Unity’s ‘Enemies’ tech demo isn’t quite the checkmate it should

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Of all the major game engines floating around, Unity probably isn’t the one that comes to mind when you think of graphical fidelity. That’s a view the tech company continues to try and turn around with a slick real-time cinematic demo, showing off some shiny new digital humans.

Dubbed “Enemies”, a Unity blog post (opens in new tab) dives into some of the improvements made since the last tech demo, The Heretic (opens in new tab). A new tension tech allows for mapping wrinkles and bloodflow without finicky facial rigs, while a skin attachment system allows for high-density meshes on the skin surface like peach fuzz. The demo also sports a new hair solution for more believable locks, alongside a new skin shader and more reactive eyes.

What this results in are some pretty damn photorealistic screenshots. But in motion, there’s still something a little uncanny to the animation, an indistinct shimmer to the lighting. It looks good, but not groundbreakingly in the way we’ve come to expect from tech demos. It’s certainly no comparison to Unreal Engine 5’s stunning 2020 reveal (opens in new tab).

Chess, on fire

(Image credit: Unity)

My main concern, as someone who works with and has released games in Unity, is that I don’t come to Unity for the raw graphical horsepower of an Unreal—I come to it because it’s easy to throw plugins and assets into a blender and come out with something real nice real fast (opens in new tab). That accessibility is what, for better and worse, has made Unity the go-to tool for new developers.

But for a long time now, Unity has seemingly neglected making its tools more developer-friendly in service of chasing the same cinematic ambition that’s seen Unreal used on the set of The Mandalorian (opens in new tab). Hollywood VFX is undoubtedly where the money is, but recent releases of Unity have felt increasingly half-baked. When I go to start new projects, I’m going back to 2017 or 2019 releases of Unity, which tend to have better addon compatibility and fewer unfinished features.

Enemies will undoubtably be exciting for developers looking to bring more realism to their characters, and tech advances widen the possibilities for all developers working with the tools. But it’s hard for me to see where I and other hobbyist, indie and small scale developers benefit from a foundation that’s less interested in making games than making movies.

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