Cover image by Matt Eland using MidJourney and Canva
Let's talk about all the little decisions you need to make - and the things you need to install - to get started developing games with the Unity game engine.
In this article we'll cover:
- Unity Hub
- Choosing a Unity version
- Picking a starter template
- 2D vs 3D
- Various rendering pipelines: Standard vs URP vs HDRP
- Picking a starter template
By the time you're done with this article you should know how to create a new Unity project ready to start building your game.
This content is also available as a YouTube video:
Unity Hub is a free stand-alone desktop application for Windows, Linux, and Mac that lets you create and open game projects, manage the installed versions of Unity, discover learning resources, and access community resources and forums.
Start by downloading the correct version of Unity Hub for your operating system and installing the application. Once that's complete, you'll need to select and install a version of Unity.
Choosing a Unity Version
You can have multiple Unity editors installed on one machine at any one time.
To install a new version of Unity, click on the Installs tab and then the Install Editor button.
Choosing a Unity version often boils down to personal preferences. In general, you'll probably want to follow one of the following strategies:
- Select the latest available long term support (LTS) version of Unity at the start of your project and only upgrade when strictly necessary
- Select the latest official version of Unity and upgrade as relevant new releases come out
- Select beta or alpha releases that contain features of critical importance to your project
Your choice on this front will be influenced by a few factors including how frequently you and your team are willing to update your installed versions of Unity, how much you and your team can tolerate buggy behavior in the editor, how appealing new features are to you and your team, and if you are okay with the idea of using pre-release features or versions of Unity.
While I am only a hobbyist game developer from time to time, I currently am using version 2022.2.1f1 of the Unity editor as of early January 2023. This release is not a long term support release, but I found myself wanting to use the UI Toolkit feature in a project. This feature was not yet officially available in the latest LTS version of Unity, so I chose to upgrade to a more recent version of Unity, knowing that I would likely need to patch my editor periodically as new bugfix releases came out.
Choosing a long-term support release is great for teams that want to spend as little time as possible upgrading Unity or dealing with bugs. However, these teams also don't get access to newer features and improvements to Unity until they upgrade.
Ultimately, your choice of Unity version should be governed based on you and your team's needs and levels of risk tolerance.
Selecting Unity Version Features
When you install a Unity edition, you will be prompted to select additional features to download and install.
These features typically relate to building versions of your game for specific target platforms such as Android, Mac, or WebGL.
You can install whatever features you think you need or want to experiment with, but my general recommendation is to leave the default features selected at first because none of these features will stop you from developing your game in the editor.
Later on, as you get closer to sharing builds of your game, you'll have a better idea of what platforms you want to support and you can install those additional modules at that point in time.
Picking a Game Starter Template in Unity
Once you've installed at least one Unity editor, you can create a new project by going to the Projects tab and clicking New Project.
From there, you'll be presented with a list of templates. This list will depend on the version of the Unity editor you have selected in the drop-down and not all templates will be available for all versions of Unity.
Additionally, many of the templates are not installed by default with the Unity editor. If you see a cloud icon on a template, that means the template is available, but not yet downloaded and installed.
To fix this, select the template and then click "Download template" to download the template. Once that downloads, you will be able to create a new project using that template. Thankfully, these templates are usually very small and download quickly.
Let's talk about the different types of templates available, because this is a place where you're going to have to make a few decisions.
2D vs 3D in Unity
One of the big decisions you'll need to make is whether to use a 2D or 3D template.
2D is optimized for platformers and other types of games that traditionally use a tilemap and 2D collision for movement. You can see a sample of a 2D game built in Unity from my small "Kinda Sus" game I made a few years ago:
Everything about 2D is optimized for this style of flat movement and collisions.
However, 2D doesn't mean that you can't have 3D visuals.
The Unity editor is fully 3D, even if you choose to start with the 2D template. This means that 2D projects can include 3D objects to achieve a 2.5D visual style, such as the style I used for a technical prototype I made a few years ago, shown below:
This game uses 2D controls and collisions in a 3D world, allowing for some unique lighting and artistic styles (excusing my blocky prototype above).
On the other hand, the 3D template does not include the tilemap editing components and defaults to 3D movement and collisions. This was the original intent of Unity and something Unity does quite well. It can be used to build first or third person games of a variety of styles.
A sample 3D project is my "The Earthlings are Coming" tower defense game shown below:
Rendering Pipelines: Standard vs URP vs HDRP
You may notice that a few of the templates in the project have
(HDRP) after them. This corresponds to the underlying rendering pipeline.
Unity currently has 3 rendering pipelines:
- Standard is the legacy rendering pipeline built into Unity. It is versatile and can do a lot. When no rendering pipeline is explicitly mentioned by a template, that template is using the standard pipeline.
- Universal Render Pipeline or URP refers to a newer lightweight rendering pipeline designed to run efficiently on all devices, but particularly designed to perform well on mobile and lower tiers of hardware. URP can handle most of what Standard does, but does require some additional conversion of materials in your assets.
- High Definition Render Pipeline or HDRP is built explicitly for those wanting to push the rendering pipeline to its limits in terms of visual quality and photorealism. You can think of HDRP as almost an "advanced mode" you can turn on, though it adds additional complexity.
Typically when I'm building a game I'm not looking for visual fidelity and instead choose to go with URP for its performance boosts on mobile and lower tier machines instead. However, I do sometimes still make projects using standard for quick prototyping and easy integration with existing assets.
What you and your team choose to do will be up to you and what you view as important for your project.
We've now walked through the process of creating a new Unity game in 2023 using Unity Hub.
We also explored a few of the key decisions you'll need to make in installing and creating your first project.
If you're just starting out, I encourage you to start with the latest LTS release and make a standard 3D or 2D game to learn the ropes of Unity. Even commercial projects start out as prototypes and you can do almost anything you need to with the latest LTS release and the simple default render pipeline.
Later on, you can start a new project or adapt your existing projects to add or remove functionality, change rendering pipeline, and tweak other settings to meet your needs.
Similarly, the Unity version you start a project on may not be the version you finish on.
Ultimately, it's important to have a stable, powerful, and simple editing experience as you're bringing your ideas to life - particularly early on in your project's lifetime. Focus on the gameplay and finding what's fun about your project, then progressively enhance it.