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Tools We Use: Unity

Tools we use: Unity

A still of an in-progress Unity Scene

The Unity Engine Editor

When it comes to making games, simulations or training programs, it’s difficult to just start from scratch. It’s possible, but oftentimes not worth it, when so many quality game engine options exist. Starting with an existing engine gives you access to a tech framework and systems that natively work together, jump starting your project and propelling you quickly towards your first test build.

When you’ve considered the budget and scope of your project, it’s important to match any game engine to a few criteria;

  1. Can you find examples of projects built with it that are similar to the one you’re planning?
  2. Does it interface with products you’re already using and familiar with?
  3. Is the cost within your budgetary limits and can you still predict a profit if you pay for it?
  4. Is your team comfortable working in the engine or at least feel confident they can learn it without egregious effort?

Once you’ve tackled feasibility, it’s important to also consider logistics like:

  1. What comes in the different software tiers?
  2. How much does the total cost scale with your scope, what you need from the engine and any other must-have assets you’ll purchase to make it usable?
  3. What development language is it built on (C#, Java, C+, Python, etc.) and how well does it accommodate other scripting languages?

Uniting under a common brand

For large simulation projects, our team settled on Unity. According to KTI’s Senior 3D Developer, Alex Smithers, “[Unity Technologies] seem pretty in touch with the community. They are constantly updating the project to make it better and more accessible.” Smithers says this includes the critical step of “listen[ing] to community requests.” Unity is also based on C# which Smithers calls “a pretty easy and well documented language.”

Unity Engine Editor Screenshot

An in-development scene in the Unity Engine Editor

Picking a piece of software to build your project on can be stressful as you’re putting your fate (at least partially) in the hands of another company. If that company has a track record of fixing bugs, listening to community feedback and continuing to grow the technology every year, it makes spending that money a little easier.

Unity’s democratized mandate and free initial download has cultivated an engaged community of creators. This makes the addition of the Unity Asset Store an invaluable resource. In the Asset Store, “you can find lots of models, animations, and cool code add-ons to really increase the prototyping and development process,” says Smithers. Prototyping is also more efficient in Unity because its applications are so easily ported, “so you don’t have to spend months converting your windows application to different platforms.”

From humble beginnings

Unity was born out of the frustration of a few game developers shortly after launching their first game. Over The Edge Entertainment, now known as Unity Technologies, transformed their internal game engine into a public project to help create a cost-effective game engine for studios of any size. Launched in 2005, David Helgason, Joachim Ante and Nicholas Francis set out to democratize game development.

In a 2009 interview for Geek.com, CEO David Helgason described Unity’s mandate as “making game development really easy and fast for a very large number of people…and enabling the games [that users] build to work on, not just a few high end gaming computers and consoles, but a billion web browsers and mobile phones.”

This mindset led Unity Technologies to announce a free version of the engine in 2009. This coincided with the launch of the Unity Asset Store, a community-fueled middleware marketplace full of useful plugins, assets and models.

This changed the tone of game development and in 2015, Unreal followed Unity’s lead, offering Unreal Engine 4 free for download. A year later Amazon announced its own game engine, Lumberyard, and its price (free) and Crytek’s CryEngine also moved to a free-to-download model.

City scene in the Unity Editor

A city scene in the Unity Engine Editor

Unity has a scaling price structure dependent on your project’s revenue. It’s free to use until you make $100k. This structure – along with a cut of Asset Store sales – helps fund further Unity development, but by putting the financial burden more on big publishers rather than indie developers struggling to finish their first game.

Top Beginner Unity Tips

  • Watch tutorials
    • There are many great places to start learning how to best work in Unity but Unity Technologies’ “Learn Unity” might be the most straight forward
    • The tutorial projects are also a fantastic way to familiarize yourself with the basic functions of the Editor
    • You can try your hand at importing assets, writing scripts and using game objects by making an asteroid-blasting space shooter or perhaps building a UFO gold-collecting game
    • Youtube channel Quill18creates is also a good resource for helpful instructional videos and walkthroughs
    • Software developer Catlike Coding has some incredibly in-depth tutorials covering a wide variety of topics and tools
  • Look it up
    • Don’t be afraid to use your good friend Google if you get stuck in a project or even the aforementioned tutorials
    • Chances are if you’ve stumbled someone else has stumbled there first and has your back
  • Keep making stuff
    • Working projects from start to finish, even if they don’t seem great, will teach you more than just starting them
    • If you pick a specific problem you want to solve, idea you want to create, or game you want to build and just problem solve towards it you will learn useful skills
  • Join a game jam
    • Once you have some confidence in your skills, game jams are a great way to get experience planning, developing and prototyping an idea, oftentimes in a single day
  • Stay on task
    • You don’t need to leave the editor to browse, purchase and import assets from the Unity Asset Store
  • Use Plugins
    • Once you find the Asset Store, keep your eyes peeled for quality plugins that can help you realize your project or keep things organized
    • Our team likes Odin Inspector and Post Processing Stack

Bottom Line

KTI has had success with Unity and it’s easy to see why. Its democratic mindset to game development makes it easy to both get started and publish your work on a slew of platforms.

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