This one is the follow-up to the “small games versus big games” article I wrote last week. In that article I talked about how the term “budget game” can be inaccurate, because you need to compare budgets to decide what is exactly “budget game”. This time I am going to share some tips I have learned (sometimes the hard way) on how to prevent your games from feeling like cheap low-quality/cheap game.
There are different creative choices you can make, to make a decent-sized game with a moderate budget as well, if you make the right creative choices. This is a must if you live in a country that has a low cost of living (although it’s 2022 and thanks to a lot of circumstances prices are going up, and cost of living is going up too). A while ago, I learned about the “Robert Rodriguez way to make movies” and some of those tips can be used here. For example, you can experiment with graphic styles and find something that is cheap to produce but has a nice look to it. There’s pixel-art, 2D graphics, polygonal 3D graphics, and other tricks to make your life easier. On top of that, you can make use of a deliberate graphics style to save on time and work. For example, the game “The Return of The Obra Din” uses an interesting style of Gameboy-type graphics. Just imagine how much time was saved since the developer didn’t have to spend time making textures and GI lighting.
Another thing you can do is use content packs from the asset stores. There is a big difference between taking an asset pack to make your own environment, with your own level layouts and such, and just take the sample scene and slap some gameplay on top of it. Of course, I’d personally recommend changing the look of those assets, even by just changing textures, so your game doesn’t end up looking like the other 100 games that may use the same pack. For example, 80% of the content you see in The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest comes from content packs, but there was actual work put into the game, to make it something good.
Of course, there are some extra tools (and extra steps) you can take to make your game look like a higher budget game. A few years ago, you had to do everything yourself the hard way (models, textures, etc.), but now there are tools that make your work easier. Friendly reminder, though, tools don’t replace the artist. As you know, I use Reallusion Character Creator for all my human character needs, and that tool can produce really amazing characters that can be used in any 3D engine. While this tool requires an extra investment, just consider how much time (or money, if you hired a freelance 3D artist) you’d spend to make a 3D human that looks like the image below, compared to a couple of hours of work in Character Creator (not including the time it took to make the outfit, though).
Of course, there’s another alternative for human characters: Meta Human Creator. However, I think that tool is very limited compared to Character Creator.
Graphics are not the only part where you can save money. You can also make your game in a way that reuses a lot of assets, or even environments. You should really take a look at the game Fatal Frame (either play it or watch a let’s play on YouTube). Fatal Frame is not really a small game, since it takes over 4 hours to play from start to finish. However, the entire game takes place in a single house, and they are very creative when it comes to reusing the same environment over and over. For example, they really take advantage of the whole “haunted house” premise to make you traverse the house in different ways, while finding new ways to add variations to the same rooms, using puzzles and ghost encounters.
Music and sound are also something to consider. In an ideal world, you’d get custom music for your game. However, that can be very expensive, so your next best option is to find music that fits your game. This can take some time, but if you really put the time into looking for music that fits your game, you can find a very good soundtrack for less than $80. The same could be applied to sound, although, depending on your game, you will still need to devote some time on sound work. For this reason, I keep an ever-growing library of sounds (either paid or free), so there’s always the chance I can find something that fits the game I’m making.
And that’s it. I hope you found these tips useful.