Kenney’s collection of 40K+ pieces of public domain 2D and 3D art has enabled countless projects to take shape. We asked Kenney, who is currently serving as one of the judges of the Unity 2D Challenge, a few questions about his work motivations, inspirations and why he uses Unity.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’ve always been fascinated by games that give players some kind of creative freedom. SimCity 2000, RollerCoaster Tycoon and Dungeon Keeper were among my favorites. From the day my father gave me my first PC, I’ve been absolutely hooked on these games.
Then I got interested in seeing what was under the hood. First, I’d modify files and add new content. Later, I learned how to use game engines. This started my interest in game development, but I didn't want to move from my small hometown in the Netherlands, so I couldn't attend a gaming-related study programme. Instead, I started reading books and using online resources to learn how to create on my own.
After a year or two, companies started contacting me to create games for their online gaming portals, and years later, I got the chance to start my own studio. To this day, creative games still inspire me and I spend hours building cities, spaceships and trying any business simulator I come across.
Who's gonna participate in the Unity 2D Challenge? You get a chance to be judged by me, oh and there are cash prizes. https://t.co/xzxY61sKHH
— Kenney (ケニー) (@KenneyNL) October 29, 2018
What motivated you to start publishing assets for everyone?
It's much more rewarding to get positive comments from all over the world than to make a quick buck. There's a ton of reasons why people can't afford paying for content: living conditions, technical barriers and even their location.
I'd like everyone to have the opportunity to learn about game development, no matter how much they’re willing or able to spend. Releasing the content to the public domain means that nobody ever has to worry when using the assets in their projects, even when creating a commercial game. And that far outweighs the financial benefit I would derive by applying a more restrictive license to the assets.
When did you release your first public-domain assets and how did it come about?
Back in 2010, I decided to upload a couple of sprites from some of my canceled projects. People who downloaded them were really happy at the quality of the content considering the open license.
That inspired me to create custom art that could be used for multiple projects. Graphics like roads, characters, and platforming sprites got a lot of positive reactions. I started getting emails from developers who asked where they could donate to, which surprised me. Thanks to those donations, however, I've been able to do this for six years already, still going strong!
Why did you choose Unity?
Evangelist Josh Naylor introduced me to Unity during Global Game Jam back in 2016. Before that time, I was mainly interested in creating browser-based games using Flash, but as that platform was fading away, I knew I had to move on.
During the jam, Josh built a game from start to finish within a matter of hours. I was amazed at how many components were built-in. Things like pathfinding and dynamic lighting used to take hours using the software I was used to.
Have you gotten any unusual or unexpected collaborations or requests?
People make the most obscure requests when it comes to game assets. When I create a top-down racing pack, for example, people will ask for goats as cars or to have a track that runs underwater. While these will always make me laugh, I try to keep things generic and widely applicable — so no goats as cars.
On the flipside, I often get requests to re-create licensed characters. I'll always grab this opportunity to teach people about copyright infringement and why releasing content to the public domain can be beneficial for content creators. These are serious matters, and I can't tell people enough: always check the license for anything you use in your project.
Do you plan to expand your work to create your own complete game or to create assets for other industries or types of project?
The gaming industry has a lot of overlap with other industries like architecture and animation. Similar tools, methods, and assets can be used in a variety of projects. Last year, my assets were used in an article for The New York Times, which inspired me to create more generic clip art that can be used both in games and in articles and infographics.
In terms of my own game project, I actually have a bucket list of games that I want to create at some point, games that I would've loved to play as a kid. Unfortunately, though, I'm really critical of my own work, and I've got problems when it comes to staying focused on a single project for longer periods. For the game assets, this isn’t a problem as they're usually created within a couple of days or less, but for longer projects, this is an absolute curse. I'll keep trying to get a game off the ground though. I found that it really helps to show progress on a project early and often. That way people will start asking about progress, that creates pressure for me to keep working on it. Just a little tip :).
As one of the judges of the Unity 2D Challenge, do you have any tips for contestants?
Certainly! While your graphics will be 2D, there's no reason not to work in 3D space. Adding depth to a scene can enhance the atmosphere and might even open opportunities for interesting gameplay. I often come across games that have a lot of detail on the ground but forget about the background and sky.
You don't want to make your game to be confusing, so make sure it's clear which objects can be interacted with and which are just decoration. An easy trick for creating a more interesting background is to take a few foreground objects and paint them in a single color, then move them to the back.
Along with Pixel Reign, Kenney is an external judge on the Unity 2D Challenge, which you can enter to showcase your skills and have a chance at winning prizes. Kenney’s assets are available for download at www.kenney.nl and on the Unity Asset Store.