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Doom Eternal Interview with Panic Button Games

by Joel A. DeWitte - November 30, 2020, 12:12 pm EST
Discuss in talkback!

We were given the opportunity to speak with Cody Nicewarner (Senior Producer) and Travis Archer (Lead Engineer) of Panic Button Games to speak about their work on the Switch version of Doom Eternal and collaborating with id Software.

Nintendo World Report (NWR): In working on Doom Eternal, how does the Switch port compare to the original ?

Travis: It’s comparable in terms of the end result, if you’re talking in terms of that. In terms of the development process, it’s very different. For one thing, we started working on Doom 2016 when it was a finished product with multiple post-launch patches and performance & bug fix updates, whereas with this project we started working with it early on. So the game was still in development, there were things still being finalized about the final product, there were features that still looked at whether or not they wanted it put in the game. Porting a game like that is kind of like trying to hit a moving target, so it’s a very different experience. So we were involved a lot earlier, which was great. It wasn't just that it added challenges, but also gave us an opportunity to get involved early on, and offer feedback in terms of making features or systems play nice with the Switch. Also gave us an opportunity to get their input and advice on things early on in terms of the right clean way to support a feature. It’s a bit different when you’re working in a post-launch product - you’re kind of in a vacuum where you can make any change you want within reason because it doesn’t affect anyone else. But we were working with them, so changes we made could affect other platforms - bugs could be introduced that we caused. So very different process.

NWR: It wasn’t developed quite in tandem with other console versions, correct?

Travis: Yeah, it was intended to be as much as possible in tandem, but we handled all the development effort for Switch. What that means primarily is that the art was developed for a much higher spec platform than Switch. Think about the bulk of the work that goes into making a title these days - a lot of it is the art. And that art is designed for high end PC and consoles. So we were responsible for taking that art and making it work on the Switch.

NWR: You had mentioned before that the work you were doing on Switch could potentially affect the PS4 and Xbox one versions. Do you have any examples of that?

Travis: I mostly mean in terms of introducing bugs, since we were working in a shared environment.

NWR: Are you able to share any details about target resolution ranges for docked and handheld?

Travis: I can’t be precise because it varies so much, but I can tell you that it’s comparable to our previous titles with Doom 2016 and Wolfenstein 2 being the most obvious examples there. We’re trying to achieve the same performance despite a much higher quality bar, and so that was a big challenge, but that was kind of our goal - it has to be as good as the other titles despite the increased complexity.

NWR: I know that Doom Eternal was originally planned on being released at the same time as the other console versions. Do you mind elaborating on how and why that slipped?

Travis: So basically as I mentioned, the quality bar was much higher. Doom Eternal is targeting 2020 PC builds and really was a late generation title for the other consoles. This is a lot of experience under your belt for those consoles and you’re learning to get the most out of those in terms of performance. So the bar was a lot higher and the challenge of getting that ot fit on the Switch was commensurate with that.

Cody: It was one of the most ambitious projects they’ve worked on over at id, and making a faithful translation of that to the Switch in and of itself was a challenge. We had a kickoff at the beginning of this project and we knew that it was going to be challenging, but we knew that with our previous experience on id Tech 6, taking id tech 7 in consideration that we could achieve a faithful translation. At the end of the day we’re happy with it, and excited to get it into Nintendo Switch user’s hands.

NWR: What were you able to learn from Doom 2016 development to build upon for Doom Eternal

Cody: So from production standpoint, there’s really the human element that went into and continues to go into Doom Eternal. That’s really building and fostering the relationship with the devs at id software. They have been instrumental through the entire process of getting Doom Eternal on the Switch. That collaboration started early. There were benefits from their team giving us guidance and support. On the other hand, there’s guidance and support we gave them to help all the platforms. From a human element, having worked with them previously to establish those relationships we knew where the domain experts were, had worked with them previously and had the confidence and familiarity with one another that we could get that help and support we needed. And I’ll let Travis talk more about the tech side.

Travis: And from the technical perspective, id tech 7 is a huge leap forward from id tech 6 and id tech 6.5, but there’s a lot of core things that are similar or the same. So we were able to build on our previous knowledge and a lot of the changes and optimizations that we applied for Doom 2016 and Wolfenstein 2 did apply. Not all of them, but we’re able to bring forward a lot of our tricks that we had learned for optimizing id tech for Switch. We kind of learned as we went how to make id tech 7 work well on the Switch, because there were a lot of new features and new ways of doing things that we had to adjust for. So it was definitely a help, but because the quality bar was so high, all the optimizations we carried forward with us gave us a starting point where we were kind of like starting back at square one. Ok, we threw all our optimizations in and the title is running about the way it was before we had any optimizations on Doom 2016, so where do we go from here? The big bulk of our effort was trying to find little places we could improve performance in addition to all of those previous changes. But yeah, it was a big benefit to having worked with them before for sure.

NWR: Just for the layman like me, could you define id tech?

Travis: Sure, so id tech is the engine that id products run on, and it goes back to the original Doom and Wolfenstein. There have been various iterations over time. Doom 2016 ran on id tech 6, Wofenstein 2 was sort of informally id tech 6.5 which included some further enhancements for that title, which despite being developed by Machine Games it was in collaboration with id itself. And so this new version of id tech 7 is the next gen engine, ready for high end PCs with tons of CPU cores and taking advantage of all new hardware features.

NWR: What kind of experience did you gain working with id in trying to develop these ports?

