Experimenting with HDR Skyboxes in Unity 5.

Unity 5 has implemented a HUGE update on the rendering / graphics side of the engine, introducing new lighting workflows with realtime GI, a Physically Correct Shader (Metallic & Specular workflows supported) among many other things..

I wanted to do an experiment today, where I test out HDR Skybox’s in Unity 5 to see how drastically the lighting and mood of a scene can change.

HDR:

High-Dynamic-Range is an imaging photography technique to produce a higher dynamic range of brightness. This is achieved by capturing different exposures of your chosen subject matter and combining them into one image.

In Unity we can use these HDR images to help blend 3D models into the environment, this can drastically add to the belief that the 3D model is actually in the environment.

Quick mention – I’m using HDR images from NoMotion HDR’s¬†– 150 free HDR images, check EULA before using for commercial usages.

I’ll be showing how these 3 HDR images help create a completely different feel and look to the scene:

I have daytime, evening and night-time HDR’s, they should all create drastically different lighting conditions in Unity.

Time’s up chumps..let’s do this:

Unity 5’s new standard shader has built-in support for image based lighting (IBL), this really helps with the belief that the 3D model is in the environment I am setting with the HDR skybox.

Here’s the model with just Unity 5’s current default procedural skybox:

Default Skybox

With a bit of trickery (not really, just pushing a few buttons in Unity), let’s now see what happens when I add the daytime HDR Skybox:

Daytime Skybox

I haven’t messed with any lights at all, all I have is the default Directional Light in the scene with default settings. looks rather impressive after just adding a new HDR Skybox to the scene.

Let’s try the evening HDR Skybox now:

Evening Skybox

Awesome, I am really enjoying playing around with this, I love how quickly I can completely change the lighting conditions which in turn drastically changes the mood and atmosphere in the scene. I can’t wait to see how games are going to utilize these new features.

Okay, last one, the night-time HDR Skybox, I’m a little skeptical about this one, I’ve no idea how this will look and I imagine it’s not really desirable to use a night-time HDR image. Anyway, let’s see what it looks like:

Nighttime Skybox

Actually turned out rather well, the image doesn’t show the white spots on the model as much as in the editor, these white spots are produced by the specular smoothness on the Standard Shader, i.e the more smooth I make it the more white spot artifacts are produced, not sure why this is more present in the night-time scene, I’m sure there’s a setting I’ve missed or something..

Overall, I’m really impressed with this, especially how quickly I can change the mood and lighting of the scene and the visual output from Unity 5’s new rendering / graphics update.

Look forward to seeing what you all produce with Unity 5. ūüôā

R&D with new Unity 5 Graphics..

My job is based on supporting Unity’s customer base in the EMEA region, to do a good job that means I need to learn all of the Unity things, features and new services, at least on a high level.

I tend to experiment a lot with Unity’s new features, today I wanted to share with you some of my R&D with Unity 5’s new Graphics overhall, this includes the new Physical Based Shader, Realtime Global Illumination and the new Scene Render Settings.

My experiments are usually aimed at producing a small scaled demo that can squeeze in as many features as possible, this enables me to demonstrate these features easily to customers while in the field.

Field

PBS (Physically Based Shader):

Unity’s new Physically Based Shader a.k.a one shader to rule them all a.k.a standard shader (actual name) allows us to create materials for a wide range of natural surfaces such as Metals, Dielectrics (non-metals): monolithic materials = rock, water, plastic ceramic, wood, glass etc..cloth and organic.

The new PBS also plays nice with IBL (Image Based Lighting), we can setup a skybox cubemap in the new Scene Render Settings to help with really blending our objects into the surrounding environments:

Scene Render Settings

One demo (not developed by me) shows a nice range of different surfaces used by the new standard shader in Unity 5:

We can see there’s at least six¬†different surfaces represented here with the usage of just one shader – Ceramic, Cloth, Metal, Glass, Rock and Wood. The Scene Render Settings really help blending the Doll model into the surrounding area, helping us believe that the Doll is in the Forest environment.

The new shader includes many different texture slots, allowing you to add really nice detail to models. The shader includes a multi-variation of smaller shaders with versions for mobile and high-end.

Standard Shader PBS

Our built-in shader code is always available for download and currently with Unity 5 this will include the new standard shader as well – Could change but I doubt it.

Realtime Global Illumination:

The lighting for realtime is half pre-computed realtime lighting, allowing you to dynamically light your scene, dynamically changing: light sources, environment lighting and material properties such as diffuse reflective and surface emission.

