The recently-released Hob: The Definitive Edition came as a pleasant surprise, offering Switch owners an enchanting experience packed with puzzles, powers and a mysterious world that needs saving. As you'll know if you've already consulted our review, we really liked it – and it's clear that the conversion job done by Panic Button is top-class.
Keen to know more about how the company came to work on Hob, we sat down with Panic Button Technical Director Andy Boggs who has been previously involved in the Austin-based studio's other Switch ports, which include DOOM, Rocket League and Wolfenstein II.
Nintendo Life: How did the partnership with Perfect World begin?
Andy Boggs: We were introduced to Perfect World through our work on the original release of Hob on PC and PlayStation 4. We’d done some rendering and optimization work on the PS4 release, and we really loved the game and working with the original team at Runic Games. Throughout the project, we just kept thinking about how well the game would fit on the Switch. The art style, the gameplay, the world that they built – it all just felt like a Nintendo game. As we got more and more experience with the Switch, we kept coming back to that idea, and when we talked to Perfect World about it, they were totally on board. Since then it’s been a great partnership and we’re looking forward to doing more together.
You've become experts when it comes to porting games to Switch; has Hob posed any technical issues that you've not encountered so far?
Absolutely. Hob is unique among the games we’ve ported to the Switch in that it has a big open world. A player could run between all the different areas of the world without ever seeing a loading screen, which was a big challenge. There are also some rather massive vistas in the game where you can see almost the entire game world all at once, which was challenging.
For us, one of the most interesting things about the type of work we do is that no matter how many games we’ve worked on, each one presents a unique challenge – we’ve never seen it all.
Tell us about the improvements and enhancements present in the Switch port – how have you enhanced Hob for the Switch audience?
We had the benefit of being able to take a step back from the original and ask ourselves what we could improve while maintaining the spirit of the game.
The main thing we wanted to tackle was the sense of direction and continuity for players, answering the question, “Where did you come from and where do you go next?” This was a big challenge to solve because we didn’t want to introduce something heavy-handed like a journal, given that the whole point of the game is the minimalist style and the player’s role in interpreting what’s happening around them. Our solution was to take the player’s progress and show it to them visually with the Memories screen. At significant points in the game, we capture a screenshot of what the player is doing and the place on the map where it occurred. At any point, the player can now view a chronological record of where they’ve been and what they did.
Another change was to platforming. The game has some challenging traversal puzzles that, if you missed them, meant a respawn at the previous checkpoint. We took a cue from older games like Zelda where, if you fell to your death, rather than restarting, you simply lost one of your health pips until you ran out. We felt like this made these mistakes a bit less punitive without totally removing the consequences.
Players will also notice that we completely revamped the UI for the Definitive Edition. Everything was re-evaluated and updated. We added features like showing previews of skills you’ve acquired and adding touchscreen support, lots of quality-of-life updates.
The original team also had a ton of beautiful concept art that we wanted people to see, so we added a lot of that art as unlockable rewards for playing the game.
There are a lot of other small (but we believe meaningful) changes to the Definitive Edition that players will discover. We also realize that some of the fans will want to play the game as it was originally, and we added that option. Players can choose to play the game in ‘Classic’ mode, which provides an experience much closer to that of the original.
Hob is slightly smaller in scope when compared to your other ports, such as DOOM, Wolfenstein 2 and Rocket League. Could we see more indie-sized conversions of this type from you in the future?
The main thing we look for in a project is that it’s something we’re passionate about and really believe in. I remember looking at trailers for Hob, long before we ever met the original development team and all of us were just blown away by this beautiful world they were creating. My hope is that we always put that excitement first and foremost when choosing what we work on, whether it’s a AAA title or a smaller indie title. I’d say definitely yes.
Finally, regarding other projects, are you guys also working on Wolfenstein: Youngblood on Switch?
We don’t have anything to announce at the moment, but that game does look awesome.