Better Referencing in Unity

After several months of development trying to keep things as simple as possible has become increasingly important.

With only a few elements on the game sandbox its sometimes been a struggle to quickly iterate and change functionality without breaking relationships and spending hours trawling through the code trying to find bugs and/or having to reattach or redefine references.

In my recent elevator script development this took an extreme turn as the relationships between objects became overly complex and lacking centralised control, so I spent some time looking at ways to simplify the process.

Component references:

Having to constantly drag and drop game object and component references into the script window, the following methods have proved to be useful:

void Start()
            //Cache references in Start() to save memory:

            //get component attached to this game object:
            component = GetComponent<Type>();

            lineRenderer = GetComponent<LineRenderer>();

            //Using the Find method is useful to search the scene but can eventually lead to performance issues
            //so used by caching reference and assigned in Start()

            reference = Type.Find("Name");

            //this can be use in tandem with GetComponent:
            //example from the UI:
            //GET THE GO and derive elements from that:
            LHS_messageObject = GameObject.Find("LHS_Messages");

            //Attached components:
            LHS_messageRectTransform = LHS_messageObject.GetComponent<RectTransform>();
            LHS_messageText = LHS_messageObject.GetComponent<TMP_Text>();
            LHS_messageAnimator = LHS_messageObject.GetComponent<Animator>();

             //Find of Type:
            //This method is useful for finding specific components by type
            //like other classes:

            reference = Component.FindObjectOfType<Type>();

            //example grabbing the player interaction class in the UI:
            playerInteraction = GameObject.FindObjectOfType<PlayerInteraction>();

These methods have been useful in referencing objects/classes and when used in tandem with arrays have proved themselves useful in quickly creating and editing core functionality of the controller class.

        //example using arrays of components:         
        elevatorMechanics = GameObject.FindObjectOfType<ElevatorMechanics>();

        doors = new Transform[elevatorMechanics.numStoreysInThisBuilding];
        doorAnimators = new Animator[elevatorMechanics.numStoreysInThisBuilding];
        doorIsOpen = new bool[elevatorMechanics.numStoreysInThisBuilding];

        for (int i = 0; i < elevatorMechanics.numStoreysInThisBuilding; i++)
            if (transform.GetChild(i).name.Contains("Placeholder"))
                doors[i] = transform.GetChild(i);
                doorAnimators[i] = doors[i].GetComponentInChildren<Animator>();
                doorIsOpen[i] = false;

Saying that, its important to mention (again) that having a centralised point (object/class) within the hierarchy that deals with all the ‘thinking’ of the structure is massively important. Using this approach during the elevator development I was able to cut down hundreds of lines of code across 5 classes to less that 50 lines across 4 of the attached scripts (dealing with individual functions like the buttons control panel, call buttons, triggers and doors) plus a longer ‘controller’ class that deals with the core mechanics of moving, UI, calculating floors and triggering events.

In this hierarchical structure the controller class is ‘aware’ of its own immediate environment in terms of how it should be affected in the world plus a deeper awareness of its children – doors, platform, buttons etc.

In turn, the child elements are aware of nothing except their own functionality and pass that functionality on to the controller class.

As a final note on referencing now that I’ve veered off into architecture, this post is worth mentioning as an extension method for finding objects within a hierarchy structure:

GameObject GetChildWithName(GameObject obj, string name) {
     Transform trans = obj.transform;
     Transform childTrans = trans. Find(name);
     if (childTrans != null) {
         return childTrans.gameObject;
     } else {
         return null;