We are excited to announce the first beta release of the ArcGIS Maps SDK for game engines, supporting both Unity and Unreal Engine!
Over the past few years we’ve seen many industries and organizations pursue their next generation of 3D GIS solutions. As these solutions apply to the real-world, they need to utilize authoritative geospatial systems while taking advantage of new technologies to gather, store, and visualize geospatial information. These new, modern 3D GIS solutions include client applications that target specific workflows which require photo-realistic experiences driven by real-world data. These applications need to take advantage of high-end graphics capabilities on modern devices and utilize hardware designed specifically to support extended reality (XR) experiences. They need to be highly interactive, visually compelling, and deeply immersive to increase engagement, improve understanding, and optimize the experience for making decisions. Operationally, they need to support modeling and simulation scenarios and quickly render real-time geospatial information.
As Esri is the global leader in GIS, industries and organizations look to Esri to deliver world-class software and solutions to support use of authoritative geospatial data and analytics. Many of these industries and organizations, most notably in the AEC, defense, natural resources, and transportation sectors, are choosing to use game engines to power their photo-realistic, interactive, and immersive 3D GIS applications. As game engines have traditionally targeted gaming experiences, it was essential that they deliver high-performance, premium rendering experiences, and engaging special effects. The highly competitive nature of the gaming industry helped push game technology and associated content and hardware to the limits of their abilities. As such, years of development have been invested by successful game engine vendors to build out premium, high-definition rendering pipelines to deliver simulated world experiences, optimized for multiple platforms and form factors. The introduction of high fidelity assets, physics engines, animation properties, atmospheric, water, and other special effects has enabled some game engines to deliver beautiful, photo-realistic, cutting edge visuals that appear and operate nearly identical to the real world. Game engines also support targeting a wide variety of desktop and mobile platforms, and dedicated, specialized hardware. Part of the next generation of 3D GIS solutions includes business use of headsets dedicated to extended reality workflows, such as HoloLens, Oculus Quest, and HTC Vive. Game engines are built to support the responsiveness, frame rates, and fidelity needed to power these experiences.
With this in mind, the first beta release of the ArcGIS Maps SDK integrates with the two best-of-breed, market leading game engines, Unity and Epic’s Unreal Engine. Two new products, ArcGIS Maps SDK for Unity and ArcGIS Maps SDK for Unreal Engine, are available as plugins to provide direct access to ArcGIS services and data. To deliver the best experience possible, we’re working with Unity’s geospatial team and Epic’s Unreal Engine development team to enable and optimize access to Esri’s geospatial platform. We’re very excited about our collaboration with both Unity and Epic and look forward to vast opportunities in this space going forward.
So, let’s dig into the capabilities of the ArcGIS Maps SDKs to set expectations for this first public beta. Keep in mind, functionality delivered in the ArcGIS Maps SDKs for Unity and Unreal Engine is equal, while the functionality and the capabilities of the editors and engines themselves may be different.
Development in the Unity or Unreal Engine editor is supported on Windows and macOS. Although both engines support developing apps for a variety of platforms, with this first beta release you’ll only be able to build apps that target Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. It is important to note that support for Windows includes 64-bit apps on desktops and 32 and 64 bit UWP apps, which means we support use with first and second generation HoloLens devices.
Both local and global experiences are available. Local scenes support display of geographic data on planar surface, and can work with different projected coordinate systems – usually appropriate for smaller, local areas. Global scenes support the display of geographic data on a sphere or globe – usually appropriate for large areas or regions. Other content, game objects, actors, can participate in these scenes, but they must participate within the geographic coordinate space and the camera control established by the ArcGIS Maps SDK plugin.
ArcGIS data sources accessible by the plugins include:
- Single elevation service for terrain
This means an image service hosting LERC encoded tiles with elevation values, which includes ArcGIS Online world elevation services for terrain and bathymetry.
- Multiple raster tile layers
This includes cached map or image data for display, from an ArcGIS tiled map service or a tile package (.tpk, .tpkx). Sources include ArcGIS Online basemaps with imagery, topography or street data.
- Multiple 3D object or integrated mesh scene layers
These layers are founded on i3S, an open specification optimized for the delivery and use of 3D data. 3D objects can include textured buildings and structures while integrated mesh uses a triangular network to represent a continuous 3D surface, usually acquired by satellite or aerial imagery. They can be delivered as a scene service or scene layer package (.slpk). It’s important to note that scene layers should be published with version 1.7 of i3S, the latest version, to use with the ArcGIS Maps SDKs. Version 1.7 includes significant improvements to performance and memory usage, so we’re encouraging its use.
Note that this first beta release will only support access to public ArcGIS services, not secured services. We’ll add support to enable access to secured services in the next beta release.
In addition, we do not support built-in access to feature sources, such as ArcGIS feature services or mobile geodatabases in the first beta. We will target support in a future release. However, we do provide a location component to integrate custom content (game objects, actors) within the scene established by the ArcGIS Maps SDK plugin. So, as a developer you can use this location component and craft a solution that retrieves feature geometry and attributes to display and use in a scene. In fact, you can use the location component to bring in a wide variety of content (eg assets, models) to participate within the scene.
We invite you to use the following link to join the ArcGIS Maps SDK for game engines beta program: http://esriurl.com/a4ge
The program includes the product downloads and links to product documentation, as well as a set of forums to provide feedback and communicate with the ArcGIS Maps SDK development team as well as others in the beta community. We’re looking forward working with you on your next generation 3D GIS solution!