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Mike Bithell: The Asset Store is a path to more ambitious indie games

February 25, 2014 in Asset Store, Community News and Info by

Thomas Was Alone developer, Mike Bithell, is struggling to accept that his creation is out on so many platforms thanks to Unity. The Asset Store is confusing him even more: how can it solve so many specific game dev issues for a price of a pizza?

Thomas Was Alone is an award winning indie puzzle platformer game. Though Mike is an experienced game designer, he first learned Unity while developing TWA. “It was made in the free version of Unity by a non-coder getting by on tutorials and the odd query directed to experts on Twitter,” he recollected in an interview with The Penny Arcade Report last year.

“Unity as an engine has been a great leveller, especially with the free version. You no longer need to be an incredible coder to make and publish successful games. I’m still baffled that TWA is out in so many places. I sort of struggle to accept that this is a thing that’s happened,” he says now.

The expectations for his next project, Volume, are high, so how does an indie developer avoid being a one hit wonder? Mike has a wealth of great gameplay ideas and some ridiculously talented collaborators, but the Asset Store also plays a role.

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Initially, he thought that it would just be a good way to get some placeholder art and such, but the publishers have changed his mind: “I had no idea how good it would get as time went on,” he says.

The Asset Store has had an impact on the way the whole industry operates and freed guys like Mike to do more creative things. Dealing with some mundane issues can be outsourced with ease: “Things like rendering a silhouette when the player moves behind an obstacle, or handling palette swapping characters, used to be done on a game by game basis. Now I can buy a standardised solution for the price of a pizza. That frees me to put more energy into the unique elements of my game.”

Therefore, he has started to look on the store before coding his own solution. “If code exists on the store to do something I need, there’ll need to be a very good reason for me not to pick up the solution there and then.” However, beginners are advised not to lean on the Asset Store too heavily. “Often, learning to solve a problem is far more valuable than circumventing with a quick fix,” he warns.

The main impact of the Asset Store is for really small independent teams that don’t have the time, money, skills or the legal resources to get freelance work: “I think this will lead to more ambitious indie titles. We can buy our way to bigger projects at prices massively below the cost of coding from scratch.”

We’re most definitely looking forward to Volume, one of the thousands of indie titles that include assets produced by fellow developers.

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Alex B
25 Feb 2014, 3:45 pm

Stop telling everyone how good Unity and the Asset Store is, damnit!

Seriously though, great talk.

Gonarch
25 Feb 2014, 4:05 pm

Yeah sure, whatever, the asset store became a joke and now people is making games like Lego. This is all I have to say:

http://i.imgur.com/JroOcEN.jpg

wicked208
25 Feb 2014, 6:58 pm

unity bring to us a great and powerfull engine for free, they need to make money, they deserve and the asset store its a oportunity to make money for us too

25 Feb 2014, 8:44 pm

So…many of you are *not* in favor of the Asset Store? Why is that? Wouldn’t you rather spend your time coding something special that lets you explore your creativity and get on with the process of launching your game?

I’d rather be doing that than making yet another GUI system or yet another tile system….

Thoughts?

Matthew Marcus II
26 Feb 2014, 12:07 am

Games require dedication and creativity, all the asset store provides is the tools to make the creativity become an interactive experience at a quicker rate, it is not just a cheat or way to cut out creativity. The asset store provides assets and services people may not have access to like voice acting and textures.

It is also a source of revenue for a mostly free game engine and the developers that make the assets. If you don’t agree with the asset store, don’t use it and make your game without it. I don’t say that harshly, I just mean that you don’t have to use it, but I don’t see why you shouldn’t.

Gonarch
26 Feb 2014, 12:34 am

The fact is that the whole thing lead to the opposite side. People that build entire games out of bought assets leading to oversaturation and many games doesn’t have an identity. I can understand the use of some framework like a gui system or something like that, but I can’t understand the art part.

Maybe I’m stuck in the 90s.

Gonarch
26 Feb 2014, 12:38 am

Wouldn’t you gys have more self satisfaction doing your own things, even if it involve learning something new?

stimarco
26 Feb 2014, 12:58 am

@GONARCH:

I used to make games back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I used to have to code my own 2D sprite engine, menu systems, even font rendering! And do you know what? I’d really prefer to focus on the actual gameplay.

