A Switch release for fantasy sci-fi MMORPG Skyforge was announced by MY.GAMES and developer Allods Team recently with a 'Fall 2020' launch date. While the exact release date hasn't been announced, this is coming from the same team that dropped F2P tactical team shooter Warface on the Switch eShop at the start of the year with no prior warning, so we wouldn't be surprised to see Skyforge suddenly appear ready-to-download at a moment's notice.
Originally developed in collaboration with Obsidian Entertainment, Skyforge released on PS4 and Xbox one in 2017 following a PC launch two years earlier. It will be another addition to Switch's growing library of free-to-play games, but an MMORPG of this scale which presents a constantly changing and evolving universe is a very different beast to something like Warface. We recently caught up with Dmitry Lisichkin, Development Team Lead on Skyforge for a quick chat to find out a little more about the game and the challenges of bringing it to Switch.
Nintendo Life: For anyone unfamiliar with Skyforge, can you tell us a little about the history of the game and what sets it apart from other big MMORPGs?
Dmitry Lisichkin: In brief, Skyforge is a thrilling sci-fi action MMO set on the visually stunning world of Aelion, where you play an immortal. You are the last line defense between this world and the hostile forces that seek its ruin. You can switch between 18 unique classes, master a dynamic combat system, and unleash incredible celestial power to repel alien armies and avatars of destruction.
The Allods Team, who previously developed the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Allods Online, started developing Skyforge for PC in 2010 and MY.GAMES later announced they would publish the game. In May 2013 Obsidian Entertainment, known for their work on western role-playing video games, such as Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Fallout: New Vegas, announced they would be collaborating with Allods Team on the development of Skyforge.
The game entered closed beta in 2015, and was released for Microsoft Windows on July 16, 2015. On April 11, 2017, Skyforge was released for PlayStation 4. It was also released for Xbox One on November 29, 2017, and is now available on the Nintendo Switch.
After cutting its teeth on Switch with Warface, what different tech challenges did Skyforge present the team when translating the full experience onto handheld hardware?
We had to do a lot of work to optimize memory consumption, so that each level in the game would fit in memory with a margin
The biggest challenge was resource constraints: CPU, RAM and video memory. For example, Switch has only three cores, and one of them during early development stages was completely engaged in audio processing. This was not an optimal way to use limited resources, so we had to change the audio compression algorithm for this platform, but it led to a significant increase in the size of the game client (up to 9GB for sound only), which did not suit us either. Therefore, we decided to use a codec with better compression, but a higher load on the CPU in those parts of the game where the load is not very high (there are not a lot of characters, monsters and battles in the scene), for example, in game dialogues.
There were also complications with RAM, the hybrid console only provides a little more than 3GB including video memory. This is very little for modern PC games. Even on 32-bit systems, you can get more performance thanks to a separate video memory. We had to do a lot of work to optimize memory consumption, so that each level in the game would fit in memory with a margin.
The game was a developmental collaboration between Allods Team and Obsidian Entertainment – can you tell us a little bit about how that partnership worked and who was responsible for what?
Switch porting became one of the first big tasks done entirely remotely due to Covid. We've definitely learned a lot in terms of distributed work, not only with each other, but also with the development hardware.
We didn’t partner with Obsidian on this Skyforge project but rather worked with our friends from Owlcat Games studio who helped out a lot. They took care of the client porting, while the Allods Team studio was engaged in the server side development, connecting platform services (friends, eShop, parental control), interface and content improvements.
How long has the Switch version of Skyforge been in the works?
About 8 months, give or take.
Delivering a huge, compelling MMORPG that’s also free-to-play is a difficult balancing act to pull off. What was the most challenging aspect of creating and maintaining a satisfying experience in this genre with a free-to-play model?
The main difference is how you balance online features with the console performance. Online play implies the interaction of players with each other and there can be quite a lot of them in big hubs or during massive PvP battles. It wasn’t as critical for Skyforge though, because those numbers are limited by game design.
The game is originally exclusively online. Stability required a lot of optimizations, both for the content and for the game client. We had to tune down the quality of graphics and abandon some of the engine features that are “costly” for the processor.
Will the Switch version differ in any way from the other versions on PC and console? Will it feature cross-play/cross-progression?
Players on Switch will enjoy a fresh start on a new server, so the progression won’t be transferred from other platforms. There is no cross play planned either because players’ progression differs across platforms. In terms of content, it’s likely that we won’t be conducting massive PvP events, Pantheon Wars, on Switch server, because the hybrid console is not exactly suited for such activities in terms of performance.
Has your experience of Warface’s Switch launch informed your approach to launching Skyforge on the platform? If so, how?
We started planning the release of Skyforge on the Nintendo platform even before Warface was released. However, the release of Warface demonstrated that Switch is indeed a very promising and interesting platform for us, and the porting went into a more active phase.
For anyone playing for the first time on Switch, do you have any quick tips for getting started (good beginner classes or tactics, that sort of thing)?
At the start of the game, there are three classes available: Paladin, Lightbinder and Cryomancer. While Paladin and Lightbinder are not classified as DPS classes, do not underestimate the damage they can deal - those classes can make your journey through the starting campaign very comfortably!
What’s next for Skyforge and the team heading into 2021?
We would like to release a few major content updates for all platforms. A lot is already in development and I hope we can tell you more about it soon.
Our thanks to Dmitry and the team. Let us know below if you're looking forward to Skyforge on Switch.