The Nintendo Switch turns three this week and at the time of writing this story, is home to 2,153 games. To have so many games in such a short time indicates its popularity with consumers as well as the ease at which developers are able to bring their games to the console. And of those 2,153 games, there are a few with Indian studios behind them. One such developer is Pune-based GodSpeed Games. Aside from providing QA and testing services for a host of titles, it brought 3D platformer Almightree: The Last Dreamer over to the Nintendo Switch from PC and is working on a soon to be announced casual combat game for the console as well.
The Mako Reactor spoke to Ranbeer Hora, MD of GodSpeed Games to find out what it’s like to work on one of the world’s most popular consoles. Though before we get to that, we had to ask, how did the studio manage to get its hands on a Nintendo Switch development kit? Nintendo has courted Indian developers in the past with varying degrees of success while development kits themselves are a rarity in this part of the world outside of big AAA outfits like Ubisoft and Rockstar Games, both of which have Indian offices.
“It is not just Nintendo, but with all the console manufacturers there is a concern on licensing development hardware to India,” Hora says. “There is a huge investment on the dev kits for the game studios. And for the console manufacturers, they have to get different certifications that can allow the hardware to be imported to India and it is a bit tricky from what I understand.”
With that in mind, Hora and his team met Nintendo at several gaming conferences to win its trust by sharing what they do and what games they work on.
“Because GodSpeed Games works with global leading publishers providing game development and game testing services, we were able to register as a certified game QA and development house with them,” he says.
Why developers love the Nintendo Switch
As for developing on the Nintendo Switch itself, Hora is all praise for it.
“The Nintendo Switch for us appears to be the least demanding console that Nintendo has released,” he says. “The fact that Switch does not limit itself to a one console experience is an advantage. We can dock it and transmit on a TV, and can also take out from the dock and play as a handheld. The Joy-Con can be detached from the sides allowing space for multiplayer sessions. And all these shifts are instant and the transition for the user is smooth. It just works seamlessly.”
It’s these multiple ways to play that’s at the centre of GodSpeed’s Switch development plans. To the point of incorporating touch controls that can be toggled in-menu (which it did with Almightree). While most developers don’t bother with such niceties, it’s a non-option for the company to ignore every possible input method.
“As a developer, compromising on one of the play modes could mean losing a considerable number of users who look at games supporting a particular play mode,” he says.
For Hora and his team, it’s the Nintendo Switch’s versatility in how it can be played that makes it so appealing to develop for. This extends to how it works with game engines.
“It’s not only the hardware that has helped developers, but the console’s integration with third-party engines is also an advantage for multiplatform developers,” he says. “Both Unreal and Unity engine have support for Nintendo Switch and even with a custom engine there shouldn’t be any big issues either.”
Nintendo Switch game development challenges
On the topic of Unity, it’s the engine that powers GodSpeed’s first effort on the console (and was used on every version of the game preceding it). Unity has a reputation amongst console gamers as not being as optimised as other engines, with many mobile and PC variants of Unity games running smoother than on say, the Nintendo Switch or PS4. It made us wonder what GodSpeed had to take into account when bringing Almightree to the Switch.
“Running a PC port on Switch is difficult because of the limitations in current processing power,” he admits. “And if your PC game has very high-quality graphics and realistic art style, then to run on Switch, you are required to scale down the graphics quality of a game.”
Hora reveals that this is a challenge with GodSpeed’s games too. He likens the process to bringing a PC game to a high-end mobile device.
“In most cases, we work from the texture and shader quality front to achieve better optimisation on Switch,” he reveals. “Using mobile post-processing and maintaining the screen resolution supported by Switch gives you better results.”
This isn’t the only concern when making games for the Nintendo Switch. Although it works with major third-party engines, developers have to be aware of specific issues they may run into.
“The major decisions are with the selection of SDK and the engine version,” he says. “You have to ensure that both the versions are supported, as building with either one to be of different version, you will end up getting errors. Even while porting a game already made with older version of Unity, you have to first update Unity version as per the SDK version in use.”
‘Bring everything to Switch’ isn’t as easy as it sounds
And there’s more, with specifics like resolution and language to worry about too. For most Switch game developers these are par for the course, but for the casual ‘bring everything to Switch’ crowd, it’s an eye-opener.
“The title also has to maintain a screen resolution that is supported by Switch because sometimes the resolutions we use for PC are not supported by Switch,” he says. “This did happen in Almightree. Other challenges are with language, as some languages are not supported by Switch. If porting from Unity, then some of the Unity functionalities like Playerprefs [built-in utility that accesses player preferences between sessions of play] is not supported [on Switch], so basically you can save/load only in binary format.”
Then there are limitations on the number of threads you can spawn. The structure of file save/load is pretty calculative and miscalculations could result in crashes.”
However these intricacies are far from stumbling blocks. For GodSpeed, Nintendo’s support and documentation for developers has been more than satisfactory to the point where the studio has “no complaints”.
What about a Nintendo Switch Pro?
With so much going for the Nintendo Switch, does the market need a souped up, beefier version? A Switch Pro perhaps? Hora left us with this:
“There has been speculation that Nintendo will announce new Nintendo Switch hardware or some are calling it as Nintendo Switch Pro. But officially there has been no confirmation or comments from Nintendo.
As the current hardware already lacks behind the other two consoles and with Microsoft and Sony announcing the release of their new consoles. The existing Switch will then be more behind in terms of power.”
And I personally do feel market will need the next version of Nintendo Switch. There are few limitations in the current version and further improvements will be useful for the players. For example: better battery life, a slight dock redesign or a direct HDMI output with no dock, and the top priority should be to achieve 4K gaming experience and bumping up to that resolution.”