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The best tools for your Unity 2D game

by Ryan Leonski on 09/30/14 01:46:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Late last year Unity released version 4.3 of the popular game engine and with it the hugely requested feature of built in 2D support. Although the new system has helped bring out great 2D games, is it the best tool to create high quality games or are there plugins that do things better?

Since each game has its own requirements for development you may find that one solution won’t meet all of your needs.  Which plugins work best for animation, creating sprite atlases, or laying out tilemaps? I’ve listed out some tools for you in one place so you don’t have to scavenge through the internet.

 

Animation

Animation is what brings life to characters so they can bring action, emotion, and suspense to the worlds they inhabit. In game development there are two major ways to do 2D animation, putting individual images on a grid to create a sprite sheet, or creating a bone structure with each bone moving a body part to create a skeletal animation. Deciding on which type of animation depends on the art style of a game and many times there may have to be a hybrid of both methods during development. Along with the visual component, programmers will need the ability to play animations and get events from the animation so the characters can react and interact with the environment and player input.

Unity 2D

Unity brings both methods of animation with its 2D package. Using its internal animation editor allows the ability to create keyframes, manipulate curves, add events, use layers, and have animations blend between states. The major benefit to using Unity’s built in system is the Mecanim state machine which was also added in 4.3. Mecanim takes much of the work away from programmers and puts it in the hands of designers / artists with an easy to use tool that functions off of parameters and transitions with automatic blending.

Smooth Moves

One of the de facto animation tools for Unity before 2D was added, Smooth Moves gives a robust skeleton animation system within the Unity framework. Smooth Moves allows for easy sprite atlas creation, the ability to easily switch between sprites for custom characters, and create great looking skeleton animations. This is a great tool for those who want to be able to control the animation states with code more than an external state machine like mecanim and still blend well. There can be issues with the undo function while animating and there can be issues with updating the bones in the Unity editor so make sure to save often. Great documentation and continued support from the developer is a huge plus. This is a must if you still need to develop for any version of Unity before 4.3 and need skeleton based animation.

2D Toolkit

This all-in-one plugin has a solution for almost everything in 2D development for Unity including sprite sheet animation.The only thing that's missing is support for skeletal animation. This is a great tool for those who want to create a completely sprite based game like those from the 8 or 16 bit eras of gaming. The 2D Toolkit workflow allows for quick creation of sprite atlases, sprite-sheet animations, setting up collisions, and creating meta data needed for game development. The tool also optimizes things like draw call using Sprite Batching and decreasing application size by saving out textures as PNGs instead of Unity’s default texture format.

Puppet2D

Puppet2D works itself seamlessly into the Unity 2D animation workflow and adds the ability to create skeleton animations within the editor window. The major plus to this plugin is its rigging solution that includes inverse kinematics so the character moves based on its bones and mesh deformation so textures follow the bones without having obvious joint breaks.

Other 

Everything I have listed so far works within Unity itself but there are stand alone programs that support the engine. Spriter is an animation solution made as a standalone animation tool for games that got funded through Kickstarter. It’s a cheap solution that seems to be focused toward indie devs. Spine is another animation program that has a full range of features including mesh deformation in Unity. It is a pricier solution than most listed but it also has a ton of features.

 

 

TileMaps

Epic 16 bit RPG’s, fantastical platformers, and crafty digging games all rely on tile maps to create their worlds. Tiles have been used since the NES to craft game worlds and levels and they’re still utilized extensively throughout game development. Unity does not natively support tilemaps but that should not deter developers from making awesome tile based worlds.

Auto Tile Gen

Auto Tile Gen was made as a standalone program with Unity to create tilesets and allow for auto tile placement within a tilemap. The program uses four images and some basic rules to create a tileset that will be output to a png format to work with any game engine. There is also a free Unity plugin which supports the tilesets generated from Auto Tile Gen but is not needed to create a tilemap within the engine.

Tiled

With auto-tiling, support for orthogonal, isometric, and staggered layers, and more, Tiled boasts a large amount of features in a free open source package. Using Tiled with the plugin ‘Tiled to Unity’ or your own custom importer you can bring in detailed maps with collisions and meta data to use for your game.

Other

Many of the other solutions are either part of a larger package or are unsupported. One that is part of a larger package is the 2D Toolkit which supports orthographic and isometric tiles along with creating animations and everything else you need for 2D development in Unity.

 

 

Atlas Creators

Being able to pack multiple sprites on one image keeps you organized, saves on space, and reduces draw calls in your game. You can either have an artist create this image manually and waste a ton of time and not pack it correctly or have a program do it for you quickly and efficiently save space. Unfortunately unless you have Unity Pro you do not get built in support for creating atlases. Fortunately though there are solutions inside and out of Unity.

Unity

While creating atlases is a pro only feature those who have it can enjoy creating sprite sheets without any external program with the Sprite Packer. The Sprite Packer allows the user to set rules in code so sprites are arranged to the specifications for any game.  

TexturePacker

This tool provides powerful tools to creating atlases with a user friendly interface. Textures can be rotated for better packing or set to be in a sprite sheet fashion for animation. This tool is also engine agnostic so if you need to develop for anything else it can help with a ton of workflows and supports custom output for Unity and 2D Toolkit. TexturePacker also created a free plugin for Unity for a quicker workflow to get your sprites in game.

2D Toolkit

This tool does everything 2D including sprite atlases. It integrates with Texture Packer along with its own solution to creating atlases. 2D Toolkit gives a breadth of features for 2D game creation in Unity.

Other

While these options focus on other purposes they also come with atlas creators as part of their packages since the workflow calls for spritesheets. NGUI has been the go to solution for creating graphical user interfaces interfaces and it includes a basic atlas creator. Click which textures you want to update or add to the atlas and click the create atlas button, quick and simple from a package that you probably already have. Smooth Moves also uses atlases for its bone animation solution. It has a simple drag and drop solution to add textures. It creates the texture you need along with the data it needs for bone animation.

 

Hopefully this guide will help you along your Unity 2D game creation and avoid spinning your wheels on finding solutions. The options provided aren’t the only tools for 2D so if you know any others or know something about the ones mentioned above you can add that to the comparisons linked in the article so the best tools are always showcased.

 

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