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Asset Review: Aura 2 - Volumetric Lighting & Fog

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- this should cover everything that I as a developer would need from an asset. - Plus all of the top value aspects proposed by an asset.

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Publisher: Raphael Ernaelsten (Link) "Artist trapped inside a programmer's body. Technical Art teacher, developer, hobbyist. I like to make tiny pixels." Unity Forum Name: raphick Twitter

Overview:

For my first asset review.

Version 2.1.2

  • released Oct 29th, 2019
  • Changes:
    • [Core] Maximized compatibility for non DX platforms
    • [Core] Fixed compilation error cause by the removal of the occlusion highest accuracy setting

Version: 2.1

Core concepts:

  • Aura Volume
  • Aura Camera
  • Aura Lights

Unity Version Support Matrix:

  • Minimal target support: 2017.2
  • Most recently submitted with 2017.4.33
  • Mark tested with:
    • 2019.1.7f1 (OSX Catalina Beta) <Metal> on Radeon Pro 555 (with Intel HD 630 )
    • Warnings::
      • Metal: Compute shader (.ApplyDenoisingFilter) has 512 threads in a threadgroup which is more than the supported max of 256 in this device
      • Metal: Compute shader (ApplyDenoisingFilterComputeShader.ApplyDenoisingFilter) has 512 threads in a threadgroup which is more than the supported max of 256 in this device
    • 2019.1.14f1 (Windows 10) Nvidia 980

Sample Scenes and Examples

Updated Unity to 2019.4 and Aura to 2.1.11

Test Number 1 (Just updating unity to 2019.4)

  • Wow, just by updating my unity to 2019.4, the Aura examples already have the proper look. I'm immediately impressed. I haven't even updated Aura yet! Still on Aura 2.1
  • I've updated to 2.1.11, on the same mac as before, with Unity 2019.4 and wow:
Assets/Aura 2/Examples/
Assets/Aura 2/Examples/

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Keeping in mind that these gifs can't possibly showcase how good this looks live.

A single frame jpg without all the gif artifacts:

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Same scene in editor with lighting and Aura Preview turned off for comparison
Same scene in editor with lighting and Aura Preview turned off for comparison

This isn't quite RTX, but damn it looks good.

Better "one"
Better "one"
Or better "two"...?  Really, we all know the answer to this one.
Or better "two"...? Really, we all know the answer to this one.

Added in the newest editions of Aura 2.1.11 ā€” Transparent Objects Example

Check this out in
Check this out in Assets/Aura 2/Examples/Transparent Objects Example/Transparent Objects Example.unity
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Assets/Aura 2/Examples/Directional Light/Directional Light Example

Test number 1 (OSX Catalina, macbook pro i7, Radeon Pro 555)

  • Initial thoughts ā€” I'm getting ~240 to 270 FPS on my Macbook with the dedicated gpu, but as you can see in the screenshot to the right, the example scene doesn't really show off Aura 2's abilities on OSX Catalina.
  • Sunrise and sunset is a nice touch. It really sets the mood. Surface obviously needs a lot more detail to show off how awesome Aura 2 can be though.
  • Once I switch over to my windows box, I will be testing this whole kit with an integrated Gaia 1.95.
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NOTE that none of these worked well on OSX Catalina / Metal even with a Radeon Pro 555

Test number 2 - Windows 10, Asus custom i7, 8 core, nvidia gtx 980)

  • Installed the nearest version to what I tested on my macbook with (still in the 2019.1.X range, but updated at least 7 more times than the mac build).
  • When importing, the "sample scene" that I got with my naked Untiy project gets the Aura2 tutorial loaded in it. I assume this is a "first run in editor" kind of thing. Very handy for first timers like me.
  • Loading the directional light example now ā€” lets see it in all its glory.
  • Ahhh, much better. No live preview in the scene view, but as soon as you bump over to game view, it looks beautiful.
  • I really appreciate how much effort was put into showing this off without having to import a ton of beautiful sample assets. Instead, you get a simple mesh with some holes cut in it and the asset doing its job.

Assets/Aura 2/Examples/Point Light/Point Light Example

Test Number 1 (OSX Catalina, Macbook Pro)

  • For flat textures, it looks cool as heck and I can see the dust in the air, but it isn't doing everything I expected Aura 2 to do for OSX.