Geometry needs to be marked lightmap static but you can relight geometry using Light Probes¬†that are updated in realtime with the GI generated from¬†the static geometry. In my little demo I’ve combined the usage of Realtime GI, PBS, Reflection Probes and Light Probes, the majority of the objects marked as static apart from a few props¬†which demonstrate the usage of Light Probes for non-static objects:

Couple of shout outs, I’ve used the Medieval Assets Pack by Naresh and the Medieval Boat from Mr Necturus which are available on the Asset Store for most of the props. The wooden cottage model center piece is a free model from some site I can’t remember.

Here’s a Vine I recently sent out, little outdated comparing to the above screenshots, but demonstrates the realtime GI in editor with play mode on:

There’s more of this to learn as Unity 5 develops through the beta stage. Note: Screenshots from beta version of Unity 5 – May look different when released.

Also worth sharing is what Alex Lovett is doing with the Unity 5 beta and Realtime GI:¬†http://forum.unity3d.com/threads/unity-realtime-reflections-and-gi-and-realism-exploration.266258/ – Now if only my Realtime GI R&D looked like that ūüėÄ

Improve your efficiency with MonoDevelop

Everyone has their own workflow and choice of Scripting IDE, but if you’re one of those using MonoDevelop with Unity this blog post should help with an¬†increase in efficiency when working¬†with it..

I’m using a Mac and so the workflow improvements will be based on using MonoDevelop on a Mac.

Syntax Highlighting is important for writing and reading code, MonoDevelop makes it easy to change this, simply click on MonoDevelop-Unity menu item and then click Preferences, the Preferences window will open, there’s a menu on the left hand side, under Text Editor -> Select Syntax Highlighting there will appear eight options for you to chose from. My preference is called Oblivion but pick and test one for yourself which suits you best. You can also enable semantic highlighting which helps with reading code.¬†Use¬†cmd + / –¬† to zoom in and out, so you can see the code you are writing.

Keyboard shortcuts:

Who doesn’t like a good keyboard shortcut, yes there’s many to remember from many different software packages we use, but I think it’s important to have a few for each package that are your most important to your workflow.¬†So here’s a few I feel worth highlighting for an increased workflow:

Saving scripts:

  • cmd + S = Save Script – Unity picks up this save and recompiles to reflect the changes
  • cmd + shift + S = Save all scripts open, useful if you’re manipulating multiple scripts when coding public / public static functions¬†etc

Scripting layout :

  • cmd +[ and cmd + ]¬†= Indents code, allowing to quickly indent lines of code without having to use the tab key
  • cmd + /¬†= Quickly comment out some code or ¬†comment your comments
  • shift + arrow keys¬†= Select lines of code or symbols real fast
  • cmd + shift + Y¬†= Finds references to that code snippet and displays the info in a window below
  • alt / option + arrow keys¬†= Move lines of code or the cursor through lines of code

Debugging:

  • cmd + return / enter¬†= This starts debugging mode from the Run menu item, no need to go through menu items
  • cmd + \¬†= Toggles breakpoint,¬†no need to go through the Run menu item
  • cmd + shift + I = Step Into,¬†no need to go through the Run menu item
  • cmd + shift + O¬†= Step¬†Over
  • cmd + shift + U¬†= Step¬†Out

Other useful actions, “Attach to Process” and “Detach” when debugging Unity, these don’t have any default keyboard shortcuts, but if you enter MonoDevelop-Unity menu item and reopen Preferences window, you can add your own under “Key Bindings”. This also shows everything I just highlighted and more.

Hope this all helps and please share your workflow improvements!

Localization Support with Unity!

LanguageManage

New users to Unity tend to ask about an integrated support for localization within the editor (built-in tools), currently Unity does not have this, so users ask for solutions and what’s available to get this setup. I found a free package on the asset store titled Language Manager¬†– which is a key based system and easy to integrate multiple language support for your games and apps. Let’s take a deeper look into the package and highlight the ease of use in getting it setup:

Getting Started:

  1. Create an AssetStore Account if you haven’t got a UDN account setup already
  2. Do a search for Language Manager or follow this link for the browser version: https://www.assetstore.unity3d.com/#/content/1018
  3. Download and import the asset package into a new project – Best to test it out before directly importing into your current professional project

Within your new Unity project, you will see a folder named “LanguageManager” in the project window. The folder contains the scripts and resources needed to add localisation support to your game or app, included support already for 6 different languages. We shall take a quick look at the sample scene included.

