Game porting… It’s an art that should be mastered. No wonder there are studios out there whose sole purpose is providing game porting services. There’s so much to take into account when porting a game, such as access to the dev kit, certification requirements, converting the code to a different programming language, performance and memory management, changes to controls, and so forth. All that trouble hasn’t gone unnoticed. Just look at the latest Sony news about acquiring Game Porting and Optimization Specialist, Nixxes Software, whose main specialty is with porting games. Sony surely recognized the importance of porting to the extent of acquiring Nixxes Software.
To explore game porting a bit further we turned to the experts; Denis Potapenko, CTO at Game-Ace, and Oleg Fedorenko, CTO at Pingle Studio to shed some light on various tips and hacks. Both studios specialize in game porting, so for them, providing these important tips was a breeze, as they follow these tips day in day out.
Game-Ace is a studio that among other game development services provides game porting services and is capable of porting mobile, desktop, VR, AR, HoloLens, browser, and other types of games to mobile, desktop, VR, MR or web platforms. Their CTO, Denis Potapenko, had a lot to contribute. The first tip on his book was the importance of creating sustainable code for future updates: “Porting a game from one language/engine/framework is already difficult enough and time-consuming, so you probably won’t want to go through the process twice. Thus, when updates/upgrades/remasters to your ported game are inevitably required, you should make it as easy as possible for the team that will work on the changes. For example, switching from a custom engine to a prevalent one like Unity or Unreal during initial porting will also speed up future development.”
Another issue Potapenko addresses is modernizing game controls, a burning topic in the game porting world: “Usually, game controls do not translate well from one platform to another, especially if the previous platform was a very old console generation. It’s fine to play on feelings of nostalgia and try to evoke the original feelings and impressions of gamers on the previous platform by adding old button combos and whatnot, but sometimes you just need to go in another direction to keep the game functional. Just adapt the controls in a way that changes the journey towards in-game actions but retains the destination.”
And what about game performance? Potapenko advises to pay special attention to performance: “Meeting player expectations for a ported game means putting a lot of work into performance and optimization. At the very least, your players are expecting a release at the same level of quality and performance as the original, and some will also be expecting improvements. Bringing a game to a new platform is already a huge achievement, but any drop in quality will have a disastrous effect on reception, so we suggest taking the necessary time to get the release polished and optimized.”
Let’s be honest, game porting could be quite a pain and a very costly and long process when it’s mismanaged or not correctly executed. Potapenko encourages studios to reach out for help: “Some of the biggest studios in the world (Microsoft, Blizzard, etc.) have no qualms about entrusting game ports to other studios, so why should you. If you lack the time, people, or expertise to complete a port, getting assistance from an external provider is a common-sense solution that should not have any shame or stigma attached.”
Speaking of External Providers (For Porting Games), What Are the Benefits of Using Them Anyway?
You’ve probably asked yourself that question before? Why take on a video game porting services provider? Well, since game porting requires quite a bit of expertise and understanding of the nuances of each platform, your existing crew might not be properly skilled at porting games. It does make sense outsourcing the porting task rather than winging it and making costly mistakes. Speaking of cost, that’s another reason to consider outsourcing your game porting. The outsourcing company’s developers might not make quite as much as your internal team, which in turn will lower the porting costs substantially.
Pingle Studio is a game development provider for developers and publishers that offers game development services, among which are porting services. They have substantial experience with porting games to PC, PS4/5, Xbox One/Series S/X, Nintendo Switch, VR, as well as porting mobile games to Android and iOS, and porting a game to another engine or porting games to mac and Apple Arcade. They handle everything from performance checks and right down to digital distribution.
Their CTO, Oleg Fedorenko, brings up some common challenges and ways to overcome them in regard to porting. The first one is a challenge you must have encountered already or will in the future: making sure you have access to the devkit: “Devkit is an installable package of all the software and hardware you need to develop a console game. You can’t publish your game without access to a fully functional devkit. Game companies usually buy their devkits from the console provider or get access to it from publishers. The second option is good if you’re making your first porting/console title — it’s faster and easier to arrange. But if you plan to develop more console titles — consider buying your own devkit. If you’re planning to work with the physical copy of the devkit, mind the time for the delivery. We recommend having at least 2 devices for every console you’re planning to work with. If you only have one devkit and it’s broken, you’re at risk of spending a lot of unnecessary time dealing with the console provider’s warranty services.”
Another major challenge is the heavy optimization involved in porting a game, such as memory management and GPU/CPU optimization, as Fedorenko describes it: “Optimization is a key to a successful console version of any game. Especially if we port to past generation consoles like PlayStation 4 and Xbox One or mobile and portable devices like Nintendo Switch. Their hardware is at least 7+ years old, so porting a game to PS4 now is pretty similar to porting to a modern mobile device. One of the biggest optimization challenges in porting is memory management. The size of a game, its structure, the way it is developed — all these factors influence memory usage. On consoles, the available amount of memory for the title is also shared with the device’s video memory. The bigger the resolution of the game — the more video memory is required to run a game, which means there’s less memory remaining for your app. GPU and CPU optimizations are also very important. Its complexity depends on the kind of your game, its bottlenecks and many other factors.”
And then there’s the certification issue that should be kept in mind: “This one is more about porting to consoles. Every console has a huge set of requirements regarding how your game should interact with users and resources. If you start developing a game or porting a game, make sure to take a close look at all the platforms’ requirements for certification and follow them strictly. This will help to avoid extra reworking. We recommend assigning a separate QA team on getting a certification. And also — start following the certification requirements at an early development stage as possible.”
Have you considered the build times?
It’s a known fact that porting takes time. In their blog post “How to Port a Video Game in Android and Other Platforms?” Starloop Studios estimated that it takes “up to 6 months.” And “If the project is more complex, such as AAA titles, the porting process can take much longer.”
So, it takes quite some time to port a game, and game publishers and developers, as well as studios providing porting services, are constantly looking for ways to reduce that time. One such way is reducing the extensive build times that are involved in the porting process, as the focus is on converting existing code and testing it for quality. That’s where we, Incredibuild, come in, reducing cross-platform and porting build times substantially. Check out the story of Red Kite, that even while porting to Google Stadia, they were reducing build times by 73% with Incredibuild. Another thing about Stadia and porting that should be noted is the latest news about Stadia Porting Toolkit, “which aims to make it easier for developers to bring their games from Windows to the cloud.”