Pop culture has taught us that computer programmers are often outsiders, lone wolves, or geeky hackers who possess extraordinary mental gifts for algorithmic thought, little social IQ, and the odd anarchic bent. While this is not the case, there is something to the idea that learning to code fundamentally changes the way you look at the world. The good news is that your naturally curious mind will quickly adapt to this new way of thinking and may even come to enjoy it.
You already use analytical skills in your everyday life that translate to programming – you're just missing the right language and syntax to map those life skills into code. You know your age, right? That's a variable. When you cross the street, I presume you look down the road in both directions before stepping off the curb like the rest of us. That's evaluating different conditions, or what we call control flow in programming parlance. When you look at a can of pop, you instinctively identify that it has certain properties such as shape, weight, and contents. That's a class object! You get the idea.
With all that real-world experience at your fingertips, you're more than ready to cross over into the realm of programming. You'll need to know how to set up your development environment, work with the applications involved, and know exactly where to go when you need help. To that end, we're going to begin our adventure delving into C# by covering the following topics:
- Getting started with Unity
- Working with Visual Studio
- Using C# with Unity
- Exploring the documentation
Let's get started!
Sometimes, it's easier to start with what a thing isn't, rather than what it is. The main goal of this book isn't to learn the vast ins and outs of the Unity game engine or all of game development. By necessity, we'll cover these topics at a basic level here at the beginning of our journey, and in more detail in Chapter 6, Getting Your Hands Dirty with Unity. However, these topics are simply to provide a fun, accessible way for us to learn the C# programming language from the ground up.
Since this book is aimed at complete beginners to programming, if you have no previous experience with either C# or Unity, you're in the right place! If you've had some experience with the Unity Editor but not with programming, guess what? This is still the place to be. Even if you've dabbled in a bit of C# mixed with Unity, but want to explore some more intermediate or advanced topics, the later chapters of this book can provide you with what you're looking for.
Getting started with Unity 2020
If you don’t have Unity installed already, or are running an earlier version, you'll need to do a little setup. Follow these steps:
- Head over to https://www.unity.com/.
- Select Get Started (shown in the following screenshot), which will take you to the Unity store page:
Don't feel overwhelmed by this – you can get Unity completely free!
- Click the Individual tab and select the Personal option on the left. The other paid options offer more advanced functionality and services subscribers, but you can check these out on your own:
After selecting the personal plan, you'll be asked if you're a first-time or returning user.
- Select Start here under First-time Users:
- Select Agree and download to get your copy of Unity Hub:
Once the download is complete, follow these steps:
- Open up the package (by double-clicking it).
- Accept the user agreement.
- Follow the installation instructions. When you get the green light, go ahead and fire up the Unity Hub application! You'll see the following screen:
- With Unity Hub open, switch to the Installs tab from the left-hand menu and select ADD:
At the time of writing, Unity 2020 is still in its Alpha phase, but you should be able to select a 2020 version from the Latest Official Releases list:
You won't need any specific platform modules to follow along with future examples, so go ahead and leave this as-is. If you do want to add them at any time, you can click the More button (three-dot icon) at the upper right of any version in the Installs window:
When the installation is complete, you'll see a new version in your Installs panel, as follows:
There's always a chance of something going wrong, so be sure to check the following section if you're using macOS Catalina or higher.
If you're working on a Mac with OS Catalina or later, there is a known issue with using Unity Hub 2.2.2 (and earlier versions) to install Unity with the preceding steps. If that's the case for you, take a deep breath and go to the Unity download archive and grab the version you need (https://unity3d.com/get-unity/download/archive). Remember to use the Downloads (Mac) option instead of the Unity Hub download:
The download is a normal application installer since it's a .dmg file. Open it up, follow the instructions, and you'll be ready to go in no time!
Now that Unity Hub and Unity 2020 are installed, it's time to create a new project!
Creating a new project
Launch the Unity Hub application to start a new project. If you have a Unity account, go ahead and sign-in; if not, you can either create one or hit Skip at the bottom of the screen.
Now, let's set up a new project by selecting the arrow icon next to the NEW tab at the top-right:
Choose your 2020 version and set the following fields:
- Project Name: I'll be calling mine Hero Born.
- Location: Wherever you'd like the project to be saved.
