Monday, November 28, 2016

I don't "Asset Flip"

Screenshot of Blender Made original Game Assets (By Snowconesolid)

     "Asset Flipping" is when pre-made or store bought game assets (typically art assets such as character models, game props, environmental props, etc) are used to quickly create and sell a video game.

The Unity game engine user base has a very bad rep of doing this (mostly indie Unity developers) and are the ones who are typically called out for doing "Asset Flips". These pre-made game assets are typically purchased from the Unity Asset Store or are the standard free default game assets provided with the engine itself. Other than the use of store bought art assets, another common form of asset flipping is when the developer purchases a template for a complete game project off the store and simply resells it as their own project either on Steam or other digital gaming store fronts in hopes of making a quick buck with little or no effort put in at all. 

Why? Cuz money baby!

These pre-made game templates have had a lot of work put into them by their original developers and their purpose is to serve as a starting point for the developer to build off of for their own original game projects, or as a learning tool for new and under experienced developers. However, as stated above, there has been many incidents where devs look for an opportunity to obtain an easy profit. 

I'm not 100% sure about this, but I believe the term "Asset Flip" originated (or at least became a popular term) from a well known game critic and YouTuber named Jim Sterling - who has even done an entire video about "Asset Flips" 

Somewhere in the video Jim states "using assets to form a basis for your work - not a bad thing, but stitching together nothing but pre-made objects without any rhyme or reason - it simply cannot be called game development can it?" He also talks about how buying a bunch of pre-made assets from different sources/developers and throwing them in your game ruins its art direction and just becomes a huge mess. "It's an artistic car crash" - Jim Sterling (same video linked above). 

Jim Sterling can be seen as a very harsh and over critical person when it comes to games. Especially indie games. I personally have experienced this first hand because one of my games, "Potato Thriller" was a victim of Jim's criticism and was featured on his "Best of Steam Greenlight Trailers" - a segment where Jim picks not the greatest looking greenlight submissions and gives feedback and criticism based off of the trailer, screenshots and description. In his video he called my submission "cringe", "terrible mic quality" (the mic was pretty bad, i'll admit) and trying to be "memes". After Jim's video went up a whole lot of his viewers poured onto my Steam Greenlight page, left nasty comments and down-voted the game to Steam hell. I'll be honest, looking back at the trailer I created at the time - it was terrible. I had no idea who Jim Sterling even was at the time and it wasn't until he covered my "Potato Thriller" game that I found out about him. I took all this in a really lighthearted manner and even subscribed to his YouTube channel on that day. I found it really funny and was even happy. Sure the game was getting an insane amount of downvotes and negative feedback, but it was getting feedback. It made me happy that my game was getting some kind of notice, even if it was infamy.
Sad Potato man...

Anyway, to get back on topic about "Asset Flips", despite all that has happened with my first Steam game, "Potato Thriller" - I actually agree with what Jim has to say in his video that covers "Asset Flipping". He makes a pretty good argument and very valid points.  

I personally have nothing against developers who do purchase assets to use in their games. I support this very much actually. I even created several of my own original asset packs and am selling them at extremely affordable prices on the Unity Asset Store in hopes to help other Unity developers with their projects (This ad has been brought to you by Snowconesolid Productions - buy my asset packs and you will become a successful indie game developer! ....and I really need a couple of dollars. please! I'm so poor!).

It is understandable if you are on a low budget, aren't a very good artist and need some props to use in your project, or if you are a small indie team and you are on a tight schedule to finish your project. But don't make your entire game based off of store bought assets. Don't buy an entire environment of a city, then buy a package of animated zombies character models and mash it together. Try to make your own unique character model, don't just purchase the typical standard "Army Guy" character model from the store and use that in your game as a main character. If you need to decorate your level with with some foliage and trees to add more to the atmosphere then buy a package of pre-made trees. But don't buy like 20 different asset packs each from a different developer/artist and mash it all together. It will be visible in your game and show that no effort or originality was put into the game you are developing. People could tell if you are using store bought asset packs. They would point out and say "hey I saw these same exact models in a completely different game developed by a completely different developer".  Aside from the art assets, purchasing an entire complete project and just reselling it as is without putting in any effort to make it your own original title is just a setup for failure in the indie game development community. Nobody will care about your Temple Run template you purchased then put out on the app store.... 

