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