Jordan chatted with Art Director Joe Bird about Panic Button and their work on porting games to Switch.
The transcription of this interview has been edited for clarity.
At PAX West 2019, Jordan had an opportunity to interview Joe Bird, Art Director at Panic Button, during an appointment for Torchlight II, which released on Switch on September 3. He was able to ask Joe about how Panic Button approaches porting games to Switch and his earlier work on titles like Doom and Hob. Please enjoy the interview in text form.
NWR: You've been with Panic Button since 2014, so you likely were a key part of the company's ascension to beloved Switch porting darlings. How did the company get involved with porting AAA games to Switch?
Joe Bird: A little bit of luck. We also have just a huge background on doing these kinds of things. Disney Infinity: we did a lot with that. We also ask people and do really good work. It’s happened so many times where people are like, “We have this impossible port.” Doom was considered the impossible port. Told straight to our face, sitting in a meeting, “This is impossible,” and we’re like, “We’ll show you.”
NWR: I know that Epic Mickey 2 was on tight deadlines for releases on multiple consoles. How did your experience on Epic Mickey 2 inform your current work at Panic Button?
Joe Bird: Just kind of keeping really open communication. Just about what deadlines are, what can be achieved. Emphasizing communication at any given time.
NWR: What methods did you use to make the art in the Bethesda shooters Doom and Wolfenstein translate to the Switch in docked and handheld mode?
Joe Bird: They are the same game. Between docked and handheld, we don’t change anything. All the games we work on, we look at trying to keep everything exactly the same. We don’t want to water down anything. With Torchlight II, we want the player that played it in 2011 to feel like they are playing that same original experience; they have that same feeling. Same thing with Doom. It doesn’t matter what they are playing it on. Us at the studio heavily emphasize that, so changing stuff, we don’t really change anything. We just make performance better.
NWR: Were there any ideas and processes you tried to implement to improve the Switch ports that didn't work? What did you learn from those potential trials that helped to make porting smoother in the future?
Joe Bird: Right now, what we’ve learned as a studio is to really look at things like everything is a possibility, and saying that something is going to be bad, it might not be that bad, so really it’s just try everything. Also understanding that no two games are the same. I’ve never worked on a game that has been the same as the last. I’m waiting for the day because it’s going to be really, really easy.
NWR: At launch, the Panic Button port of Hob on Switch had some issues, though later patches seemed to smooth them out. Was there something specifically tricky about porting Hob to Switch that was different from the process of porting other games?
Joe Bird: Hob was a different editor and different engine for us. It was also built in a different way. For kind of bringing it over, it was just one of those tricky things. Another Panic Button mantra is that we don’t stop when a game is released. Even if we release a game—and we look at player feedback constantly—we read everything that you have to say. We take everything to heart, and we come back with a polish on this stuff. Even if something we release isn’t 100 percent, we are definitely trying to make it that way. Hob is a really great iteration of that thing. We took it, and we saw the players’ feedback and made it almost instantaneous better right then. With Doom we were iterating on that for a year. We really take all of that stuff and really try, rather than just “Here you go!” Most of us inside the studio are playing these games, too.
NWR: Panic Button worked with Microsoft on ReCore. Any hope for that game to come to Switch a la Ori and the Blind Forest and Cuphead?
Joe Bird: Yeah, I mean working on ReCore was a ton of fun. I would love to do something with that. Us at Panic Button are also very, very busy. I would love to be working with that again.
NWR: Thank you so much for your time, Joe.