Why Young Game Programmers Rely on Asset Flipping to Program

Many indie devs, including myself, have relied on asset flipping to learn on how to program games when they were kids. We know that many fangames based on existing franchises obviously do this. Games with an original concept that rely upon asset flipping are generally frowned upon. Some games that utilized asset flipping have performed proudly. So, why are many young devs, including children, doing asset flipping?

We’ve seen the most common forms of asset flips in the many GoAnimate videos that were produced before the HTML5 transition, as well as in many programs created using Scratch. The mainstream game engines such as Unity, GameMaker, and Unreal have had asset flipping problems on both PC and consoles. GameMaker, the very first game engine I ever used, has its own array of pre-made sprites, backgrounds, and sound effects (music included) to teach young developers on how to make simple games. However, any of those shovelware games don’t generally see the success that most games see because the programmer used nothing but pre-built assets and very likely overlaid Kevin MacLeod’s soundtrack over it.

The Touhou Project NES Demakes rely on this too but are edited to fit the NES’s hardware capabilities. This is especially true because we wanted to stay authentic to the original game as possible. Believe it or not, Touhou 1: The Highly Responsive to Prayers NES Demake, which relied a little on asset flipping, is actually our most popular game. Heck, even the official Touhou Project games have done a little bit of asset flipping as well, but utilize royalty free images.

And it’s not just limited to 2D art, 3D models, and music as well. Even a whole game engine can count as asset flipping as well. Sometimes they can just buy the game engine and then resell it. During the days of the Steam Greenlight program, Digital Homicide extensively used asset flipping in their games. You can learn why the engines of all of our games were built from the ground up. The worst asset flip, as Jim Sterling notes, had to be Hammer 2 Reloaded being turned into The Bullet: Time of Revenge on the Nintendo Switch.

Consumer development software was created from parent advocates who wished more educational games for their kids. Some early games that were created entirely by a single person such as the original Prince of Persia helped kickstart the indie development scene. Once it spread to Japan thanks to games like Touhou Project, companies like Bandai got involved with the creation of the Wonder Witch for their Japan-exclusive handheld the Wonderswan. Only two games created with the Wonder Witch actually got released for the platform because they were winners of a programming content: Judgement Silversword and Dicing Knight. Did any of them rely on asset flipping? Nope.

Of course, there are programs dedicated to making a game within a specific genre. Yes, we have RPG Maker for role-playing games and Ren’py for visual novels. Of course, making a game in any of those two genres is very hard in the mainstream game engines, which is why they exist. These engines give you a complete set of stuff to work with and form the basis of your own original game. Certain game engines such as the ones used in first-person shooter games such as Wolfenstein 3D went on and inspired Doom and Quake.

Are you a developer and did asset flipping as a child? Let us know in the comments!


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