- Template: The project will default to 3D, so hit CREATE:
With the project created, you're all set to explore the Unity interface.
Navigating the editor
When the new project finishes initializing, you'll see the glorious Unity Editor! I've marked the important tabs (or panels, if you prefer) in the following screenshot:
This is a lot to take in, so we'll look at each of these panels in more detail:
- The Toolbar panel is the topmost part of the Unity editor. From here, you can manipulate objects (far-left button group) and play and pause the game (center buttons). The rightmost button group contains Unity Services, layer masks, and layout scheme features, which we won't be using in this book.
- The Hierarchy window shows every item currently in the game scene. In the starter project, this is just the default camera and directional light, but when we create our prototype environment, this window will start to get filled in.
- The Game and Scene views are the most visual aspects of the editor. Think of the Scene view as your stage, where you can move and arrange 2D and 3D objects. When you hit the Play button, the Game view will take over, rendering the Scene view and any programmed interactions.
- The Inspector window is your one-stop-shop for viewing and editing the properties of your objects. If you select the Main Camera component, you'll see several parts (Unity calls them components) are displayed – all of which are accessible from here.
- The Project window holds every asset that's currently in your project. Think of this as a representation of your project's folders and files.
- The Console panel is where any output we want our scripts to print will show up. From here on out, if we talk about the console or debug output, this panel is where it will be displayed.
I know that was a lot to process if you're new to Unity, but rest assured that any instructions going forward will always reference the necessary steps. I won't leave you hanging or wondering what button to push. With that out of the way, let's start creating some actual C# scripts.
Using C# with Unity
Going forward, it's important to think of Unity and C# as symbiotic entities. Unity is the engine where you'll create scripts and eventually run them, but the actual programming takes place in another program called Visual Studio. Don't worry about that right now – we'll get to that in a moment.
Working with C# scripts
Even though we haven't covered any basic programming concepts yet, they won't have a home until we know how to create an actual C# script in Unity.
There are several ways to create C# scripts from the editor:
- Select Assets | Create | C# Script.
- In the Project tab, select Create | C# Script.
- Right-click in the Project tab (on the right-hand side) and select Create | C# Script from the pop-up menu.
- Select a GameObject in the Hierarchy window and click Add Component | New Script.
Going forward, whenever you're instructed to create a C# script, please use whichever method you prefer.
For the sake of organization, we're going to store our various assets and scripts inside their marked folders. This isn't just a Unity-related task – it's something you should always do, and your coworkers will thank you (I promise):
- Click Create | Folder (or whichever method you like best) from the Project tab and name it Scripts:
- Double-click on the Scripts folder and create a new C# script. By default, the script will be named NewBehaviourScript, but you'll see the filename highlighted, so you have the option to immediately rename it. Type in LearningCurve and hit Enter:
We've just created a subfolder named Scripts, as shown in the preceding screenshot. Inside that parent folder, we've created a C# script named LearningCurve.cs (the .cs file type stands for C-Sharp, in case you were wondering), which is now saved as part of our Hero Born project assets. All that's left to do is open it up in Visual Studio!
Introducing the Visual Studio editor
While Unity can create and store C# scripts, they need to be edited using Visual Studio. A copy of Visual Studio comes pre-packaged with Unity and will open it up automatically when you double-click any C# script from inside the editor.
Time for action – opening a C# file
Unity will synchronize with Visual Studio the first time you open a file. The simplest way to do this is by selecting the script from the Projects tab.
Double-click on LearningCurve.cs, as follows:
This will open up the C# file in Visual Studio:
If the file opens up in another default application, follow these steps:
- Select Unity | Preferences from the top menu and choose External Tools in the left-hand panel.
- Change the External Script Editor to Visual Studio, as shown in the following screenshot:
You'll see a folder structure on the left-hand side of the interface that mirrors the one in Unity, which you can access like any other. On the right-hand side is the actual code editor where the magic happens. There are far more features to the Visual Studio application, but this is all we need to get the programmatic ball rolling.
Beware of naming mismatches
One common pitfall that trips up new programmers is file naming – more specifically, naming mismatches – which we can illustrate using line 5 from the previous screenshot of the C# file in Visual Studio:
public class LearningCurve : MonoBehaviour
The LearningCurve class name is the same as the LearningCurve.cs filename. This is an essential requirement. It's OK if you don't know what a class is quite yet. The important thing to remember is that, in Unity, the filename and the class name need to be the same. If you're using C# outside of Unity, the filename and class name don't have to match.
