Should I do it myself, or use the Asset Store?
“First of all, don’t start with the mentality “I have to do everything myself, I’m an indie”. Sometimes it’s good to learn. But if you say that over and over again it starts to be destructive,” says Alejandro Garza, the CEO of start-up studio Authentic Illusions.
The Authentic Illusions team is full of PhD researchers in the field of Artificial Intelligence. So the studio has no lack of programmer talent. But that doesn’t mean that they love coding their games from scratch and they’d like to share the reasons why.
Alejandro Garza thinks that indies often believe that they have unlimited time, but forget to factor in their own living costs. “What’s worth it in the end is finishing your game. If you’re completely out of money, you won’t finish it”. He sees many crowdfunding campaigns that are setting themselves to fail by asking for too little money.
He suggests that when you decide to add a new functionality, you should always first consider your own skills. Can you code it yourself? Do you have something in your old work you can base this on?
Then you need to consider the value of your own time and how much of it is going to be taken by the development of the plug in. “If it’s going to take a week and a week of your work is worth 300 dollars, you should see the project in that perspective. But experienced project managers know that it’s hard to put together an accurate estimate, it’s necessary to include a buffer for unexpected delays,” warns Alejandro.
If you decided that buying a plugin is more cost effective, do some research before buying. Consider how well documented the different options are and how much time will you spend integrating them. Read comments and reviews and make sure to take other people’s experiences into account.
“I have not yet stumbled across badly documented assets, but I know it can happen. You just need to do a little research before paying. Of course, even very good assets take a little time to integrate, but so do assets that you develop yourself,” he points out.
When the budget of your project is zero, the equation might look very different. “If you don’t have any money at all and need the assets right now, there’s really nothing else to do but get cracking. But when you have a budget, even a small one, you should really remember to take your own wages into account”.
In the beginning, it’s good to learn by developing from scratch and not think too much about the time spent on the project. But to have this attitude throughout the whole development process of a commercial game is extremely risky. “It might be sheer arrogance that will end up costing you your game,” warns Alejandro. For example, you can lose some valuable promotion opportunities by not being able to put something together to a deadline.
Authentic Illusions are happy to show they prototypes externally, because they feel it’s important to get feedback from people as soon as possible. With the Asset Store, they saved a lot of time and effort programming, but they also use 3D models for prototyping. “Being able to have the prototype up and running is really great. Even just internally, showing the artist what you had in mind can be extremely valuable. But externally, having something up and running that looks good, that’s indispensable”.
Even though the placeholder art has helped the team a lot, editor extensions are still their favorite category. “Obviously the first one would be NGUI, it is great. But seeing the new tools, maybe it will be redundant, let’s see!”
Another favorite is Editor Console Pro, which is a great way to customize your scripting workflow. “For example, if you want to print out the steps that each class is performing, it shows them all, in different colors as you want them. It’s super useful for debugging”.
Advanced PlayerPrefs Window is an example of a game functionality that they decided to buy on the Asset Store instead of developing themselves. It’s a little console with all the player preferences that you can modify on the go. It saves quite a bit of time, which is extremely valuable, especially considering it only costs $10.
Alejandro’s radiating with optimism about the future of the team as well as the Unity ecosystem. The team is developing a 2D tool for the Asset Store, but they’re also thinking about how to use Unity for their research. “In the end, if you work on AI, you don’t want to use many different systems to build and test your project. Unity is an awesome platform to bring everything together and run it right away,” he says.
The Authentic Illusions team is collaborating with Arbor Sheep, an art studio, on a 2D side scrolling puzzle adventure called REalM.