This week at our local Unity user meetup group, I presented (along with a co-organizer of the group) about Scriptable Objects in Unity. You can find that talk here.

This is that same content in text form.

Scriptable objects are a powerful tool in designing and developing games in Unity3D. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to get around to using them, but I’d like to introduce them in such a way that makes it easier for you to just get started using them.

What is a Scriptable Object (SO)?

It is a script that derives from ScriptableObject, instead of MonoBehaviour. This script allows the user to create objects either in memory or as .asset files in Unity, which are also referred to as Scriptable Objects.. A simple example:

using UnityEngine;

[CreateAssetMenu(menuName = "SOs/FloatVar")]
public class FloatVariable : ScriptableObject
{
    public float Value;

    void MethodName()
    {
        //Do stuff
    }
}

The line with ‘CreateAssetMenu’ adds a new line to the ‘Create’ menu in the Project window in Unity. When you click that menu item, it will create a new .asset file that has access to the variables and methods defined in your file.

It does not have access to the standard Update(), Start(), Awake()* methods because those are part of MonoBehaviour. It does derive from Unity’s Object class, so it has access to classes like GameObject, Transform, etc.

*use OnEnable for initialization instead of Start or Awake

SOs can contain data and functions just like a MB, but it can’t be attached to a GameObject in the hierarchy as a component. A SO can be referenced by a MB, though.

Two things to differentiate:

A script that creates the SO (same as a MB in Project) The SO, which is a .asset file. (lives in Project folder, analogous to an instance of a MB in the hierarchy).

SOs aren’t meant to replace MBs everywhere in your project. But there are places where they are a better fit for storing data/functions.

Why use SOs?

No need for JSON, XML, Text, which means no need to parse data. Can save large amounts of data and optimize data loading when you need it. They don’t get reset when exiting playmode! Since SOs aren’t tied to the scene (not in the hierarchy), you can commit changes to source control without impacting a scene another team member may be working on. This allows you to more easily reference data/functions across scenes when using multiple scenes in development, which I highly recommend you do (this could be a whole other blog post). No need to depend on manager classes to hold all of your references.

3 and 4 combine to allow us to store the data and functions for a type of enemy and tweak that inside of play mode, have the changes saved, then share that with a teammate without having to worry about impacting the scene file. We also don’t have to re-instantiate prefabs or change every instance of the enemy in a scene (or multiple scenes).

You may already be doing something similar with prefabs (holding/referencing data and never instantiating that particular prefab). If so, look at SOs! Using prefabs for this purpose is confusing and accident prone (accidentally throw a prefab into a scene, get confused between what is a prefab and what is a data holder).

If you are a less experienced Unity developer and this seems like a lot to consider, don’t worry about digesting all of it. Just think about some piece of your game design and try to make it as a SO instead of a Monobehaviour such as an enemies stats, or some inventory items.

If you are more experienced, but some of this doesn’t entirely make sense, please try out SOs for some small use cases to see how they differ from MBs. It took me some time to get used to thinking in terms of using SOs, but they are a great tool for a lot of use cases.

How to use SOs

A few Unity Learn examples that demonstrate different use cases for SOs:
Text Adventure
Ability System
Character Select
Customizing UI

Two talks about SOs that really helped me understand how and where to use them:
Richard Fine - Overthrowing the MonoBehaviour Tyranny in a Glorious Scriptable Object Revolution
Link to the project from the talk

Game Architecture with Scriptable Objects
Blog post for the previous talk

Serialization

This is how Unity reads out your data attached in scripts. This gets talked about alongside Scriptable Objects sometimes because the serialization that Unity does sometimes messes up scriptable objects. Unity serializes data when it enters/exits play mode and some data types don’t play nice (polymorphic classes for example). If you are having issues with data resetting/corrupting under those circumstances, check these out:
Forum post on Serialization and Scriptable Objects
Blog post from Lucas Meijer
Blog Post from Tim Cooper
Talk by Richard Fine