Yes, ready-made assets can be misused, but it was always thus. Ask most professional graphic designers what they think of Comic Sans.

Gonarch
26 Feb 2014, 1:10 am

You can still focus on your gameplay, it only takes more time to do the whole thing. I s that the problem? Productivity over time? If thats the case is understandable, but still I would liek to see a decrease of spam of “Lego” games, and see some more effort put in even simple stuff,

I personally enjoy to see how a game is made and wat the author went trough to make certain things happen, this sort of “magic” almost disappeared nowdays.

demonio
26 Feb 2014, 6:09 am

unity needs a new gui menu. i wont buy any gui asset just to paste a start button

pixnlove
26 Feb 2014, 12:46 pm

Some of the above comment are just immature that’s all.
The asset store is a the tutorial area for me, I know Unity is pressured to release more advanced tutorials on the learning section but what for?
And let’s face it the asset store is really where the learning take place! and Unity learning area will never be able to keep up!
Advanced Shader like CORE Framework, editor Extension like
Final IK, Shader Forge, and so much more.
These are paid assets but there is so much you can learn from excellent free asset
Do you need these? Yes you do if you are a small team or one man band.
Should you wait for Unity to extend the editor or make tutorials?
I don’t think so it will take them months if not years to design something of the same quality.

I am so grateful that the asset store exist, without it I would be so behind it term of skills, knowledge and asset development.
I have learn so much for those asset, and really feel like a well rounded artist and developper now.

And all that thanks to the asset store.
It is another 5 Stars!!!

Gonarch
26 Feb 2014, 1:27 pm

Don’t throw the word immature like that. I surely wasn’t talking about free educational stuff, those are good to get the hang of unity. I’m talking about building up entire games out of just money rather than working it out.

Anthony Madden
26 Feb 2014, 4:47 pm

I’ve been a developer for about 4 years and i think i might have used the asset store maybe once. Im a very stubborn dev. because i don’t like help from other people. The day that i decided to use the asset store i was excited on what i found. Unity game engine is a great engine but we all know what it lacks. Sub Surface Shading for skin and materials for one, natural lighting by using chrome balls. I would love to see that in real-time in unity but it hasn’t been integrated into the engine yet, but it is in the asset store.

28 Feb 2014, 1:04 pm

If grabbing stuff from the Asset Store feels like ‘cheating’ for you, be prepared that many hardcore game developers will consider the use of Unity already as ‘cheating’. For exactly the same reasons. Using exactly the same arguments as the ones stated here.

NIL8R
3 Mar 2014, 5:17 pm

So if using things from the Asset Store is “cheating”, why use Unity at all? Why not build (program) your own game engine?

Marc
3 Mar 2014, 7:37 pm

When it comes to programming you have to decide on how much abstraction you can live with for each component of your game within the context of your team/budget size. It’s all good, use it (the engine or the store) or not, no one is forcing anyone to (especially once they finally release their new GUI objects).

4 Mar 2014, 4:21 pm

This is very personal, but I suppose I can sum up my criticism of Unity versus something like UDK in that while both are engines with tools, Unity goes out of its way to support a clip-art approach to game design that to date has made Unity games stand out in negative ways. My “favorite” example is how you can spot a Unity first person game from the behavior of the camera alone. To anyone who has spent a lot of time programming that stuff, seeing this “clip-art” is maddening, because it means designers actively disregard elements that you, a developer, feel are core to the game development experience.

Coherency of art and design matters far more than the nerdy obsession with things like mouse smoothing, though, and the idea that assets, so very core to a game’s identity, are cheap and replaceable, is, I personally feel, directly detrimental to game development as a “culture of art”. To me, clip-art simply sucks.

4 Mar 2014, 4:23 pm

I’ve find a lot of people thinking of assets from the asset store like they are toys. And very often I find the exact same people think it’s still a good thing to code a 3D engine from scratch. Wake up guys, it’s not the 90′s anymore. Focus is on _creating_ games, not writing engines. And earning money. You don’t do that when you still trying to find out why your engine crashes on graphics card xyz on a PC that you don’t even have in reach. Times have changed. And using high quality assets is a must these days. No one has the time and budget anymore to develop everythign from scratch up. Esp. in smaller teams.

