Unity is a great and straightforward tool to use for multi-platform development. Its principles are easy to understand, and you can intuitively begin to create your products. However, if some things are not taken in mind, they’ll slow your progress when you proceed with your work to the next level, as you are moving from initial prototype phase or approaching a final release. This article will provide advice on how to overcome most common problems and how to avoid fundamental mistakes in your new or existing projects. Please note, the perspective of this article is focused more on 3D application development, but everything mentioned is applicable for 2D development as well.
Common Unity Mistake #1: Underestimating Project Planning Phase
For every project, it’s crucial to determine several things before the application design and programming part of the project even begins. These days, when product marketing is an important part of the whole process, it’s also important to have a clear idea of what the business model of the implemented application will be. You have to be sure what platforms you will be releasing product for, and what platforms are in your plan. It’s also necessary to set the minimal supported devices specifications (will you support older low-end devices or just more recent models?) to have the idea of what performance and visuals you can afford. Every topic in this article is influenced by this fact.
From a more technical point of view, it should be necessary to set in advance the whole workflow of creating assets and models while providing them to the programmer, with particular attention to iteration process when the models will need some more changes and refinements. You should have a clear idea about desired frame rate and vertex budget, so the 3D artist can know in what maximal resolution the models have to be, and how many LOD variations he has to do. It should also be specified how to unify all the measurements to have a consistent scale, and import process throughout the whole application.
The way the levels will be designed is crucial for future work because the division of the level influences the performance a lot. Performance concerns have to always be in your mind when designing new levels. Don’t go with unrealistic visions. It’s always important to ask yourself the question “can it be reasonably achieved?” If not, you shouldn’t waste your precious resources on something hardly achievable (in case it’s not part of your business strategy to have it as your main competitive advantage, of course).
Common Unity Mistake #2: Working with Unoptimized Models
It’s critical to have all your models well prepared to be able to use them in your scenes without further modifications. There are several things that the good model should fulfill.
It’s important to set the scale correctly. Sometimes it’s not possible to have this correctly set from your 3D modeling software because of different units these applications are using. To make everything right, set the scale factor in models import settings (leave 0.01 for 3dsMax and Modo, set 1.0 for Maya), and note that sometimes you will need to re-import objects after changing the scale setting. These settings should assure that you can use just basic scale 1,1,1 in your scenes to get consistent behavior and no physics problems. Dynamic batching will also more likely work correctly. This rule should also be applied on every subobject in the model, not just the main one. When you need to tweak object dimensions, do it with regards to other objects in 3D modeling application rather than in Unity. However, you can experiment with scale in Unity to find out appropriate values, but for the final application and consistent workflow, it’s good to have everything well prepared before importing to Unity.
Regarding object’s functionality and their dynamic parts - have your models well divided. The fewer subobjects, the better. Separate parts of the object just in case when you need them, for example, to move or rotate dynamically, for animation purposes, or other interactions. Every object and its subobjects should have its pivot properly aligned and rotated with regards to its main function. The main object should have the Z axis pointing forward and pivot should be at the bottom of the object for better placement to the scene. Use as few materials on objects as possible (more on this below).
All assets should have proper names which will easily describe its type and functionality. Keep this consistency throughout all of your projects.
Common Unity Mistake #3: Building Interdependent Code Architecture
Prototyping and implementation of functionality in Unity is quite easy. You can easily drag and drop any references to other objects, address every single object in the scene, and access every component it has. However, this can also be potentially dangerous. On top of noticeable performance issues (finding an object in the hierarchy and access to components has its overhead), there is also great danger in making parts of your code entirely dependent on each other. Or being dependent on other systems and scripts unique to your application, or even on the current scene, or current scenario. Try to take a more modular approach and create reusable parts which can be used in other parts of your application, or even shared across your whole application portfolio. Build your framework and libraries on top of Unity API the same way you are building your knowledge base.
There’s a lot of different approaches to ensure this. A good starting point is the Unity component system itself. Complications may appear when particular components need to communicate with other systems of the application. For this, you can use interfaces to make parts of your system more abstract and reusable. Alternatively, you can use an event-driven approach for reacting to particular events from outside scope, either by creating a messaging system or by registering directly to parts of the other system as listeners. The right approach will be trying to separate gameObject properties from program logic (at least something like model-controller principle), because it’s tough to identify which objects are modifying its transform properties, like position and rotation. It should be exclusively its controller’s responsibility.
Try to make everything well documented. Treat it always like you should return to your code after a long time and you need to understand quickly what exactly this part of the code is doing. Because in reality, you will quite often get to some parts of your application after some time and it’s an unnecessary obstacle for quickly jumping into the problem. But do not overdo this. Sometimes, an appropriate class, method or property name is quite sufficient.
Common Unity Mistake #4: Wasting Your Performance
The latest product line of mobile phones, consoles, or desktop computers will never be so advanced that there will be no need to care about performance. Performance optimizations are always needed, and they provide the foundation for making the difference in how your game or application looks like in comparison to others on the market. Because when you save some performance in one part, you can use that to polish other parts of your application.
