Don’t call their creations ports.
For the team at Virtuos, their work on bringing titles like “Dark Souls: Remastered”, L.A. Noire” and “Starlink: Battle for Atlas” to the Switch goes beyond simply delivering the same game to a different system.
“We don’t like to use the word port anymore,” Gilles Langourieux, founder and CEO of Virtuos, tells Variety. “The type of work we do goes beyond just doing as simple engineering conversion, it usually involves modification of content.”
Langourieux points to the studio’s work on “Starlink” as a perfect example of that.
“The title for the Switch is quite different than the title released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One,” he said. “Adaptation is a more suitable term. When you end up with a highly rated title on the Switch it’s because it’s not simply a straight port it’s a highly skilled adaptation.”
Virtuos was founded in 2004 as a game developer and digital entertainment production service. It now has more than 1,500 employees spread across a dozen offices around the world. And while the average gamer may have never heard of the company, they’ve surely experienced their work on titles from just about every major publisher on every major platform.
The work Virtuos does was in many ways born out of fan reaction to the old system of porting over games to new consoles.
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“As the industry matured we read more and more reviews from users, critics, saying, ‘Why would we buy this? It’s the same thing with lower quality.’ So publishers and developers are — at least since the days of the PS3 and Xbox 360 and Wii– pursuing how they make the title better suited for the different audience.”
Most recently, Virtuos has made quite a mark for itself with its well-received adaptations of games for the Nintendo Switch.
That’s in part because of the interest surrounding the popular title, but also, Langourieux says, because of all of the hard work Nintendo put into making sure the system would be both attractive to gamers and easy to develop for.
“I think you’re seeing a lot of titles come to the Switch because that’s the strategy Nintendo wanted for this new system,” he said. “When they started talking to us in 2016 about their new system they made it clear they had learned some of the lessons of their previous systems and they wanted to ensure that players would be offered a large variety of options, of choices if they bought their new console.”
Elijah Freeman, general manager at the company’s Shanghai office, added that the company was very impressed with the Switch’s architecture when they first saw it.
“We realized it was simple to understand and a very powerful handheld,” he said.
Langourieux said that Nintendo worked with third-party publishers and developers like Virtuos to ensure there would be a wide spectrum of titles available soon after the launch of the system.
“That was the result of a deliberate strategy,” he said.
And the work of bringing games over to the Switch was also helped up by Nintendo’s efforts in ensuring that they had strong agreements in place for middleware and that the documentation and support for developing on the Switch were strong.
“They also provided effective, fast, deep support,” Langourieux said. “Whenever one of our engineers had questions, they got answers fast. The level of support for this generation is probably the strongest Nintendo has ever provided.”
Adapting games from systems like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for the Switch brings with it two main challenges, he said.
First, there’s the issue of getting the game to run on a system with different specifications. “With the Switch, the GPU is much weaker and the CPU has less power,” he said.
Then there’s the issue of dealing with the dual nature of the Switch, the game has to function both docked and undocked, which means two different sets of parameters.
“It’s not trivial because the game needs to adapt in real time,” he said. “There is a little upside though. When the game runs undocked it runs at a lower resolution and so when it’s running at a lower resolution it kind of makes our work easier because some of the details that would get noticed on higher resolution screen don’t get noticed on the lower resolution smaller screen.”
Interestingly, both Langourieux and Freeman view the Switch as a portable gaming console.
“Just look at the data of how gamers use the platform,” Langourieux said. “I think the majority of the time spent playing on the Switch is spent playing in handheld mode, that’s just the reality. This is a console on the go. It’s not doing a disservice to the Switch to say that.
Freeman added that the Switch’s portability is its defining factor.
“It functions like a portable but controls want to feel console like,” he said. “I’m going to be on a plane, a train, a bus using this device.”