Whether you are working with well documented, widely used engines like Unreal, or using a custom set up on a big project, the ability to quickly find your way around a new toolset or codebase is an important skill. Often you need to get up and running fast, and get over that hump where you start to be fluent with what you’re using.
This is often a daunting or seemingly impossible process for people with less experience. Many people have recently asked me what to do in these situations, and the answer is almost too obvious, and too un-technical to even occur to most.
The key is to actually use basic search functionality to find something relevant and then to expand from that point. From there you then dig down into anything relevant, and also explore any functions that you don’t immediately understand.
When all else fails sometimes you have to fall back on these most basic techniques. It sounds like strange advice, but when there is no documentation, and no obvious place to start, this is how you begin to piece together your knowledge of a toolset.
And be aware that this can take years. I have worked on projects where large teams are still not 100% familiar with all of an engine’s facets after using them for multiple years.
Think of synonyms to search for. If you’re trying to find out how the AI works, search for character names, commonly used keywords. Drill into base classes then search for them and see where they’re used. You’re essentially trying to find an anchor point to then build up your knowledge base from.
With commercial engines like UE4 you have the benefit of being able to search their huge list of nodes, and documentation. Pull them out and see what they do. See what they link to and be aware that this knowledge will start to gel together the more you absorb.
With something like Unity for example, searching in-engine is less easy. Here documentation is your friend. If you don’t know how to do something, don't agonise for hours, just google it and get used to looking up their documentation pages and how to read them. It is a skill you will need time and time again on new projects so get used to the idea of jumping in at the deep end.
And as one final piece of advice, if you’re lucky enough to be using a commercially available engine, the associated answerhub or stackexchange websites are a brilliant resource.