GameDev.tv by Ben Tristem

If you’ve ever dreamed about designing and developing your own video games, learning the essential basics with this Unity beginner tutorial is the perfect place for you to begin.

Video game development might seem overwhelming, but game engines have made the process easier and more accessible to developers of all levels.

Let’s take a deeper look.

Game controller in front of laptop

What is a game engine?

A game engine is a software tool that provides a framework for building video games, including pre-programmed features for animation, rendering graphics, managing memory, and more. Game engines make it easier for developers to spend time coding the unique and stylistic aspects of their games without the difficult, time-consuming process of coding every underlying aspect by hand. 

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Because you can reuse game engines as a basic foundation for multiple games, they save developers from having to start from scratch each time they build a new one. This means that you can learn to develop video games without highly advanced programming skills.

Game engines are readily available for programmers of all levels. Some engines simply offer basic fundamentals for your game, allowing you to code more of it yourself. Other engines are sophisticated enough that they enable you to use a drag-and-drop interface to create your own game with little programming knowledge.

While you will need some programming knowledge for game development, you can design a video game without learning to code every single aspect of it by yourself.

If you want to develop a 3D game, you need a powerful 3D game creation engine to create the stunning graphics and realism that have come to be expected by today’s gaming community. There are many choices, but one that stands above the crowd and has been used successfully for many popular game titles is known as Unity 3D, or simply Unity.

What is Unity 3D?

Unity (formerly called Unity 3D) is a multiplatform game development engine from Unity Technologies. Its purpose is to make it easier for developers to create breathtaking games without needing to know how to code advanced game components. 

Unity contains one of the most powerful 3D game engines in the world. It allows you to create jaw-dropping visuals, ambient soundscapes, and nonstop excitement without requiring in-depth knowledge of programming.

Unity’s major components include the world’s best Lightmapper, Beast, and the PhysX physics engine (developed by NVIDIA).

Why choose Unity over other game engines?

There are plenty of good game engines available today, but a few key factors make the Unity game engine stand out as one of the most popular choices for developers of all levels. 

While easy to use, many alternative game engines can only produce two-dimensional (2D) games, making them incompatible for developers who want to work on 3D games. Unity is designed to support the development of both 2D and 3D games.

The Unity game engine supports one-click publishing to numerous gaming platforms, including the Web, desktop, mobile devices (Android and iOS), and even consoles such as Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Where other game engines may only support one programming language, Unity supports three major programming languages simultaneously: C#, JavaScript, and Python. Developers can use these three languages individually or combine them smoothly to operate within a single project. This is great news because it allows you to access all of the open-source libraries available in any of these three languages rather than limiting you to only one, allowing for more versatility.

The most popular alternative to Unity is Unreal. But Unreal doesn’t have the significant marketplace of assets that Unity does at the Asset Store, making Unity a more popular choice for game developers who may not have an entire crew at their side.

Steps to take before starting a Unity beginner tutorial

Here’s how you can get started learning to use Unity to develop games.

Choose the right Unity plan for your needs

Unity offers a handful of purchase tiers for individuals, students, and businesses. 

Unity Personal is available for free to individuals and very small organizations who develop games as a hobby or for a small profit. Unity Student is free for eligible students enrolled in an accredited program. For professional business use, you can choose from Unity Plus, Unity Pro, or Unity Enterprise, depending on your organization’s size and development needs.

If you’re not yet sure whether Unity is the right choice for your game project, start with Unity Personal plan for free to give you time to evaluate the engine and become familiar with many of its important features before investing in a Unity Pro plan.

If you want to create and publish a game using Unity Personal, be sure to review the Unity FAQ page to ensure that you are eligible and working within Unity’s guidelines for their Personal edition. Note that any games you make with the Unity Personal plan will, by default, begin with the Unity splash screen. If you want to remove or replace this with your own splash screen, you will need a paid Unity platform.

You can purchase Unity Pro for an annual price, with add-ons available for one-click publishing to popular mobile platforms such as Android and iOS. Unity also offers a monthly subscription model, in which you can pay per month for access to the engine rather than paying the full annual fee upfront.

Install and familiarize yourself with the engine

Download the Unity Hub, a lightweight launcher that will organize your projects, versions of Unity, and demo projects. Through the Unity Hub, developers can take a look at new projects, dig into example projects, and download shared assets.

You will need to create a Unity account. This account will be linked to the projects you create and the assets that you purchase. You can create a new project and test drive the controls yourself, or dig into a Unity tutorial online.

Review Unity demo projects

Unity contains a variety of demo projects that you can use to get a feel for the system. Look through the marketplace for free examples of first-person shooters, 2D platformers, RPGs — anything you’d be interested in developing. 

Not only does this tell you what’s possible in the Unity system, but it also gives you insights into what you need to learn and what resources you might need.

Important Unity tools for beginners

Before you start learning to code anything within Unity, you’ll need to understand the Unity editor and its most commonly used tools. A good Unity beginner tutorial will walk you through the following commonly used Unity features. You should also take some time to test them out yourself. 

The major elements you will be using for game development in Unity include:

GameObjects

Unity uses “GameObjects,” which are containers that hold the building blocks of each game. By adding particular items to a GameObject, you can instruct that GameObject to execute geometry, light or complex behaviors, and more. A GameObject can contain other GameObjects, allowing you to organize your game scene by nesting them. 