When you create a C# script file in Unity, the filename in the Project tab is already in Edit mode, ready to be renamed. It's a good habit to rename it then and there. If you rename the script later, the filename and the class name won't match. The filename would change, but line five would be as follows:
public class NewBehaviourScript : MonoBehaviour
If you accidentally do this, it's not the end of the world. All you need to do is go into Visual Studio and change NewBehaviourScript to the name of your C# script.
Syncing C# files
As part of their symbiotic relationship, Unity and Visual Studio keep in touch with each other to synchronize their content. This means that if you add, delete, or change a script file in one application, the other application will see the changes automatically.
So, what happens when Murphy's Law strikes and syncing just doesn't seem to be working correctly? If you run into this situation, take a deep breath, select the troublesome script, right-click, and select Refresh.
You now have the basics of script creation under your belt, so it's time we talk about finding and efficiently using helpful resources.
Exploring the documentation
The last topic we'll touch on in this first foray into Unity and C# scripts is documentation. Not sexy, I know, but it's important to form good habits early when dealing with new programming languages or development environments.
Accessing Unity's documentation
Once you start writing scripts in earnest, you'll be using Unity's documentation quite often, so it's beneficial to know how to access it early on. The Reference Manual will give you an overview of a component or topic, while specific programming examples can be found in the Scripting Reference.
Time for action – opening the Reference Manual
Every GameObject (an item in the Hierarchy window) in a Scene has a Transform component that controls its Position, Rotation, and Scale. To keep things simple, we'll just look up the camera's Transform component in the Reference Manual:
- In the Hierarchy tab, select the Main Camera object.
- Move over to the Inspector tab and click on the information icon (question mark) at the top-right of the Transform component:
You'll see a web browser open on the Transform page of the Reference Manual. All the components in Unity have this feature, so if you ever want to know more about how something works, you know what to do:
Time for action – using the Scripting Reference
So, we've got the Reference Manual open, but what if we wanted concrete coding examples related to the Transform component? It's pretty simple – all we need to do is ask the Scripting Reference.
Click on Scripting API, or the Switch to Scripting link underneath the component or class name (Transform, in this case).
By doing this, the Reference Manual automatically switches to the Scripting Reference for the Transform component:
If you find yourself lost in the documentation, or just out of ideas regarding where to look, you can also find solutions within the rich Unity development community in the following places:
On the other side of things, you'll need to know where to find resources on any C# question, which we'll cover next.
Locating C# resources
Now that we've got our Unity resources taken care of, let's take a look at some of Microsoft's C# documents at https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dotnet/csharp/programming-guide/index.
Time for action – looking up a C# class
Let's load up the programming guide link and look up the C# String class. Do either of the following:
- Enter Strings in the search bar in the top-left corner of the web page
- Scroll down to Language Sections and click on the Strings link directly:
You should see something like the following for the class description page. Unlike Unity's documentation, the C# reference and scripting information is all bundled up into one, but its saving grace is the subtopic list on the right-hand side. Use it well:
It's extremely important to know where to find help when you're stuck or have a question, so be sure to circle back to this section whenever you hit a roadblock.
We covered quite a bit of logistical information in this chapter, so I can understand if you're itching to write some code. Starting new projects, creating folders and scripts, and accessing documentation are topics that are easily forgotten in the excitement of a new adventure. Just remember that this chapter has a lot of resources you might need in the coming pages, so don't be afraid to come back and visit. Thinking like a programmer is a muscle: the more you work it, the stronger it gets.
In the next chapter, we'll start laying out the theory, vocabulary, and main concepts you'll need to prime your coding brain. Even though the material is conceptual, we'll still be writing our first lines of code in the LearningCurve script. Get ready!
Pop quiz – dealing with scripts
- What type of relationship do Unity and Visual Studio share?
- The Scripting Reference supplies example code in regards to using a particular Unity component or feature. Where can you find more detailed (non-code-related) information about Unity components?
- The Scripting Reference is a large document. How much of it do you have to memorize before attempting to write a script?
- When is the best time to name a C# script?