UPDATE: The original version of this story suggested that Dan had hinted at the rumored Switch Pro. As the Switch Pro is still unconfirmed at this point, we have changed the headline to remove this implication.
ORIGINAL STORY: The Torchlight 2 Switch version runs quite well. It looks mostly the same on the Nintendo handheld as it did almost seven years ago on PC, albeit with a new UI to fit its first batch of console ports. But that’s not all this port and its upcoming PS4 and Xbox One counterparts have in store for players when they all release on September 3. Panic Button is behind this iteration of the game, which is the same team responsible for bringing other big console games to the handheld Nintendo platform like Doom, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, Rocket League, and Warframe. Dan Hernberg, head of production at Panic Button, recently sat down with us to talk about the process of porting this upcoming action RPG to the Switch as well as hinting at something that would take place “later this summer.”
Game Revolution: Torchlight 2 originally came out in 2012. What is new in this edition?
Dan Hernberg: We’ve taken the same great game and added some extra things for console. Obviously, the user interface was designed strictly for keyboard and mouse. So we designed it for a modern look and feel. We added more pets and some exclusives for each console and some different types of multiplayer. Because on PC, you have a browser and it’s a little different so we updated for all of those things.
And some player changes. So on PC, you are able to click on someone for a melee attack and you move over and you hit them. On console, you don’t have a way to select [your enemy]. So a lot of games handle that by having you shuffle forward before you do your swing. If you don’t hit something, you shuffle forward and hit again. So we’ve done some gameplay tweaks as well to make it for consoles so it feels like it was built from the ground up for consoles.
Also the original version of Torchlight 2 was a fun game. A lot of us at Panic Button played it for years. We thought it would be a really fun to play on consoles. There aren’t that many action RPGs right now out there and so we love some of the older Runic games [Editor’s note: Runic closed in 2017]. We ported Hob as well. We really liked what Runic did. So we felt like Torchlight 2 would be a great fit on console.
GR: Did the team have to consult with anyone for these changes?
DH: We didn’t have to consult with anyone. This is why people come to Panic Button; it’s our bread and butter. What we try to do is take great games that other people have made and we try to honor those games and when we bring them console. We don’t just [do a one-to-one port].
I think porting has a bad connotation. When we port a game, we try to think of what the people who made this game were trying to do. If Runic put this game on console today, what would they do and what would they add? [We do this] instead of just saying “Here’s a game, let’s just copy and paste it.” A lot more of our work is not just trying to get the game running but trying to get the game to feel like it was made for the consoles in today’s generation with achievements and friends and all those other things that you just don’t think about. A game like Torchlight 2 that is that old, none of those concepts exist in that game.
GR: What are those features then?
DH: Like the ability to use Xbox Live or to use PSN. You have to add that to the game. Or the ability to invite your friends via Xbox Live or PSN or Nintendo interfaces. They don’t exist in the game; you have to add those things. Same with achievements.
GR: Doom and Wolfenstein seemed like lofty ports for a console as relatively underpowered as the Switch. And while note quite as lauded, they performed better than most probably expected. How does Panic Button do it?
DH: Lots of coffee. [laughs] We’ve always been an engineering-heavy studio so there’s a lot of engineers. And really what we try to do is understand on a really deep level the hardware for each of these [systems]. We have a great team of senior engineers. I think a lot of game companies have a lot of really young people. We have a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s; people where this isn’t their first go-around. We hire senior people who really have a deep understanding of not only the games industry, but hardware.
So we focused a lot on low-level hardware and engineering and that’s balanced with having a great art team and having a design and production team that we can not only do the technical work that is required for a game like Doom or Wolfenstein or even Torchlight 2 on a console, but also we have the experience and understanding where we know that you need to shuffle forward before you swing [in Torchlight 2] or redesign an interface for the console.
Obviously, Doom and Wolfenstein were released on other consoles so our work is more on the technical side. But there are still things you need to consider like the Switch has HD rumble, which the other ones don’t. It’s got motion aiming, which we added to all those games. It’s all about honoring the spirit of the game and the people who made it and bring the best port that we can to whatever console we’re bringing the game to.
GR: Do you all think you all have gotten a lot better at these “impossible” ports?
DH: Yes, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve done a lot games and there are more coming. We’re at the point where our company is looking at more and more extreme games and more difficult projects.
As you work on any platform for a long time or any sort of constraints whether it is Xbox, PlayStation, or Switch, you learn a lot of the subtleties of what you need to do so you have a whole tool belt of tricks you can try. So we just happen to have a much larger tool belt than a lot of other people.
And we have great partners. We’ve worked really closely with Nintendo as we’ve done so much Switch work. The deep relationships and the growing understanding has helped us do these things. And that’s very common at the console cycle. The games at the beginning don’t look the same now [at the end of a generation]. And I’d say it’s the same for the Switch. We’ve gotten a deeper understanding [of the console]. And Nintendo has had a deeper understanding of how they can help us on their side.
GR: The Torchlight 2 Switch port looked pretty good. It also seemed to hold up well even as the screen filled with effects. Are there any exclusive Switch features?
DH: For the Switch, it’s mainly HD rumble right now. There are some other things we just can’t talk about right now that we can talk about later this summer.
GR: Later this summer? Does that relate to the Switch Lite?
DH: Later this summer.
GR: I was hoping Nintendo would announce a Switch Pro. That would be cool.
DH: Um… no comment. You’re welcome to speculate. I’ll just drink my coffee.