Andrew returns to FingerGuns to talk Unbox, the Switch and AAA’s.
Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure is a delightful platformer which we reviewed earlier this year upon its PS4 release. We first spoke to Prospect Games’ Andrew Bennison around that time and he said he was gearing up for the Switch release which he then didn’t have a date for.
Well, it’s available now and so gave him a shout and he was happy to talk about Unbox all over again, along with developing for Nintendo’s handheld hybrid along with much more. Check it out right here!
Andrew, congratulations on the Nintendo Switch of Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure. When we last spoke you didn’t have a release date ready to reveal. How far into development do you have an idea of when the game will be available?
Thank you! From pre-production all the way through development, you have an idea that’s always shifting. So you always know generally the game is gonna come out in *this* time period. For example for Switch since January this year, when we began working on the Switch port for Unbox, we knew it was going to be post summer. but not Christmas because nobody can launch at Christmas unless you’re AAA, so we knew it was going to be somewhere between July and October and as you get closer to that hazy mirage, it starts to crystallise based on a number of factors. So, how well your porting process is going, when the publisher has assessed what sort of release window makes sense, speaking to Nintendo to discuss when they want the game out.
A huge one is compliance, actually getting through the compliance sequence for each platform, which is wildly different for each platform. If I was to start a new game now I’d know when key beat was due to take place, but then there’s always a wild card that comes out of nowhere that screws everything up.
Unbox became the first 3D platformer to launch for the Switch, which is pretty great. I can’t think of anything that’s coming out soon….
Yeah the closest is probably Snake Pass, which I think does bill itself as a 3D platformer – which I think is more of a puzzle game than a platformer – and looking through the list we haven’t found any other 3D platformers. So despite that Mario is out next week, we managed to beat it to the punch which is an odd feeling, because Unbox comes from being inspired from Mario and Banjo on the N64, so to be the first in the genre on a Nintendo platform is a very weird experience.
And to go back to your first question, we knew that Mario Odyssey would kill us, so we originally aimed for Unbox ot be released in August and for a variety of reasons we just couldn’t. So we had to release two weeks before Mario and it’s like ‘yep, thanks life!’. The silver lining is that it’s not one week before Mario.
That’s the glass-half-full mentality! How was the Switch to develop for?
Overall it was the best out of all three platforms and that comes down to two reasons. One, we’d already done a lot of the leg work, taking Unbox from being able to run on PC and then to run on PS4 and Xbox One so we’d already done a lot of the leg work to make it more efficient. The other half is that Epic and Nintendo have worked closely to ensure that UE4 (game engine Unreal Engine 4) very compatible to develop for on the Switch. Nintendo have clearly taken on feedback from developers and I don’t know how much of this is public but Nintendo platforms are famous for being really difficult to develop for.
Historically, they’ve been a challenge to say the least and this time around it seems like they’ve taken on a bunch of feedback and it’s been a much more seamless process. There’s a lot less rules and regulations and lot more streamlined. I still think they have their work cut out for them to make the process as smooth as say, Sony’s process which is really good for iterative feedback. If there’s something wrong you know the second Sony find out about it which is helpful.
So I think Nintendo have some work to but it’s a lot less painful than it has been in the past. We pencilled out a few months to do this port and after a few weeks we were pretty much done and we’re there scratching our heads like ‘something’s gonna go wrong, karma is never this nice’, but this time it was!
The interesting thing about Switch at the moment is the massive shift in how many indies are embracing the system. Games like Golf Story and SteamWorld Dig are making waves in the eShop charts. Games like Wonder Boy: The Dragons Trap and Stardew Valley have already sold better on Switch than other platforms. Is that appealing to developers like Prospect?
Oh, definitely. Across the board, every indie dev is recognising its potential. At this point, Steam is extremely difficult to make money off of, PlayStations change in policy is making that a difficult platform as well. Xbox used to be but not so much anymore due to the increased competition. So it’s very hard to maximise your potential on all these platforms. So people looking at Switch and it’s a goldrush. You’ve already got this massive install base that’s rapidly growing and shows no signs of decelerating. Compared to other platforms it has a complete lack of content, so you have developers going ‘well there’s value in porting our existing titles’ because it’s, relatively speaking, ‘easy money’.
For Unbox especially, it makes sense to be on Switch because we’re Nintendo fanboys so for us it makes sense. I think moving forward over the next twelve to twenty-four months, you’re going to see a hell of a lot more smaller developers jump on the system with a desire to create, and you’ll see the balance even out with enough content to be available so you’re going to want to be on Switch but in order to appeal it’ll be a case of ‘yeah I want to be on Switch but I’ve gotta make awesome content for it’, and you’re going to see some great creative content which has always been the M.O. of Nintendo, so it feels like this has been their grand master plan all along and it seems to be working.