Travis: They’re a very talented group of developers, some of the best and brightest of the industry. Have a ton of experience, a wealth of knowledge they could draw upon. So even though they may not be experienced with the Switch itself, we were able to talk about features and the engine itself and get their perspective on “here’s why we do things for this platform” and just peel it all back to see what was necessary and what could be best changed. It’s a lot. It’s hard not to be too technical so i’m kind of hedging my words.

Cody: Yeah, I think it kind of goes back to the layman framing on the previous question, it’s looking at just pulled back - they wrote id tech, they’re the domain experts, and when Travis says that they’re sharp minds, these are incredible minds, and to have them at our disposal for guidance for optimizations is really priceless, so they’ve absolutely contributed and been there along our side this entire process.

NWR: Doom 2016 was arguably the first of now many impossible ports we've seen come to Switch - stuff you wouldn’t expect could be run on it. Are there games you'd personally like to bring to Switch, or at least see?

Travis: There are definitely a lot of games I would love to personally play on the Switch. Any game I can play handheld and take on the go with me is good. I don’t think we have anything in particular to talk about today with that.

NWR: Ok, what would you personally want to play?

Travis: Man, I mean, honestly other Bethesda titles, if I’m going to plug my own desires. (laughter)

NWR: We’ve seen the introduction of game streaming on Switch - most recently with Control. How does that affect the scope of what kind of project Panic Button would be working on?

Cody: I think it’s an interesting tech. I think it’s young and that there’s a place and audience for it, but doesn’t necessarily change anything on our horizon. We’re going to continue taking on challenging projects to get these on the hardware and for people to be able to use offline and when they want to. I think that’s one of the greatest things about the Nintendo Switch - you have the ability to take it and go off the grid, so we’re going to continue doing what we do.

NWR: Yeah, and I don’t know about you guys, but my ISP is miserable.

Travis: Work from home probably isn’t helping that (laughter)

NWR: Speaking of that, how has your experience been working from home since COVID hit?

Cody: It’s been a challenge, its definitely been a surprise to us amongst anyone else collectively that's challenged with this problem. Just from the basic level getting infrastructure at home set-up and all the correct permissions, etc. Took time trying to figure out how long we’d be doing this for. And then as it started going wider and realized it’s not going away as quickly as we hoped, we had to adapt and be agile to the process of day-to-day. We are a small team at Panic Button and we’re in an open office, so the benefit that we do get from being in a layout like that is we have immediate access to all disciplines on a project. So if we need to escalate something we can go grab them in person and say “hey, look at this”. When that’s taken away from you, you kind of rely on new channels of communication and getting used to those processes at a very fundamental level has had its effect on our team as well as I'd expect on other teams doing game development. So we’re not necessarily unique, we just had to look athte problems and challenges and adopt to them

NWR: I guess we should consider ourselves fortunate that we have the option to work from home.

Cody: Absolutely, at the end of the day it was a decision our stakeholders took on pretty early to keep the safety of our employees as the paramount importance, and have just had to be real about how to face those challenges. We’re very fortunate and at the end of the day, we’re able to wrap up a project like Doom Eternal on the Switch and get it out during one of the crazies years of our lives, and we’re excited and hopefully people stay indoors and play this game and continue to be safe through the holidays

NWR: How Do you think the release of Xbox Series X and PS5 will affect what’s feasible to be ported to Switch?

Cody: It depends. It depends on the developer. There’s going to be developers who are going to push the bleeding edge and only focus on that. There’s other developers who are going to look at all the ecosystems and have those as a targeted platforms. It’s really up to the developer and then if we’re going to continue working on Nintendo Switch as collaborative projects and we’re willing and open to the challenge. At the end of the day it’s really up to the people creating the content and what they want to target.

Travis: Yep, and keep in mind that as long as developers are still making an Xbox one or PlayStation 4 version of their game, they’re not going to be able to completely rely on ray tracing as their core rendering, so as long as there's a more traditional version of the game, that version will be easier to port. Obviously it becomes a real challenge when you’re porting a game that only supports ray tracing.

NWR: Wait, you’re suggesting ray tracing can’t come to Switch?

Travis: It’d be a challenge (laughter)

NWR: As we wrap up, what’s your favorite Doom game?

Travis: It’s an easy one for me - Doom Eternal. Doom 2016 was my favorite Doom game, but as Cody mentioned we were involved in the early process and got to see their vision for the game early on, and we were in love with the gameplay changes, but also the scope - they really expanded the lore and content universe as it were, and that part was also really exciting to us and still is. And so for me that’s what makes it my favorite game - they took everything I liked about it and then they made it even better and expanded on it, and you’re still seeing that with the release of ancient gods.

Cody: Yeah that’s an interesting one because, if I tap into the nostalgia side of my psyche, I could remember as a kid just booting up the original Doom and being blown away and fascinated by this thing in front of me. So that should not be ignored - it’s just kind of in my DNA in some way. But the experience of Doom 2016 and building up on that for Doom Eternal, it’s really a toss up between those two. I don’t think I could play one without the other because Doom Eternal did build off an incredible design, the action is incredible and Doom Eternal really just brought it to 11 with some new mechanics and options for players. I think the modern day experience that it brings is crazy - it's fast, kind of taps into all your high level FPS player desires, and really leaves some options open to the player for customization. So I would say yeah, the current iteration is for sure one of my best go-tos for FPS.

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