Unity Game Design and the Question of the Asset Store

Akonus is the name of the project I’m building. When finished, it will be a role-playing game set in the Eclipse Phase universe, a near-future science-fiction horror story about humanity on the edge of extinction and the desperate fight to prevent that eventuality.

Aknous Character Selection

The idea came to me while playing Elder Scrolls Online, a game I’ve come to really enjoy for it’s both it’s size and gameplay. I realized that while I like ESO, I’d really love to be playing an Eclipse Phase game. Which doesn’t exist. So, why not build it myself, I thought.

A Huge Undertaking

I was well aware that it would be a huge undertaking. I had used Unity a great deal during a previous attempt to create a game in 2015 and 2016. But there had been quite an interval, and Unity had undergone a number of changes. One of those involved dropping support for scripting in Javascript, a language I know. Unity now only supports C#, which isn’t a language I’d had any real experience using.

The truth is that most commercially released games are completely coded by the team building the game. This often means developing the underlying game engine from scratch. Plans for these games are meticulous and all of the various systems that will be needed are coded from these plans.

Asset Store to the Rescue

Unity Asset Store

That’s great for professionals, people with experience and skill in game design and development. I am not that person, so the natural conclusion was to go shopping at the Unity Asset store. Unity is free for developers who make under a specific threshold from their work. $100,000 or less, I believe. It has a number of built-in system to achieve your goals. But independent developers can offer code, artwork, 3d models, and audio for anyone to buy on the Asset Store and use in their projects. As of June 2, 2020, there are 60,412  assets on the store. Some of these assets (6,007) are actually free and their are Youtube tutorials* that show how you can build a working game without paying a dime.

Many of the best assets are not free. Almost 96% of the assets on the store cost $50 or less. The most expensive is a video playback package that lists for $3,500.  Some of them are painful overpriced, while others are amazing bargains. There is a review system to help guide shoppers, but many of the actual reports aren’t terribly reliable. And it’s possible to get a refund under some circumstances.

Some of these assets are just ready to use. Audio, whether it’s music, sound effects, or voices can be dropped into a game and used right away. 3d models might have to be tweaked before being usable. But the most important assets, in my opinion, are game C# code for major systems.

One example would be a character controller. Players may not realize how much work goes into moving their character around in a game world. Controllers aren’t difficult to create, but to make one that fits the design requirements of a specific game takes time, experience, coding skill, as well as patience. And if you’re new to the whole process, they can be a bit overwhelming. The simple solution seems to be finding and buying a package that handles controlling a character.

There are more than a hundred character controllers available on the Asset store. Some focus on First Person Shooters. Others on a variety of third-person type games, over the shoulder views, or perhaps a top down perspective. And this is where reality intrudes. Even the best of the available controllers are not going to work without some level of customization.

Maybe Not so Fast

I quickly discovered that getting the game I want would require a lot more work than I originally thought. I could adapt my design to fit the code, or I could figure out how to adapt the code to fit my vision. I’m going with the second option, which means I rely on the asset creators to support their product with good documentation, tutorials, and an active presence in their support forums. And this can be hit or miss.

So, I’ve learned not to buy a package on the asset store without thoroughly investigating several key questions. What do the reviewers who actually provide details saying about the asset? What does the support forum look like? Is the developer actively answering questions and providing guidance? Is there complete documentation? Are their tutorials, written and/or video?

Keep in mind that in almost all cases, you’ll have access to the actual scripts used in an asset. Even if you don’t use the asset itself, you can learn an enormous amount from reading through this code. And that, in and of itself, may be well worth the cost.

[*]If you’re looking for video tutorials, I highly recommend these specific Youtube channels: