The trend of porting games to Nintendo Switch which is so much loved by gamers has become one of the gamedev trends of 2018. Now that Nintendo sold 22.86 million units of this super cool portable console since the release in March 2017, more and more publishers and developers are looking to port their most popular titles to the new platform, gaining valuable experience by trial and error. This article takes a look at how Room 8 Studio was able to avoid mistakes and successfully port an excellent game over to Nintendo Switch.
Here at Room 8 Studio we are currently working on a number of unannounced games for Nintendo Switch. In this article we would like to share some of our experience porting the award-winning ABZÛ game over to the Nintendo Switch. We are very grateful for the support and shared experience we gained in our collaboration with Giant Squid (ABZÛ developer) and 505 Games (publisher). Room 8 Studio was able to provide a full development cycle, turnkey solution for our partners, with our team of dedicated senior and mid-level specialists. So let’s now walk through the main stages of this project.
Before you even start porting
Go with the right game. The key point is to make sure you pick the right title that will be at least equally successful on the new platform compared to the current one. The mechanics of the game should originally be adaptable for Nintendo Switch in terms of giving players an enjoyable gameplay experience and some critical features they expect (based on their experience playing this game on the other platforms). Goes without saying, that it should also be a project that has already proved its commercial sustainability.
Go with the right partner. Another important thing is to entrust your project to a reliable partner. The reason why game developers and publishers prefer to outsource porting is quite clear — they want to engage valuable external expertise for this specific platform while saving money and accelerating the processes. The core team can focus on production of the next cool title, backed by a team of professionals who can do a quality port of their beloved game. Moreover, you would want the team that’s able to not only do the work, but also give practical advice and constructive suggestions from their previous experience.
Communication process. It is the basis of any project to build transparent communication flow in which partners can trust and let go while the result is delivered on time and at pre-agreed cost. Before the start of ABZÛ project, we agreed on the frequency, channels, and formats of communication with the partner in order to provide them with a personal, collaborative and friendly experience.
Pre-production. The most common mistake concerning various game development projects, especially porting, is the underestimation of the importance of the pre-production stage. To make the porting process predictable in terms of timeline and resources required, it’s crucial to analyze every detail of the source code during the pre-production. Performing a preliminary in-depth analysis will give you benefits at each stage. As we know, Nintendo was working very closely with the Unreal Engine and Unity creators to make eventual porting as smooth as possible. But, considering the fact that Unreal 4 is an open source software, the team should be aware of each change that was made in it, before you even start working. The Giant Squid team did a perfect job with the routine of documenting all changes and were the ultimate source of information about what had been done in Unreal Engine. In addition, they were extremely responsive and fully aligned with Room 8 in implementing the agile process of actionable feedback and review, which guarantees compliance with requirements.
Challenges we faced
“We knew from the beginning that bringing ABZÛ to Nintendo Switch would be a significant technical challenge. Our game is built on entirely custom and unique gameplay systems and advanced rendering technologies specific to our underwater world, and we originally only targeted higher-end consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One. But Room 8 accepted that challenge with tireless enthusiasm and talent, and the results are fantastic. They’ve delivered a version of ABZÛ with very few compromises that still captures all of the atmosphere and wonder of our world.” – says Derek Cornish, Tech Director at Giant Squid.
Quality vs performance balance. When porting AAA / AA titles to smaller screens, the challenge of preserving highly detailed graphics maintaining the same performance is always there. Especially, when we speak about the art game genre. Since ABZÛ essentially simulates an inspiring diving experience, the game includes a lot of visual effects, like fog and, of course, thousands of animated 3D objects, like fish and seaweed. Therefore, keeping the highest possible resolution, we tried to strike a balance between stunning graphics and functionality, keeping in mind our goal of maintaining 30 FPS. It’s clear that objects located far from the player do not need maximum resolution, while objects that are very close should be as cool as possible. So after LOD distance tuning and downgrading some of the not critical assets, we reached 30 FPS for the 540p resolution in the handled mode and 720p in the docked mode.
Visual FX. We faced the necessity of adjusting a complex water animation effect. Initially created for powerful PC and high-end consoles capabilities, it was a real challenge to preserve it on a portable device without losses in gameplay experience. We wouldn’t accept any compromises regarding this vital feature, so it took additional time and extensive tests as well as the expertise of our top graphics developers to ensure the shader rendered in full beauty.
Assembling levels in engine. Happily, Unreal Engine contains various powerful tools for game optimization. All underwater environment parts like rocks, different surface types and diverse flora details were done using engine tools. But still, there were tons of 3D models to reduce polygon count and lots of textures, that needed comprehensive optimization. After making sure that the graphics, as standalone parts, match the requirements, we assembled all game layouts and levels together in the engine to check the final game performance.
Technology updates. We see a challenge as a chance to grow and bring great products to life. One of the challenges that were totally unexpected to us, was the update of Nintendo Switch’s SDK right before the project submission. This is where the pre-prod preparation came in handy once again! It was way easier to deal with changes having solid documentation and agile processes in place. You are not able to control external circumstances, but you definitely can be flexible managing things out of your control.
Passion. Something beyond the technical point of view
Devotion is what happens when you enjoy what you do. If we step a bit away from the technical and commercial side of the process (which, of course, matter), we should mention that porting ABZÛ was a really breathtaking mission. ABZÛ is a beautiful underwater adventure that gives you an opportunity to immerse yourself into a mysterious and vibrant world of the ocean and explore a lot of secrets that are hidden in the abyss. Sophisticated mechanics, fascinating story, and offbeat effects made the process of porting enthralling for QA guys as well as developers.
The essence of the successful porting project
Currently, there are a lot of really cool games that are waiting to be ported to Nintendo Switch. Industry media even create waiting lists, like top 10 games, that desperately need Switch port according to their audience. So, we can definitely speak about a big market concerning porting to this platform.
The key to successful porting is deep understanding the reasons why people play this particular game by every team member, as well as, why they would want to play on the new platform. We reach to the bottom in every detail in order to transform our expertise into a clear work plan for our partners, synchronize their expectations and our definitions of done providing full visibility and control on each stage of the project.
ABZÛ on Switch became possible because of the synergy and the atmosphere of co-creation between Room 8, Giant Squid and 505 Games teams. And, of course, because of the huge common desire to make it happen.
As a certified Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox developer, Room 8 Studio can help you port your game to these platforms, or develop it from scratch.
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