Thoughts on Reusing Assets?


#1

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been seeing more complaints of studios reusing assets from past games, with Fallout 76 and Diablo: Immortal taking a lot of heat. Accusations of “reskinning” or “copy-pasting” are treated like unforgivable practices by the people making them, but obviously it’s more nuanced than that. Taking dragons from Skyrim and sticking them in West Virginia was probably a bad call, but using Fallout 4’s engine as a base was probably the only way this experimental Fallout was going to get made. Diablo: Immortal was accused of being a reskin of Crusaders of Light by people disappointed that Diablo was going mobile, but if less resources are put into a Diablo offshoot, isn’t that better for fans of mainline Diablo? Reusing assets seems like a great way to quickly get an experimental entry in a franchise, with Fallout: New Vegas and Majora’s Mask being good examples.

But why should there be any stigma against reusing assets at all, really? As long as it fits with the game’s design/aesthetic I see absolutely no downside. Tons of other art forms re-contextualize pre-existing things but for some reason the expectation in video games is everything has to be built from the ground up.

Where should the line be drawn? When has reusing assets in games worked for you and when has something stuck out like a sore thumb? Does the power disparity between big studios and indie devs mean a
more open-source development utopia is impossible? Why don’t companies commission and distribute ROM hacks? Am I rambling?


#2

So when can I start fighting macho dragon randy savage in 76 then? Honestly, video games are all smoke and mirrors. If you can make the art fit in your game and goes unnoticed by a majority of the audience, go for it as long as it’s ethically made and credited. I understand not wanting to see that one unity store asset game, unit z or world z… some minecraft zombie thing.


#3

bout to blow some socks off by linking these people to the Unity and UE4 asset stores


#4

Getting Over It by Bennett Foddy is literally constructed from generic assets from the Unity store and has a brilliant, eclectic aesthetic. Like framerate and resolution, it’s another piece of technical game dev inside baseball that has filtered into enthusiast gamer rhetoric.

That being said, I don’t like how Dark Souls 3 looks because of how whatever tech and assets they’re using makes it look too much like Bloodborne to me, so I can’t really talk.


#5

pubg came under a lot of fire for using a lot of purchased assets, because apparently people demand farm-to-table hand created warehouses for every game now. it’s absurd really.


#6

The dragon to Fo76 monster thing going around felt far more blown out of proportion than necessary (as a lot of gamer outcry). For one I don’t think people quite get the work that goes into game development; the supposed dragon copy-paste looks to have different bone structures than the dragons of Skyrim, so the rig would have to be modified, but even then what do the developers gain from reinventing the flying animation?

There’s a case to be made for hobby devs using entire asset packs to build their games, like aforementioned Unity minecraft zombie pack; which like many asset store packs I’m sure is there to provide a framework of which to prototype or learn game development.

So yeah, please do recycle, just do it with some self control.
Nearly all of the AAA studios use some form of royalty free sound effect or some form of modular system for buildings. Chances are they use the same humanoid rig for all their characters, maybe even from a previous game. It just wouldn’t be realistically feasible to make every single asset bespoke; chase that dream too far and it encourages the toxic crunch culture we’re seeing in studios today.


#7

Players are super inconsistent about how they receive reused assets–sometimes they’re met with nostalgic joy, other times they’re concrete proof of a studio out to scam them.

A lot of games or parts of games happen entirely because something was already built and needed to be used. Smartly reused assets allow games to tell bigger stories with smaller budgets (NieR: Automata, the Trails of Cold Steel series) or have massive worlds.

Red Dead 2 is probably the best example we have of what a big, AAA and fully bespoke game looks like. There’s the obvious problem for me that having all this stuff means they’re really gonna make you sit and look at it. Players are also reporting a “quality fatigue” where too much good, original stuff actually starts making your eyes glaze over after a while.

There are reasons assets are re-used on the dev side for games big and small. There’s a threshold of player attention to this stuff that you can usually stay under safely, but now that gamer culture is at full volume 100% of the time waiting for a chance to yell at devs, certain things get pinpointed, videos are made, etc.

