Free to play battle, Apex Legends launched at Switch this week on March 9th and we were thrilled to learn of the main porters, Panic Button assisted the developers of Apex Respawn Entertainment with the mission.
To learn more about Panic Button interactions, the challenge of bringing Apex Legends to Switch, and to discuss the possibilities of past Respawn games coming to Switch, we sat production manager Dan Hernberg and CTO, Andy Boggs at Panic Button with director of Apex Legends game in Respawn, Chad Grenier.
Nintendo Life: Working in the ports of Doom Eternal, Wolfenstein II, Rocket League and others, Panic Button is known as the “Port Wizards”
Dan Hernberg (Panic Button): I would like a wand and a cloak!
Ha! We will see what we can do. How is porting Apex Legends for switching different from anything you’ve done before?
And: One of the things that is always interesting when you make a game that lives, breathes and changes constantly is that there are always new challenges, new Legends and new maps. So I think you’re trying to build an airplane and get it on a moving aircraft carrier at the same time. Towards the end of the development, we are all in the same branch and working together, and if we make a mistake and interrupt the compilation, it affects Respawn and vice versa. A lot happens while trying to send the first version to make sure it stands up and fix all the problems. Even more than previous projects, the amount of change Respawn makes in their games is far greater than any other client we’ve ever worked with. In addition, the fact that more is happening in the world is a unique challenge for this project.
Since this is a live service game, will you keep Apex longer than some other projects like Rocket League and Warframe, or are the keys returned to Respawn?
And: We will currently continue to support the project in the next few months. There is always a chance to last longer or deliver it sooner if Respawn feels confident. But for now, we will be fully committed to releasing all the content of Switch day and date with all other platforms, with all seasons moving forward.
Does the Panic Button work with Respawn from the first day of development of the Switch versions or were you called upon to help afterwards?
Andy Boggs (Panic Button): We have been working on it for about 15 months. I believe it was around Season 4 when we started talking to Respawn about what it might look like if we brought this to Switch.
Were there any sacrifices or trade-offs that had to be made for Apex to work on a Switch other than graphics?
Andy: In fact, not in terms of features or content, everything in the other versions of the game should be there on the Switch. I think the big challenge for us is always to go in and figure out which parts of the game we can adapt and change and optimize and which parts are so important that we have to leave them alone. I think that in the end the changes we had to make will not affect the players’ experience with it. It’s still a great experience and it feels like playing Apex!
Cross-Play has been confirmed for the Switch version, but will Cross-Progression be available?
Andy: Cross-progression is not currently maintained.
A cross-progression plan for Apex?
Chad Respawn: It is planned, but I think we have a way out of this. I really want him as a gamer, so I hear what our fans are saying and I totally agree with them. We are working to try to do this, it is a complex challenge of multiple accounts existing for different users that we need to allow or merge, there are legal and contractual things to guide you when buying other platforms and moving them, as well as some technical challenges. So it’s not something we can just include, but we’re working on it and the team is passionate about delivering it at some point.
How does it feel to develop a game where you not only have to make the game itself, but you have to make the store work, coordinate cross-play, etc.? These are not the days of Super Nintendo, when you just make the game and send it.
Chad: It’s certainly not that easy. In some ways, it’s a nightmare, but it’s a fun problem. When you have a popular game, crying about it is kind of a first world problem, isn’t it? We will accept the challenges every day and we are happy that we are fighting, solving problems and starting things.
Since this is the first game Respawn has released on the Switch, does Apex work with a new Switch engine?
Andy: We used the same engine that other versions of the game use, so much of the work we did was add Switch support to that engine. The Respawn engine and the game are something of their own, so this is the first game to run on the Switch in this engine.
Now that this engine is running on the Switch, is it ever possible to see any of Respawn’s previous work on the Switch? Titanfall 2, for example, may not have seen the retail success it may have deserved, but can Switch ever give it a second chance?
Chad: The Apex team is a big part of the team that created Titanfall and Titanfall 2, and that’s something we’re all really proud of. I think if I look back on my career, this campaign is one of the best things we’ve done, and I think a lot of people on the team can feel the same way. I think you see a lot of Titanfall’s content breaking into Apex. So our thinking now is not necessarily trying to get people to come back and play Titanfall 2, but how to bring all the great things from Titanfall 2 to the world of Apex and introduce them to our Apex fans.
