"Originally, Thomas Was Alone was a flash game that somehow found its way onto the front page of Kongregate,” explained the game's creator, Mike Bithell, on stage at Nordic Game in the Swedish city of Malmö.
“The big breakthrough only happened once I decided to port the game to Unity," he continued, noting that he'd adopted the engine because he's "shit at coding, I'm not a very good programmer, I've never had any training," but adding that he has "embraced that about myself"
“Pre-unity, I'm not sure that I could have ever shipped a game,” he stated.
During a postmortem of his beloved rectangular platformer, Bithell revealed that while he made a lot of naive, and often avoidable, mistakes, thanks to Unity's forgiving nature it just didn't matter.
“I'm not actually pushing the limits of technology, I'm just doing a bad job and getting away with it. I'm never going to make watchdogs,” said Bithell.
“Right now we can be a bit messy. We can be a bit sloppy. We don't have to be perfect coders. Unity allows us to get away with that, and it's great.”
Stick or twist?
Bithell has, of course, learned from those early errors and, while his next game, Volume, is a more complex project than Thomas Was Alone, he still has no interest in becoming a brilliant coder.
“No one is ever going to celebrate you for your awesome programming skills. No one cares because coding is a means to and end,” said Bithell. “Stop sending me tweets telling me how to indent my code.”
Ultimately, Bithell’s advice to all developers, indie or not, is to work within your means, and do so with pride.
“Working within our means isn't something to be embarrassed about, it's not something to be ashamed of. The great games you love were all made with certain limitations,” offered Bithell.
“It doesn't matter what you use to make a game, it's the game that matters.”
“[Of course] I'm fully aware that this approach only exists because I've worked with the people at Unity who do the heavy lifting for us. Without those guys, I'd be completely adrift.”