Using the Unity 5 Gaming Engine

unity3d-logo-iphone

The other day, at the 2015 Game Developers Conference, Unity released the latest version of their popular development engine, Unity 5. This latest release improves on just about everything, from lighting to animation and physics. What’s really exciting though, is that Unity 5 comes in both a licensed version and a free version, which are now basically the same. This means that you can now use the same engine used to develop some well known titles, such as Hearthstone, Shadowrun Returns, and Kerbal Space Program, to develop your own games and simulations. With the new release, I’d like to highlight some of the features that Unity offers for public use. I’ve used the platform with a few interested middle schoolers to create some relatively complex pieces, and I plan on integrating it fully into my engineering class next year.

I had my students this year begin with the simple roll-a-ball project to learn the basics of player movement, camera movement, collision, and simple physics. The kids built a simple game in which they controlled a ball and collected blocks, which ended when all of the blocks had been collected. Simple, but really effective and extremely rewarding for kids who play games, but who have never see how they really work.

unity ballThe project that they’re currently working on is the space shooter game, and they’re loving it. I made one myself to test the tutorial, and I can say that if you have a Saturday afternoon to mess with it, give it a go because making your own Galaga Jr. is so much fun. Anyway, this project took the kids longer only because there are more steps and getting things just right can be a challenge. It’s great too, since you can fool around with the basics in the tutorial you can customize all kinds of things from the models to the backgrounds, and make the game your own. Again, shooters are pretty ubiquitous but making them with your own hands and with your own stamp is really powerful.

unity space

The final project that my students will start pretty soon, and the one that I am most excited about myself, is the survival shooter. In this game, you play as a kid who is having a nightmare that his toys are coming to life and he must defeat waves of them. Sadly, this is a no win game and it eventually winds up in your death, but it’s really fun anyway. Of the beginner tutorials, this one is the most visually robust and appealing. You can use this to learn about environment building, enemy spawning, resource tracking, and more advanced movement. It’s a great tutorial, and I really enjoyed using it myself. Plus, if you run into any problems or any questions arise, you can hit up the community forums and watch some extension tutorials. I plan on using all of these tutorials to teach game design in my engineering class next year, so I can say with certainty that everyone reading this blog can make a fantastic game of their own in a few hours.

On the learning platform I’m developing, the student game side will be built using the Unity engine. We’re working on several games for the platform, including shooters and simple collection games, plus a roguelike and a sparing game. I’m blown away by the support, materials, and knowledge base behind Unity, and by the way a person like me who has little experience in digital game design, but a passion for gaming and a vision for what I’d like to see can make the vision an reality. If you have any interest in the nuts and bolts of design, and want a way to make gaming your own, check out Unity 5 and make it happen!

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