I’m early adopter to Unity – using it since 2007. Ppl from “the industry” laughed at me when I proposed using Unity and save lots of $$$ during production. “You can’t approach a publisher with such a toy” was the answer. Oh did I mention those companies went bankrupt? Same goes today with not using pre-made assets. Do you really want to hassle with all the command line tools to find out how to sign a Mac App Store app or do you want to upload and start designing the next game? Simple as that.

Sure there is also a lot of non-high quality assets in the AS, no question. But there’s really lots of gems in the store and if you start to look at the daily deals you also save lots of bucks when buying stuff when it’s on sale, even if you know you need it not now but in a few weeks or month.

Enough of my rant. :-)

4 Mar 2014, 4:48 pm

I’m an Asset Provider here,
https://www.assetstore.unity3d.com/#/publisher/889

Production-wise, the purpose of writing the codes is to achieve a purpose.
If someone else has made an Asset that will fulfill that purpose,
unless there are problems with it, then there’s really no reason not to use it.

Coding take times => which is equal to huge amount of money.
Most stuffs in Asset Stores are a hundred time cheaper than if you’re going to make them yourselves.
Even from Business stand point, it is stupid not to use them when you can.

I wrote my own stuffs and sold it to the Asset Store, because no one has made something that I wanted to use yet.
If someone already made something that I can satisfy with, then I would have not brought it and not spending time created what I made.

Arakiel
4 Mar 2014, 5:31 pm

All you people complaining about the asset store and proclaiming in your little hipster voices that everyone should recreate the same damn camera tech that 100 other developers have already created need to turn their little hypocrite backsides around and stop using Unity, go make your own damn engine…after all, you should make your engine from scratch and go over grown already gone over by hundreds of other developers. you should just “work it out” right Gonarch?

5 Mar 2014, 7:58 am

I agree with GONARCH on the ‘art’ part of the Asset Store. What sense does it’s existence make? It can only be abused.

Gonarch
5 Mar 2014, 12:55 pm

Sure thing I can be seen as an hypocrite by just using Unity. I would really like to work out my own engine, but until I’m skilled enough I got to learn in the process.

Still you guys miss the point of my argument even if I sounded like an a** which probably I am. As I said above I don’t mind frameworks that fill certain gaps unity have, but can’t justify the use of the whoel art side, it destroys the identity of a game.

I tell that as I’m mainly a music composer which I think music is a great part of a game, but still I’m seeing a lot of the same tracks around like is a car tv spot. This goes also for the graphic side.

Sure not everyone can efford to start learning music or be a hardcore modeller, still there are people that would contribute with unique work. Is a problem of money to hire those people? Sure it can be, but you can search around I don’t think I’m so lucky to know people that would partecipate in my projects just for hell of it, maybe now days is harder with all that capitalistic way of thinking, but maybe take a trip on ModDB or other similar sites, you can find a lot of skilled people that would help you just for the glory or to share a project, they often get ignored.

If you need to mass production games then I can’t help you. If it sound hipster well I can’t do anything about it even if I don’t know what the hell it means.

Anthony Madden
5 Mar 2014, 3:16 pm

I agree with GONARCH about frameworks. I personally only use the asset store for shaders. I dont script shaders because I personally don’t have the time to learn how. I focus on my art direction, gameplay, and storyline. I don’t believe I’m cheating at all.

Now for the people who buy game levels and models from the asset store I would consider a joke. Why rip off another artist’s work, publish it, and call it your own?

6 Mar 2014, 2:53 am

I wasn’t sure how the asset store would fit into my workflow until I started picking up items for sale, then I realized the true potential. For minimal amounts of money you can get a game idea up and running in no time! Something that would have taken months to put together with a team can be thrown together by one person.

Given that the business I’m currently building out will have a foundation on quick, iterative designs to test an idea until moving it into production… the asset store is a cheap way to get that job done. Keep making awesome stuff!

