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10 Unity Tips for long Term Development

The solo indie game developer of the title Blood Rally Show shares the things he wished he had known before starting development. His game has recently launched on Steam!

Blood Rally Show

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Bloody Rally Show is dystopian roguelite combat racing game with infinite variety of race tracks, campaigns, missions, leaderboards, daily challenges, track editor, car editor, car tuning, customization, car battles, and multiple game modes, including one where you are a pedestrian.

View on Steam

This guide is focused around getting the most from developing 2D games with the Unity3D engine and some things to consider when preparing for long-term development, starting as early as creating your project.

Use the latest Beta Version for your Project

By the time you finished your game (which will always be longer than you expected), experimental versions of the engine are probably going to be stable. Given that these will probably contain performance optimisations, graphical improvements and other features that could improve your game at little to no cost or energy from your part, this could warrant dealing with a few editor bugs. Try to keep your editor up to date regardless and upgrade to the latest stable release if you start falling behind.

Avoid Using 2D Physics

The 2D physics are not as performant as their 3D alternative, so even if you are developing a 2D game you should opt for the latter. This is because the 3D Physics are multithreaded and developed with performance in mind. The simplest way to implement this is by adding a standard Rigidbody to your game objects and disabling the influence of the physics on the rotation as well as positioning along an axis of your choice.

Unity Rigidbody settings in the Editor, with constraints set for the position and rotation on the z axis.

Optimise your Sprites

Like most game engines, Unity works best with textures that have a "Power of Two" (POT) resolution. If your textures don't conform to this rule (having a resolution that is power of 2 i.e. 8x8, 16x16, 32x32...) the engine needs to compensate and fix the resolution, decrementing the quality of the texture, increasing its file size and worsening your games performance. If you already created assets that do no conform to this rule, you can add some transparent padding to fix this. Here is an example diagram showing a POT conform pattern (left) versus a non-conform one, with the required padding shown in red.

Two checkered patterns side by side, the one on the left is complete while the one on the right is not, with some red outlines showing the required padding as the difference in resolutions between the two (32x32 vs 24x24).

Enable crunch compression on all the sprites you can, to decrease the build time and size. This is just a matter of selecting the sprite in the editor and adjusting the settings.

Unity Sprite settings in the Editor, with crunch settings (very bottom of the window) highlighted.

Unity also offers a Sprite Atlas component (read up more on it here), which combines textures and sprites so that you only need to draw them with a single call. This is good to know about if you were planning to split some of your sprites up into different parts, since this can reduce your build size and performance overhead.

Preload Shaders

You can preload some of the shaders that you don't need to to get a significant build speedup, by heading down to Edit > Project Settings > Graphics and scrolling down to the very bottom, where there is a customisable dropdown. Increase the number of shaders you want to preload and add them to the list.

Close shot of the shader pre-loading bar, highlighted with a red outline. 0 shaders are set.

Assign Variables in the Code instead of relying on Serialization all the Time

Unity encourages modularity by exposing variables to the editor (also known as variable "serialization"), where the user can easily modify them with GUI. It's important to distinguish when this makes sense and when it doesn't. Some variables, like a player's movement speed for example, are not going to require you to adjust them for serveral prefabs, so there is no need to expose them to the editor. Instead, adjust these variables in the code. In general, you don't want to expose constants to the editor at all. These steps make you less prone to accidental changes to prefabs or the Unity asset files (Unity stores all information on assigned variables in the ".meta" versions of your objects). The author of the Reddit post also mentioned that he suggest using the SerializeField tag instead of making a variable public if you need to expose it to the editor, which helps with keeping things capsulated in the actual code.

Understand the Unity Measurements

Using the right scaling for your assets is going to be an immense advantage and reduces the need for you to configure the physics for new objects. In Unity, 1 unit equates to 1 meter. When you are using the art tool of your choice or working with a freelancers, keep this in mind to make sure your assets are scaled correctly.

Set default and fallback TextMeshPro fonts early on

TextMeshPro is Unity's solution for creating high quality text for your HUDs and GUIs (GameObject > UI > Text - TextMeshPro). It can also be placed in the level, where it is rendered with the mesh renderer (GameObject > 3D > Text - TextMeshPro). Due to the performance benefit, its suggested that you use TextMeshPro if your version of the engine supports it. If you haven't already, head down to Edit > Project Setttings > TextMesh Pro and click "Import TMP Essentials". After that, you should be able to see "Settings" appear under "TextMesh Pro" in the preferences.

Menu depicting the text mesh pro default and fallback settings in the Unity Project Settings.

By having good default font settings, you are saving yourself a lot of time in the long run where you are manually returning to each asset and changing the font. By the way: sometimes your originally selected font will be missing an implementation for a given character, forcing Unity to display a placeholder character instead. You can use a fallback font, which will insert a character from that font (assuming that it has an implementation) instead.

Avoid Player Prefs

Player Prefs refers to the default interface that Unity encourages developers to use to store game data (player save information, configurations, etc.). Plain text is more flexible, so you should probably opt for that instead, primarily for flexibility and the added benefits of being able to control and understand how that data is saved. It allows you to pick a serialization method of your choice (a good choice would be an open standard like XML, JSON, etc.), which could be useful if you want to implement features that require you to send them over the web and makes it easier for users to be able to manually edit the files themselves.

Use the Unity Test Framework

Automated tests are programmatic ways of checking whether a given method or object produces the desired result when certain parameters are provided and an essential part of any software-or game development process. These tests are designed to simulate a player going through actions in your game and are designed to reduce the need of manual testing i.e. starting the editor in play mode to try or creating a compiled build to search for potential bugs.

For example, if I wanted to deduct 50 HP from the player when they are hit by a fireball, I'd write a test where I create a fireball and a player instance, then invoke the methods that would be called when the fireball hits the player. After that, I can create a simple conditional statement that confirms everything was calculated as expected ("does the players health equal to their previous health minus 50?") - if that's not the case, I'm notified by Unity that my test failed and I have a potential bug in my code!

By starting early on these tests, you can develop a critical mass of test coverage, which hereby refers to the amount of features that are automatically tested each time. This can save you time, headaches and reduce the chance of shipping a build with game breaking bugs, as any changes that could break or cause unwanted behaviour are more likely to be detected immediately (usually caused by one change unintentionally affecting something completely else). Read more on test in Unity here.

If you want to enable modding, develop with it in mind from the Beginning

A topic that will be covered in more depth in a future post, but worth mentioning here. Building your game assets in a way that they can be easily modified or extended by the community is going to save you the hastle of shoehorning these systems in at a later stage of development.

Want to learn more from his insights after making the game? Check out his post on reddit filled with valuable, concise tips and reflections!

Marc Philippe Beaujean