalitarian philosophy and broad cross-platform compatibility of its engine, and it talked up the power and performance that the new version of Unity brings to developers of all sizes, from indie to AAA.

Key features in Unity 5 include a powerful built-in DAW-class audio editing platform; 64-bit support, which allows for bigger and more complicated game worlds; real-time global illumination based on the Enlighten lighting engine; and physically based shading support, which makes it easier to create convincing-looking interactions between light and simulated materials like wood and stone.

I'm not a game developer, but the internal demonstrations and games from guest developers Unity featured did look (and sound) impressive.

Republique Remastered, one of the featured games built on Unity 5.

Keep in mind this isn't just a PC-targeted engine, either: developers using Unity 5 can target up to 21 platforms, including consoles and mobile devices. The Unity engine's "write once, run anywhere" capability was a major selling point during the keynote, and Unity emphasized the labor savings that this WORM capability provides.

Unity is looking to the future of gaming, as well. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey came on stage to announce that built-in Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR support is in the alpha stages for Unity, and a beta version of this platform support will be made available to Unity developers later this month.

Unity also showed one of its PC-targeted demos from last year's GDC playing in a web browser using WebGL. The company teased the prospect of being able to share a full-fat 3D game across the web with the click of a link.

Unity's keynote highlight reel, as shown at the GDC presentation.

With all of this power on hand, one could be forgiven for thinking that building on Unity is an expensive proposition. However, the company is making the full-featured engine available for free to small developers with less than $100,000 of revenue or investment backing. The professional version of Unity isn't free, but it is affordable; developers can pay either $75 per month or a $1,500 one-time fee. The professional version includes features for commercial studios, such as Unity Cloud Build, which makes it easier to coordinate development efforts for distributed teams, and Unity Analytics, which provides "actionable insights into your players' behavior." Whether you choose to develop with the personal or professional edition of Unity, both are royalty-free.

Putting a full-featured, cross-platform development engine in the hands of anyone who wants it is exciting. Given that Unreal Engine 4 is now available free of charge to anybody who wants it, developers seem to be faced with an embarrassment of riches when choosing their development platform these days. If you're interested, you can download Unity 5 today.

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