Double click the sample scene to open – click the main camera in the hierarchy window and notice the script component named: TestScript.

The script contains:

  • A GUI Selection Grid, allowing the user to press a GUI button to switch languages
  • A public string which gives the option to select the default language in the inspector
  • A Switch statement containing support for all 6 languages (English, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese and Russian)

Hit play and observe the two GUI sentences at the top left of the game view are rendered in your chosen default language, the GUI buttons below allows the user to switch to a different language, clicking Russian will update the text to be displayed in Russian characters as well as for the GUI buttons. This example scene can be adapted to be used as a Language menu screen at the beginning of your game / app or in the main menu screen

It’s also worth mentioning you can get the system / OS language from an API call Application.systemLanguage – this returns the users OS default language, works on Mobile devices as well as PC, Mac and other major platforms, some are not supported so ensure to test that out. Example code for this in C# of course:

using UnityEngine;
using System.Collections;

public class OSLanguage : MonoBehaviour
{
void Update()
{
guiText.text = Application.systemLanguage.ToString();
}
}

Back to the LanguageManager package,. There is a custom Window included in the Unity Window drop down menu -> Language Editor, this allows the user to create new keys and create files for different languages (I imagine as many you like). The package contains support for an initializer –¬†LanguageManager.LoadLanguageFile(defaultLanguage); and use it by calling –¬†LanguageManager.GetText(“string key”); That’s where you relate your key’s added in the Language Editor window, for example the string key for ¬†English language is “english”. ūüôā – with just a few lines of code you can get basic support for multiple languages within your games / apps and apply them to GUI elements in your scene/s.

Take a look at the package, it’s a free download after all, also checkout the many other packages on the Asset Store here.

Unity has 2D tools..

Yes..the much talked about, highly requested 2D feature is finally here and available to you all for free. In preparation for the Unity 4.3 release, I developed a small 2D physics puzzle game which enabled me to get up to speed with the toolset and also use for demo / presentation purposes on my travels.

This post will go through some of the new 2D tools, workflows and shed a little light on how to use the different features available.

2D Defaults

First new feature is the 2D defaults option in the project wizard, this sets up the unity engine to use 2D for defaults on things such as the texture importer, textures will now be imported as sprites automatically instead of needing to change the texture type in the asset importer.

Sprite_importer

There are other subtle touches with using 2D defaults, such as the main camera setup as orthographic and not perspective.

A new addition to the scene window is a little toggle button which if clicked on toggles the scene between 2D and 3D, using 2D defaults means the scene view will have 2D toggled by default without needing to click the button on launch, navigating the scene in the x and y axis only. Also note, creating a new project with 2D defaults enabled doesn’t mean you’re now bound to 2D, all 3D and 2D features are still available.

2D_scene

In the 2D viewport in the scene view, with the move tool and the sprite selected we now have a new gizmo to play with, this makes it a lot easier to do actions such as: move, uniform / linear scaling, rotation and highlights the pivot placement. We do not need to switch between different tools, it’s all there in one place.

Sprite_gizmo

Box2D Physics Integration

Implemented is the Box2D physics engine, a free open source 2-dimensional physics engine and is considered a leading industry standard. With Unity 4.3 we now have a list of new 2D physics components:

2D_physics_components

3 / 4 of the colliders are self explanatory but the more interesting one to look at closer is the Polygon collider.

Add the component to your sprite asset in the same way you would add any component and you will see a green highlighted¬†collider outline, the green lines indicate it’s a collider and it should¬†roughly match the shape of your sprite.

If you added the Polygon Collider to an empty GameObject a Pentagon shape will be generated, If you expand the “collider info” in the component you will see the value of 5 Vertices, a Pentagon is made of 5 points therefore 5 Vertices.

To add more Vertices hold down shift + left mouse button anywhere on the green collider line and then position your Vertices, to delete Vertices use ctrl + left mouse click in the same fashion as adding them, you will see the green collider line update to red to indicate delete is available:

Polygon_collider_info

The Sprite Editor

There’s a new window to edit sprites in, it’s called the Sprite Editor and can be opened in two ways, Window -> Sprite editor, or click on the sprite asset in the project window, in the inspector¬†change sprite mode to “multiple” and click the Sprite Editor button.

