While the Switch has managed to turn out to be a sales steamroller, it’s not without its caveats. It’s a secret to no one that the hybrid system, as unique and versatile as it is, is not the best when it comes to raw hardware power. It does have modern design architecture, though a lot of optimization is required to get multi-platform games to look and run decently enough.
One studio that has become very familiar with the Switch development process is Feral Interactive.
The team has been responsible for ambitious ports like Codemasters’ GRID Autosport , which launched just a few months ago. It turned out to be the definitive addition of the game on console, and is one of the most visually impressive games to grace the Switch yet. But, projects like this require a lot of work. Edwin Smith, a developer at Feral Interactive, was recently interviewed by Nintendo Life. He described the process of creating a game for Switch, and summed it up with one particular line: it takes “time and effort”.
Smith pointed primarily to the Switch’s relatively weak CPU as the main cause of difficulty for the development process.
He then broke down the individual areas that a team has to consider when wanting to port a game, such as its technical design and sales potential. In a roundabout way, Smith even called out ports from other studios that are of a lesser quality (due to bad visuals and missing features) and called their existence “self-defeating”. He preceeded that by stating that Feral has ditched plans for some projects for the very reason of the team not wanting to deliver a half-baked product.
Here is Smith’s full statement:
“Having a single piece of hardware to target simplifies the development and QA tasks, all other things being equal. Having said that, all other things are rarely equal…the Switch CPU is not as powerful as most recent mobile handsets so you have to eke out of it all the performance you can and that means lots of performance analysis and optimization, and that takes time and effort.
…There are a number of factors in that process, not least our enthusiasm for the game as a game. But also, technical feasibility, sales potential, platform suitability, code quality, etc. If we are unable to port a game to the level of quality we wish to achieve, then we do not proceed, and occasionally that has happened. You see quite a few ports, which have dropped a number of features from the original game or else are released to run on a limited range of the latest hardware. We think that is self-defeating in that it generates disappointment rather than enjoyment.”
An upgrade from the past
Feral is one of a good chunk of other studios that have properly taken on the challenging of delivering quality releases on Switch. Other teams include the likes of Saber Interactive and Panic Button, to name a few.
This attitude is in stark contrast to the days of the Wii when third-party companies were notrious for releasing half-baked releases on Nintendo’s home systems. Often, projects from big publishers were outsourced to small, D-tier teams that put together rushed, low-budget versions of multi-platform, in addition to “shovelware” originals.
The very early days of the Wii U era sawe a small resurge in true third-party support, but these were very short lived. Now, Nintendo seems to have forged some genuine partnerships and the result is a growing number of decent third-party games. It’s still not anywhere near the same level as what’s on other platforms, but it’s a remarkable improvement after over 10 years of sub-par releases.