Mastering the Basics of Unity: User Interface

With any new application that you're going to learn, the first step is always going to be mastering the UI. Just about every program has a different UI that you'll need to get familiar with, and Unity is no different. If you have any experience in other game engines or any 3D applications for that matter, there won't be a huge learning curve for you. Never the less, there are always important things you'll need to know for any application. In this article you'll learn about the basics of Unity so you can have a strong foundation to build off of, and start diving into more complex projects.

Creating a Project

If this is your first time opening up Unity, you should see the Project Wizard pop up. If this is not you first time, you can find this project wizard by going to File>New Project. The project wizard allows you to point out specifically on your system where you want your game project to be saved. You can also open up previous projects you've saved within this project wizard. Now, one thing you may notice is right under the Project Location extension, you have a panel that says Import the following packages: which consists of a list of different packages like Character Controller, or Particles and Light Flares. By default, these are all unchecked and that's usually how you want to keep it when creating a new project. It's better to add the packages as you go, and add them when you actually need them rather than bloating your Unity project with every single package, when you may not need them all. So just keep that in mind, this project wizard isn't the only time you'll have the chance to add packages, you can add them at anytime when you're inside of your Unity project.

User Interface

[caption id="attachment_30919" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Click the image to see the full size UI breakdown[/caption]

At the very top of Unity is the menu bar, which is very similar to what you would see in many other applications. You have File, which allows you to do things like open and save your scene, open, save or create a new project. Then there is the Edit menu, which let’s you do things like undo and redo, copy, paste and more. Now, beyond those menus there are a few you may not be familiar with, and that is the Assets menu, the GameObject menu and the Component menu.

The assets menu let’s you create things like JavaScript, C# as well as import packages like we discussed earlier. The GameObject menu allows you to make changes to current game objects like make it a Parent, as well as create things like lights, a particle system, cameras and a lot more. The component menu let’s you create things like effects and apply physics and colliders to objects. Finally you have the Window and Help menus. The window menu gives you the option to open up other windows that are not visible by default in the Unity layout. The help menu gives you access to things like the Unity Forums and Unity Answers page.


Control Tools

Below the Menu Bar is the Control Tools. The control tools are similar to what you would find in a 3D application. You have the option to move, rotate or scale an object by selecting the transformation gizmo that you want. Alternatively you also have the hotkeys for quickly toggling between them. “W” accesses the transform gizmo, “E” rotate and “R” scale. You have another option which is the little hand icon, this let’s you pan in the scene view, which you’ll learn about more in the scene view navigation section.

Within the control tools there are two more options, Center and Local. These can be switched to Pivot, and Global. So if you select Center, the tool handle is placed at the center of the object. If you change this to pivot, the handle is placed at the pivot point of the object. You can also change the local rotation order to global my selecting the icon.


Hierarchy Panel

Under the Control Tools you have the Hierarchy Panel. The Hierarchy Panel displays all the assets within your game, as well as the parent/child relationship that each asset has with one another. This panel is extremely helpful when you’re trying to quickly find a particular asset in your game that you want to edit or change, especially when you start getting into projects with hundreds of different assets.







Inspector Panel

If you select an object inside the Hierarchy panel, in this case the Main Camera you’ll see that right across from the Hierarchy panel is a series of properties that just became visible. This is called the Inspector and it displays all of the important information of a selected asset. So if you select, an object, light, particle effect, etc. It will display here in the inspector, where you can adjust things like the position, rename it, and change various properties related to that specific object. So in this case, the Main Camera is selected so you’ll see things like Background color, Culling Mask, Field of View, etc.









Scene View

The scene view is the large area in the middle of the Unity UI. If you’ve used any type of 3D application before, this is going to look very familiar. This is where you’ll be placing all the different assets that make up your game. The scene view is really the same thing as the viewport in any other 3D application.

Game View

You’ll notice that right next to the Scene tab is the Game tab. If you select the Game tab you’ll notice that the Scene view changes to a completely blue background. This actually drops you into the game, so you’ll be able to move around and test out your game by simply switching to the Game view. The game view is blue right now because it’s looking through the Main Camera and there’s currently nothing in the game.

You can also switch to the game view by pressing the play button right above the scene and game view window. This automatically drops you into the game view and let’s you play. To switch to the scene view simply click the play button again.

Project Panel

Right under the scene view is the Project panel. The project panel displays everything that’s currently in your game. When starting with a blank game it should have an Assets folder created by default within the Project Panel. When assets are imported into Unity you’ll see them displayed here in the project panel and you’ll be able to drag and drop them directly into the scene view.

Console Panel

The tab next to the Project panel is the Console panel, when that’s selected it will let you see all the vital information about your scene and objects while running the game. This is crucial for when you’re testing your game and to see if there are any bugs happening in the game.

Navigating the Viewport

The Unity navigation method is very similar to how the navigation works in most 3D applications, especially Maya. If you’ve used any 3D programs before you’ll probably feel right out home inside of Unity.

To orbit around and object or rotate around an object you just hold Alt+Left Mouse Button and drag up, down, left or right to get the angle that you want. To pan around the scene view simply click and hold the Middle Mouse Button and move the mouse up, down, left or right. Finally, you can zoom in on an object by holding Alt+Right Mouse Button dragging in or out. You can also zoom in incrementally by scrolling the mouse wheel.

Practice around with the navigation, it’s very easy to get comfortable with it.

Now that you’re comfortable with the basics of Unity you can start diving into more complex projects within Unity. Be sure to check back to the blog as we continue this series and cover things like Prefabs, Materials and more!