There are a lot of areas for optimizations. The whole article would be needed just to scratch the surface about this topic. At least, I will try to divide this domain into some core areas.
Don’t use performance intensive things in update loops, use caching instead. A typical example is an access to components or other objects in a scene or intensive calculations in your scripts. If possible, cache everything in
Awake() methods, or change your architecture to a more event-driven approach to trigger things just when they’re needed.
For objects that are instantiated quite often (for example, bullets in an FPS game), make a pre-initialized pool of them and just pick one already initialized when you need it and activate it. Then, instead of destroying it when it is not required anymore, deactivate it and return it to the pool.
Use occlusion culling or LOD techniques to limit rendered parts of the scene. Try to use optimized models to be able to keep vertex count in the scene under control. Be aware, vertex count isn’t just the number of vertices on the model itself, but it’s influenced by other things like normals (hard edges), UV coordinates (UV seams) and vertex colors. Also, a number of dynamic lights in the scene will dramatically influence overall performance, so try to bake everything in advance whenever possible.
Try to reduce draw calls count. In Unity, you can achieve draw calls reduction by using static batching for still objects and dynamic batching for the moving ones. However, you have to prepare your scenes and models first (batched objects have to share same materials), and batching of dynamic objects works only for low-res models. Alternatively, you could combine meshes by the script into one (
Mesh.CombineMeshes) instead of using batching, but you have to be careful not to create too large objects which can’t take advantage of view frustum culling on some platforms. In general, the key is to use as little materials as possible and share them across the scene. You will sometimes need to create atlases from textures to be able to share one material between distinct objects. A good tip is also to use higher resolution of scene lightmaps textures (not generated resolution, but texture output resolution) to lower their number when you are baking light in larger environments.
Don’t use transparent textures when not necessary, as it will cause fill-rate problems. It is okay to use it for complicated and more distant geometry, like trees or bushes. When you need to use it, prefer alpha blended shaders instead of shaders with alpha testing or instead of cutout shaders for mobile platforms. For identifying these problems in general, try to lower the resolution of your application. If it helps, it might be possible that you have these fill-rate problems, or you need to optimize your shaders more. Otherwise, it can be a more memory problem.
Optimize your shaders for better performance. Reduce the number of passes, use variables with lower precision, replace complicated math calculations with pre-generated lookup textures.
Always use a profiler to determine the bottlenecks. It’s a great tool. For rendering, you can also use awesome Frame Debugger, which will help you learn a lot about how things work in general when decomposing rendering processes with it.
Common Unity Mistake #5: Ignoring Garbage Collection problems
It is necessary to realize that despite the fact that Garbage Collector (GC) itself helps us to be really efficient and focused on important things in programming, there are a few things we should be explicitly aware of. The usage of GC isn’t free. Generally, we should avoid unnecessary memory allocations to prevent GC from firing itself too often and thus spoiling performance by framerate spikes. Ideally, there shouldn’t be any new memory allocations happening regularly each frame at all. However, how can we achieve this goal? It’s really determined by application architecture, but there are some rules you could follow which help:
- Avoid unnecessary allocations in update loops.
- Use structs for simple property containers, as they’re not allocated on the heap.
- Try to preallocate arrays or lists or other collections of objects, instead of creating them inside update loops.
- Avoid using mono problematic things (like LINQ expressions or foreach loops, for example) because Unity is using an older, not ideally optimized version of Mono (at the time of writing it is modified version 2.6, with upgrade on the roadmap).
- Cache strings in
Awake()methods or in events.
- If update of string property in update loop is necessary, use StringBuilder object instead of string.
- Use profiler to identify potential problems.
Common Unity Mistake #6: Optimizing Memory and Space Usage Last
It is necessary to keep the attention on the lowest memory and space usage of the application from the beginning of the project, as it is more complicated to do it when you leave optimization for pre-release phase. On mobile devices, this is even more important, because we are quite short on resources there. Also, by exceeding 100MB size of the installation, we can lose a significant amount of our customers. This is because of the 100MB limit for cellular network downloads, and also because of psychological reasons. It is always better when your application doesn’t waste customer’s precious phone resources, and they will be more likely to download or buy your app when its size is smaller.
For finding resource drainers, you can use editor log where you can see (after every new build) the size of resources divided into separate categories, like audio, textures, and DLLs. For better orientation, there are editor extensions on the Unity Asset Store, which will provide you a detailed summary with referenced resources and files in your filesystem. Actual memory consumption can also be seen in the profiler, but it is recommended to test it when connected to build on your target platform because there are a lot of inconsistencies when testing in an editor or on anything other than your target platform.
