Creating an Engaging RPG in Unity: A Step-by-Step Guide

Jason Dookeran
5 min readAug 18, 2023

“How do you create an RPG in Unity?” is a question I get often. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to create an RPG. No, not a Rocket-Propelled Grenade, a roleplaying game. When I discovered Unity in 2013, it was the start of a years-long love-hate relationship. I taught myself how to do certain things in the engine, then put it down to work on other things. When I picked up the older stuff I worked on, the engine changed, making me relearn more efficient ways of doing what I did before. It was development hell.

With time, however, I got better at reusing my systems and making them more efficient. I learned that building from scratch was almost impossible, especially for a solo indie developer. So instead, I bought asset packs and systems and learned how to use them. It’s amazing how similar many systems are to how I would think about building them. Over the last few months, I’ve been working on creating an RPG that focuses on exploration and experimentation. It’s being built for Android and copies the control scheme of the old handheld systems. So how do you create an RPG in Unity? Let’s take a look at the step-by-step.

1. Planning and Design

UI Planning Also Counts

Before diving into development, having a clear vision for your RPG is crucial. Begin by outlining the game’s setting, lore, and overall narrative. Determine the core gameplay mechanics, character progression system, and any unique features you want to include. Consider creating concept art or storyboards to visualize your ideas. Consider putting together a barebones Game Design Document (GDD) to guide you on the visual style and the type of game you’ll be creating.

2. Creating the World

Yes, sometimes it DOES feel like this

In Unity, start building the world of your RPG by designing and constructing the game environments. Utilize Unity’s powerful editor tools to create terrains, import assets, and set up lighting. Pay attention to level design principles, balancing exploration and gameplay. Consider adding interactive elements, such as puzzles or hidden treasures, to enhance the player experience. If you’re a solo dev like me, you might be inclined to look at 3D stuff. I’ll tell you now, 2D is a lot more doable.

3. Developing Characters and NPCs

Ideally, they should NOT be someone else’s characters

Characters and non-player characters (NPCs) bring life to your RPG. Use Unity’s animation and modeling tools to create unique and visually appealing character models. Implement character controllers to handle movement, combat, and interactions. Design NPCs with diverse personalities and behaviors to make the game world feel alive. Dialogue systems, including branching conversations and quest interactions, can deepen the player’s engagement. For now, you’re only going to be putting together character sketches and not designing much else.

4. Implementing Gameplay Mechanics

Chess is a good example of evergreen mechanics

Gameplay mechanics are the backbone of any RPG. Use Unity’s scripting capabilities (C#) to implement core features such as combat systems, inventory management, character stats, and abilities. Create a flexible and responsive user interface (UI) that allows players to navigate menus, equip items, and manage their characters. Balancing the gameplay and iterating on mechanics is crucial to ensure a rewarding player experience. Here you’ll be looking at what you want your player to achieve. Are you looking at exploration as a core mechanic? Or are you leaning more toward platforming? What about combat? All of these will play a role in what you do.

5. Crafting Engaging Quests

Hey! Adventurer! Solve This!

Quests provide structure and purpose in an RPG. Design a variety of quests, including main story quests, side quests, and dynamic events. Utilize Unity’s quest management tools or develop custom systems to handle quest tracking, objective completion, and rewards. Create compelling narratives, memorable characters, and meaningful choices to keep players engaged throughout their journey. The meat of your world-building will also happen in this spot. You’ll be looking at the different quests that make sense in your world and the NPCs that give those quests.

6. Polishing and Testing

A memorable game needs memorable polish

Polish your RPG to provide a seamless and immersive experience. Focus on optimizing performance, improving visuals, and refining gameplay. Conduct rigorous playtesting to identify and fix bugs, improve balance, and gather feedback. Utilize Unity’s debugging and profiling tools to ensure smooth performance across different platforms. Having a beta means testing it until it breaks. Sometimes your beta will fail immediately, but most times, it’ll take some fiddly players to break it. You want them to break it so you can fix it. Test early, and test often.

A Great Final Product

The End is Actually The Beginning

So, now that we’ve looked at how *I* build an RPG, I will go through each of these steps in order in a series of posts. I’ll look at how I created an RPG and give you examples of the things I did and failed at so you can avoid them. I’m still working on releasing the beta of the game I’m working on, so subscribing to me will let you know when I launch it. You’ll also get to see all the other content I have in store to teach you some of what I’ve learned as an indie game developer for about ten years, including exploring mechanics and dynamics in game development.

If this sort of thing is what you’re looking for, you should subscribe to me to learn more. I’ll also suggest checking out some YouTube channels like Adam Millard (The Architect of Games), Sebastian Lague, and Game Maker’s Toolkit (GMTK). I’ve been following these guys for a few years, and I appreciate the insight they give me on everything related to game design. And I intend to do the same for you, dear reader. Stay tuned for more!

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Jason Dookeran

Freelance author, ghostwriter, and crypto/blockchain enthusiast. I write about personal finance, emerging technology and freelancing