Ten Super Helpful Unity Assets

As I’ve been working on Nebula Gladiator VRFly Around and Zap Aliens,  and Fail to Win, I’ve relied heavily on the Unity Asset Store. It is a great way to avoid reinventing to wheel. Unity itself all the basic tools you need (physics, animation, etc.), but to get a good starting point for your game, it is pretty much essential to add some packages from the Asset Store. Many of the packages cost a small amount (I have five packages ranging between 5 and 20 dollars), but many are free as well. Anyway, I’ve played around with a lot of Unity packages and found a few to be particularly useful. I’ve limited this list to just code and effect packages, since those tend to be more generally applicable.

1. Ragdoll and Transition to Mecanim

This is what I’m using for the ragdoll transitions in Fail to Win. In a 3D game where your avatar can get hurt (which is almost all of them), using ragdolls is a lot easier than creating death animations. It also tends to respond better to forces than pre-set animations. This tool by BzSoft, makes it even easier by automatically turning a character into a ragdoll when, for example, you fall from a really high ledge. Then, when things calm down, the avatar get back onto his or her feet. Also, it’s free.

2. Procedural Lightning

I am using this to do the zapping part of Fly Around and Zap Aliens. I used to have a simpler procedural lightning effect, but this looks way better. It has a surprising amount of configuration, so if you need anything that even somewhat resembles lightning or sparks, you can probably use this. Despite that, it is super easy to set up. It only costs $9.

3. Log Viewer

This solved a frustrating problem. I tested everything in the Editor, and it worked great. Then I made a build and deployed it to my phone. I opened it up to find the game broken. I could dig around and find the log file, but finding problems that way takes more time, and you may have to dig through a lot more. I then added this to my project and could open the log from my phone with a simple circle swipe gesture. It looks like the Unity console. It also displays the frame rate, memory usage, and other stats. This could be super useful for collecting information from beta testers. This package is free.

4. ProBuilder

So, I’m not much of an artist, and even if I was, I wouldn’t want to go into Blender or Maya and design a level just to test a simple idea. So I spent a lot of time carefully aligning primitives (mostly cubes) into rooms. The Standard Assets Prototyping package helped a little, but it still lacked the kind of control I needed. ProBuilder is a free package that lets you model directly withing the Editor. Granted, it would not be ideal for anything as complex as character design, but it is fantastic for level design.

5. FinalIK

This is the priciest package I’ve listed so far as $90, but if your game involves a lot running around and climbing on stuff, this may make your animations look a thousand times better. I got tired of having floating feet when walking on slopes, so I was really excited to finally have a way to fit my animations seamlessly to the stage just like in AAA games. This package does a lot more than stick feet to floors. Climbing, opening doors, pressing buttons, and pretty much anything else that involves animation and an avatar’s surrounding are going to look a lot better with FinalIK. I’m even using it in Fly Around and Zap Aliens, although I had to be sure to turn it off every time you become a ragdoll; otherwise, weird stuff happens.

6. Mesh Slicer

Another BzSoft package that makes it easy to create a more fun game. It lets you cut a mesh along a plane, or even along the path of a knife (or sword). It is a super satisfying effect in VR. That’s why I added it to Nebula Gladiator VR. A VR sword isn’t going to meet any resistance except maybe when a family member or roommate walks through the living room at the wrong time and gets hit with a controller, so a VR sword should cut cleanly through anything it hits. It got even better when I wrote a simple script that forces the pieces to fly away from each other after being cut.

7. Head Look Controller

I’m amazed this package still works, since it hasn’t been updated since 2010. It is free, and simply makes people look at stuff. There may be some other similar packages that do the same thing and are more up to date, but most of the time, this package should be all you need. It is super easy to set up and is another subtle effect that really makes a game look so much better.

8. MK Glow

It is a nice-looking glow effect that can be added either to individual objects or to a whole scene. I’m probably going to add it to Fly Around and Zap Aliens soon. I’ve played around with it before, and it is really easy to set up. They even have a free version. The upgraded version is only $10, and offers some extra control, but the free version is already super useful.