Will Apex have any new Switch features?
And: Yes, I think the big thing that Switch has, and other consoles don’t, is gyroscope targeting. We’ve done it in previous titles and we’ve learned it every time. Somehow we’ve fixed our formula and tweak it differently based on each game. Sometimes it is better to have a gyroscope that moves slower, sometimes you want a faster response. So we worked closely with Respawn to make sure there was this sense of “apex.”
How does Panic Button decide which projects to work on? We assume that your mailbox is constantly cluttered with potential.
And: We have a lot of different teams here at Panic Button and we always mix who’s on which team and dedicate them to individual projects. We usually have about three to five projects at a time, but we always talk to potential clients about different opportunities. For every 10 to 20 opportunities that arise, we usually have to work on only one of them. We see who we want to work with if they are going to be good partners, that we think the title is something we like or appropriate to attach our name to, and we want to make sure that time and resources work. The stars have to line up, because we are just a studio of 50 people. When we go online and read the forums, we see endless lists of games that we should work on, and many of those that we would enjoy, but you know that everything has to be fine for one game to get here and I think this is a real testament to Respawn and Apex. Not only did the stars align, it took a lot of work from a lot of people to land this while we were developing the Switch version while building the live version. This is some roundabout way of saying “it’s really hard”, haha. Sending every game is a miracle and every port of live play is a real miracle. It really takes a lot of dedication from everyone involved to get him out the door.
Speaking of two different teams working together remotely on one project, how does this differ in a world influenced by COVID?
And: So on the production side, I sometimes get the feeling that I see people from Respawn on Zoom calling more than I see my wife. We keep in touch thanks to Slack and Zoom, and we’ve always worked remotely with other studios before COVID, since we’re in Austin, Texas, and Respawn is in Los Angeles, California, so we’ve had some of that down already. Development during COVID has had a huge impact on us as a studio, most are not set up to work remotely. Our hardware is in the studio and we have a lot of secure data and information that we need to get to our team safely so they can use it. You can set up a VPN, but it all takes more time. Our engineers, production, QA team are in communication and we really need to be a continuation of the Respawn team to work.
Does each of you have a favorite legend?
And: I play what’s left Legend!
Andy: I really like Bangalore, but that’s mostly because I’m very bad at the game! So if I find a person I can kill with, I’ll just use them the rest of the time with the game.
Chad: I usually find myself playing the latest legend or whatever has gotten a buff or a nerve. I’m just playing the latest trend really to make sure I’m aware of the meta and what people are talking about, so I jump a lot. If all goes well and we don’t actually work on anything, I will usually use Lifeline. I like the easy revival of the battle and I can call the care package and get free booty.
When working on a project, have you ever hidden any secrets or Easter eggs that fans will find at Apex or any of your previous work?
Andy: I don’t think we’ve done anything in the way of something that would be a secret or a change of content. We are always looking for something special we can do for the Switch audience. I think we’ve done custom skins or things like that in the past. Unfortunately, I think the days of Easter eggs are long gone.
Chad: We always put Easter eggs in our games, and sometimes as a game director I don’t even know about it! It’s actually a lot of fun! Most of the time, they get rid of a team leader to make sure they’re not doing anything harmful. Many of them are just as surprising to me as they are to others. Well, there is a human element to creating these games and people like to put things that way. We had some that were discovered by the public. The Nessis, who are hidden in the Canyon of the Kings, if collected in the correct order, will summon the giant Nessie from the sea. We also had a temple of Nessie with mother Nessie with all these candles around it. I have no idea what it’s about, but designers like to have fun and put things that way. There are probably some things that are yet to be discovered that I don’t even know about.
If each of you chose to bring a game to Switch, what would you choose?
And: I’m not sure if this is my “game choice”, but I’m playing too much right now Walheim and I would like to transfer this to Switch.
Chad: I play a lot at the moment Dyson Sphere. This is a construction game that takes place on different planets and involves gathering resources. I was on vacation recently and couldn’t play and would love to take it on my Switch!
Many thanks to Andy Boggs and Dan Hernberg from Panic Button and Chad Grenier from Respawn Entertainment for taking the time to chat with us! Apex Legends will be released on the Nintendo Switch on March 9.
Don’t forget to let us know if you’re going to dive headfirst into the game when it arrives later this week!