ABZÛ on Nintendo Switch: How to Successfully Port a Game

  1. Before you even start porting
  2. Starting point
  3. Challenges we faced
  4. Passion. Something beyond the technical point of view
  5. The essence of the successful porting project

The trend of porting games to the Nintendo Switch, which is so much loved by gamers, has become one of the game dev trends of 2018. Now that Nintendo has sold 22.86 million units of this super cool portable console since its 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 several unannounced games for Nintendo Switch. This article 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 collaboration with Giant Squid (ABZÛ developer) and 505 Games (publisher). Room 8 Studio provided a full development cycle and 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 game’s mechanics should initially be adaptable for Nintendo Switch to give players an enjoyable gameplay experience and some critical features they expect (based on their experience playing this game on the other platforms). It should also be a project that has already proved its commercial sustainability.

Go with the right partner

Another essential thing in porting games to the Nintendo Switch 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 producing 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 can not only do the work but also give practical advice and constructive suggestions on how to port a game to switch from their previous experience.

Starting point

Communication process

It is the basis of any project to build a transparent communication flow in which partners can trust and let go while the result is delivered on time and at a pre-agreed cost. Before the start of the ABZÛ project, we agreed on the frequency, channels, and formats of communication with the partner to provide them with a personal, collaborative, and friendly experience.

Pre-production

The most common mistake concerning various game development projects, especially game porting to Nintendo Switch, 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, because Unreal 4 is open-source software, the team should be aware of each change made 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 highly 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.”

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 while 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 many visual effects, like fog and thousands of animated 3D objects, fish, and seaweed. Therefore, keeping the highest possible resolution and making streaming smooth, we tried to strike a balance between stunning graphics and functionality, keeping in mind our goal of maintaining 30 FPS. Objects located far from the player do not need maximum resolution, while things 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 console capabilities, it was a real challenge to preserve it on a portable device without losses in the gameplay experience. We wouldn’t accept any compromises regarding this vital feature, so it took additional time and extensive tests, and the expertise of our top graphics developers to ensure the shader was 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 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 unexpected challenges for 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 easier to deal with changes with solid documentation and agile processes in place. You cannot control external circumstances, but you definitely can be flexible in 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 away from the technical and commercial side of the process (which, of course, matters), we should mention that porting ABZÛ was a breathtaking mission. ABZÛ is a beautiful underwater adventure that allows you to immerse yourself in a mysterious and vibrant world of the ocean and explore many secrets hidden in the abyss. Sophisticated mechanics, fascinating story, and offbeat effects made the process of porting enthralling for QA guys and developers.

The essence of the successful porting 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.

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 ports according to their audience. So, we can speak about a big market concerning porting to this platform.

After you decide to port your game to Nintendo Switch, you should consider lots of aspects: check its compatibility with Switch in terms of the game’s features and mechanics, analyze memory limits and design GPU optimization solutions, and plan time for the engine and SDK updates if needed as well as carefully prepare for compliance testing.

Therefore, engaging a specialized porting team’s expertise can help you save time and cost of porting to Nintendo Switch, exclude the project management overhead, and ensure the same gameplay experience as on the original platform.

Conclusion

The key to successful game porting to Nintendo Switch is understanding why people play this particular game and why they want to play on the new platform. Here at Room 8 Studio, we reach the bottom in every detail to transform our expertise into a clear work plan for our partners. We synchronize their expectations and our definitions of done, providing complete visibility and control on each project stage.

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.

Have a project in mind? Please, contact us using the form below to see how we can leverage our experience to create the game of your dreams.

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Vadim Kraevoy
Head of Studio
Vadim Krayevoy