Unreal

My Unreal Journey

I, Katherine Harris, a certified Unity developer, am making the plunge into Unreal Engine, and I’m doing it live!

I sent this tweet out last night before live broadcasting myself starting a new Unreal project. After the 3-hour endeavor of me just getting a skybox, a cube and a sphere that can collide with each other, I had a few people asking me, “But why…?”

Good question. Why at this time, am I deciding to learn a new engine? Is it work? Is it money? A hackathon?

Well, some history. Unity has been my engine of choice since 2011. I worked for Microsoft for 5.5 years. C#, .NET, Prefabs, Monobheviours this is my comfort zone. Unity development is my English and Unreal has been my Japanese. I tried learning Unreal back in 2011 as well, and could not grasp it. Since then I’ve tried to hop in and learn every year or so with no success.

Until now.

The only thing that has really changed in my journey to learn Unreal is, I finally have a person that can answer all my questions and hold my hand through development. That’s it.

Before January of 2010 I did not know ANYTHING about coding. I learned what coding was and learned how computers work by being in the most basic CS class at my university. It was nick-named “baby CS” and was meant to be a 000 100 and 101 course. It was 3 hours per class because the lab was during the class itself. There were abundant TA’s and a Teacher professor (meaning he only taught and didn’t do research) who held our hands as well learned how to walk. I believe that class is the only reason I’m a software engineer.

For me to learn something I have to really sit with it and explore every aspect of how it works; the foundation/building blocks. I ask a lot of questions. Sometimes it takes a while for me to “get it” but once I do, applying that foundational knowledge in new and interesting ways becomes second nature.

Back in August 2019 my desk was moved next to a colleague, Nick. He is an Unreal expert and prototyper, just like me and Unity. I started looking over his shoulder when he would mock something up, started asking questions, and he graciously answered them all. He encouraged me to download the engine and play around with it and helped me understand some of the basics and tips. But I never made anything. So after he stopped sitting behind me in October 2019 my momentum took a hit. Work got more hectic and I eventually stopped even trying.

Now the frustrating thing is that with other technology, if I don’t have someone to learn fun it’s fine. I take the time, make a thing, and learn by doing. But the problem with Unreal, is that if I want to take the time and do the thing. My brain just goes… “Why aren’t you just doing this in Unity?” The concepts of making a game are the exact same between the engines, so my brain just locks in its cycles because it knows how to do the thing in Unity and yet this wall of spaghetti, wire, node code means nothing to it.

Back to my English versus Japanese analogy. I’m a native English speaker, no I’m an English Professor, I have mastery over the language and I’m trying to learn Japanese. I have no teacher. I watch anime but other than knowing a few words, and that Japanese uses kanji I can’t speak or write it.

Unreal uses visual scripting. It’s a completely different language. I know what I want to say in English but I had no idea where to start in Japanese.

Now I had a person to give me an alphabet, give me a dictionary. But that’s still not enough to really learn a language. Immersion is also key.

So as a new 2020 goal, I’ve decided to capitalize on finally having someone amazing and patient to hold my hand as I dive into a familiar but brand new world.

You can watch the progress on Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/thenappingkat

Episode 1 is here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/540398428

I’ll also be making small blog posts after each session summarizing what I’ve learned. =)

So let’s do this. Happy Hacking!

The Napping Kat

P.S. I still love Unity. I use it every day (well 5 days a week). It’s still my native language and I’m still learning new things with all the updates. But learning new languages sometimes helps you understand your native one even better.

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