Getting Started With Unity

So you’ve decided you want to get into game development and, after a bit of Googling you’ve seen Unity pop up a bunch of times. It’s undoubtedly a powerful tool that is great for beginners, but getting started with Unity can be a bit of a daunting process for beginners. Fortunately, when it comes to getting help, you won’t find a more welcoming game engine.

Few will argue that Unity isn’t one of the most well-documented game engines out there. From the official documentation to the wealth of community resources and YouTube videos on how to use Unity, your path to AAA quality games is unlikely to come easier.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This post isn’t a sales pitch, it’s a guide to getting started with Unity. We’re going to tackle this one in-depth, so make yourself a beverage and settle down. And, of course, there will be links-a-plenty to a bunch of great resources to help you get going. Let’s dive in.

In case you feel like we’re missing a step here, Unity 3D is a game engine. If you’re not sure what that means, here’s a link to a handy post explaining that very thing. There’s a lot to cover here so from this point on, we’re assuming you know what a game engine is.

Step 1: Unity Download

Before we can get into any Unity basics, we need to get Unity on your machine. For this, you need to head over to the Unity download page. You can download a specific version of Unity and install just that version on your computer, however for new users, I strongly recommend using the Unity Hub if you’re getting started with Unity for the very first time.

The Unity Hub is a small launcher application that keeps all your Unity projects and installs in one place. It will come in particularly handy if you decide to start playing with beta releases somewhere down the line. Still, it’s great for keeping things organised for new users, as well.

Once you’re on the download page, you should be presented with an option to choose your Unity version or download the Hub. Versions are available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and you should automatically get the right version for your operating system when you click the download button.

You’re going to need a Unity account, which you can do either by signing up through the website or following the link in the Unity Hub. There are paid options that come with a few benefits. Still, these are intended for developers or businesses that want to publish. Don’t worry about these for now; you can always upgrade at a later date. Head for the Individual/Personal account and sign up for free.

Unity's "Personal" accounts are free with some restrictions.
Unity has a number of account options. As a beginner, you should head to the “Individual” section and select “Personal”. You can always upgrade to a paid plan in the future.

Now that you’re all signed up, and you have Unity Hub installed, open it up and log in. From here you’ll be able to select an “install”. Stick to the latest stable version for the time being. The betas and alphas are there to try out upcoming features, but they can be buggy, and you don’t need that when you’re getting started.

A brief note on additional features. When you fire up a new install of Unity, you will be presented with a slew of features to choose from, such as Android and iOS build support. If you have something specific in mind, by all means, add the relevant component. If not, stick with just the core engine while you’re first getting started with Unity. You can always add more features.

Step 2: Using The Unity Editor

At this point, you may have found yourself a tutorial project to follow along with. If that’s the case, go ahead and open that project up, and the tutorial can take it from there. Indeed, if you check out the “Learn” tab in Unity Hub, you’ll find a selection of Unity beginner projects waiting for you. If you want to get to grips with some fundamentals of getting started with Unity, however, stick around.

The Unity 3D projects window shows all of your recent projects, as well as tabs for the Learn, Community, and Installs sections of the Unity Hub.
This is your Unity projects window. If this is your first time, yours won’t be as cluttered as mine. From here you want to head for the “New” button in the top right. If you want to try one of the Unity tutorials, you can find them in the “Learn” tab on the left.

So, let’s create a new project first. From the “Projects” tab, you should see a “New” button in the top right-hand corner. Clicking on that will take you to the new project dialogue where you can set up your new project. From there, you can set the name of your new project, the location you want the project files to be stored, and choose the project template. As of Unity 2019, your template options are:

  • 2D
  • 3D
  • 3D With Extras
  • High Definition RP
  • Universal Render Pipeline
The Unity Hub new project window, where you can set your project type, name, and file location.
The new projects window lets you select the project template you want to use, as well as the name of your project and the location you want the project files to be stored in.

Don’t worry, we’ll get into what that all means a little later on in the post. For now, just pick “2D” or “3D”. Since we’re not really creating anything yet, we don’t need the extras that come with the other templates.

If you have multiple installs of Unity, there will be a little dropdown menu beside your new project button. Clicking that will let you choose the install of Unity you wish to use for your project. Just clicking “New” will use whichever install you have set as your default.

Step 3: Getting Familiar With The Unity Environment

If you’re new fully-featured game engines like Unity, there will be a lot to take in on your first run, but getting started with Unity is not as daunting as it might first seem. Upon starting a new project, you should be presented with an empty scene and a variety of windows containing various things. We’ll go over these one at a time. If you’re unsure which section I’m referring to, check the little tab at the top left of each window.

The Unity editor using the "2 by 3" layout.
The Unity editor, by default, holds several windows serving various functions. These windows can be resized, moved, closed, and other windows can be opened. You can save a layout in the Window menu.

Unity Scene Window

As the name suggests, the scene view is where you set your scene. This could be a level, a menu, or any other self-contained part of your game. When making a sufficiently large game, you would break it up into different scenes so to keep the load times and memory requirements down.

In your scene view, you can move around, add objects, move, rotate, and resize those objects, and generally get a “behind the scenes” view of your game world. By default, the scene view will show you various icons representing certain types of object, such as a light or audio source. These are called gizmos and can be customised in the little “Gizmos” menu at the top of the scene view.

Unity Game Window

If the scene view is “backstage”, then the game view is from behind the camera. Quite literally, in fact. The game view window shows you what the gamer would see. With a new project, there will be one active camera in the scene, so your game window will be showing you the view from there.