Sprite_editor

Note: You need to change the sprite mode to multiple to be able to slice it up in the Sprite Editor.

Let’s take a look at the Slice menu, this will give you options to slice up different elements of your sprite image automatically or manually.

A typical workflow is to slice up the image manually, you can do that by clicking and dragging on the image, you should see a blue rectangular gizmo appear with handles in the corners allowing you to resize your slice area. Having positioned and resized your slice area you can add another by following the same action, and you can add as many as you like. You will also notice a new Sprite window appear giving you extra tools to play with, you can rename the area for that sprite slice and edit the size of the rectangle by coordinates. The Trim button will tightly pack the slice rectangle based on transparency, so it will fit nicely along the edges of the sprite image.

In many cases you can probably use the automatic slicing, Unity will do the work for you and therefore save some time. Using the Automatic slicing option, the Sprite Editor will guess the boundaries of the sprite _again_ by transparency.

The Grid is another slicing option available, very useful for rectangular sprites, the Pixel Size means you can define the height and width of the tiles in pixels.

After automatic slicing you can still edit the slices manually, also use the Trim button to tighten them up.

Lot’s of other cool stuff included such as using the Animation window to easily animate sprites, using Mecanim for 2D blendtrees but I won’t cover that right now.

To finish up here’s some useful info:

Box2D Performance tips:

  • Try to avoid a lot of OnCollisionStay callbacks, this will be expensive.
  • Profiler is your friend, scroll down in the Profiler to Profile Physics2D and profile early in your development cycle.
  • Using the Polygon Collider can be expensive if lot’s of Vertices are needed, Polygon Collider decomposes the Sprite into lot’s of shapes which has a huge overhead.
  • Each shape can produce up to two contact points, having a Sprite with 50-80 shapes then it could produce double that in contacts.
  • Keep an eye on¬†the amount of contacts from dynamic bodies, if they don’t collide you can have hundreds maybe thousands moving around, when they come into proximity performance starts to crumble
  • Circle Collider is your friend.
  • Consider all of the above especially when targeting low-end mobile hardware

That’s all folks!

GDC 2013 – San Francisco

GDC - San Francisco

Attending my first GDC has been a career highlight to speak off, it was a great show packed full of great companies and people.

Over at Unity land, we had a huge booth which hit you when entering the expo arena, sitting between giants Sony and Nintendo. We had lines of demo machines showing off some great Unity projects and games, benches and screens for our presentation area and a reception desk to ensure we could direct you to the right people, oh and we had really nice comfy carpet to help protect our feet.

A particular highlight of the week for me was seeing a group of indies begin game jamming on one of our demo machines, the project was some crazy 3d sheep physics based game where as the player you controlled the sheep by jumping & tumbling around to pick up objects, the movement of the sheep made the game quite amusing.

Indie Game Jamming - GDC

The game shortly became a talking point between some of us, intrigued to see how the game would progress over the 2 / 3 days they had, adding more graphics and control tweaks to it as they went, never know what happened to the project, hopefully they copied it of the machine and will continue to do something even more crazy with it.

One of the other main excitement and highlights for me was meeting and talking to users of Unity, them asking me for help with their projects and as well as technical questions, some experiencing bugs with their projects and a majority of others asking more about our new features or how to use certain aspects of them. I learn’t a lot from speaking to you guys, I get to see how you use our product and features, as well as hearing about the sorts of questions asked.

Another cool thing was one of our employee’s showing the WiiU support and how easy it is to set up the additional camera for both displays.

Unity + WiiU

Lot’s of other cool things were happening, but until next time, catch you later folks.

A new era at Unity Technologies

Smiling Unity Logo

I’ve made the leap of faith and pursued a career change, moving away from the trusty area of QA, which is a department I’ve worked in all my professional career. Quality Assurance has been amazing, challenging and a great learning tool for my personal development, I have experience in both Game Testing and Software Testing (games and non-games), learning the ins and outs of product development cycles from start to finish.

Within Unity QA I have at least 19 Unity versions shipped to my name, my first version being Unity 3.0, that seems like a long time ago now.

My new role (Technical Account Specialist) allows me to help out developers looking to use Unity for the first time, travelling to attend trade shows and to meet and interact with the community.

The Unity community is one of the best things about Unity, the opportunity to work more closely with you guys and hopefully get to meet some of you is too good of an opportunity. I’m truly excited about my new adventure, it’s going to be great.

See you all soon.