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Abstraction Games Interview with Ralph Egas

Let’s face it–the Nintendo Switch port business is booming. No one knows that better than Ralph Egas, head honcho at Abstraction Games. We caught up with Ralph to ask him a few questions about adapting games for Nintendo Switch and his thoughts on the platform itself.

Abstraction Games > Nintendo Switch

The Questions

1. You’ve been in the porting business since 2007 when you founded Abstraction. How would you rate the Nintendo Switch in terms of how easy it is to port games to the platform?

Generally it’s fine. Tools are pretty good, features are nice, we love Switch, etc. Only thing making it tougher is the lower grade GPU and CPU with respect to PS4 and Xbox One, but only for titles that squeeze every bit of performance out of titles on those platforms. At some point there’s no more room for optimization without outright removing fidelity like high polygon LODs, viewing distance reduction, etc.

Abstraction Games handled the ARK: Survival Evolved port for consoles, including the Nintendo Switch. The team received a bit of a backlash for poor performance on the Switch, but ultimately that’s not their fault. As the studio alluded to in a series of tweets, Studio Wildcard is the ultimate decision maker in regards to that IP.

The fact that Abstraction Games was able to get ARK running on Switch at all is a small miracle. I wanted to ask Egas about the Switch version of the game, but understandably he said he couldn’t answer the question I asked. Unfortunately, that means we’re not going to get a status update for Switch performance of that game.

2. The ARK: Survival Evolved Switch port was a big success for your team, but fans have been less than pleased with performance on the Switch. Are performance issues being addressed by Wildcard Studio for the Switch version?

Sorry, we are not allowed to comment on anything related to ARK or PixARK as per contract with Studio Wildcard. They hired us to help them with the Switch version, and they handle PR exclusively.

Switch Tax?

Moving past the ARK: Survival Evolved port, I wanted to ask Egas about his thoughts on the perceived Switch tax of older games. We’ve seen it time and time again when old indie games get a new Switch release, but at a higher price point. Egas says that’s really up to the publisher who can either choose to eat the costs or pass it on to the customer themselves.

3. In a recent interview with GamesIndustry.biz you mention the size of Nintendo Switch carts being a prohibiting factor for development due to cost. Does this extra cost impact the final cost of the game and what gamers have dubbed the Switch tax?

I guess that varies. A publisher may decide to add the added costs to the final consumer price or opt to swallow those extra costs themselves.

On Development

Ralph has some unique insight into the world of porting games, since the studio has worked across so many platforms. I wanted to get a feel for how he felt the Switch compared to some of the previous platforms that Abstraction Games has worked with on porting games.

4. The straightforward phase of porting a game is all about getting it to run on the target platform at all. Did you experience any problems in this phase for any of your upcoming games?

We’ve spent a lot of effort on tailoring the Shadowgate UI for instance to make it nicely playable using a gamepad. Originally this is a mouse-based point&click adventure game. So, it was quite a challenge to make it work well on console. Since we are publisher of Shadowgate console, we call the shots and our aim is always to provide the highest quality possible, regardless of cost. If costs would be too high, we would simply not publish the title, instead of publishing it at a lower quality to save on costs.

5. What tips for mouse-based UI translation do you have for other developers who are porting PC-focused games to Switch?

Well, we took a good look at how Destiny (1) handled their Menus. They’ve put context-sensitive friction on the cursor driven by the analog stick. They’re also panning the background in reverse direction to increase the perception of speed. Very clever. We totally stole that idea and combined that with a hierarchical command wheel (pie menu) for Shadowgate. Works really well in fact.

Original IPs

6.Your first original IP project was a WiiWare game called Potpourri. Any plans to revisit the puzzle any time soon?

Hah! Nice one :).

No, Potpourrii seemed a good idea but lets be honest, it wasn’t that great. It was our first game and looking back we made an obscure game that nobody understood, looked fantastic, but didn’t have a lot of gameplay meat. At the time this was our attempt to enter the industry and we succeeded doing that. Soon after we released the WiiWare version, Chillingo, the biggest European mobile publisher back then, reached out to us and asked us whether we had content for iPhone. In response we ported our own game to iPhone which they published.

Sold as badly as the WiiWare version, but then Chillingo offered their back catalog for porting to consoles and handhelds. We ported iDracula to DSiWare, WiiWare and PSP Minis, a couple of other titles and finally we ported Angry Birds to PSP Minis, just before the port rights were handed back to Rovio. All royalty based, so you can imagine we were suddenly able to hire personnel. Before that it had been just Erik (now CTO) and myself.

7.What is the most frustrating aspect of porting a game to the Nintendo Switch?

I can’t think of anything frustrating really. Our work itself isn’t frustrating at all. It never is. Dealing with opposing forces and politics, that’s an entirely different matter though 😉

The Future

8. Do you have a funny anecdote about a bug that occurred during any of your porting jobs?

Well, not technically a bug per se, but we were having all kinds of seemingly non-deterministic behaviour for a while until we found out that the many Switch devkits were creating serious WiFi interference causing network issues, so we had to move testing upstairs! 🙂

9. Any games you’d love to help bring to Nintendo Switch if given the opportunity?

Myst series, point & click (LucasArts, Activision/Infocom, Sierra Online) remasters.

10. What’s your favorite thing about the Shadowgate series and did you have any struggles porting a 30 year-old game to Switch?

Well, the game that we’re porting isn’t 30 years old. It’s in face only over 4 years old. On Steam it’s called Shadowgate 2014 which is a remaster of a 30 year-old game. My favourite thing about it is that it’s an easy contemplation adventure game, which still is my personal favourite genre and the fact that we’ve found a way to make something like that actually playable on console!

I’d like to thank Ralph for taking the time to talk to me about porting games to the Nintendo Switch. You can check out Shadowgate and Pitfall Planet on the Nintendo eShop right now.


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