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A Noob’s Journey into Unity

Nathan Fellom Nathan Fellom  |  
Apr 12, 2017
 
My first meaningful exposure to Unity came during my senior year of college, after I was asked if I wanted to figure out something fun to do with an Oculus Rift that our Computer Science department had acquired. With absolutely no previous experience in game development, let alone VR development, I of course said, “Hell yeah!” It was only after I had the Oculus at my apartment for a couple of days that I realized I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. That’s where Unity comes in.

See, I think the most powerful thing about Unity isn’t that there are some seriously fantastic experiences being made with the technology, but the fact that anyone has access (and with a bit of work, the skills) to create a functioning video game. An example: The hardest part of developing in VR for me was finding the checkbox I had to toggle to enable support for the headset. I don’t know about you, but I find that incredibly awesome.

I feel this ease of entry into Unity is a very important concept to stress. It seems now that there exists this impassable divide between regular software development and developing games in Unity. Talking with coworkers about what I’m creating in Unity often ends with something like, “Man, I wish I knew how to do that,” or “There’s no way I would ever figure that out,” even though I know without a doubt that they are more than qualified than I am to be working in Unity. If you can drag and drop things into a window or write scripts in C#, you can develop something playable in Unity.

Part of Unity’s appeal is also their Asset Store, which is an online marketplace of Unity assets that you can throw into your game. Does thinking about shaders strike fear into your heart (like it does to me)? Download a complete shader package and mess around with some sliders instead of writing some nasty homegrown shader code. Does animating characters make you question how you ever learned to walk? Download a locomotion pack, throw your character model into it (or, better yet, grab one from someone who actually knows how to model characters), and you’re off again.

Now, I should back up a bit and specify that all game development isn’t as easy as dragging something into a scene or buying a package off the Asset Store and having it magically work. People like me who mess around in Unity for fun on weekends are never, ever going to replace someone who develops games for a living. If I have one recommendation to someone who is going to start learning Unity, it would be to set your expectations for what you can accomplish accordingly. You won’t be able to create the next GTA in a weekend, but you might be able to get a character animated and build an environment to run around in, or you could download one of Unity’s awesome tutorials and start there.

I know what you might be thinking. “But Nathan, I don’t need to develop video games. Why are you talking about this Unity thing to me?” First, because Unity is cool, but second, and more seriously, with the rise of Mixed/Augmented Reality (think Microsoft HoloLens), it’s possible some game concepts will start to be marketable in everyday software development. Having to worry about where your user is looking is something UX designers have done for applications forever, but you’ve only had to worry about your user looking at a screen that’s fixed in its position. What happens to the user experience when you can move around inside the interface? When they can look 360 degrees around your application? When interaction is no longer moving a cursor across a 2D plane, but moving a real person through a real 3D space?

In summary, Unity is a powerful platform that provides a diverse set of tools and a solid foundation for you to quickly start realizing and implementing your ambitions for your game. Don’t be intimidated because you don’t know how to program, or texture, or animate: those shouldn’t stop you from at least trying. There are plenty of people who got an introduction to programming because of games (Elon Musk, anyone?), and even if you realize it’s not for you, the worst thing that could happen is you at least learned something new.
 
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