Sunday, January 18, 2015

Learning New Things

Lately I've been doing a lot of two things: exploring Unity and playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Perhaps it's just because when you do two things at the same time you automatically associate the two, but I've been finding a lot of parallels between these two seemingly different activities.

When you first enter a map in DAI it can be incredibly overwhelming. Doubly so if you've explored a map or two before, once you realize just how big these maps can be. When you first explore the Hinterlands, for instance, you might think, "Wow! This is big. This has got to be the biggest map in the game or something. They can't possibly do too many of these, can they?" And then, by the time you're exploring Emprise du Lion or the Exalted Plains, you realize as soon as you arrive that, yep, this map is massive. You can see all the little waypoints and markers representing places you're going to be, and they all look so far away.

Booting up Unity is like entering a new DAI map for the first time. It's daunting, and I'm not sure where to start. The possibilities are endless, and the scale makes me want to save and quit immediately. It's hard starting out.

The first thing I do on a DAI map is to choose a wall, either the left or the right, and just follow it. I figure the most important thing I can do is find my boundaries. It's kind of like how people like to start jigsaw puzzles by putting the borders together first: if you can see the edges, everything within those borders seems manageable. I spend a lot of time intentionally avoiding the quest markers until I've completed this ritual--I don't want to get distracted from what I should be doing by checking out what I could be doing. I'm a painter, getting familiar with my canvas before I start dipping my brush. That's not everyone's way, but it's my way, and DAI seems inclined to reward that behavior.

In Unity, I think I'm going to be in this stage for a while. The tools are unfamiliar to me, and I'm steadily getting to know them, one by one. I'm learning what Unity can do automatically, and what I'm going to need to code. I'm recalling my lessons in programming and figuring out how much of that stuff I'm going to be able to use, and how much I'm going to have to forget. I'm testing the waters and creating some basic things to help me understand how to use the tools I'm being given. In short, I'm still feeling out the borders.

In DAI, the problem with focusing on exploration in the beginning rather than taking care of quests is that the quests often serve to make the map easier and less dangerous. In the Hinterlands, for instance, the area starts out with templars and mages battling each other in the fields, and both sides are inclined to attack you on sight. Once you take the time to deal with their leaders, though, they go away, and by the time the map is completely explored it's pretty much a safe place to travel through, with very few enemies to harass you. This is basically the case for all of the maps.

Unity is still a scary place, with lots of uncertainty. The idea of diving in is kind of scary, but I'm bracing myself for the jump. I can see specific goals I have in mind, but I'm avoiding them for now while I get acquainted with Unity's other features. I'm looking forward to the time, though, when I start knocking out my goals and the vast expanse of Unity becomes a less dangerous place to travel.

I have no idea how long that will take. I'm as far as getting a character to move on the screen--such a basic thing was a lesson that took over an hour to understand. I understand it now, though, and that's incredibly exciting.

All in all, learning Unity is going to be a much larger task than exploring maps in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Given how excited I was just to get characters to move, though, I think it'll be just as filled with rewards and, in the end, infinitely more gratifying... assuming I stick with it.

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