Rise of the Nindies? Indie devs discuss porting to the Switch
Judging from the Switch's sales numbers, its critical reception, and its product shortage in some countries, it's fair to say that Nintendo's latest console is doing very well so far. The still relatively manageable number of games in the eShop make it a tempting system for developers big and small.
However, porting your game to a new system isn't always easy and often requires a sizeable time investment.
Considering that Nintendo's previous home console, the Wii U, had the reputation of being somewhat difficult to port for, a certain hesitation is understandable. With that in mind, I reached out to a couple of indie developers who have recently released a game or who are close to wrapping up development for the hot new console in town.
"The porting was a really smooth process," says Upfallstudios' David Amador, who previously released his title Quest of Dungeons on the Wii U and 3DS, explains. "I can see that they improved a lot of things."
The only issue arose while adapting to the way the new console works: "Both the 3DS and Wii U versions have dual screens which cannot be used here, but now we have this cool thing were we can dock the console and play either on TV and portable. I wanted to target 720p and 1080p on TV, so that took some tweaks to get right."
2AwesomeStudio's upcoming title Dimension Drive ran into some compatibility problems. According to lead designer David Jimenez, "the biggest issue was the fact that we are using the latest version of Unity for our PC version, and the version for Nintendo Switch is an earlier one. This caused all kind of problems when merging from the PC branch to the Switch branch of our repository. Mostly materials getting lost, particle systems not working and things like that."
However, the Switch porting also proved advantageous for the previous versions: "the Switch is quite powerful [and] we got the game running quite well on the first tries. However, we realized we could improve further and took the opportunity to optimize it. This is actually beneficial for the PC version as well: with all the optimizations, PCs with lower specs will be able to play Dimension Drive just fine."
Frozenbyte's Kai Tuovinen notes that it has "definitely been easier than Wii U development, and the development environment and backend/documentation has vastly improved from those days. Switch development was really smooth for Has-Been Heroes, and it's going great for Nine Parchments as well."
In terms of special features that the Switch brings to the table, all developers I talked to agreed that the HD Rumble turned out to be particularly useful.
"Because of how simple and expressive the thing is to program, it was easy for us to put in interesting rumble into Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, whereas doing something interesting with the PS4/Xbox controllers is harder," Lizardcube's Omar Cornut explains.
For Jimenez, it was the option to use the two joy-cons for local co-op that really stood out: "We remapped our original control scheme and now we have all actions set to the 4 face buttons. It's really great to be able to play 2 player co-op anywhere, any time with just a single Switch."
When asked about how they came to develop for the Switch in the first place, the developers confirmed that Nintendo have taken a proactive approach, establishing relationships with interested developers at trade shows and in personal meetings.
Both Slime-San and Dimension Drive have been "recruited" at GDC and PAX East, respectively. Other developers had the advantage of already having ported their games to the Wii U or 3DS in the past, so establishing contact to talk about Switch porting wasn't too hard for them.
In any case, all of the developers I talked to noted how supportive and enthusiastic Nintendo have been so far to work with indie developers and smaller publishers. Their regular "Nindies" showcases certainly suggests that they are committed to indie games on the platform and willing to support this with some serious PR power.
When Fabian "Fabraz" Rastorfer posted about the upcoming Switch release of Slime-San on Reddit, the response was unexpectedly overwhelming, leading to two posts with over 1000 (mostly positive) comments in total. David Jimenez notes that the Switch announcement trailer for Dimension Drive reached almost the same amount of views in two days as its Early Access trailer had in six months.
With a rather limited portfolio on the new console, every release gets a place in the spotlight - and people are hungry to fill their game libraries. The developers who already have access to sales data seem happy with the results.
Tuovinen notes that Frozenbyte's first Switch game, Has-Been Heroes, did very well, and Omar Cornut shares that Lizardcube have sold "more copies of Wonder Boy on the Switch than the three other platforms we released on combined."
A few days ago, Nintendo showcased the next big wave of "Nindies" and by the looks of it, the Nintendo eShop will be pretty crowded soon. That's great news for consumers, but it unfortunately means that Switch ports may soon be facing much stiffer competition.