A prototype...

Anyway, that's not really the point of this article. I am not writing to tell people how they should develop their games or what to do. Not at all. I am simply giving advice and sharing my personal thoughts on the subject of "Asset Flipping". I understand that there are many game developers out there who would completely disagree with everything I said and that is completely fine. To each their own. If one development style works better for you then all the power to you.

 The main reason I bring any of this up is more of a personal preference for me as a developer and artist. Negative comments and harsh criticism over any of my games never bothered me one bit. I accept all forms of feedback with open arms and try to use that feedback to improve and better myself as a independent game developer. In fact, I even enjoy seeing negative feedback over my work to some degree. What gets me however, is when I am accused of being an "Asset Flipping" developer who buys pre-made assets and quickly throws something together for a quick dollar. That is the only thing that hits me right in my passionate game developing heart.  

Lana the Lemon, Potato Man and Hotdog Man.
I mean c'mon! where the hell will you find characters more original than this! ^^^ >:(

I do recall reading some comments on the "best of Steam Greenlight trailers" for my game "Potato Thriller" saying things such as "it's an Asset Flip", "Dev just bought everything from the Unity Asset store.", "I swear I have seen that weird Potato looking thing somewhere on the asset store before", etc. I know they might not be the best looking game assets, but they are definitely not store bought assets. 

Originality is something that is extremely important to me especially when it comes to visuals and art. My whole life, I have always had a great appreciation for art and always aimed to become a good artist myself. I have said this many times before throughout the years on the blog and other places, but I don't "Asset Flip". I never use anyone's art besides mine in my own projects and I don't like including anyone's artwork except my own in my projects. 

Screenshot of some Potato Thriller Art assets source files - The entire game, Potato Thriller is made up of pretty much everything you see in this image. 

Wireframe screenshot. All models made from scratch in Blender3d

Throughout all the years I have spent as an indie game developer I have always been very open about the development and work that goes into my projects here on the blog. I have always taken great pride in the fact that I created everything you see in game myself. I'm going to take a quick step back and admit one thing here. The only visuals in my game that I have not created myself and are store bought are particle fx (such as explosions, fire, rain, etc) and skyboxes (which most of the time I rarely even use a skybox in my games and often just use a generic color as the sky) that is it. But I created every other thing that you see in the game. Everything. Everything from the main character model to the tree that is just in the background and this is something that I am very proud of. I have spent years practicing and learning good 3d modeling, texturing, game asset creation, etc and I have greatly improved over the years since I first started and it shows in my work even.

Screenshot from one of my first 3d games ever from early 2012

Fast-forward a couple years. Screenshot from a newer project, late 2016

Screenshot of one of my first original character models. Early 2012

Screenshot of a much newer and modern character design. Late 2016

By this point, if you read this far into the post then I must sound like a really whiny egotistical hipster who just sits in a coffee shop all day trying to act like some successful artist. Looking back at what I wrote, it does sound like that actually... But I am not writing this article to brag about what a good artist I am. But instead to express how passionate I am when it comes to the artwork behind the games. I care very much about how my games look and the originality behind them. If anybody ever asks me "did you make all of this yourself", I could confidently say that  I did create everything in the game myself. It is all my own original art and design. (Okay, so yeah for bragging rights then..... Shut up! you brag about your accomplishments too!) :D

As I just said above, I care a whole lot about the artwork and I put in a lot of time and effort creating each art piece/3d model from scratch to be unique and original. In all honesty, I know that I don't create the greatest games and I don't make the nicest most visually appealing looking artwork. I might be terrible at game development, I might be a lousy artist, but one thing I am not nor will ever be is an "Asset Flipper". That is not my style...