Looking Back / Time Management
Over the past few weeks I’ve finished a Unity fundamentals course, jumped into an App Jam and started studying C#. One of the most difficult things I have encountered is managing my time correctly while working on projects but also keeping up on other course studies while balancing that against real world commitments like work.
Going forward one of my SMART goals will be setting up a bi-weekly schedule for my C# and Unity studies using a Trello board that I have set up to track short sprints for the chapters in the Pluralsight courses on Unity and C#. The chapters are usually 2.5 hours of video, along with exercises for each video that take an hour to complete. The time frame for a chapter sprint is two weeks and gives me the time to also focus on the weekly units on Canvas. Being realistic in setting deadlines for the amount of course material that I have to study will allow me achieve my Pluralsight goals and keep me moving forward. The amount of material to covered will fluctuate depending outside commitments but as long I am realistic with time should not have a problem with reaching an intermediate level in both C# and Unity by mid-September 2019. I have set aside two hours of daily study time and my present schedule this is quite doable but I will reviewing this on a weekly basis. Setting realistic goals means accepting changes need to be made to the schedule when other commitments attention.
My commitment to learning Unity will help with one of the biggest obstacles I faced with the App Jam, which was trying to get a working Unity app while learning to use the software itself. At this point after the experience, I feel a bit more confident going forward and pretty excited about using Unity. I have sat down and really looked back over how I spent my time during the App Jam, being honest and asking myself “What did you really do?” I managed to put something together but it really seemed to happen at the eleventh hour or at least it felt that way. Not having a clear idea of what I needed to do and being able to assign a realistic amount to to getting it done, had me bouncing back and forth between different parts of my project and really using my time wisely. Now that I have a basic understanding of the software and what actually goes into make a basic project, I can better plan of time. I also believe that improving my Unity and C# studies will allow me to be more productive and I look forward to the next App Jam.
App Jam Submission
Having reached 40 hours it’s time to submit my project. Looking back I can say it’s been quite a learning experience. I started out with a basic idea and quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be anywhere as easy as I had imagined. The video below shows my progress to date.
I started off with just a cursory knowledge gained from watching a few youtube “how to’s” and Unity UI basics and understand a bit of the menus. After jumping in and quickly failing, I had to look for some help on Pluralsight and Lynda. I can saw there is quite a wide range of depth to the Unity fundamentals video. I had problems bringing in assets correctly and understanding what a prefab really was. How to correct prototype primitives and add basic game object actions with scripts. Eventually I found what I need between videos, Unity forums and Google. I have to say the biggest time sink was environment setup. Dragging, duplicating and snapping all the materials together, adding the textures to the right areas of the inspector was time consuming and far longer than I had imagined it would. I did learn about the different texture types and how to tweak their appearance.
I discovered ProBuilder and Pro Grids, learned the basics of Player and NPC movement and thought about level layout a bit more. The next learning experiences were lighting and baking, overlapping UV’s and particles. Along the way learning about NavMesh, Box Collision and how to fix dropping through the world which happed quite a few times.
Getting the player controller setup and running before time ran out was my final goal. I got my character moving around the level but not after having a problem with it stuck halfway in the floor. The bit of setup seen in the movie clip was getting Cinemachine hooked up and following the player character.
Overall, it was an amazing learning experience because it pushed me to grasp the basics of building a functional “prototype”. I had work through the process in a way where each new step built upon the last. The time constraint kept me from getting side tracked with experimenting too much. Some of the bigger challenges I ran into were trying use assets that were not compatible with the version of unity I was using, not understand the parent/child relationship early on, and having problems with character animation and staying above the floor.
In the end, I own a huge debt of thanks to Unity Instructor Joshua Kinney. He was able to really explain how to get things done and what settings needed to be tweaked to get things going.
Next steps for me are looking scripting, animation and UI interactions. I also wanted to explore character creation and rigging for a better understanding of character movement. I have started two new Unity modules recommended after completing the fundamentals training.
Hack n’ Slash
Prototyping App Jam Project
This week has been about just jumping in and getting something to work. At the beginning of the week I “just jumped in” and made a mess. After seeing that some of the online tutorials I had been watching didn’t really give me a prototype the just outlined the mechanic and a basic level layout, I felt like I was back to square one.
You watch a few Youtube videos on dropping in free assets from the assets store and think, “this will be pretty easy to get something up and running that looks good”. Looking back, I knew better but allowed myself to believe it was as easy as it looked.
I’ve now put a bit of time with Unity and have a better understanding of what I can do and just what a prototype is. I had to take some time and really think about what I needed to do and how that gets fleshed out. I went back to the tutorials on Pluralsight and worked on understanding basic scripting.
At this point, the player object understands the games objects and the cursor also reacts to the game objects, this is seen in the video below. Next steps are building out a test level and adding textures. At the moment I have put in 28 hours towards the App Jam while keeping up with my other studies. I didn’t realize short 40 hours would be but I feel I can get a test level working in the next day or two.