I think one of the biggest appeals of the Switch is that we can take these games we’ve played on our sofa wherever we go. The Switch does get criticised in some circles for having too many ports, although for me the biggest appeal of the system is the fact I can take all of these games I’ve loved playing on my PS4 anywhere with me. I was playing Unbox on the train the other day, I like that I’m even able to do that and novelty hasn’t worn off yet.
I agree, I think there’s a very fine balance. Being able to play Breath of the Wild in bed is awesome. I think the Switch fulfills what people wanted or expected from systems like the PSP and PS Vita. Where all thought we were going to be getting next-gen gaming on our handhelds and it wasn’t not that but it didn’t quite hit that mark. The great thing about the Switch has that balance of just enough of power to be able to pull of AAA experiences and so people are looking at their catalogues going ‘hell yeah I’d love to play X, Y and Z on the go now’. But like I said I do think that’ll start to even out quite soon, so there’s going to be a demand for really great games that aren’t just built for on the sofa but also on the go, specifically with the Switch in mind. And people are going want unique and original content for this thing.
You bring up an interesting point. Developers have really got behind the system, especially Bethesda who are porting Doom, Skyrim and Wolfenstein II to the Switch over the next few months. Do you think these ports of big AAA experiences belong on the Switch or they belong on the 4K systems where they can be presented in their more polished state with blockbuster visuals?
I think there’s going to be a compromise in quality somewhere. Unbox had to go through that, we’ve certainly had complaints with people saying it should be a higher resolution and it’s like ‘well sorry, people want it on the platform’, a platform which is a trumped-up mobile device. They’ve done an absolutely stellar job with it, and it’s amazing that it’s able to run all these things, but there has to be compromises. And I think for the big guys yeah they’ve gone out of their way to port these games but to also manage expectations.
There will be people out there who go ‘oh, Skyrim on Switch that means it’s gonna be the 120 fps Skyrim experience I have on my £400,000 PC’ and it’s like, no! Even if you play Breath of the Wild, if you jump on in a tree and look through of bunch on transparent textures the framerate tanks. It’s not a stupendously powerful device but it’s very efficient at what it does so they’re going to have an interesting time balancing it. If people want to play Skyrim on the go and the developers are able to port it to a reasonable degree, go for it. The difficulty comes in managing expectations and how you handle a potential backlash.
I think it’s been true of many Nintendo systems in the past that it seems Nintendo are they only developer to get the very best out of their system.
I think the platform holders are always going to have a natural advantage with their own platform, but do I think Nintendo’s playing their cards too close to their chest and not letting the rest of us in on things? Not at all, it’s not been our experience.
You’ve mentioned that Prospect are big Nintendo fanboys and that’s evident with Unbox. It must be pretty cool to see Unbox on Switch next to likes of Zelda and Mario Kart.
Yeah, logically I can see how great it is but emotionally, I’m just dead inside! It is awesome to see it, but on the outside you don’t see what it takes to get to this stage. The amount of grief you have to go through to get to this level and when you finally get there, it’s like, the amount of effort you put in it increases the amount you expect to get out of it and in a sense it’s always disappointing and I’m not alone in this.
I’ve spoken to enough creatives who feel like phonies when they reach the top of the mountain because it’s like ‘what, that’s it?! I expected it to be more!’. You press go and the game comes out and it’s just done. There isn’t any kind of grand celebration and there’s no fireworks, it’s real life. And so you look at the Switch menu and you’re like ‘oh ok, there’s our game next to Mario Kart and Zelda’ and logically you’re thinking this is an amazing achievement and it is, but emotionally you’re just, ‘what’s next’? I’ve got a million fires to put out behind the scenes so onto the next thing.
Is it a case of updates now for Unbox or are you moving on to the next project?
A bit of both. There are plenty of things we want to do with Unbox, we want to boost the resolution a bit for Switch. We want it to be as good as possible so we’re working on that. Extra content will all be due to demand, and we really want to work on new stuff so we’re in the fun period where we can execute on ideas and talk to people about all these crazy things that we want to do and it’s nice to be back here as we’ve spent just a year in ‘porting mode’, and it really is just soul crushing work because it’s not creative in the slightest.
So be to be back in the creative headspace is just great. It’s a breath of fresh air.
I’m enjoying Unbox on the Switch, it’s fun to be climbing that tower again.
It’s my favourite thing to do in the game I think.
I do think if we end up making a sequel it’s just gonna be ‘Towers: The Game’ because it’s the thing that we all love the most. Like climbing the tower, trying to climb stuff is what’s awesome in this. So if there is an Unbox 2 expect it to be very Breath of the Wild inspired. We’re just gonna rip off Breath of the Wild!
Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure is available now on Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC. A physical release will be coming to Switch in Europe on November 16th and a tentative November 21st release date in the US.