Test number 2 - Windows 10, Asus custom i7, 8 core, nvidia gtx 980)

  • very impressive. The light doesn't bleed through the objects, only through the cuts (as you'd expect).
  • This demo gives you FPS controls so you can move around and better position yourself to see the light moving and even blind yourself if you want to look at it behind the wall.
  • In the inspector, you can change parameters of your light in real time and see them affect the display.
  • Volume really makes the difference when doing an indoor scene like this.
  • It is features like this that I'm really surprised Unity doesn't do by default. Aura 2 is filling a very valid need here with very little overhead.

Assets/Aura 2/Examples/Spot Light/Spot Light Example

Test 1, OSX Catalina with Metal on Macbook pro

  • Least impressive of the three examples on OSX. Again, I'm not expected a lot since they flat out said they don't have official support for Aura 2 with OSX and Metal (or Vulcan).

Test 2 - Windows 10, Direct X, Nvidia 980.

  • Spotlight definitely has its purposes and I can see a stealth game putting this to immediate use.
  • In this scene, the spotlight both moves and rotates, so don't expect a clear cone of light from it.
  • You can toggle off the rotation and or movement scripts in the component to tweak settings and get more of a feel for how it works.
  • In my quick test, I turned on the build in fps viewing script on the camera. You can make changes to all the other camera parameters there as well.

Integrations:

  • Bolt - Visual Scripting
    • What is Bolt? It is a "visual programming language" that lets you create maps of all of your game behaviors and player interactions. They plan to get c# generation for Bolt 2, so it will become a GREAT learning tool for visual developers thinkers ā€” plus you will be able to create your minimal viable game in Bolt and then optimize it in c# later.
    • Tested with Version:
    • Test Results:

Support:

Caveats:

  • Aura 2 is NOT compatible with Aura 1 (can't have both in the same project)
  • Aura 2, at release, was built with Windows and DX11 support in mind primarily.
    • UPDATE: It has been updated, and I personally have tested it in Unity 2019.4 (LTS) with amazing results.
  • Aura is not an atmospheric scattering simulation nor a cloud simulator.

Aura 2: Asset Review Scores

Name1-5 ratingReviewerNotes
cost to value ratio
4.5
Mark McCorkle
I am biased on my cost to value ratio here, as I got Aura 2 in a bundle. For the list price, it is a bit expensive as just eye candy, but it is AAA level eye candy. With that said, considering the developer hours need to make this quality of a volumetric light for your game, this one is a steal.
completeness (asset, screenshots, docs, tutorial, support, forums, chat, community)
5
Mark McCorkle
Docs are both linked from the asset store and included in the asset download. Support is offered on forum and in discord, as well as email. Didn't dig too much into community, as this asset isn't that complex to need to discuss that much.
does what it says on the tin?
5
Mark McCorkle
This asset is clear about what it is and what it does from the name to the screenshot and videos.
ease of use / integration / good UX for developer
support + response time
updates and support in asset store (most recent update + changelog, last 3 most recent updates dates)
5
Mark McCorkle
I would give them a 5+ since the developer actually has been updating the Metal and Vulcan support as I've been writing this article. With version 2 comming out in Feb of this year, and ~ 9 releases since then,
support across the spectrum of unity versions
3.5
Mark McCorkle
With no support (yet) for HDPR, SRP, LWRP, or URP and just early support for Mac and Linux, this is the only weakness I can find in the asset. With update 2.1.2, the developer is adding more support already, so by the next update of this review, I imagine I'll get to bump the score up.
Quality (cleanliness / folder structure, etc) of Asset when imported)
5
Mark McCorkle
Docs both for the API and how to use the package are where you'd expect them to be. Examples were easy to find, load, and use. All of the "meat" of this package

Minimum Viable Game Ideas for Aura 2

A stealth puzzle game is the first to come to mind.

I'm thinking of a combination of Adventures of Lolo (push / pull blocks to modify map with traps) and Metal Gear Solid (where you are 3rd person sneaking around blocks and hiding around a corner while you wait for an NPC to "look the other way" so that you can gather equipment to continue.

Spotlight searching for the player hiding behind the box.
Spotlight searching for the player hiding behind the box.

Player using point and click to move to avoid the spotlight as it rotates around searching for the player.
Player using point and click to move to avoid the spotlight as it rotates around searching for the player.

MVG Features:

  1. character 3d rigged and animated model with states and locomotion for:
    1. walk, run, crouch, jump, push, pull
    2. click to walk
  2. when an npc light "sees" you, a countdown begins via some type of ray cast sight detection from npc
    1. If countdown hits zero, you are discovered and the map is restarted
  3. push / pull mechanic for dynamic blocks to build bridges or protect you from the gaze of enemy
  4. at least one puzzle map with simple geometry
  5. Camera: isometric view with click to move controls