Week 5 – Unity


This week we returned to the Roll-A-Ball game that we had shown in the introductory session. Because people were at different levels of completion with this, we started from the beginning again, but we put some detail around things that we’d glossed over the first time around.

Concept of Classes

A class is a programming concept that allows you to define objects which contain both Properties and Methods. Properties are what they sound like; a value associated with object that we can get or set. Methods are actions, in the form of a function, that we can ask the object to perform.


If you think of yourself as a Person object then you could imagine some of the Properties and Methods you might have.

For Properties you might have things like NameAge, HeightWeight, etc. An example of a Method you might have could be SayHi() [notice the round brackets after the name marking this as a method]. That would make you say “Hi!”. A method might have arguments, so it could be SayHiTo(“Dave”) which would make you say “Hi Dave!”.

A method could equally calculate a value. An example might be CalculateBMI() which would calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) value based on your Height and Weight properties.

Another nice thing about classes are that we can create specialised versions of them. They get all the Properties and Methods of the base class, plus all the new Properties and Methods that we defined for the derived ones. In this example, we might want to declare SchoolChild and Worker as new classes, both based on Person. SchoolChild might have additional properties such as School and Class while Worker would have WorkPlace and JobTitle. They would still share Name/Age/Height/Weight, etc.

Classes in Unity

Unity has a base class called MonoBehaviour and when we define behaviour for a game object, we do this by deriving a specialised class of our own design based on MonoBehaviour.

There are four Methods that MonoBehaviour has that we have looked at so far:

  • Start()
  • Update()
  • FixedUpdate()
  • LateUpdate()

We have provided custom versions of these in our own classes to define the behaviour that we want. This behaviour is also known as “overriding” as we are overriding the base behaviour of these Methods (which is to do nothing).

  • Start() is called when our game object is created. We can so things here that we need to do once when the game object is created.
  • Update() is called every time the scene is drawn. It’s a good place to do any updates that impact how the scene looks. However, it’s not called at a constant rate and that makes it unsuitable for some jobs.
  • FixedUpdate() is called every time the internal game timer for physics calculations fires. This is guaranteed to be at a regular interval. Any physics based calculations where time is a component should therefore should be done within FixedUpdate() rather than Update().
  • LateUpdate() is called after all game objects have had their Update() functions called. Use this when we need to be sure that another object has definitely been updated before we do something based on that object’s Properties.

Vectors & Physics

If I tell you that someone is moving at 5kph and ask you were they’ll be in 10mins, you won’t be able to answer that question. If I tell you that they’re moving 5kph due North, then you will. That combination of a quantity and a direction is called a vector.

vectors_basicA vector in 3D space is usually represented as three numbers, written as (X, Y, Z). Let’s see what the vector (1, 2, 3) looks like.

We’re familiar enough with using vectors like this to indicate a position, but what about representing a velocity or a force? The direction is apparent, but what about the quantity? Well the quantity is simply the length of the vector. This is calculated using Pythagoras’ theorem:


So we can calculate the quantity or magnitude of the vector (1, 2, 3) as approximately 3.74.

Note too that if our vector (1, 2, 3) represents a force then a vector (2, 4, 6) also representing a force, would be a force in the same direction but twice as strong. You can see that each part of the vector has simply been multiplied by two.

Basic Structure of a C# File

When we derive custom behaviours for our game objects, Unity is kind enough to provide us with a basic file containing a class definition containing empty methods for Start() and Update()monobehaviour

It’s tricky making the transition from a visual language like Scratch to a language like C# where you have to type code. A few simple rules may help:

  • Lines starting in two forward slashes (//) are comment lines. They have no effect on the program; they’re there for you to read. You can delete or change them as you need.
  • Semicolons (a dot over a comma) mark the end of statements. They’re easy to forget at first so you need to be careful.
  • You need spaces and newlines to separate things, but this does not have to be precise. Two spaces are equivalent to one. Because a statement doesn’t end until a semicolon, you can split if across several lines and it will still be fine. Hard to read though.
  • Braces (or curly brackets) enclose things and they must always be in pairs (open/close). In the sample code the braces are such that the methods Start() and Update() are inside of (and belong to) the class NewBehaviourScript because they are inside its braces. Similarly any lines we add inside Start() will belong to that method because they are inside its braces.
  • Neat formatting really helps keep your code readable and helps you quickly find mistakes. Try to mimic how code is formatted in the examples, especially the practice of “indenting” lines; placing spaces at the start of the line to make it clear what it is inside of.

Next Week

Next week we will continue to develop Roll-A-Ball and hopefully get it finished up.