This is the second of a series of articles that cover my journey learning and exploring one of the most powerful indie game creation tools available - Unity.
I'll be sharing my knowledge and discoveries over a 12 week period. Each week I'll post primarily on the process of learning Unity 3D along with other topics such as the history of the game engine, the community, and prominent artists/creators.
Last week I covered the history of Unity and my choice of Lynda.com's course, "Unity 3D Essential Training" by Craig Barr, for my first steps in learning Unity.
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Setting Up the Unity Project and Learning the Interface
Craig Barr's first two chapters of Unity 3D Essential training over good project set-up criteria including naming conventions and how to organize folders. These are basics that all good creators should follow. The files that come with this course make it easy to test your work. Mr. Barr covers importing a collection of free standard assets from Unity which helps to make the creation process easier in Unity. Here's how Mr. Barr describs a Unity game object:
Basically, you should start your asset naming with a capital letter and organize all assets into main folders and sub-folders. For example, Models, Sound, and Animations should have their main folders. Under the Models folder, you might have specific types of models like characters and vehicles. The same is true for the Sound folder which can contain sub-folders for music and sound effects...
All of these folders are found at the bottom of the Unity interface (called the Project window). Import and drop and drag are the easiest ways to bring assets into the folders you create.
The Unity Interface
Unity follows the conventions of most 3D applications but makes them much simpler to navigate. In fact, Unity has one of the lowest learning curves of any app I've ever used. Hierarchy on the left (includes all objects in a scene), Scene/Game window in the center which shows you the scene you are working on and also takes you to the scene in-game, the Inspector on the right side of the interface which allows you to adjust every aspect of the game object you choose in the scene window and the previously mention Project window at the bottom of the interface which houses all of your assets.
Help and documentation are easily available through the top row of drop-down menus and the interface can be customized to fit whatever you need for your project. You can also access the incredible Unity Asset Store via the Project window or through the drop-down links at the top of the interface.
Ease of use is one of the major attractions to Unity. I found myself learning the basics very quickly. Of course, having a great instructor like Craig Barr makes it easy, too.
One of the main concepts in learning Unity is the "GameObject". While it's not a difficult idea, it does take a bit of thinking to get your head around it. Here's what Mr. Barr has to say:
...the best way to think of what a game object is, it is essentially a container to hold attributes or to hold parameters, or in this case with Unity, they're actually referred to as components. So how does this work?Well, to show this here, if we take any of these objects, we can see that we have the transform and then we have this series of what are referred to as components that actually comprise or build that object.
In the lesson, Mr. Barr showed how you could start with an empty game object (easily created using drop-down list under "GameObject") and then build it to become anything you want using the Inspector window to the right. You add components (light, camera, 3d form) to the game object to adjust it's properties. The component elements are stackable so you can create just about anything you can imagine.
Working with Assets
Although Unity allows you to create assets inside of the program most users will create them in another 3D application and then import the assets into Unity. Mr. Barr gives you a good list of common sense notions for creating assets (keep polygon count low and light; snap to origin before you export, etc) and then goes through the various methods you can use to import and export assets for Unity.
Unity supports all of the major asset formats like .fbx, .obj, and even native Blender format. Mr. Barr suggests using the .fbx format as it brings in the best combination of high quality and low file size. I'll be running some tests next week importing free assets from Renderosity and other sources. It will be interesting to see how the process goes for me especially when it comes to Normal Maps as Unity automatically checks for these and if you don't have one it will create one for you. I also need to bone up on the ideas behind Normal Maps and educate myself.
Next week: Materials, Prefabs, and Level Building