The Importance of Porting – How Lab42 Brings Beloved Games to New Audiences
Since the studio was founded in 2015, Lab42 has been working on some of the biggest games and franchises on the market – but what happens when previously-released games need to be brought to life for a new platform or audience?
Studio Director, Ed Blincoe, breaks down the porting process and explains why it’s so important for games to find fans in new markets.
“The primary reason for porting, adapting or remastering a game is the opportunity to bring it to a whole new audience,” said Ed.
“The purpose of porting is that often developers will create a game with a specific platform in mind, without thinking about all the subtle differences between PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Switch and Mobile. Many gamers will have a single platform that they prefer to play on, and many of the games we’ve ported would never have been purchased or experienced by these players if they hadn’t have received a new lease of life.”
“For adapting, there’s the opportunity to add additional languages and versions to existing games for publishers, which allows them to release titles to a new territory for the first time. And for remastering, the opportunity to update old games to make them look & play great and run efficiently on modern devices allows beloved titles from past generations to be brought to a whole new audience of fans, many of whom never had the chance to experience them the first time around.”
Of course, bringing beloved games from bygone generations to the modern world presents its own challenges – “Knowing that a franchise will bring interest from millions of players immediately upon launch definitely increases the pressure, and players tend to be more forgiving of issues in brand-new games than they are in a port, remaster or update. Lab42 has been fortunate enough to work on several projects that have a very passionate fan base. Players of Yakuza, Knights of the Old Republic and Crusader Kings know their games inside-out and have very high expectations that any new version of the game will not only retain every detail of the original, but make the best possible use of a new platform’s capabilities.”
And it isn’t just players that Lab42 look to impress when working on a classic, Ed continued: “It’s of paramount importance to us that our publishers and the team of developers that created the original games or IP are impressed with the quality of our work.”
So how do ports of games happen? Well, with plenty of experience working on porting and co-development projects, Lab42 has put together a series of ‘best practices’ which happen at the earliest discussions and allow the team to plan the work and bring across their existing knowledge:
Lab42’s recipe for porting success
- Find out early what the current state of development is and where existing platforms are – this allows us to discern how best to integrate new platforms or features.
- We’ll then assess the game and write detailed technical and design documents with a focus on platform compliance and using our exceptional performance measurement experience. Having taken many games through submission on consoles, we know before even starting a project which key areas to investigate to get ahead of any issues. Good examples of this are the complexities of sign-in and join flows on Xbox and the requirements for voice chat on PlayStation.
- Next, we identify if we’re able to use our own existing and tested code modules/frameworks to avoid having to reinvent the wheel in Unity and C++ engines.
- Finally, Lab42 as a studio has honed the skills necessary to become chameleons in projects and codebases – all of our teams are able to adapt to the working practices and coding styles of our partners. At this stage, we get stuck in with adding and replacing the necessary functionality to port the game over to a new platform!
Recipe for success or not, the process of porting a game can still bring about plenty of problems: “It’s very common for ports not to be taken into account when initially designing or creating a game, which can require the need for creative solutions to overcome some foundational issues.” says Ed. “For example, if a console game was tailored specifically to fixed hardware with an unchanging performance profile, it might have been written to expect a certain framerate or screen resolution – after all, if those things are immutable, why go to the extra effort to account for it? But then this process often brings the need for it to become mutable!”
With games from all different eras, platforms and tech coming to the fore now more than ever, a big part of the porting process is making sure you’re always looking to deliver the best experience. “To create the best version of a game, we need to create a great control scheme for the target platforms - but it isn’t always that easy.” Says Ed, “If you’re working with an existing game engine you can be quite constrained by very early decisions of how that game was originally made. Sometimes, we can only do the best that we can – so long as our partners and players are happy, that’s what matters.”
Lab42 are experts in co-development, live support and porting, and have delivered many outstanding titles with the opportunity to work on some of the biggest franchises around, but how does giving a game a new life compare with working on a title for the first time? “It can be a double-edged sword,” says Ed, “especially when it’s a title that has already been released on another platform. You can be confident in the design decisions and the general quality of the already-existing game and realise you have the opportunity to make a good game even better. Sometimes you have the opportunity to work alongside the developers of the original game in true collaboration to bring out the best in their game. On the other hand, there is a lot of pressure to live up to the existing game and to meet the expectations of both players and partners, whilst working within the constraints of decisions made by people you may never even meet.”
With expectations for games to hit new heights of technical excellence ever-rising, why does Lab42 offer porting as part of its services? “Because we’re good at it!” said Ed, “Our first porting opportunity as a studio came with Yakuza Zero and we were tasked to make the definitive version of that game – the best version with top graphics, presentation, performance and options for players to do more. We put in the work and formed the processes that allowed – and still allow – us to succeed with ports and adaptions, and since then we’ve been given the time and resource to create a diverse team packed with all the skills we need to continue making definitive versions of great games.”
“We’re all gamers at heart, and to create games ourselves on the scale of Yakuza, Crusader Kings, GRiD, DiRT, Sonic the Hedgehog and Call of Duty: Vanguard would take our entire studio team years to develop. Platform shifting, live support and co-development projects allow our developers to work in multiple AAA titles over the course of each year, make significant contributions to huge releases and see themselves in the credits of the biggest games.”
In the last year alone, Lab42 teams have worked on games including Call of Duty: Vanguard, Crusader Kings III and Human Fall Flat, with plenty more exciting projects in development. Watch this space for more from this powerhouse studio.
The Lab42 team is looking for passionate people to work on a range of projects – could it be you? All opportunities can be found on the Careers page.
Looking to speak to Lab42 about co-development, porting or adapting? Register your enquiry here.