The biggest memory consumers are often textures. Preferably, use compressed textures as they take much less space and memory. Make all textures squared, ideally, make the length of both sides power of two (POT), but keep in mind Unity can also scale NPOT textures to POT automatically. Textures can be compressed when being in the POT form. Atlas textures together to fill the whole texture. Sometimes you can even use texture alpha channel for some extra information for your shaders to save additional space and performance. And of course, try to reuse textures for your scenes as much as possible, and use repeating textures when it is possible to retain good visual appearance. For low-end devices, you can lower the resolution of textures in Quality Settings. Use compressed audio format for longer audio clips, like the background music.
When you are dealing with different platforms, resolutions or localizations, you can use asset bundles for using different sets of textures for different devices or users. These asset bundles can be loaded dynamically from the internet after the application was installed. This way, you can exceed the 100MB limit by downloading resources during the game.
Common Unity Mistake #7: Common Physics Mistakes
Sometimes, when moving objects in the scene, we don’t realize that the object has a collider on it and that changing its position will force the engine to recalculate the whole physical world all over again. In that case, you should add
Rigidbody component to it (you can set it to non-kinematic if you don’t want external forces to be involved).
To modify the position of the object with
Rigidbody on it, always set
Rigidbody.position when a new position doesn’t follow the previous one, or
Rigidbody.MovePosition when it is a continuous movement, which also takes interpolation into account. When modifying it, apply operations always in
FixedUpdate, not in
Update functions. It will assure consistent physics behaviors.
If possible, use primitive colliders on gameObjects, like sphere, box, or cylinder, and not mesh colliders. You can compose your final collider from more than one of these colliders. Physics can be a performance bottleneck of your application because of its CPU overhead and collisions between primitive colliders are much faster to calculate. You can also adjust Fixed Timestep setting in Time manager to reduce the frequency of physics fixed updates when the accuracy of physics interaction isn’t so necessary.
Common Unity Mistake #8: Manually Testing All Functionality
Sometimes there might be a tendency to test functionality manually by experimenting in the play mode because it is quite fun and you have everything under your direct control. But this cool factor can decrease quite quickly. The more complex the application becomes, the more tedious tasks the programmer has to repeat and think about to assure that the application behaves as it was originally intended. It can easily become the worst part of the whole development process, because of its repetitive and passive character. Also, because the manual repetition of testing scenarios isn’t that fun, so there’s a higher chance that some bugs will make it through the whole testing process.
Unity has great testing tools to automate this. With appropriate architectural and code design, you can use unit tests for testing isolated functionality, or even integration tests for testing more complex scenarios. You can dramatically reduce try-and-check approach where you’re logging actual data and comparing it with its desired state.
Manual testing is without a doubt a critical part of the development. But its amount can be reduced, and the whole process can be more robust and faster. When there’s no possible way to automate it, prepare your test scenes to be able to get into the problem you are trying to solve as quickly as possible. Ideally, a few frames after hitting the play button. Implement shortcuts or cheats to set the desired state for testing. Also, make the testing situation isolated to be sure what’s causing the problem. Every unnecessary second in the play mode when testing is accumulated, and the bigger the initial bias of testing the problem, the more likely you won’t test the problem at all, and you will hope that all works just fine. But it probably won’t.
Common Unity Mistake #9: Thinking Unity Asset Store Plugins Will Solve All Your Problems
Trust me; they won’t. When working with some clients, I sometimes faced the tendency or relicts from the past of using asset store plugins for every single little thing. I don’t mean there aren’t useful Unity extensions on the Unity Asset Store. There are many of them, and sometimes it’s even hard to decide which one to choose. But for every project, it is important to retain consistency, which can be destroyed by unwisely using different pieces that do not fit well together.
On the other hand, for functionality which would take a long time for you to implement, it is always useful to use well-tested products from Unity Asset Store, which can save you a huge amount of your development time. However, pick carefully, use the proven ones which won’t bring a lot of uncontrollable and weird bugs to your final product. Five-star reviews are a good measure for a start.
If your desired functionality isn’t hard to implement, just add it to your constantly growing personal (or company’s) libraries, which can be used in all of your projects later again. That way you are improving your knowledge and your toolset at the same time.
Common Unity Mistake #10: Having No Need to Extend Unity Basic Functionality
Sometimes it may seem that Unity Editor environment is quite sufficient for basic game testing and level design, and extending it is a waste of time. But trust me, it is not. Unity’s great extension potential comes from being able to adapt it to specific problems which need to be solved in various projects. This can either improve the user experience when working in Unity or dramatically speed up the entire development and level design workflow. It would be unfortunate not to use built-in features, like built-in or custom Property Drawers, Decorator Drawers, custom component inspector settings, or even to not build whole plugins with its own Editor Windows.
I hope these topics will be useful for you as you move your Unity projects further. There are a lot of things which are project specific, so they can’t be applied, but it’s always useful to have some basic rules in mind when trying to solve more difficult and specific problems. You might have different opinions or procedures on how to solve these problems in your projects. The most important is to keep your idioms consistent throughout your project so that anyone in your team can clearly understand how the particular domain should have been solved correctly.