Unity: Always a Work in Progress

While working on a couple of non-PMG projects, I was reminded that while Unity have had a banner year (couple of years, even) for major built-in feature upgrades – shaders, networking, UI, and services, to name a few – there are still some hard gaps.

The first problem I hit showed up while I was working on an enterprise-ey integration for the editor. The preferred data format in the enterprise these days tends to be JSON, so you need a JSON parser of some kind to be able to push data in and pull it out of systems. There are lots of third-party libraries that do this, but there are also framework-native options for most languages.

In Unity, the options for JSON are System.Web – which actually recommends a third-party library(!) and, as of the 5.5 beta experimental lane, System.Json, which is meant for use with Silverlight, but has the most desirable semantics and a fluent interface for dealing with JSON objects.

Having said all that, the best option right now for immediate use is still Json.NET, which has very similar semantics to System.Json but has the advantages of being compatible with the 2.0/3.5 .NET runtime and being mature enough to be fluent and fast.

This was my first time pulling a third-party .NET DLL into Unity, so it took a little while to understand how to get the system to see it. It turns out the process is actually super-simple – you just drop it into the Assets folder and use the regular Edit References functionality to reference it in your code IDE. Which is nice! I like easy problems.

The other problem I had was related to game development, though, sadly, not Contension, which remains on hold for now.

I was trying to get a click-object setup to work in a 2d game. Unity has a lot of different ways to do this, but the granddaddy of ’em all is the Input-Raycast, which works very well, but is kind of old and busted and not very Unity-ey anymore.

The new hotness for input is Input Modules, which natively support command mapping and event-driven operation. It turns out there are a bunch of ways to work with an IM, including the EventTrigger, which is basically zero-programming event handling, which, holy shit guys. That’s a fever of a hundred and three right there.

The thing about the Input Module for my scenario, however, was that if you’re working with non-UI elements and you don’t want to roll your own solution, you have to add a Physics Raycaster somewhere, which will allow you to click on objects that have a collider, and you have to have a collider on any object you want to click on. Which is fine! I’m 100% on board with having a simple, composable way to specify which things actually can be clicked. BUT.

See, there are actually 2 Physics Raycasters available. One is the ubiquitous Physics Raycaster, which does 3d interaction. The other is the Physics 2D Raycaster, which theoretically does interaction when you’re using the Unity 2D primitives. It may surprise you – I know it surprised the heck out of me – to learn that the Physics 2D Raycaster is actually a pile of bull puckey that does not in any way work at present.

It’s  one of those things that you often find out in gamedev that makes the whole exercise feel very frontier-ish, except there’s this enterprise dev in me. And he knows very well that a framework that puts that kind of dead-end red herring in and doesn’t even acknowledge the issue is a framework that I have to avoid trusting at every opportunity.

It all worked out ok; you can use the 3D raycaster and a 3d bounding box just fine for the purposes of interaction, and this particular project doesn’t need the 2D physics right now. It’s just annoying and worrying, which is, at the very least, not a super fun way to feel about the basic tool I’m using.

As an aside, I’m doing another talk soon, this time for the fun folks at NDev. It’ll be mostly a rehash of the 2016 NGX talk, but I’m hoping to tweak it at least a little to provide some depth in a few areas.  Should be interesting to see what comes of it!