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Why You Should Be Using the Unity Game Engine

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As a game developer, you have a lot of options when it comes to choosing a game engine. The selection runs the spectrum from simple 2D engines to fully featured 3D powerhouses. Likewise, game engines’ costs can range from free to millions of dollars. With so many options it can be difficult to choose the engine that is right for your project. Mike Geig explains why the Unity game engine is the best choice.

I would like to start off by telling you something you probably already know: The video game industry is a behemoth chugging along at full throttle and showing no signs of slowing down. Now I will tell you something else you probably already know: Making video games takes a lot of work, expertise, and dedication. It isn’t all good times and parties like in the movies (I’m looking at you, Grandma’s Boy). As a game developer, you have a lot of options when it comes to choosing a game engine. The selection runs the spectrum from simple 2D engines to fully featured 3D powerhouses. Likewise, game engines’ costs can range from free to millions of dollars. With so many options it can be difficult to choose the engine that is right for your project. Luckily, I am here to guide you. You should be using the Unity game engine.

What Is the Unity Game Engine?

The Unity game engine has often been referred to as the best video game engine for under a million dollars. It was created by Unity Technologies in 2004 as a development tool for their game, GooBall. It was later launched in 2005 at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Today, the Unity game engine flies under the banner of “democratizing game development and enabling everyone to create rich interactive 3D content, ” according to the Unity website. It is estimated that there are over 1.3 million registered Unity developers (do names like Cartoon Network, Coca-Cola, Disney, LEGO, or NASA ring a bell?) and that there are over 300,000 active developers monthly. A 2012 survey conducted by video game magazine Game Developer states that 53.1% of mobile developers reported using Unity to make games. I know what you’re thinking: “Gee Mike, you sure listed a lot of numbers, but numbers have only ever brought me heartache and pain.” I don’t know much about that, but I do agree that it’s time to move on to the next section.

The Ease of the Unity Editor

The first thing you will notice when you create a project in Unity is just how visual everything is. This is an engine that focuses a lot on simplifying the game development workflow, and nowhere is that more apparent than with the Unity Editor.

Figure 1 The Unity Editor

If you’ve never worked with a game engine that had a built in visual editor, you’ll be amazed at how rapidly it allows you to build and modify your projects. Need an item a little to the left? You can click in the scene and drag your object. Done! Want to see how this object behaves with new properties? Just look to the inspector window. Shazam! The Unity editor even goes so far as to run the game in the game window so that you can see a preview of how it will look on your target device. Trust me when I say that the ability to run your game while simultaneously seeing the properties and locations of all objects in the scene is a very powerful and time saving feature. You might be thinking to yourself: “No canned solution can be used for my workflow. It is special and unique just like me!” Well, Negative Nancy, I am here to tell you that the Unity editor can be easily extended to include custom specialized tools and plugins. These tools and plugins can be seamlessly integrated into the Unity interface. What all of this means for you is increased productivity over the life of your projects. Speaking of segues…

The Power of Scripting

There are a great many game engines in existence that have a visual editor. Many of these engines lack the power required to build significant or complex games due to their canned approach to behaviors. With Unity, object behaviors aren’t limited to built-in modules that come packaged with the engine. Instead, Unity allows for powerful behaviors written in any of three robust languages: JavaScript, C#, and Boo. Furthermore, all three languages can be used at the same time within a project to allow people of different technology backgrounds to contribute to a project at the same time. The fact that the languages are used as scripts allows for fast compilation times, quick iterations, and flexibility of design. This common language approach to game development ensures that you can begin making games quickly using knowledge you already have (or is easily attained).

One Source to Rule Them All!

Probably the most impressive feature of the Unity engine is the ability to build your projects for multiple platforms with incredible ease.

Figure 2 Simply Pick Your Platform and Build

With just the simple selection of a drop down menu, Unity can build for Windows PC, Linux (new with version 4), iOS (with plugin), Mac, Android (with plugin), Web Browser, Flash (with plugin), PS3, Xbox, and Wii U. Did I mention that building for multiple platforms requires no additional changes to the project? What this means for you is that you can spend more time improving the quality of your projects and less time (no time) on the process of porting it to different devices. Gone also are the days of limiting the platforms you can deploy to based on the expertise of your teams. If you know Unity, then you know enough.  Of course, you could always continue doing it the hard way. It’s your choice.

I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

All of the power in the world won’t help you if you are stuck on a problem without guidance. Likewise, speed is not as… uh… speedy if you find that you have to create assets that others before you have already made. Thankfully, Unity has an active and supported community (that rhymes). The Unity forums are a great place to ask questions, receive guidance, discuss best practices, help others, and even show off a bit. Looking for a more structured approach to participating in the community? Unity Answers is a service that awards “karma” and badges for good questions asked and answered. It is a more social approach than your typical Q&A website.

Also provided is the Unity asset store, which is fully integrated into the editor and provides a means for people to share or even sell their custom made content. This allows you to acquire needed assets without necessarily needing to make them yourself. All of these add up to saving you time and aggravation.

Figure 3 Unity Asset Store

Pricing and Licenses

Many engines today come with extreme price tags or unintelligible payment plans. Many engines don’t have any prices listed and long quote discussions must take place to determine actual figures. Unity doesn’t do any of that and instead just comes in two basic flavors: Unity Free and Unity Pro. Unity Free is of course free (my favorite number) and is not some watered down, gimped version of the engine. It comes with all of the features you would need to make and sell games commercially. If you would like some of the more professional features like LOD Support, Path-finding, or IK Rigs, you can purchase the Unity Pro license for a mere $1,500. That may seem like a lot to an individual just getting into the field, but in the land of game engines (especially those packed with similar features) that amount is tiny. If you’re not sure which license is right for you, the Unity Free license comes with a 30-day Pro trial, as well as a 30-day Android add-on trial.

Let’s Talk Games

By now you might be wondering who is using Unity and what exactly they are using it for. As mentioned above, Unity has a rather large registered user base. Many large companies and indies alike have discovered the power and versatility of the Unity engine. What you may not know is that there are non-gaming companies that use the engine as well. Unity is being used for research, simulation, and demonstration by companies all over the world. I could go on and on about that, but let’s just stick to the games for now. If you go to Unity’s game gallery, you can see some of the amazing games already made with the Unity game engine. This gallery is just a small sample. What you’ll hopefully notice is that the games all look and play completely differently. This is a true testament to the versatility of the Unity game engine. This is a tool that helps you uniquely design and develop your project’s vision and implement it your way.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The Unity game engine is an incredibly powerful and versatile tool for the development of your projects. Features like the visual editor, full and robust scripting, the Mecanim animation system, and multi-platform build support set this engine leaps and bounds ahead of its peers. The amazing community and supported asset store is just icing on the already very tall cake. I assume by now that your download of the Unity engine has finished (you did start downloading right after reading the awesome intro, didn’t you?) so I won’t take up any more of your time. Get that engine installed and let’s get to work!

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