People are asking for a thing they probably can’t fully appreciate and tricking themselves into thinking they need it.

And last thing, there’s no shame in asset packs. Yes, even a full game made out of them. It’s all about how they’re used. If the game itself is uncreative and un-fun, then we have something to talk about. Pre-made assets alone aren’t a thing to dock a game for in any way.


#8

There’s something to be said about how seeing a repeated asset in a completely different context or game can possibly bring you out of the “illusion” of being in a unique space. I can’t say that this has ever happened to me in games but for movies I distinctly remember that, as a child, it was weird to see the same actor appear in different movies.

Thing is, I quickly got over that feeling of unease because it’s at most a very superficial complaint when movies (just as games) do so many more things to pull you into them. And just as it’s not realistic to expect all movies to star unique casts, neither is it to expect all developers to continually remake the same assets every time they need one.

In the end, to me this seems like another part of the misguided (imho) idea that all games should be perfectly handcrafted that pops up every few years in different contexts. Over the years I’ve seen complaints about developers using middleware (Speedtree, Havok), licensed music, photo references, motion capture, game engines and even for the latest generation of consoles, a (mostly) regular AMD chip set instead of something built from the ground up like the Emotion Engine or Cell. This short sighted ideal isn’t a realistic expectation, nor do I think it would actually improve most games.

Even craftsmen (as silly as it is to compare two different types of creative processes) use mostly off the shelf tools and materials.


#9

They seem to forget that every Valve game reuses some assets except for maybe TF2.

These same people are probably really excited for the next Smash Bros and that is a AAA game that reuses a lot of assets. Nintendo even talked about the minor changes to some of the character models in a video. I could be wrong but isn’t basically anything that was useable in the one for the WiiU being used in Ultimate?


#10

People like this barely think for themselves they just see one Angry YouTube Yell Man or one “senior” poster on their forum of choice mention it about their pet series and that’s their take on it no matter how out of touch it is with how video games work. And that’s all it really is, inept flailing in an attempt to sound discerning and like a “true fan.” But it always takes more than just one re-skin or rehashed models/animations/whatever before fatigue really sets in.

To answer the question in the first post, times reusing assets and re-skinning have absolutely worked for me include the entire Yakuza and Shin Megami Tensei and Castlevania series and the entire fighting game genre. Does anyone making these complaints like Dark Souls series? You won’t see anyone meltdown if they ever notice that a lot of those weapons and boss AI and animations are from 2009. Or how Call of Duty was running on a heavily modded Quake III engine up to Infinity War. I mean beyond these specific games these are among the many entire areas of gaming that wouldn’t exist if not for reusing assets. Especially if one is into the AAA super marketed games and the various mobile heroes kinda games companies make bank off of.

Honestly reusing assets was much more of an issue with 2D games as the seams would start to show a lot sooner. To use Castlevania as an example again, Symphony of the Night runs as the lowest resolution the PSX can do, this was an intentional artistic choice to preserve the look of Dracula X since it’s a direct sequel to that game and also so all of the reused assets from it would mesh better with all of the new sprites. But if you play the last two DS Castlevania games, the reused sprites from 1993 stand out waaaay more against the newer ones because the new stuff wasn’t quite worked the same way to cohesively match the art of the previous games. So it look worse on that level.

Samurai Shodown 6/0 is another one. That game has every Samurai Shodown sprite from 1993 to 2006 in it.

And yeah, obviously if re-skinning and rehashing stuff that’s extremely on the nose it’s going to stand out to people more, but gamers really do have blinders on with regards to how much that has to be done (and not just with the graphics) to get a game going.

But when it’s criticized in the most popular and mainstream stuff like a freaking Diablo mobile game I have to laugh because in cases like that it’s because a publisher is dumping so much money into marketing it that every single one of those people will be playing it on day one anyway.