Dan
7 Mar 2014, 7:38 am

Saying unity is cheating is like saying using a using a hammer to pound in a nail or using a laser level is cheating. The use of a more efficient tool for building does not detract from the efficiency of the building itself. All that matters is choosing your tools and building your vision. The easier games become to build, the more they can evolve.

Thomas
9 Mar 2014, 12:48 pm

I find that being new to the scene i really want to be able focus on coding the mechanics into the game, but if I have to spend time making textures, models etc. then I have less time to focus on programming. That’s why I use the asset store.

Overall it’s a useful system for small/solo developers to get things they can’t make themselves.

Nick
9 Mar 2014, 6:58 pm

I have to say, the Asset Store is awesome. So far, I’ve used it to download sample models to just fill in the gray blocks before I make my own, and I’ve even downloaded a few scripts just to look at how they work using MonoDevelop.

It’s really what gives Unity part of its edge against UDK.

Dave
10 Mar 2014, 1:14 am

Disturbing how a lot users think it is great what UT does.
I mean you pay at least $1500+ taxes for a pro version and on top of that, you have to buy third-party plug-ins to get Unity on par with other engines, or to fix Unity’s shortcomings.

I understand that some specific stuff doesn’t necessarily have to ship with Unity, since not everyone needs it. But things like a proper GUI, node based shader editor, visual scripting, up to date cloth physics is nothing you should buy extra these days.

It’s not just the money, it’s also the non-unified, cluttered workflow you get from this approach. You always rely on those third-party developers. And I saw it not just one time, where developers abandoned their assets, because of the lack of motivation, the lack of financial success, or because of other personal issues like health problems. Needless to say that most of the different plug-ins clash with each other, or don’t work together.

That said, I can’t wait for UDK4.

Meathead
12 Mar 2014, 9:59 am

@Dave UDK4 is not targeted at mobile, I am a UDK user myself also but for mobile UDK only supports Ios straight out the box and not other mobiles, Unreal is all about detail and high end graphics while Unity is everything, pc/console/mobile and more.

Along with that if you earn over 50k with UDK they start too want a big % of money. Also a lot of my plugins or addons work together just great. Its a bit more of a learning curve but aint everything, We all know Unity is abit behind with its detail but it will get there.

Robert
19 Apr 2014, 6:13 pm

I love how those kids are complaining that people are getting assets and make better games than their shitty 0 downloads games.
Stop crying kids and make something fun.
Time cost money.

Juan Pablo Boero Alvarez
12 May 2014, 5:34 am

I made a proper complaint through Email, because i did not wanted this to be public, but unluckily i had no response back.

Asset store is not fair, in the audio section the showcased products are the same since weeks, 2 of them are from the same publisher, they now had changed one of them, again is from Evil Mind publisher, looks like these “publisher” works inside Unity.

How can we believe in your asset store if it is meant for unity employees?

22 May 2014, 4:59 am

I do sort of understand where some of the criticisms of the Asset store are coming from, especially when it comes to art, but then who’s to say that art assets you buy from the store can’t be a starting point for something that you then make unique?

If a game comes out that is unoriginal and that people can clearly see is unoriginal, then it’s just going to fail in the market as an unoriginal game. If the FPS camera system is so recognizable (don’t know, haven’t tried it yet) then that either means it’s good and gets the job done or the dev hasn’t bothered; it’d be the same if the dev wrote their own sub-par camera system wouldn’t it?

I started a Unity project with the goal of doing a lot of stuff myself. Then when I finished designing and scoping everything I’d actually need, I realised it’s not going to happen all by myself given the timeframe I’m shooting for.

At the end of the day getting hung up on the engine is missing the point entirely, which is that the engine is just a tool and unless you’re intending to make an engine tech demo instead of a game, it’s probably better IMHO to focus on the final game, using whatever you need to at your disposal to make (and actually finish) the game that you want.

22 May 2014, 6:48 am

Quick note: Just re-read my comment; to be clear I’m not saying the camera system being spoken about was sub-par; I should have worded that better “….it’d be the same if the dev wrote their own camera system that you didn’t like” is more what I meant to say.

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