April 12, 2022

2D or 3D: what direction should a novice Unity game developer choose

In this article, we will look at the main differences between 2D and 3D development in Unity and understand what is best suited for a beginner to master the field of GameDev programming.

Game development is an exciting and promising direction for programmers. Over the past few years, the gaming industry has developed rapidly, and now it seems as if everyone is doing video games. If you have an interesting idea or you decide to choose GameDev as your main profession, why not try it? The Unity game engine can be a good start. Unity is great for beginners because it is one of the best platforms for creating small and medium-sized games.

The main differences between 2D and 3D development

2D or two-dimensional graphics work with an image formed in two dimensions – height and width. A 3D object is an image formed in three dimensions: width, height, and depth. 3D allows you to estimate the size of the object and the distance to it.


2D games are performed in flat linear motion. Even if your character runs in different directions, you eventually lead him to the endpoint, as in Mario. The character development occurs with the change of the entire screen.

Unlike 2D games, three-dimensional games have deeper graphics that allow the character to move freely and without restrictions, as in GTA: Vice City.

Physical environment

The two-dimensional game space consists of a single layer where your character can move and interact with objects. The 3D environment is multilayered and allows you to interact with depth. Thanks to this, the three-dimensional environment is visually attractive. The three-dimensional world allows you to dive deeper into game reality.


Since creating a 3D game is a complex process, it requires more time and cost. Data organization, design tools, rendering – all this is much more complicated than in a 2D game. When creating a 3D environment, you need to move step by step carefully, especially when it comes to physics. A single mistake can make your character get stuck in textures or disappear without a trace.

Usually, a large group of developers and animation services is working on one 3D game, including experts in the field of visual art, light, animation, texture and level artists, 3D model developers, etc. To create a 2D game, developers just need to fill a flat palette with a background and draw sprites. Being in a three-dimensional environment, developers must constantly and accurately coordinate actions to match all compositions, animations, and lighting.

2D and 3D game styles in Unity

When creating a new project in Unity, you can start it in 2D or 3D mode. In practice, both 2D and 3D elements can be combined in one game.

Full 3D

3D games use three-dimensional geometry, and materials and textures are rendered on the surface of objects. The camera can move freely inside the scene. 3D games visualize the scene using perspective, so as you approach the camera, the objects seem larger.

Orthographic 3D

Sometimes games use three-dimensional geometry, but instead of perspective – an orthogonal camera. This technique is also called “2.5D”.

Full 2D

Many 2D games use graphics called sprites. They are displayed on the screen as flat images, and the camera is always located in the same plane.

2D gameplay with 3D graphics

Some 2D games use 3D geometry for the environment and characters, but limit the gameplay to two dimensions. The camera can display a side-scroller view, and the character will move only in two dimensions, but the game itself still uses three-dimensional models and perspectives for the camera. In such games, the 3D effect serves stylistic rather than functional purposes. This type of game is also called “2.5D”.

2D gameplay and graphics with parallax effect

This is another popular style of 2D games that uses 2D graphics, but with the perspective of a camera to get a scroll parallax effect. This is a “cardboard theater” stage, where all the graphics are flat, but located at different distances from the camera.

Pros and cons of approaches

In general, the pros and cons of 2D and 3D development of games on Unity directly stem from the specifics of the direction:

3D games are a more spectacular, better immersed in-game reality, and provide the developer with a whole range of additional features. At the same time, they are more time-consuming, require more attention to physics and game objects, as well as more computing power to render and build the game.

Game 3D projects are usually made by large development teams, which speeds up the process but requires additional efforts to coordinate actions. Sometimes it is needed to hire a unity developer. The 3D direction is more promising for a GameDev professional.

On the other hand, 2D games make it possible to focus on artistic details, history, and gameplay without spending much effort working with three-dimensional physics and models.

Many indie games are made by developers alone in a fairly short time, while they gain no less popularity due to their individual atmosphere and unique details. If you are not ready to make GameDev your main profession, but just decided to try yourself in this direction or implement a small project, it is worth focusing on 2D, as this approach will require less effort and resources.

About the author 

Elle Gellrich

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