Over 18 months into life, Nintendo Switch's library continues to grow with the most diverse collection of games to ever appear on a Nintendo platform. So, of course, the hybrid little wonder is getting a port of the non-VR version of the 2017 reboot of first-person tank shooter, Battlezone.
So, to celebrate the arrival of Battlezone Gold Edition, we sat down with Rich May (lead developer at Rebellion) to discuss what it takes to revive an arcade classic for the modern era, how the Oxford-based publisher (with the help of Yorkshire studio, TickTock Games) made a VR-orientated game work in a semi-handheld console and much more. Enjoy!
Nintendo Life: It's been two years since we first got to experience this exciting new take on an arcade classic, so why bring Battlezone Gold Edition to Nintendo Switch now?
Rich May: Battlezone was originally developed as a VR title and we focused solely on that format for its initial release. We then had a lot of people asking for a version that didn’t require a VR headset, which we duly delivered as Gold Edition earlier this year. We could have released Battlezone Gold Edition on Switch ‘as is’ but we wanted to make a version that played fully to the system’s strengths.
So, once Gold had ‘gone gold’, we were able to turn our attention to the unique capabilities of the Switch. Thankfully, TickTock, the same team that we worked with to bring Rogue Trooper Redux to Switch, was available to lend us their expertise and they’ve done a fantastic job of delivering Battlezone faithfully on Switch.
With so many previous attempts to recapture the magic of the original it must have been a daunting task to create something that was both faithful and fresh in its own right?
Quite. The founders of Rebellion, Jason and Chris Kingsley, were big fans of the original arcade so having them as a touchstone for what made Battlezone special helped immensely. Many of the team grew up in the later arcade era so there was a huge amount of inspiration from our own experiences before we even looked further afield.
One of the most difficult aspects was finding a visual style that was sufficiently retro-inspired but also would appeal to a modern audience; something that was visually appealing but also recognisably ‘Battlezone’. That said, given all the current interest in that era it felt as if the timing was perfect – and looking back it really feels like we delivered a great game that, like you say, was both faithful and fresh.
This Battlezone reboot was built with support for VR in mind, so were there any challenges in retaining the intensity of its experience on a handheld-friendly console?
Definitely. We developed the game specifically for VR so we were very deliberate in our approach, leaving us with a number of challenges when it came to transforming the game into a ‘flatscreen’ experience (internally, the conversion was jokingly-referred to as ‘Flattlezone’).
One of the most difficult things was ensuring all of our HUD elements – which are rendered in-world as part of the cockpit, not as a flat heads-up-display – were either permanently visible or easily accessible. In VR, looking down at the radar is as simple as lowering your head. On a flatscreen, you either have to have the radar in-view at all times or have, as we implemented, a quick way of ‘glancing’ down at it.
The motion controls of Switch have become a real hallmark of the platform, so can we expect to be using our Joy-Con to unleash tank-based mayhem?
In a sense, the motion controls bring the Switch version a lot closer to the original VR vision of the game. As I mentioned above, our cockpit instrumentation is all rendered in-game, a bit like a modern flight-sim. In Gold Edition we implemented camera controls for looking about, but using the Switch’s motion controls we can allow the player to look around freely at ease. It really helps with the sense of immersion, the sense that the tank you’re controlling is a real thing. If you’re being hit from the left, you can quickly glance over there to see the threat, something that was previously only possible in VR.
Can you tell us a little about what the process of porting Battlezone to Switch? Were there major concessions you had to make in order to get it up and running on a very different platform?
Our partners at TickTock have done an amazing job of getting Battlezone running on the Switch. We didn’t have to make any gameplay concessions at all – all the enemies, environments and enemy types from the original VR game are present. Keeping the gameplay running at a smooth frame rate was trickier. We turned down a few things to get everything running slickly, especially in the bigger fights. Interestingly, TickTock found that certain things that were a problem on the other consoles weren’t so much of an issue on Switch, but discovered other things we’d gotten away with that needed to be optimised.
What was it like working with Nintendo again on a project for Switch?
I love the Switch (I have one myself) so it was a real joy to see something I’d worked on playable on that console. The guys at TickTock did an amazing job of getting things up and running and it speaks volumes of the toolset that Nintendo has given us.
With all the support the game has received post-launch, can we expect Battlezone to be the complete package on Switch?
Oh yes. Everything that is available in the Gold Edition is present on Switch, including everything that was added after the original release. All the customisable tank skins and cockpits, Classic Mode and the additional levels and enemy types are present and correct. Basically, everything’s in there!
With Rogue Trooper Redux and now Battlezone, have these two games set a precedent for future Rebellion games on Switch?
I can’t comment on future plans too much, but I can confirm we are working on Switch titles. We’re fans of the system here at Rebellion. So, please watch this space.
We'd like to thank Rich for this time. Battlezone: Gold Edition is out now on Nintendo Switch.