9. Unity Particle Pack

This is a Unity Essentials pack, so there’s a good chance you have already been using it, but I had to list it here because of how useful it is. I am using its explosions in Fail to Win, but a lot of its more subtle effects like dust and sparks can add the right kind of detail to a game. Most games are going to have a good reason to use at least one of those effects.

10. Post Processing Stack

Another Unity Essentials package, but worth mentioning. When used right, this could help make your game look less like an obvious computer rendering and more like a cinematic masterpiece. I discovered it doesn’t work so well on mobile, but on other platforms, it helps give the finishing touches.

A Final Note

Many of these tools were things I discovered when I was noticing details in my games that made them seem like ugly amateur indie games instead of modern quality masterpieces. Thank you to all the creators of these tools. The asset store is a fantastic resource. I’ve both sold and purchased tools on the asset store, and the system is great. I, of course, haven’t tried everything on the asset store (there are thousands!), so I’m curious if any of my Unity gamedev readers here have used a Unity package they consider a must-have. If so, please share in the comments below.

Fly Around and Zap Aliens Beta

I recently released a game on the Google Play store called Fly Around and Zap Aliens. It is currently in an open beta, so you are welcome to try it out, although I plan change some things in future. You can download it here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kenningtongames.spacegame.

History

flay around and zap aliens screenshot

This game actually started back in high school. I had previously made a simple space game in Flash where you and another player orbit a planet, trying to knock each other out of orbit. When I was learning Unity, I thought I would try making a 3D version of the same game. However, I quickly ran into some serious design issues:

  • There’s a lot more space in three dimensions. Traveling from one side of the planet to the other felt like it took way too long, and it was hard to tell how fast you were going until you crashed into something, unable to slow down fast enough.
  • Your field of view is limited, since you are following a spaceship instead of getting a full view of the arena. This made the pull of gravity really confusing. Since there is no up or down in space, the pull of the planet onto the ship just made uncomfortable controls.
  • Multiplayer would be trickier than simply sharing a keyboard with a friend.
  • Boundaries are unclear. In 2D, it was simply the edge of the screen. In 3D, I needed a way to box players in and still have them experience the openness of space.

So I made an entirely new game with a similar-looking stage. There is still a planet in the center, and you still control a spaceship, but now you are defending the planet from aliens. You zap them instead of knocking them backward. There is no real gravity from the planet, but you still fly around it. I originally had a force-field for boundaries, but my force-field effect looked awful. The game was pretty much playable, though. I never could settle on a name. I then took a two-year break from game development and forgot all about it. More recently, I was looking through my old projects and re-discovered it. I had learned a lot since made it (it’s been about five years now), so I decided to start fixing it up.

The Game Now

I chose to port it to mobile because of the availability of tilt controls. Really, a platform like the Nintendo Switch would be more ideal, since it has a little more graphics power than a mobile phone while stile having the same tilt control, but Android is an easier platform to begin publishing for. The Asset Store has come a long way since I started this project, so I was able to make things look a lot nicer, but the game works in pretty much the same way. I did, however, change the boundaries, using a portal instead of a force-field. If you fly too far away from the planet, a portal appears, taking you to the opposite side of the planet, flying toward it instead of away from it. I released it recently to the Play Store, but it still has a few problems. For example, it is possible to dodge the portal and keep flying away. Most people I show the game are initially confused by the controls. It doesn’t take long to get used to them, though. Also, the end screen is kind of boring. I hope to fix these things and more. Still unable to choose a name, I chose the most concise way I could explain it.

The Plan

Between now and the full release, I plan to add the following:

  • Appearance tweaks (Already swapped out the spaceship models; just need to publish that change).
  • Fix the problem of dodging the portal and venturing into the void of space.
  • Add a leader board
  • Have the aliens come in waves instead of a steadily increasing rate.
  • A tutorial
  • Optimizations and device support (If you try the beta, and it does not work on your phone, let me know!)
  • An iOS port

These updates will come gradually as I make them, leading up to the official release. Please try it out and let me know what you think!

Player Motivations: for Novelty or for Sport?