Scene

A “scene” in Unity generally refers to an individual level of a game. While you could build your entire game in one Scene if you prefer, the best practice is to build each level of your game in its own Unity Scene. When working with one Scene, you will insert GameObjects into it and customize them to bring your level to life. You can also delete GameObjects to remove them from the Scene entirely.

When you open a new Scene in Unity, the game engine will automatically give that scene two GameObjects: a Main Camera and a Directional Light. You can remove them, if you wish, or customize them.

Toolbar

The Toolbar spreads across the top of the Unity screen and features several important manipulation tools for the Scene and Game Windows. Here are some of the features you’ll use most often across the toolbar:

Play, pause, and step

The toolbar also holds the Play, Pause, and Step buttons, which enable you to test out the environment you have created. Note that you can make changes within the Play and Pause modes and see them immediately, but those changes will be lost once you go back to the Scene view. 

These are only temporary changes, allowing you to make small updates on the fly and see how they perform, but they don’t become permanent in your game until you implement them as actual GameObjects.

The Step button allows you to view your game frame-by-frame, stepping through one frame at a time. This can be helpful for reviewing game elements and ensuring that they run together cohesively the way you intend.

Scene View

This view is where you will spend most of your time building and editing the objects in your game. In Scene View, you’ll see a fully rendered 3D preview of the currently open scene. This view allows you to add, edit, and remove GameObjects within a scene.

Hierarchy Window

The Hierarchy window displays a list of every GameObject within the current Scene view. This view allows you to nest GameObjects within a scene, giving them a prescribed order in relation to each other. Selecting an object in the hierarchy will highlight it within your scene view, and vice versa. You can add new objects to the Hierarchy via the Create menu.

Project Window

When you click on the Project Window, you can explore the Assets directory for all models, textures, scripts, and prefabs used within your game project. In large complex games, the Project Window makes it easy for you to search for specific game assets as needed.

You can easily drag and drop assets from the Project window into the Hierarchy window or the Scene view to use them in your game.

The Project Window is also where you can make organizational changes to your assets, such as moving them between different folders. Always make these changes in the Project Window rather than the OS file system. Don’t try to edit, move, or otherwise change your assets in the OS file system, as this may break the metadata for those assets and cause major errors in your game.

Game View

This view will probably be your favorite part of Unity because this is where you can play your game as if you have already published it. This view allows you to preview your game scene as it will appear to a player on their screen.

Use the Play button located on the Toolbar to manipulate your assets as if you are playing a real game. What’s unique about Unity is that you can make changes to your game while playing in real-time. Very few, if any, other game engines allow for this functionality, and this truly sets Unity apart from other game development engines.

Learning to code with C#

Many Unity beginner tutorials will include a segment about coding in C#, which is the primary programming language that Unity uses. C# is an object-oriented language, meaning that it’s based on defining and describing “objects.” All objects can have both “data” (information about those objects) and “methods” (procedures or processes that an object can perform or act out). 

Within Unity, C# acts as a scripting language. This means that developers use C# to write scripts of code, which the Unity engine can interpret to create aspects of a game.

There are three important concepts that you’ll use in C# when you learn to code objects in your game: variables, functions, and classes. As a beginner, a good first step for learning to code in C# is to familiarize yourself with these three aspects of the language and understand how they relate to each other.

Variables

A variable is a container for storing data. It may define what the object looks like, features that the object has, or other aspects of the object. An object can have many variables attached to it that define its structure and appearance.

Here’s a high-level example with no coding involved to help you understand the concept. Let’s say that you define an object called “Buddy the Beagle.” Some of his variables may include: 

Now you’ve defined a dog!

Functions

A function is a set of code that describes something an object can do — also called a procedure or a method. This may include defining how the object can move, other actions the object can take, and processes that the object can execute.

For the object “Buddy the Beagle” in the example above, some of his functions may include:

Classes

A “class” is the umbrella category that an object can belong to. Classes provide a way to group individual objects that share the same overarching features, information, or methods. 

Rather than attaching variables or functions to an individual object, you have the option to attach them to an entire class. You can define the variables and functions of a class one time, and those variables and functions will apply to all objects that you have placed in that class. This saves you time, as you don’t have to redo the work of coding the same variables and functions repeatedly for every object that uses them.

Continuing with the example from before, let’s say that you define a class called “Dog.” You may then define “Buddy the Beagle” as an object that belongs to the class “Dog.” 

You can define variables for the class “Dog,” such as: 

You can also define functions that the class “Dog” can do, such as:

Now, when you create a new individual “object,” such as “Fluffy the Golden Retriever,” you don’t need to manually define that Fluffy has four legs, two ears, or can run and bark. You can simply define Fluffy as belonging to the class “Dog,” and these factors will apply.

You can still define the unique variables related to Fluffy the Golden Retriever or Buddy the Beagle and attach those to each individually. For instance, Buddy may have a variable for black and brown fur, while Fluffy has a variable for golden fur. These variables would be attached to the individual objects rather than attached to the class.

How to find good Unity beginner tutorials

The information above only scratches the surface of what Unity offers as a game development platform. Game development companies around the world rely on Unity to build and deploy their games across platforms.

Unlike other game engines that are relatively drag-and-drop, you will need to understand some programming concepts to use Unity effectively. But the results are undeniably well worth the extra effort, as you can create professional-looking impressive 3D games on your home computer using Unity.
Ready to dive in? Check out Udemy’s Unity courses to start learning how to create powerful and stunning 3D games.

Page Last Updated: March 2022

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