Switch Port Wizards Panic Button Talk About the Console, "Great" Relationship with Nintendo, and More

Panic Button has gained a lot of popularity due to Switch ports like Rocket League, Doom, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and they talked about it all.

Austin-based studio Panic Button has been at the forefront of the news lately especially for its ports.

Mostly, they worked on Nintendo Switch ports of games like Rocket League, Doom, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and the recently-announced Warframe, but the Switch isn’t their only domain as they are also working on Subnautica for PS4 and Xbox One.

Today Studio Head Adam Creighton and Technical Director Andy Boggs provided a lot of interesting answers in an AMA on Reddit.

  • Asked whether Warframe will have gyro controls, Creighton mentioned that it was done for Doom and Wolfenstein, and the studio likes solid, non-gimmicky, additive features, and that takes time and design for things like motion gaming. So the answer is ultimately “maybe.”
  • According to Boggs, the studio does it best to squeeze as much performance and fidelity as possible out of the Switch. Doom was the most challenging project due to how demanding the game was, and it being the first time working on the engine.
  • The studio is going to push things as much as they can for Warframe, balancing TV and handheld gameplay.
  • The hardest thing about the job for Boggs is having to turn down projects. The studio can work only on so many things.
  • The studio worked on Nintendo hardware for a long time and “everything about it improves by leaps and bounds with each iteration.” Having good tools also makes a huge difference, and “they’re the best they’ve ever been.” They’re also “constantly evolving.”
  • “Nintendo is also always adding new tools and APIs that unlock different techniques and avenues for performance.”
  • The relationship with Nintendo is “So, so great; they are amazing and supportive and sharp and aspirational. It’s pretty inspiring.” Creighton is glad to be making games for their hardware.
  • Boggs mentioned that Nintendo has been “incredibly supportive” on all of the studio’s projects. “They work with us on technical issues, they give feedback on new features (definitely on the motion aiming), and they listen to whatever feedback we have as well. Great experience all around.”
  • The goal is to close the time gap between releases on the original platforms and the ports.
  • About which games can be ported, “it’s all about the fit for the game, us, the platform owner, the game owner, timing, commercial needs, and more.”
  • Further visual and performance improvements for Wolfenstein: The New Colossus and DLC are Bethesda’s call.
  • Answers were vague on the possibility of a Subnautica port for Switch, including “Anything is possible!”
  • Boggs doesn’t think there is any reason why Unreal Engine 3 games couldn’t be ported to Switch, while the process has its own set of challenges.
  • It’s tough to compare the power of the Switch to other consoles because it’s “such a unique piece of hardware.”
  • According to Creighton “The Nintendo Switch is an awesome, purpose-built hybrid device.” The studio has “to do tech and design balancing and work to make things fun on TVs, on the go, with different controllers, giving you good battery life, and all of that.”
  • The studio has considered original IPs for the Switch.
  • All the studio’s Switch ports have taken less than a year to complete.
  • Interestingly, according to Boggs the Switch doesn’t have specific weak points: “We’ve worked with hardware in the past where you could say “oh, it doesn’t do transparency well” or “oh, the fill rate is a huge bottleneck”, but on the Nintendo Switch there’s not a particular “Achilles heel” that we’ve found, the hardware is pretty capable with everything we’ve thrown at it.”
  • Asked whether there will be more games from the studio in the fall, Creighton responded “we’re not talking unannounced stuff or timing, but yes, it would make sense there is more coming from us.”

Interestingly, we got a description of the general process the studio uses for its ports.

“The first step is always to just add the concept of the new platform to the game code and get it compiling/linking. Then once we can actually launch the game, we start filling out systems and missing platform code, just working our way towards getting the main loop running. At that point, we start going wider, having different people work on different systems like graphics and audio. Once the game is actually visible on the screen (“first light”), we start looking at performance, certification, platform-specific features, etc.

Generally, we try to use all the engine features we can to improve performance and fidelity, but we try not to just “turn things off until it runs well”- we want to deliver the best possible version of the game that we can.”

“Graphics is always a big one, but like you mentioned, audio is too. People focus a lot on graphical issues when talking about games, but if the audio quality isn’t up to snuff, that’s really immediately obvious to players, so we spend a lot of time on that too. A lot of systems that aren’t as apparent to the player always take up a ton of our time- memory optimization being a huge one, but also size-on-disk, threading, cpu-utilization, networking, save-data. In the course of a port, you wind up touching just about every aspect of every system in some form or another.”

Creighton also talked how the studio selects which projects to work on:

“As far as how do we decide what games to work on, it’s all over the place.

There are a lot of things we want to work on, and I spend a lot of time talking to folks about if that makes sense, how do we make that happen, what’s the big win for everyone involved, and then we build a high-level plan and business details around that.

For other projects, people come to us, talk to us about what they want, we make sure it’s something that we are passionate about.

For all of our stuff, we work with them to make sure it makes sense, it’s an interesting technical challenge, and that we can get a quality gameplay experience on the other side.”

Boggs explained the challenge of reducing file size, and why the studio tends to opt to ask users to download additional data.

“The majority of the game data we run into is visual assets (textures, models, animations, etc) and audio data. There are some ways to crunch that stuff down even further without reducing quality, but at some point if you want to reduce the size, you wind up just cutting quality. That’s often necessary to fit within the size constraints, but it never feels good. So when we’re confronted with the choice of either reducing the quality of the game or having the user download the additional data, we tend to choose quality. That said, we’re always working on new ways to crunch as much as we can into as little space as possible.”

Creighton also talked about the studio standards for a Switch port.

“Yes, we have high standards, and it’s all driven by, “Can we make a good gameplay experience out of this?”

The Nintendo Switch is a great device, and is far different than other consoles. Experiences have to work on a 60″ TV, and on a handheld screen.

So, while resolution, frame rate, and other measurements factor in, we want the experience to be good overall.

Yep, putting beasts of games on hardware you can put in your pocket (depending on your pockets) is challenging.

Looking at something like DOOM, which was designed and shipped before the Nintendo Switch was a thing, we were super happy with the shipping version of the game.

And we wanted to do more, so we released an update earlier this year that had, among other things, more performance improvements. That was something Panic Button wanted to do, we pushed for, and Bethesda and Nintendo were great and supportive of it.”

He also explained more about the studio’s philosophy, its port, and multiplatform approach.”

“We want games to be special on the hardware for which we develop, and that means we work within the special features and technical constraints of each platform.

DOOM was finished and shipped and Wolf 2 was started before the Nintendo Switch was available, they were built without taking the platform into consideration as a target, so decisions were made that might not have been if you fast-forward 18 months.

All our projects are challenging, because those are the kinds of projects we take, and because we’re trying to do as much as we can on the hardware, regardless of the hardware.

We develop for all platforms. We’re doing Subnautica for PS4 and Xbox One. We just release a PlayStation VR game a month ago, we worked on the Disney Infinity franchise across all platforms, you can see a lot in our past catalog. You will see more in the future.”

Boggs talked more about the possibility for the studio to work on its own IPs.

“Everyone here is passionate about making games, so it’s the type of thing that we always talk about and even prototype occasionally. The scary part is that you take a big risk when you decide to fund your own game, and you see a lot of studios that wind up closing because it doesn’t work out. First and foremost, our priority is the people that work here and making sure they continue to have a good job, so we’re extremely cautious about doing anything to jeopardize that. But with the right idea and the right timing, we think it’s something we can pursue without betting the whole studio on it, and it’s likely that will happen down the road.”

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Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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