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Feb 2011

Optimising with Unity for iOS


I’ve found it’s often the unexpected that takes time. Cuban customs agents, downloading in Canada, and bureaucracy in Norway. And so it has been with optimising my game for the iPad. Unity provides two useful pages to get one started on optimising; one for optimising scripts and one for optimising graphics. There are still further, and often simple, code changes that help squeeze more frames per second out of the iPad.

Use Strict
Use #pragma strict at the top of all your scripts. It’ll initially make component access more awkward but as you’ll cache those lookups it’s a one time hassle. So with #pragma strict: GetComponent(Rigidbody) would become GetComponent(Rigidbody) as Rigidbody.

Avoid Object.Instantiate() & Object.Destroy()
Instantiating is bad. Destroying is bad. Both require memory allocation changes and cause a hiccup in performance when an object is created or destroyed. So instead of creating and destroying objects when needed, I predetermine what is required and my SpawnManager class instantiates all required objects at the beginning of the game - causing one large hiccup when it can be hidden. Then it disables the spawn, but they’re kept waiting in memory. When they’re needed the game object is enabled and ready to go.

Cache Component Lookups
This is an optimisation recommended by Unity on their optimising scripts page, and I whole heartedly agree. I’ve found casual component lookups performed often enough cause a slow down.

Use iTween Sparingly
I hadn’t used iTween until midway through production, then after some positive encouragement I gave it a try. And it was awesome. Very easy to use and easy to chain together to create complex behaviours. I loved it, and I quickly incorporated it into my movement scripts. Then the performance hiccups followed.

A call to iTween typically happens midway through a game. An iTween component is instantiated, makes some expensive component lookups and then is destroyed. Each of these steps causes a performance hiccup, the worst being a substantial garbage collection on destruction. Instead of using iTween in my performance critical areas I now use my own easing and interpolation classes that slip into existing Update functions and can be called with cached nodes.

Avoid SetActiveRecursively()
My SpawnManager class used to execute gameObject.SetActiveRecursively(true) on any node that was being spawned. The first disadvantage to this was sometimes I didn’t want all children to appear right away, so I’d hide them again. More performance offensive was that SetActiveRecursively performs several expensive component lookups.

To solve this I now cache the hierarchy in Awake for any game object that will be spawned by SpawnManager. SpawnManager then simply enables the top most node and the top node is responsible for enabling whichever children it needs. And because the children are cached in that initial Awake call, there is little to no performance hit during the game.

Use Builtin Arrays
Unity isn’t kidding when they recommend using Builtin Arrays for critical code. In my SpawnManager I was tracking which objects were active and which were not using the handy ability of Javascript arrays to resize. SpawnManager.GetActive() would then convert and return those arrays as Builtin arrays for other scripts. But the return activeObjs.ToBuiltin(GameObject) was using 108B of memory and taking 1.3% of a frame’s time. Not ridiculous amounts, but more than I found acceptable. Converting my code to use Builin Arrays took four more lines of code and now uses less than a quarter of the memory and is 5x faster.

Avoid String Comparison
Initially I had plenty of conditionals using tags to query objects. I’ve collided with you, are you tagged with “The Fancy Cliff Over Yonder”? Great, lets form a club. Lets also slow down the game, because the longer the tags, the longer it takes to compare against. This may seem trivial, and for a few tag comparisons here and there not really a problem. But in an Update function with several objects this suddenly becomes several hundred queries a second. So if(collision.gameObject.tag=="Cliffs") became if(collision.gameObject.layer==9) which isn’t as easy to read, but a few explanatory comments nearby and the problem is solved.

Avoid Vector3.magnitude & Vector3.Distance()
Every moment of my game I’m comparing the position of the finger to the position of the interactive characters. Several characters on screen at once and this starts to amount to an awful lot of Vector3.magnitude checks (Vector3.Distance uses .magnitude and is essentially the same). This becomes an awful lot of slow square roots calculations. So, wherever possible compare distances using Vector3.sqrMagnitude.

My game is programmed in Javascript so those using C# may find subtle differences. Performing the above optimisations has helped increase my average frame rate from 30-60fps to 100-200fps.

The Plague!


Just implemented a bunch of new features over the past two days. Plagues being one of them.

Pixels, Pixels, Pixels


My Nikkor f2.8 55mm prime lens arrived today. Not entirely game related, but it can focus at wonderfully close distances - and so here is a rather close shot of the game in action on the iPad.

I love the pixel look at this level. I started drawing digitally nearly thirty years ago as a young child when on a black & white Apple IIe. Back when pixels were the size of my childhood fist. So I have a strong nostalgia and love for the look of pixels. I had contemplated making this game using pixel art - even doing a prototype of the above reaper in pixel art - but ultimately it wasn’t the right look. Perhaps a future game - or level - will suit that aesthetic.

I drew with Deluxe Paint IIe when I got a 286... but anyone know what I would have drawn with on that old Apple IIe? MousePaint? We didn’t have a mouse, but controlled the pointer with a homemade joystick. My Dad built it into a small rectangular metal box, with two painfully stiff red buttons. It was always very easy to tell if we’d been playing with the Apple by the imprint left in our tiny thumbs by those red buttons.

Unity 3.2


Unity 3.2 is out! The most exciting new feature for me is the ability to profile standalone player builds directly in the Editor. Including iOS builds. Previously I optimised my code based on how my game ran in the Editor. But things on iOS often run differently than they do in OSX. Now I can play my game directly on my iPad while keeping an eye on the Unity Profiler.

But keeping one eye on the game and one eye on my monitor has proved awkward. By the time I can move my hand to the keyboard to pause XCode whatever caused the frame rate spikes has passed. Sure, I could scrub back in Unity to see the code, but my spikes are of a rendering nature - all lumped under a single time consuming line in the profiler. I need to go back in time to see on the iPad what visually changed to discover the cause of the spike. I need a time machine. And that time machine is my Nikon. It’s now set it up to film while I play, then I scrub through the resulting Quicktime to easily determine how to best optimise the game. The above is a screen shot from one of those quicktimes.

I still have lots of optimisation left, but with the help of the new profiler in 3.2 it’s a much more enjoyable job.

First Work In Progress (WIP) Screen Shot


Up until now I’ve kept my game an open secret, letting only close friends & family see (and play) it. But there comes a time when all children must find their own path out in the wide world. And so with pride, and some trepidation, I’m proud to present my first screenshot.


I’m a Film VFX Artist by day, Unity3D Game Designer by night, and commercials director by occasion. Toxic Blob is the outlet for my games.

A brief history: I’ve always wanted to make games, but apart from a summer creating image for
Celtica, I never landed a job in the game industry. Instead I ended up with a job in the film industry first, so I put aside my game dreams. Skip ahead to 2008. A friend introduced me to Unity, and I then enjoyed geeking out by reading their docs. My game dreams awakened. When my PC up and died I bought a Mac and Unity. It’d be two more years before I’d be able to find the time to start developing a game.

With the programming, painting, animating and planning experience I learned while in the film industry I would make a game. An iPad game.

On this blog, and on
twitter I’ll publish my thoughts and w.i.p. images during my developing. I’m already midway through my production, so I’ll be catching up for a bit. I hope everyone enjoys this “behind the scenes” and, ultimately, my game.