Working With Unity Project Templates

When creating a new Unity Project, one of the first choices you’ll need to make is selecting which project template to use as a base. This decision is important as it’ll go a long way to define the type of game you’ll be creating before you even open the Editor.

A project template is a customizable collection of presets, packages, and assets that can be used as the foundation of a new Unity project. Accessed via the Unity Hub, these optional frameworks are a good starting point for newer developers and a useful timesaver for the more experienced.

Unity provides a wide range of different templates, from empty projects with just the basics to full tech demos intended to showcase the engine’s more advanced features. This article will provide a breakdown of each of the default templates, and hopefully give you an idea of which one might be best to serve as a foundation for your own project.

What is a project template, and why do we use them?

A project template is a predefined starting point from which you can start developing your Unity project. They are designed to help flatten the learning curve and speed up the initial setup process. When creating a new Unity project via the Hub, there is no getting around it. You’ll need to pick a template.

The full list of available templates that Unity provides can be found in Unity Hub’s ‘Create a New Project with Unity’ screen, which appears when the big blue ‘New’ button is pressed. The basic options that come with the engine’s installation have not changed much since Unity 2018, but additional templates may be made available for download depending on the version you’re using.

Don’t stress if you’re not sure which template is right for you. Your choice of template doesn’t permanently lock you out of any of Unity’s features, and if you change your mind later you can always jump into your project settings and change things around to suit your needs.

How do project templates work?

Project templates are stored in local archives within your version of Unity’s installation folder. When a new project is created, the Unity Hub will copy the relevant files from that location into your project for you. 

Some templates (like the newer render pipelines) have prerequisite packages that the template requires to run properly called dependencies. These will also be automatically added to your project by the Unity Hub.

Many of the default project templates are kept automatically updated via reference to repositories stored in the Unity Technologies GitHub. This ensures you’re always using the latest version.

What project templates are available?

Unity provides a selection of default templates to choose from. These may differ based on the version of the engine you have installed. Beyond the starter templates, the Unity Asset Store also has an entire section dedicated to project templates for all kinds of games.

If you’re feeling adventurous, a quick Google search will reveal a wealth of custom templates that developers are offering up for free on services like GitHub. To take full advantage of these you’ll often need a pick them apart a little to understand how they work. As always when downloading third-party products from the internet, your mileage may vary, and make sure you check the license agreement.

The following is a list of all project templates available by default from the latest version of Unity 2019 to version 2021.1.7f1, the latest stable build at time of writing.

2D & 3D

2021 | 2020 | 2019

These two templates are among the most commonly used because they contain the least amount of extra content, the assets that many developers end up just stripping out anyway.

They are often referred to as ‘empty’ projects – although this isn’t strictly true. They contain no additional game assets barring a simple sample scene, but they do come with a selection of different packages depending on the expected content pipeline.

Package2D (5.0.0)3D (5.0.4)
2D AnimationYesNo
2D Pixel PerfectYesNo
2D PSD ImporterYesNo
2D SpriteYesNo
2D SpriteShapeYesNo
2D Tilemap EditorYesNo
JetBrains Rider EditorYesYes
Test FrameworkYesYes
TextMeshProYesYes
TimelineYesYes
Unity CollaborateYesYes
Unity UIYesYes
Visual ScriptingYesYes
Visual Studio Code EditorYesYes
Visual Studio EditorYesYes
The 2D template contains a lot more packaged content, mostly surrounding additional tools and extending editor functionality.

The 2D and 3D template project settings are very similar, but not identical. The most obvious difference being that the Default Behavior Mode for scenes is set to 2D or 3D depending on the template.

For more a more complete breakdown of how project settings and packages compare between templates, check out our cheat sheet here.

3D With Extras

2019

The 3D With Extras template was released alongside the Post-Processing stack, and contains a bunch of extra content to help show off the new feature set. It includes an example scene, post-processing presets, and instructional content.

This template was officially retired sometime during the development of Unity 2020, and most of the assets were repurposed for the Universal Render Pipeline template.

High Definition RP

2021 | 2020 | 2019

The High Definition Render Pipeline (or HDRP) is a Scriptable Render Pipeline that first became available in version 2018.1. It is intended to be used in high-fidelity games where graphical quality (and higher-end hardware) is a priority. The HDRP can look amazing.

In 2021 the HDRP is far more feature-complete than it was in 2018, but there are still some gaps in its feature set. For a more detailed comparison between Unity render pipelines, check out this page in the Unity documentation.

The High Definition RP template will do all the legwork in setting up a new project using the HDRP. This includes a wealth of example content to illustrate its features.

Side note: It’s worth mentioning that only one Scriptable Render Pipeline can be active at any one time, and although converting between them is possible, it can be a hassle. Do your research and save yourself the time!