#11

It’s really case by case.

I love FFX so much, having a fun little adventure with Yuna and Rikku in FFX-2 was totally ok with me. It helps that they created a super cool combat system like the dress sphere system. It can’t compete with S tier FF games but it could still go toe-to-toe with just about any retail title at the time in terms of production value. I just don’t consider it canon, it’s alternate universe to me, that’s all.

Same goes with FFXIII-2 and Lightning Returns. I’m totally cool with those, especially LR, I love that game. At the end of the day, it gets a pass if it’s a fun game and it’s seems like they did enough work to really change things up.

On the other hand. I’m a huge MGS fan and can’t imagine touching Metal Gear Survive. It doesn’t look like they put any meaningful features and it just looks like a product put out to try and milk someone like me.


#12

One of the things that needs to happen for labor issues in games to improve is for consumers to understand that assets are an investment. They are often made with the understanding they may be reused in future games, so it’s worth putting in the time and effort to make the assets. Assets are tools, and you don’t replace tools for every new project, you replace them when you need to.

MMOs reuse assets all the time, and I’m glad they do. The speed with which MMOs release content couldn’t be sustained without harming workers more if every new thing needed new assets.

That said as a few folks in this thread have pointed out, there is something to be said about the problems with an overuse of the same assets. I’ve been playing a lot of Ring of Elysium and while I don’t think that each house has to be unique, boy you sure see a few specific houses quite often.


#13

There is a general cultural hostility to things that are new but don’t look brand new, there is a general cultural hostility to the idea that people aren’t working as hard as humanly possible (and suffering in the process,) to bring you your capital P Product. Pain in labor to produce luxury goods is a marketing bonus.

It’s bad in videogames in particular in part because new assets and upgrades in raw fidelity and graphical complexity have defined both the marketing and coverage of videogames (those things aren’t historically very distinct from each other,) often to the exclusion of all else. “PC gamers,” as in the types who take that as part of their identity along with “hardcore gamer,” are often a crowd that spends thousands of dollars (when they could spend around $500,) to squeeze out the most expensive looking render possible with the latest tech.

All this combines to create a group of people who get absolutely fucking livid about the intelligent reuse of assets, or any attempt to prioritize ease of implementation over new dirt textures and animation skeletons, the latter being one of the hardest and most time consuming things to produce in videogames.

I will say WRT the dragon, no it’s not literally a Skyrim dragon, but it is symbolic of the homogenization of Fallout into the Skyrim model specifically, and more broadly the moves that have been made in Fallout 4 that have basically put the nail in the coffin for Fallout-style roleplaying in Fallout games, and the existence of Fallout 76 which has solidified it as a Brand. “Fallout 76 has all the things you love about Fallout; songs from the 50s, power armor, satiric-but-not-actually-anymore American patriotism, super mutants and the Brotherhood of Steel despite that making zero sense in its time and place in the setting.” That makes it funnier and gives it a little more symbolic power.


#14

Damn, I didn’t know other people were experiencing this! I am not necessarily fatigued by the quality, but I am fatigued by my inability to differentiate. My “gamer brain” (a lamentable term I refuse to exchange for something better) expects repetition. In BOTW, as I roam across a biome, I see that tree, those boulders, that bush, and I recognize them as decoration. When I come across a structure I’ve not yet seen, I know it’s important. I don’t resent the fact that the developers are reusing assets; it’s just the way it is, and I have adapted my play to perform this data filtration.

RDR2 is so dense with unique assets that it is, literally, dizzying. I often have to stop because I’m not processing what I’m seeing on the screen, cuz I (often literally) can’t see the forest for the fuckin trees. I can’t tell what is decoration, and what is important. Nothing stands out because EVERYTHING stands out. It’s a boon, because obviously the game is amazing to look at for this fact, but in terms of gameplay, it’s also detrimental.

