According to Crappy-Games Wikia, an “asset flip” refers to a game consisting almost entirely out of unaltered, pre-made assets with little original content. These kinds of games are becoming proliferative on Steam, and have sparked numerous debates on what constitutes an asset-flipped game, what the merits or detriments of such low barriers to game creation are for the industry, and even whether there should be a blanket ban on such games from Steam.
We’re talking about asset flips in this week’s development update because Dystrophic is using pre-made 3D assets for Hexile, and we want to talk about why that choice was the right fit for our studio. We don’t consider our game an asset flip: we customize all of the assets we use to make sure they fit stylistically, and modify them to suit the needs of our game. These customizations include UVing, optimizing, modifying the texture or creating an entirely new texture, and combining these assets with our landscape in unique ways. But, even leaving behind the “asset flip” label, we’re still interested in the conversation around using pre-made assets and in breaking down some of the secrecy and stigma surrounding these common practices.
There’s a tendency in the gaming community to look down on the use of pre-made assets. It’s true that, often, the absence of original thought and effort from the game developers into these pre-made assets signals an inexperienced developer or development team, and usually a lackluster game. However, there’s also the financial reality of a small indie game having a limited budget for custom 3D assets. The idea of modifying a pre-existing property for your own purposes exists in many industries besides video games. Take advertising, for example--not every advertising agency takes their own photos. They use stock photos or make photo compilations. Concept artists do this too. In the music industry, the de facto way of making beats for high-level producers is sampling from other songs. Other producers use pre-sets.
Economically, it doesn’t make sense to hire an artist to create a 3D table, or cup, or something similarly ordinary. Nor does it make sense to invest time into making these objects when something of higher quality could be purchased at a low cost relative to how you value your time.
Here at Dystrophic, we decided that, as long as it’s done with care (i.e., developers taking responsibility for the assets they purchase; making sure they fit the game style and contribute to telling a continuous story), using pre-made assets allows a team of limited bandwidth to focus their time and energy on the things that really matter--the unique parts of their game.
Next week we’ll be taking a look at how we modify these pre-made assets to fit into the world of Hexile! Thanks for reading.