Unity 4.2 features write-up

EDIT: Unity 4.2 is now available for download, and you can read a more comprehensive feature list on the official blog.

A quick google didn’t find anyone who had written this up beyond the headlines, so here’s the gritty details on what’s in 4.2, mainly taken from the Unite Nordic 2013 Keynote, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=QY-e2vdPdqE#t=1246s

All of these are in all versions of 4.2, including the free version:

Edit: Seems I misinterpreted part of Lucas’s speech. All these features are free, they will appear in whatever version of unity is most suitable. Eg shadows are part of Unity3D Pro, so those improvements are available to all Pro users for free. Here’s the list:

  • Windows 8 Store export, to RT as well, so they work on RT tablets
  • Mechanim avatar creation API: no longer need skeleton at time of build, can be applied to new skeleton at run time. Helps with player-created avatars.
  • Anti-aliased render textures: useful for occulus rift because VR headsets use a render target per eye, so now they can be antialiased.
  • Stencil buffer access
  • Shadow batching: reduce draw calls of shadow-heavy scenes. ~50% reduction in shadow rendering in unity-internal shadow-heavy scenes.
  • Improved shadows on OSX!
  • Headless linux player: make linux servers from your game code. That’s pretty cool.
  • Fixed problems where lots of frequent garbage collection could interrupt audio.
  • Rigid bodies can capture shuriken particle collisions, so you can do cool things like receive forces from particles
  • You can cancel builds! And asset imports! And switching platforms!
  • Presets for colours, curves and gradients in the editor. Handy for reusing data across components.
  • Memory snapshot view now tells you the reasons an asset is loaded. The example shown is a texture loaded because of a material because of a bunch of meshes.
  • An import option to reduce white pixels in alpha’d fringes of transparent textures

And then there’s the headlines about the mobile add-ons becoming free, which everyone has heard by now:

http://blogs.unity3d.com/2013/05/21/putting-the-power-of-unity-in-the-hands-of-every-mobile-developer/

Of those new features, I’m excited by the headless player support. That’s going to be great for client-server games that want to run on AWS or something. The presets also sound interesting – I’m a huge fan of animation curves, and anything that increases their functionality is great by me. And I could have used the more detailed memory snapshot tool while optimising Sonic Dash.

So looking forward to the release of 4.2, and I hope you are too.

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Context Behaviours Digest

I’m not sure how much more I’ll be writing about context behaviours (no, I still haven’t really decided between context steering and context behaviours), so I’ve made this post as a way to wrap everything up.

I started by discussing exactly where and why steering behaviours start to break down:

Steering Behaviours are Doing It Wrong

I then explain how context steering (see) fixes these problems:

Context Behaviours Know How To Share

I made both of these blog posts into a talk at GDC 2013 (see second half of video) as well as going into much more depth in an AIGameDev broadcast.

Finally I compare context-map-based navigation (no?) to an old paper, which seems superficially similar:

DAMN Behaviours and Context Steering

I’ll update this post with any more articles and how they fit in.

DAMN Behaviours and Context Steering

After my GDC talk, Treff on twitter sent me a link to a paper from the late 90s by a researcher called Julio K. Rosenblatt. It had some similar ideas to my context steering technique. I thought I’d discuss the differences and similarities here.

The system asks modules (behaviours) to vote for how much it prefers each decision in a set of possible decisions. Each vote is weighted according to what behaviour it came from. Votes range from -1 (against) to 1 (for). Superficially this is similar to context steering, but does not split the votes across an interest and danger map. Because of this, it suffers from the same lack of movement constraint that we see with steering behaviours. The paper gets around this by weighting avoidance behaviours much more highly, but this just ends up disabling some nice emergent behaviours, as we saw with the balanced vector problem:

Competing behaviours can cancel each other out, leading to stalemate

The merging of votes doesn’t happen at the decision space. From the diagram below, it seems like there’s some metadata about the curves used to write votes. Notice how a central curve is created from the two behaviours, rather than one small peak and one large peak. This is essentially a rasterized version of steering behaviours combined through weighted averages.

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 15.15.50

I think this all adds up to a rather expensive way of implementing steering behaviours. This is somewhat understandable as this paper came out just as or just before steering behaviours were starting to become popular, so the author may have been deep into his research by the time he heard of them.

There are several interesting aspects to the paper. It mentions that the behaviours all update at different frequencies, and the arbiter may receive votes at any time. This is great for those behaviours that are either low-priority or don’t change a lot, and allows easy parallelisation.

DAMN uses multiple subsystems, each asking the behaviours different questions. A speed subsystem (or “arbiter”) works out how fast to go, a Turn arbiter decides on direction, and because this is originally for controlling robots, a “field of regard” arbiter for working out where to turn the cameras. In comparison, context behaviours tend to use the maps for primarily computing a heading, then speed is calculated as a secondary factor – normally from the highest magnitude of interest or danger encountered. Splitting up like this makes for better separation of concerns, at a possible redundancy cost depending on implementation. It’s an idea worth exploring.

The paper talks about structuring behaviours using a subsumption-style approach, with high-frequency basic behaviours providing a “first level of competence”, built upon with more complex, possibly lower-frequency behaviours later. I like this way of thinking about behaviours. You can build your higher-level behaviours to be allowed to fail, knowing you’ll be caught by the lower-level systems.

There’s also some dense but potentially interesting passages that discuss methods of trying to evaluate the utility of each decision. It looks interesting but is a bit over my head. If anyone’s got any further information on what they were talking about, please share it in the comments.

In summary I don’t think there’s a lot of similarity between context behaviours and DAMN behaviours, beyond the superficial. Context behaviours could take heed of DAMN’s separation of concerns and the way polling is reversed, possibly making for better structuring of code. DAMN could do with adopting some of the simplicity of steering behaviours, or if required, the constraints and predictability of context behaviours.