Universal Render Pipeline

2021 | 2020 | 2019

The Universal Render Pipeline (URP), previously known as the Lightweight Render Pipeline, is a lower-fidelity solution for projects that want to emphasize performance and a wider range of release platforms. It is an attractive and versatile alternative to the built-in Unity render pipeline, as you can see from this feature comparison chart.

Like the HDRP above, the Universal Render Pipeline template will configure the engine for you, contains several presets, and a collection of sample content to help you on your way.

Mobile 2D & Mobile 3D

2021 | 2020 | 2019

These are downloadable variations of the standard 2D and 3D templates which have been optimized for use with mobile devices. This includes the addition of two new packages, Android Logcat and Mobile Notifications, but the main difference between these templates and their desktop counterparts are within the project settings – particularly the Quality subheading.

Using the 3D templates to illustrate, here are some examples of differences you’ll notice between the two.

Project Setting3DMobile 3D
Pixel light count41
Anti Aliasing2x Multi SamplingDisabled
Soft ParticlesTrueFalse
Realtime Reflection ProbesTrueFalse
Shadow ResolutionHighLow
Shadow Cascades40
Skin Weights4 Bones2 Bones

Of course, there is nothing stopping you from changing any of these settings at any time to whatever you need to meet your project’s needs. They’re just presets to get you started, after all.

I have written a much more comprehensive breakdown of these differences in my Unity Template Cheat Sheet.

VR & AR

2021 | 2020 | 2019

If you’re interested in setting up a project for VR (learning how Unity integrates with head-mounted displays) or working with augmented reality, it’s worth having a look at the VR/AR templates.

Intended to act as ‘empty’ VR or AR-ready starter projects, they include the essential packages and a basic sample scene with everything you need to jump in and play around. These templates include a little documentation to get you started, but you’ll need to spend some time digging around to learn how they work.

They include the following packages to facilitate VR/AR development:

VR TemplateAR Template
Oculus XR PluginAR Foundation
Windows XR PluginARCore XR Plugin
XR Plugin ManagementARKit XR Plugin
Magic Leap XR Plugin
Windows XR Plugin
XR Plugin Management

The Microgames

2020 | 2019

Although not currently present in the latest version of Unity (at least not yet), earlier iterations of the engine contained several Microgames. These are small but complete educational game projects intended to help new users get to grips with the engine through practical example.

They are well documented, heavily tutorialized, and the perfect learning resource for new developers.

Although we could deep-dive each of these Microgames in turn (and maybe some day we will), here is a topline summary of each – and how they might help you with your own projects.

2D Platformer Microgame

A lightweight 2D platformer with customizable mechanics, player character, enemies, level environments, and audio.

FPS Microgame

A single-player FPS game with cool weapon mechanics, health systems, enemy AI, and a cute little level set on a hostile planet.

Lego Microgame

The Lego Microgame is called a ‘puzzle platformer’ in its description, but really it’s more of a sandbox of different mechanics all tied together by a Lego theme. It provides a collection of interesting tools from which you could build a puzzle platformer, an action game, or anything really!

The character has a double jump ability, which is pretty neat.

This template comes with its own Terms of Service agreement to which you must agree if you want to access the content. It mostly concerns what you can and can’t do with the assets contained within, as they’re connected to the Lego brand. Make sure you know what you’re agreeing to before you start.

Karting Microgame

A single-player 3D Go Kart racing game, complete with track, vehicle physics and win/loss conditions. It’s rather pretty.

HD Sample Auto Showroom

2020 | 2019

Like the Microgames, this last template is more of a showcase for educational purposes than anything you would necessarily use as the foundation for a new project.

At 2GB in size, it’s the largest of the default templates, and it includes a sizeable, photorealistic, and high-fidelity showroom space complete with customizable vehicle. It looks great, but I found it ran very poorly on my machine.

That may just be me, though.

Side note: The HD Sample Auto Showroom template description makes a particular point that the Volvo XC40 Recharge asset is NOT for commercial use. Licensing information is contained within the template.

Further reading

I hope you’ve found this short breakdown of the default project templates useful, and that it helps you pick a starting point for your next project. If you’re looking for a more data-focused breakdown of the differences between each project template, I have put together a series of charts which hopefully will answer your questions. If not, you can always reach out to me here.

If you’re at all interested in the process of making your own project templates for Unity Hub, you can check out my step-by-step guide here. It’s a really interesting process that can save you a lot of time, especially if you find yourself making new projects regularly.

That’s it!

Thanks for reading.

Nick Mower

I am a technical artist from Adelaide, Australia. I created techarthub to share my knowledge and love for this industry. I hope you feel it too!

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