For example, when you track an animal, you should enter Focus mode, select the ‘scent’ trail, and follow the highlighted path that appears when you exit Focus mode. But did you also know that the animal is leaving footprints? You can actually track the animal without entering Focus mode at all, if you look carefully enough. The problem, though, is that the footprints don’t stand out. They are just there, alongside brush and grass and dense ground textures. It’s extremely hard to discern them because everything surrounding them is just as detailed. if they were made to ‘pop’ a bit more, you could track naturally, which would be so fuckin cool. The same can be said for things like the donation box/ledger at the camp, or items to pick up. If they ‘popped’ just a bit more, I wouldn’t be entering Focus all the time to see what I can pick up. I’d just know!

I think we all operate this way. Austin mentions in a recent podcast that he can discern interactive objects in the same way that a child might discern a character from the background because the background is painted this way, while the animation cel is painted that way. Within a single game, reusing assets allows our “gamer brain” to make sense of the game world. Anyway just wanted to bring this up cuz it’s neat, and I can’t think of any other games that have made me feel this way about assets.

As to the larger point of whether or not it’s shitty to reuse assets from other, previously-developed games: obviously no. It might be funny, or speak to some internal development budget model, but it doesn’t affect the game on its own. It’s some Cinema Sins bullshit, like focus your energy on something that actually impacts your play experience for fuck’s sake


#15

Super contextual – I think my ultimate example of forgivability in this genre would be exactly what @Hartnote points out in the OP. Majora’s Mask is a great game, and a lot of what makes that game interesting is exactly in its reuse of assets from Ocarina of Time to comment on certain characters or make the player suspicious or curious.

Ultimately, on the negative side of this, this is exactly it for me:


#16

Funny that this topic came up just before the 101 was decided as the same sound is used in Mark of the Ninja and Invisible Inc. for when you are seen.


#17

Assets being re-used isn’t necessarily a bad thing imo, it depends on how they’re used. FFXIV reuses a good chunk of assets from XII and XIII, and while it sometimes looks jank, it’s mostly fine. Dungeons also often get a Hard version that can sometimes be the same exact map with certain things sealed off (e.g. Arboretum, Amdapor, Pharos Sirius). Hell, Final Fantasy as a franchise spends most of it’s time reusing concepts and designs from past games. Omega has literally been 12 tiers of callback bosses.
(None of which I actually got, since I’ve only played 1/8th of FFX and that’s it.)

On the flip side, Dragon Age II had a slim pool of assets, which meant every level ended up reused multiple times in the story, which made the entire game very boring to me, to the point where I couldn’t even be bothered to get through it.

Granted, this is a comparison of two fairly different games (MMO and single-phase), but my point is that asset reuse is very good and fine if it saves time and allows for focus on other systems in your game, but too much cutting and pasting might make a game monotonous and difficult to enjoy.


#18

To tell you the truth I with Fallout 76, I think in terms of asset reuse it does at least have more new assets than New Vegas (a game I loved don’t get me wrong), simple because lush West Virginia is such a different setting compared to Fallout 4, and it does make sense for spinoffs to reuse assets rather than making everything again from scratch again. I’m mostly okay with reusing art assets so long as they at least do one or both of these two things

  • Update the graphics used to build said assets to life (if the technology allows)

  • Include new art assets that manage to feel like they fit alongside the old

I think you can reuse assets in interesting ways, like for instance, Dishonored Death of The Outsider reused assets from the based game was the reuse of the Royal Conservatory level which was now occupied by Overseers treating the entire level like a giant crime scene and thus offered a much different mood than it did in the base game.


#19

I think reusing assets are a pretty obvious step towards greater democratization of game making. There’s always fear mongering from the “consumer advocacy” dudes, which is ironic considering their positioning as “voices of the people”, about the opening of the floodgates leading to a general decline in quality, but isn’t it more important then to highlight good things?Instead of fixating on trash?


#20

The film industry has been reusing props, costumes, effects, and even sets for its entire history, and there ain’t no one calling The Matrix a Dark City asset flip. (I hope.)