It’s fair to say that few Nintendo Switch fans expected to see Control hitting their consoles in 2020, even if the version they’ve gotten leverages the power of the cloud rather than the Switch’s built-in processing grunt.
Remedy’s award-winning action title is a welcome addition to the Switch library nonetheless, and, alongside Hitman 3, could be the first of many AAA releases to come to the console via the wonders of streaming technology.
We were lucky enough to speak with Remedy’s Mikael Kasurinen (Game Director), Mika Vehkala, (Technical Director) and Thomas Puha (Communications Director) about this landmark release.
Nintendo Life: First off, before we get onto the Switch version of Control, can you tell us a bit about the initial inspiration behind the game and what you wanted to accomplish with it? The project must have started long before Switch was even announced.
Mikael Kasurinen, Game Director: The initial inspiration was to create a game that focuses more on establishing a rich and unexpected world, an exciting place which you want to keep returning to. A place that can be a challenge to understand, but which invites exploration and participation from the player. It was conceptually a very different approach for us. And then everything else came after that, like the desire to establish a bureau that investigates supernatural phenomena, or a location that seems to defy the laws of physics.
We had a number of pop culture references, like the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer or the movie Stalker by Tarkovsky; they helped us with finding the overall tone and design of the world of Control. As always with any ambitious creative endeavour, we stand on the shoulders of giants.
The end result is an interesting mix of these inspirations, Remedy’s existing body of work that we’ve created along the years, and a desire to jump into the deep end of the pool with a strange, unexpected and exciting world.
The game was a real technical showcase on PC and pushed consoles hard when it launched in August 2019. Can you talk a little about the Northlight Engine and some of the ways Control pushes the tech boundaries beyond your previous games?
Mika Vehkala, Technical Director: We wanted to improve our Northlight engine for Control on multiple fronts. One of the big areas for improvement on the engine side was to offer better technology for the gameplay teams to build smooth, action-oriented gameplay.
We developed brand new game AI and animation technology and tools for Control, to suit fast-paced action gameplay in a dynamic world where the player can move around very quickly – not only on the ground but also in the air. Physics and VFX also underwent significant improvements and system changes to allow the game team to create all the beautiful real-time destruction that is central to Control.
We also worked hard on the rendering technology, with multiple significant improvements including ray tracing, which became available on consumer hardware just around the same time as Control was shipping.
Moving to the Switch version, it’s fantastic to see a Remedy game on a Nintendo console. It was one of our most wanted ports at the start of the year, although we also realised it was unlikely. Was a Switch version something you had in mind early on? How did it come to be?
Thomas Puha, Communications Director: We, of course, keep in touch with Nintendo, like with all platform holders, and see if there’s something we could be doing together. Ultimately, it’s always a conversation with the publisher – in this case, 505 Games, us and the partner. All in all, it was a pretty smooth process and really, it’s all about teamwork.
It seems that Control on Switch wouldn’t have happened were it not for cloud delivery – would that be accurate? If so, is the bottleneck purely technical, or also a question of finance or personnel?
Thomas Puha: I think it’s safe to say there would be no Control on Switch without the Cloud.
We did dedicate some time a while ago to doing some due diligence on what it would take to produce a Switch port with an external partner, but deemed it not possible for a variety of reasons. The bottlenecks are all of those things you mention: technical, finance and personnel. It isn’t a question of want. Of course, Remedy and 505 Games want Control on many platforms, the Switch included. If only it would be that easy. Trust me, one of the hardest things in making games is all the compromises you have to make.
Getting games to very different hardware platforms is really time-consuming and tough. Our Northlight engine is really not built to work on the Switch, which I’d say goes for most engines, so you would have to spend a significant amount of engineering time to make that happen. Then you have to think about if all that work is worth it for just one game, when you should be getting the engine ready for next-gen and the future. We would rather ensure that our tools and teams are ready for the future games as well as they can be, rather than going back and doing the kind of work that would be a very one-off thing.
You can’t just easily outsource the port, either. The technology and the engine are Remedy’s, so we would still need to be involved pretty intricately from an engineering point of view. There are so many things to think of, like is a certain middleware available for Switch, how long will it take to update it, and so on. As always, it’s about resources, and we have very few at a company the size of Remedy, where we are working on several very different projects at once.
As we understand it, with Ubitus providing the cloud tech, the Switch version didn’t require the kind of input from yourselves that you’d have to dedicate to a native in-house port. How has the process of bringing the game to Switch been from your perspective, and how long did it take?
Thomas Puha: It took a few engineer work months, as well as a producer. We looked at the UI and some input issues, but most of our time was spent on testing what we got back from Ubitus and just communicating. So relatively easy for us. Ubitus did the heavy lifting, but it definitely took work from the lead engineers of Control, too.
How do you feel about the game reaching a new audience?
Thomas Puha: In a word, awesome.
To give a bit of background… Remedy’s games were exclusive for a decade to Microsoft and PC. Once we set on our multi-project strategy back in 2016, a big part of that has been reaching new audiences on many platforms. That’s one of the reasons we started working with Smilegate on Crossfire, whose audience has predominantly been in China.
Control is on Xbox, PlayStation, PC and now Nintendo Switch. It is also available on Amazon’s Luna service which is in very limited access right now. We definitely came out at the right time with the game to have these great opportunities to push it on other services and platforms.
Finally, the opportunity to work with Nintendo is great, since we haven’t done that before at Remedy. For a lot of us at Remedy that definitely has been an exciting thing… I mean, it’s Nintendo!
Do you have further plans for Control beyond the AWE expansion? If so, will they come to the Switch version?
Thomas Puha: We are working on the next-gen version of Control but outside of that, nothing to say.
Have your plans and projects been affected significantly by the global situation over the course of the past year?
Thomas Puha: Not in a significant way, no, but definitely there is an impact.
Even though it’s a bit tough to work remotely and all that comes with this pandemic, we still get to be productive and have jobs when many others can’t, so we are appreciative of that.
Where we have seen impact is with projects years down the line, where the creative process in the beginning is to get a small team together and just experiment and throw ideas around. That is a lot tougher and slower to do remotely. This has definitely come up when we’ve talked with other studios how they are impacted by the global pandemic, too.
Testing our games on various hardware configurations and having the right people have their eyes on the content is definitely tougher as well, as streaming is just not good enough for that, but we’ve done alright so far.
From a marketing perspective, it’s certainly very different as you can’t go show the game to people in person and see their reactions and get inspired by that. We can still do a solid job, but I’m not counting on any physical events in 2021.
What are the chances we may see more Remedy games – perhaps a vintage one – on Switch in the future? And would a Cloud Version of an older game (one that Switch could potentially handle natively) be something you’d consider?
Thomas Puha: Very unlikely.
Finally, what games have you been enjoying recently?
Thomas Puha: A lot of us are playing Ghost of Tsushima’s Legends mode, which is just incredible, but we are all waiting for next-gen and the games coming out in the next few weeks.
We’d like to thank Thomas, Mikael and Mika for taking the time to speak with us.