If you remove that one camera, your game window will give you a polite message informing you there are no cameras in the scene. If you have multiple cameras, other factors determine which camera’s view will be shown in the game window, but that’s a bit advanced for this post.

Cameras in Unity behave in much the same way a real camera behaves. You can adjust the field of view, near and far clipping planes, and several other settings. When you’re happy, you just point it where you want it.

Unity Hierarchy Window

The hierarchy window shows you all of the objects in your scene in their proper hierarchical order. To understand the significance of this, we need to briefly cover the relationship between parent and child objects in Unity.

It is possible to “child” an object to another object. When you do, any changes to the size or position of the parent object will also be applied to the child object. Making objects, children of other objects also makes life easier when deactivating objects. For example, if you have eight objects you need to disable, you would have to loop through each one in your code and modify them individually. If those eight objects were the child of one parent, you would only need to deactivate the parent.

Now, back to the hierarchy window. In here, you can easily drag and drop game objects to parent or child them as you need. The display is similar to a typical folder tree, so it’s straightforward to follow. If you delete an object from here, it will disappear from the scene also.

Unity Project Window

While the hierarchy shows you only the objects that are in your active scene, the project window shows you all of the files in your project. It is in here you will find any assets you import, any materials you might create, any prefabs you save.

For files that translate directly to in-game objects, you can simply drag them from the project window into the scene window. For example, a 3D model will drop straight into your scene, whereas a texture needs to be applied to a material first. The project window also maintains a direct relationship with the folder your project is stored in. In other words, if you delete something from the project window, you’re removing the actual file.

Unity Inspector Window

The inspector window where you will find all the essential data relating to any assets you highlight. It will show the details for whatever asset is currently selected, be it in-scene or in the projects folder. If it is an in-scene object, you will be able to find its world position and any components attached to it. If it’s a raw asset, such as a texture or 3D model, you can use the inspector window to modify its import settings.

As you get into the coding side of things, you will be able to write code that will create variables and controls that show up in the inspector. This gives you a quick and convenient way to change the behaviour of your code. When you’re first getting started with Unity, however, it’s best not to worry about coding your own inspector functions.

Other Unity Windows

There are many other windows that you can access through the Window menu. Most of them don’t need to be active all the time, but for those that you do need open, you can further split the different areas of your workspace. If you’re finding things a little cramped, you can also have windows share an area, causing them to become tabbed (the same way your browser tabs different websites). Another option is to have the window un-docked entirely.

The Unity window menu.
Many different editor windows are accessible through the Window menu. These can all be docked on their own, with other windows, or un-docked and free floating.

Step 4: Take Advantage of the Unity Asset Store

Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the editor, it’s time to start bringing in some assets to play with. Fortunately, Unity has you covered with their asset store. You can access the Unity Asset Store through the window menu, which will cause it to open in the same way other Unity windows do. Alternatively, you can¬†visit the asset store¬†through a regular browser.

The Unity Asset Store
The Unity Asset Store has a wide range of free and premium assets. The free stuff can be a bit hit and miss, but there’s loads of great assets on there to get you started.

The asset store has both free and paid items. Naturally, you will have to pay for the best assets, but there are some exceptional free items on there as well. I recommend checking out Unity Technologies own asset store items as they put out particularly high-quality stuff. Anyone can submit assets to the store and, while there is a vetting process, not all of the items you’ll find in there are worth downloading. Be sure to check reviews if there are any.

Step 5: Get Learning

If you’ve made it this far, you’re ready to start making things! You will find a wealth of resources out there to help you get started with Unity. I’ve already mentioned the tutorials available through the Unity Hub. There are also many tutorials, resources, and documentation available through the Unity Learn website.

You can also find many paid courses at places like Udemy. Paid courses have the disadvantage of not being free, but they are usually more structured than your average YouTube tutorial.

Getting Started With Unity FAQ

That was a lot of text. I get it. If you glazed over a little there, were in a bit of a rush, or just need a refresher, here are some of the most frequently asked questions about getting started with Unity.

Is Unity good for beginners?

If you’re comparing Unity 3D to something like RPG Maker, it’s going to seem a bit rough on the new guys and gals. In terms of game engines that offer the features and capabilities that Unity does, it is definitely one of the more beginner friendly engines available.

Can I download Unity for free?

Unity is free for students and personal use. This edition comes fully-featured, though there are restrictions on what you can do with your finished projects. For example, if you have earned more than $100,000 in the last 12 month using Unity, the licensing agreement states you need to switch to their Plus plan.

What is the size of Unity?

The exact size of your download will vary depending on which modules you decide to install. The base engine clocks in at about 1.5GB to download, and will take up roughly 3.5GB of space once installed.

What is the current version of Unity?

New versions of Unity are released all the time. The first number of the version is the year, followed by major and minor update numbers. The important part to look out for is the letter. If a version has “a” or “b” in it, it is a pre-release version that may be prone to bugs. For reference, the version that the screenshots in this post were taken in was 2019.3.5f1.

What can you create with Unity?

The core purpose of Unity is to create video games, so all of the design and workflow is optimised to make that as easy as possible. That being said, there is nothing to stop you using Unity for other purposes, such as utilities, or even creating a cinematic movie.

Did you find this article helpful? Are there questions our FAQ didn’t answer? Leave a comment and we’ll update keep this post updated.

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