Unity Technologies has released its product roadmap for 2021, which includes the Unity 2020 LTS, Unity 2021.1, and Unity 2021.2 versions of the game engine and real-time graphics development platform.
The company's blog post focuses on general topics rather than specific features. However, it should be noted that the rendering pipeline – and especially the approach of the URP to feature parity with the HDRP – will be a key focus.
Other changes relevant to game artists include a new spline API to be introduced in the procedural camera system cinemachine, as well as performance updates for 2D and physics systems.
In separate news, the company has made the Unity Editor's dark UI theme, previously only available with paid subscriptions, available to users with free subscriptions in both Unity 2019 LTS and Unity 2020.1.
More focus on fixing old functions and developing new ones
A notable feature of the roadmap is the emphasis Unity now places on testing features rather than simply developing them.
In January the company announced it was moving from three "Tech Stream" releases per year – those who introduce new features – to two per year to give beta testers time to "dig deeper".
This now appears to have been codified as "six months with new features, six months with corrections".
The roadmap lists the feature release cycle as March through October 2021, with the remainder of the year likely to be available to focus on the annual LTS (Long Term Support) releases.
Unity describes its new focus as "making features ready for production" rather than simply previewing new features and letting users decide when they will be powerful enough to put them into production.
The blog post states: "We consider a feature ready for production if it fully meets your requirements, is fully supported from the release and contains timely bug fixes, improvements and a clear roadmap."
Unity 2020 LTS: Support for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Apple Silicon
The first version listed on the roadmap is Unity 2020 LTS, which contains “stabilized” versions of the features introduced in Unity 2020.1 last month and in the upcoming Unity 2020.2.
Specific commitments include "reorderable arrays and lists in the inspector, improved copy / paste (and) the ability to mark an object in the hierarchy as the" default parent "".
Unity 2020 LTS will also support the major new hardware platforms to be released this year: next-generation game consoles for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, as well as Apple Silicon Macs.
Aside from the general commitment to "iteration speed" and "performance improvements" there aren't many details other than the fact that it is scheduled to be released in "Q1 2021".
That would bring it a few months after the last two LTS releases that shipped in May and June.
Unity 2021.1 and Unity 2021.2: greater parity between the render pipelines, new spline API
For the 2021 release cycle – the actual version numbers are not given, but presumably Unity 2021.1 and Unity 2021.2 – Unity describes its focus as "graphics, multiplayer network and visual scripting".
For graphics, the focus is on finally bringing Unity's Universal Render Pipeline (URP) to parity with the High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) three years after it was previewed in Unity 2018.1.
The introduction of separate pipelines for mobile devices, as well as for desktop and console hardware, allowed Unity to introduce new high-end graphics capabilities that were evident in the company's recent tech demos, but against what previously called "write once, do anywhere" – Philosophy valid philosophy violated a selling point for the engine.
In the comments on the blog post, Unity describes feature parity as "our current focus," although it doesn't guarantee that it will happen in 2021.
Other changes that are directly relevant to game artists include a new “public generic spline API” that allows users to “create and edit different types of 3D splines in the Unity editor”.
The first feature to use the new API is Cinemachine, Unity's procedural camera system.
Changes to the other graphics tools focus on improving existing functionality: 2D graphics focus on workflow and rendering performance, physics focus on stability, and user interface creation on the new UI toolkit from the Remove preview.
Also planned: integrated visual scripting, better tools for developing multiplayer games
Other changes planned for 2021 include the integration of Bolt's visual scripting system into the Unity Editor. Bolt, which Unity acquired in 2019 from original developer Ludiq, is currently available as a free add-on.
Unity also plans to expand its capabilities for multiplayer games, promising "a stable and supported netcode foundation" and "a significant investment in tools, documents and samples to get you started".
Enough about next year. What's up in Unity 2020.2?
One thing that the blog post doesn't cover is the remaining new features available in Unity this year.
Changes due in Unity 2020.2 include updates to global lighting, shader preprocessing, particle effects, and the ProBuilder level prototyping system.
However, at the time of writing, the details are only available by searching the release notes for the current alpha build or the appropriate section on the Unity forums.
The only thing listed on the public roadmap for Unity 2020.2 is support for topics in the UI Toolkit.
In the comments on his blog post, Unity says it is aware of "the discrepancies" between the roadmap and the release notes, and that it is "very on the radar to be addressed".
A bonus for users with personal subscription, the dark UI theme is now free for everyone
And in separate messages, Unity just addressed a longstanding criticism for users with free personal subscriptions to the software.
Starting with yesterday's 2020.1.2f1 and Unity 2019.4.8fl updates, the industry-standard dark UI theme, which was previously only available with paid plans, is now available to all Unity users.
Pricing and system requirements
Unity 2020.2 is currently available in public alpha. Unity 2020 LTS is scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2020. Unity Technologies has not announced any release dates for Unity 2021.1 and Unity 2021.2.
The current stable version, Unity 2020.1, is available for Windows 7+, Ubuntu 16.04 / 18.04 and CentOS 7 Linux as well as macOS 10.12+.
The software is only available on a rental basis: free personal subscriptions have a non-removable splash screen and can be used by anyone with sales up to $ 100,000 / year.
Plus and Pro subscriptions are $ 40 / month and $ 150 / month for a monthly paid annual subscription.
Read more on Unity Technologies' Unity 2021 Product Roadmap blog
Tags: 2021 Roadmap, 2D Graphics, 3D Spline, Apple Silicon, Bolt, Cinemachine, Cinematography, Dark UI Mode, Dark UI Theme, Free, Game Art, Game Development, Game Engine, Global Lighting, HDRP, High Resolution Render Pipeline , integrated visual scripting, multiplayer games, netcode, new functions, particle system, personal subscription, physics, PlayStation 5, price, ProBuilder, Proedural camera, prototyping, release date, roadmap, shader preprocessing, shading, spline API, system requirements, User Interface, UI Toolkit, Unity, Unity 2020 LTS, Unity 2020.2, Unity 2021, Unity 2021.1, Unity 2021.2, Unity Technologies, Universal Render Pipeline, URP, visual scripting, Xbox Series X.