Second Build with Scripting
Finally made it through the Unity Fundamentals training video and have started the next in the series. I had a bit of gap between starting and finishing and found myself going back over about an hour of instruction. I have rethought my original approach and the fact that I had put things off to dig into the App Jam. I need to spend some time with the Unity study, even if its just and hour to keep things fresh while playing with my App Jam project. I also had the chance to get another AR app onto my iPad that will let me place objects in camera space. For right now, I am just using a cube as a place holder. I am working on creating a prefab object to use. I’ll update the blog with my progress once I’m happy with the result.
This iteration I actually went through the process of creating a game object and using a script to give it functionality. The video tutorial was using an older version than I had installed as well as an older version of the ARKit plugin for Unity. This cause problems with using a RayCast and ARSessionOrigin. It took Googling to get it resolved. This still needs a bit of fine tuning with regards to plane detection. You can see the result below.
During our weekly class discussion, the topic of time tracking for the App Jam came up and I had realized I wasn’t approaching the issue with a professional attitude. Just marking the time on a notepad and then transferring it to an excel worksheet wasn’t the most efficient approach. Of course the really question, “Was I really getting all the time entered?”. The again, it wasn’t really easy to visualize how I was really spending on the App Jam.
I had been using Salesforce for time management at work but that was enterprise time tracking software. One of the group mentioned they were using Harvest but it only came with a 30 day trial and I have a way to justify the investment on top of the other monthly expenses to which I was already committed.
Then I happened across Clockify, ( https://clockify.mehttps://clockify.me ) a simple but efficient web-app with free tier that allows covers all my basic needs. Clockify also has a browser extension, desktop app and a mobile app. They support Firefox and Chrome, Apple, Windows and Linux on the desktop and iOS and Android for mobile. It has time tracking, reports, teams, tags and client billing. I have been using it for tracking my App Jam progress and it’s given me a better picture of how I’ve been spending my time. Now I just need to work on balance. Small steps.
Week three started off with myself mulling over the theme for an app jam that we are part of this week. The goal is to stretch myself and see what I can put together in a 40 hour period. The theme is Guide – Opponent – Restricted. I feel a bit nervous at first but got started after listing to videos from Martin Cooke and Michael Cook. They offered some good advice for prototyping my project. I will use some paper style prototyping with photoshop and try and code wise, get the world environment working.
I have thought about the theme and looked at it using synonyms.
Opponent – resister corrival rival contestant competitor
Restricted – limits limited segregated authorized
I also a few ideas from games like Flower, Sky and The Pack. Exploring opened play and how the game character interacts with the game environment. So far, about 10+ hours in just playing with different ideas. I have also been looking to how cloud anchors work and have put a link below for catch a quick overview of what it entails.
Learning Curve for Unreal and Unity
This week has been a learning curve with Unreal using Blueprint and also using Unity. So far Unity has been the easiest to some sample AR file onto my iPad. I had put together a sample AR project for my iPad but ran into a problem with the build Xcode and camera access but eventually go it working. I did have a problem getting wall plane to register. Could be that the surface is too white for the camera? See the video below.
Also played with replacing the cube mesh shape with a different asset and getting rid of the yellow test surfaces. I spent a bit more time with this than I have expected but I learned quite a bit about the interfaces and plugins. I will try and avoid using Vuforia, I think the cost is a bit prohibitive but I have played with the mapbox a bit and trying to a an objected tied to a GPS point. That bit is still a work in progress.
Platforms & Tools
The overview of platforms, tools and frameworks was really interesting and something I hadn’t though about in the breath it was presented. After thinking about what I would like to do, I am going to focus on AR/VR on both mobile and desktop. I have loaded Unity on an Apple machine with Visual Studio as the IDE and installed Unreal on a Windows machine. I have an iPhone and am shopping around on a good price for a Google phone. I’d like to run pure Android. In the meantime I’ve setup an emulator for both Android and iOS. Unfortunately, Flutter is gong to have to take a backseat while I get up to speed with using C++.
I have all ready jumped into some coding courses on Lynda for Unreal and the interface is quite different from Unity. Just thinking about the interface layout here and blueprint is pretty amazing.
I took some time slogging through all the Unity vs Unreal articles and videos littering the web and found two that keep things simple and to the point.
Also, if your really keen to hear a deep dive into the differences, have a listen these two podcasts:
The videos were great refreshers for what’s heavily used right now. After doing a bootcamp in Java, I have dabbled with C++ and C#, C++ because I was interested in Openframeworks and C# because of Unity. I will take a look at Swift, it sounds interesting and I didn’t realize how friendly it could be to a beginning coder.I am sad that PhoneGap was removed from the Apple App Store:
Due to Apple guidelines, the PhoneGap Developer App has been removed from the iOS App Store. New users will be unable to download. No impact to Android or Windows versions.
I did find an article on Medium on getting it set up through Git, I’ve put a link below but is a bit dated (Jun 2018). Apple and Adobe seem to have a real love/hate relationship.
Also an interesting blog article below on Git and GitHub.
Photo credit: Andrew McWillams