Starting a Fan Project with Unity
With upcoming projects like Shroud of the Avatar, Torment: Tides of Numenera, and Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption being developed using the full Unity platform, I thought this was a good opportunity to talk about how to get started with a fan project using the free version of Unity.
The first step, of course, is to visit the Unity website, download the Unity SDK, and install it on your computer.
Learn the Engine
The first thing, which will likely take some time, is to learn the ins and outs of the Engine. Quite often, developers decide to do this at a trial by fire, learning each system as it is required for their project. I strongly discourage this tactic! There will be some things you need to figure out at each stage, but if you start with an understanding of the engine, how to use each system in general and the editor tools in specific, you stand a much greater chance of completing your project. Those that jump into their project as soon as the engine is installed often burn out when they have to learn the third or fourth system, after dozens of hours in the editor, and with nothing to show for it.
On the Unity Documentation page, start by reading the Manual and following allow inside of the editor (dual monitors make this much easier). This will take a few hours, but is the best way to learn the tools. From there, dip into the Component Reference and the Scripting Guide to get the basics of those systems.
Now that you have an understanding of the basics of the Unity SDK, its time to start learning how to make cool stuff in it!
I’ve found that watching tutorials and recreating them in my own project is one of the best ways to learn. The best set of training videos I’ve found is the Unity 3D Training Video Series by Walker Boy Studio. They have 330+ videos, totaling over 50 hours of content. Each video is part of a “coursework” of similar material, complete with exams at the end to ensure that you have learned the necessary components before moving on. I HIGHLY recommend taking the time to go through each video.
If you still arn’t ready, additional training materials are available in the Asset Store.
Unity codes with a standardized package of assets, which can be used in any project. Some additional free art assets and code systems can be found in the Asset Store, conveniently built into Unity. This is a great place to start, although there will undoubtedly be some gaps.
Additional assets can be found in various places on the Internet; however, many will not be in a Unity package and will require importing, rigging, texturing, or other modification before they are usable.
The Digital Lycaeum aims to be a resource for you, the fan developer. The Downloads link at the top of the page provides access to all of the assets provided from the fan community. The majority of these will have a royalty-free, non-commercial license, although some are free to use in commercial projects as well. If you are fortunate enough to have an artist to develop assets for your project, please consider donating them to the community once your project is released.
Bonus: If you pledged to Shroud of the Avatar at the Developer tier ($450) or higher, you will receive a monthly Unity asset pack that includes in-game art assets and code systems. These are useable and royalty-free in any project the backer is directly involved in, requiring only that Portalarium be listed in the credits. This is an amazing way to get high-quality assets for Unity at a very reasonable price; and this is on top of helping develop a part of the Shroud of the Avatar game and having your name in the credits!
The first pass through your game creation is really creating a proof of concept. You can use placeholder assets, just get it up and running. This is taking everything you’ve learned, applying them to the assets you have acquired, and creating a playable game project.
Getting through this stage can be the hardest part of starting your project; it involves a lot of interconnected systems, and you will likely need to look up information on how to do things at various points. Don’t be discouraged! Fan game developers are a close-knit group, so don’t be afraid to ask questions in the Unity forums.
Here are some tips for your prototype:
- Start small. Creating the city of Britain on your first outing is impractical. Try a single room house and expand outward.
- Ignore the details. You know you want to add sound effects as the players walk through the stream beside their house, but those details can be added later. First, you want to make sure you can create the house, the stream, and the player character.
- Do a systems test. One of the best ways to use the prototype is to plug in some of those things that you know you want in your end project. Simply use the tutorials to recreate these in your sample project. Getting multiple systems working together can be a challenge, but this is something you need to learn how to deal with.
Build a Team
If you are not already part of a team, now is the time to get one. Game development is a huge undertaking, and not one that easily be done alone. Not only is there the need for assets that require specific skills (art, code, music, etc), but there is a staggering amount of work to do in order to pull all of those together into a game!
This is a very basic getting started reference for Unity. Please feel free to add links to other resources, tutorials, and assets in the responses below!