Following Spirit of the North's debut on PS4 last year, Merge Games revealed back in February that it was heading to Switch (and PC) this year in the Spring. Well, despite many of us having been stuck indoors for the last few weeks, Spring 2020 has indeed sprung and Infuse Studio's gentle, atmospheric adventure is out today on Switch in both digital and physical forms.
A few weeks ago we were able to ask the game's co-creators Tayler Christensen and Jacob Sutton some questions about the history of the project, bringing the game to Nintendo's console, and the challenges of squeezing everything onto one of those bitter-tasting little Switch cartridges.
Nintendo Life: Firstly, for anyone who may have missed the game on PS4, tell us about Spirit of the North and its premise.
Tayler Christensen: In Spirit of the North, you play as an ordinary red fox who wanders into the depths of an ancient Glacier. There you discover a slumbering Spirit Fox and after awaking her you begin your journey. It is a quiet third-person adventure without any dialogue. The story is told primarily through the environments and music.
How long has the game been in development? Was Switch always a target platform?
Development began in April 2017 and was first published on PS4 Nov 1st, 2019. We always loved the idea of releasing on Switch, and our fans have made it very clear that that is what they wanted more than anything. After our initial release, we came in contact with a great publisher (Merge Games) and they opened some doors for us, and we were able to begin porting the game to Switch.
What were your principal inspirations during development? Did your original vision change throughout development or is the final game more-or-less how you envisaged it from the beginning?
From the beginning, we knew we wanted to make a game that relied heavily on beautiful environments for storytelling. The game is designed to never distract the player from being immersed in the landscapes. This is why there is no dialogue and very, very little text displayed during gameplay. The world is inspired by Iceland’s gorgeous and mystical landscapes.
One of the biggest challenges was getting the game’s RAM usage down
The initial inspiration for the story came from a piece of Finnish Folklore in which the North Lights are created by a fox wandering the tundra. As its tail fur brushes up against rocks it creates embers of light that rise up into the heavens. These embers create the Aurora Borealis. We held true to our initial inspiration for the game, whilst also remaining grounded in the practicalities of being a two-man studio.
Obviously, bringing the game to Switch involves a lot of work and optimisation to get the game running well on the console’s mobile chipset. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in porting Spirit of the North to Switch?
Jacob Sutton: One of the biggest challenges was getting the game’s RAM usage down. The Switch only has about 3.1GB of usable memory, we were consistently going over that mark and having the game crash. It took us about a month of optimization to get the game to stay under the new limit. This was a challenge we weren’t really expecting to face, but I am very happy with how we handled it in the end.
Will the Switch version of the game make use of any platform-specific features or content differences from other platforms?
Tayler Christensen: It is the first handheld version of the game; we can’t wait for players to get to experience Spirit of the North on the go!
Since launching on PS4 you’ve been issuing updates for that platform while working on the PC and Switch versions - throw in a global crisis and that sounds like a heavy workload. How has the current global situation affected the team at Infuse?
The two of us actually live in different states and only meet up for major events
We feel very fortunate that the effects of the pandemic haven’t impacted us to the level it has other studios, and other lines of work. We already work from home. The two of us actually live in different states and only meet up for major events a few times every couple of years. The workload for patching PS4, porting to Switch and PC, and keeping up with social media and press has been a bit strenuous.
The game is getting a physical version on Switch, plus a Signature Edition with various goodies. Tell us a little about the process of putting out a physical game from a dev’s perspective (versus a digital-only release). Will the entire game come on the cart?
It was very important that the game be as perfect as possible on the cart. Luckily, many of the bugs were removed as they started popping up after the PS4 launch. The physical copies contain the entire game. This was difficult to do as we had to optimize a game that was over 8gb down to about 3gb without removing content.
We are also very excited about the Signature Edition copies! We had fun designing the pins, coin, etc. I think players will really enjoy the original soundtrack CD included in it.
If only we had enough hours in the day to play more games. There are so many great ones out there! Pokémon, Breath of the Wild, Super Smash Bros., and Animal Crossing are just some of the games that we can list.
We are also becoming acquainted with other games in the Merge family such as Moonlighter, Sparklite, Darkest Dungeon, Northgard, Yonder, and Dead Cells to name a few. We are only now starting to play many of the games that came out over the last three years, as we were deep within our own game dev cycle.
Our thanks to Tayler and Jacob for their time. Spirit of the North is out today on Switch. We'll have a review for you as soon as possible, so keep an eye out.