There are many ways to classify players. I most commonly hear casual versus hardcore. This classification is not very useful, since it seems to describe the level of commitment to a game, not the type of commitment. I struggled to classify myself, since I enjoy both casual and hardcore games. I noticed, however, that I had a very different play style compared to many other players, in both casual and hardcore games. I realized that these differences in style could be explained by a difference in motivation. So I propose a new classification based on two kinds of player motivations: for novelty versus for sport. These two groups can be described like this:

Players for novelty (adventurers):

  • Believe games are about trying new things
  • Prioritize accessing new content
  • Care very little about metrics
  • Play recklessly
  • Embrace randomness and imbalance
  • Like things to change

Players for sport (competitors):

  • Believe games are about overcoming challenges
  • Prioritize winning
  • Focus on metrics
  • Play cautiously
  • Get outraged at randomness and imbalance
  • Like stability

This is a spectrum, and while many players will fall somewhere between the two, the direction a player leans will greatly impact the decisions that player makes during the game. I, for example, lean far on the novelty side, meaning I am more of an adventurer than a competitor. Even in physical sports, which obviously are designed more with competitors in mind, I would try to make the game more novel. Because of this, I wasn’t the most competitive. I remember one time in elementary school when I got bored during a game of dodge-ball and thought, “How long could I last without moving my feet?” The children on the other side of the spectrum thought I was being an idiot, since not moving my feet would obviously put me at a disadvantage. I didn’t care about the disadvantage; I just wanted to see what would happen.

Another example, this time with video games, is Super Smash Bros. I like to play timed battles with a random character, on a random stage (no stages removed from the random selection), with all items turned on and with the maximum number of players. Many Smash players probably cringed while reading that last sentence. This introduces tons of luck. You could end up winning a round, not because you have better tactics and reflexes than another player, but because the perfect item happened to drop right in front of you while your opponent is distracted by a random stage hazard, allowing you to deal a final blow a second before the clock hits zero. Many players try to avoid these situations by only playing stock mode on the simple Final Destination stage with all items turned off.  Such a player will feel satisfied that any victory was a result of his or her own skill, and nothing else. It is the pleasure of learning to overcome a difficult problem. Players like me, though, would look at this setup and think, “Why spend all your time playing only half a game?” Sure, the game is unfair and unpredictable with my preferred setup, but each match has a higher chance of seeing a combination of events I have not seen before, and for players like me, that means more fun.

You have two types of players who will judge your game in very different ways. One type wants more options. They are forgiving of bugs and glitches, and may actually appreciate them if if they do not completely block game progress. The other type wants games to be fair and predictable. They are more willing to replay the same or similar content without getting bored, but also more likely to complain about glitches, imbalance, and random number generators. They will prefer existing game mechanics to be deep rather than be introduced to new game mechanics.

Designing for Player Motivation

It is important to consider both of these kinds of players in game design. Many games support play styles preferred by both groups. In farming simulators, for example, players for novelty can focus their attention befriending villagers, collecting rare items, etc., while players for sport can focus on becoming millionaires. These differences can often make interesting gaming communities. An adventurer playing for novelty might discover a glitch in a game that is then used by a competitor playing for sport to set a new speed-running record.

Some game mechanics, however, tend to appeal to one side of the spectrum more than the other. Sandbox and open world games tend to attract adventures playing for novelty since they encourage discovery and do not have as clear of goals. Competitive and linear games attract players for sport because they are more controlled, more fair, and more clear about objectives. By considering these two kinds of audiences, we can tailor the details of a game’s design to the things our players most hope to find.

Of course every player is unique, so no classification is perfect. Most adventurers need at least some goals to get started. Most competitors will appreciate the occasional game changer. Nearly every game design will need to account for both motivations, regardless of the expected audience. Many game design decisions are highly controversial because they appeal more to one side of the spectrum than the other, earning game developers both praise and criticism. By knowing our players’ motivations and by designing for the different resulting play styles, we can design games that both can enjoy.

Where are you on the player motivation spectrum, and how has that affected how you play games? Do have any other ways you like classify play styles? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.