One Way Heroics makes its debut on Nintendo Switch. The story of how the impossible task of porting the game was made possible
Publication date of the original Japanese article: 2020-06-18 11:59 (JST)
Translated by. Aki Oshima
PLAYISM, a publishing arm operated by Active Gaming Media Inc., released One Way Heroics Plus on Nintendo Switch on June 18. Therogue-like side-scroller retails for $14.99 and was created by indie game developer SmokingWOLF.
Originally released as a free game in August 2012, One Way Heroics was an instant hit, with hundreds and thousands of passionate fans becoming obsessed with defeating the game’s antagonist, Demon Lord, while trying to outrun the ever encroaching darkness from the left of screen. This is an interview piece, but let me first explain the twists and turns involved in porting this game before getting to the main interview.
*Disclosure: PLAYISM is part of Active Gaming Media, which is also the owner of this website.
A game created with Wolf RPG Editor thought near impossible to port
It was PLAYISM who initially came up with a proposition to localize Katamichi Yusha into English, renaming it One Way Heroics for the international audience, and releasing it on PC gaming platform Steam. It was well-received by rogue-like fans worldwide, and sold over 500k units (including the One Way Heroics Plus DLC). The game was created using a development tool named WOLF RPG Editor, built by SmokingWOLF himself specifically for all projects developed under his moniker.
SmokingWOLF’s game dev career began when he first came across RPG Maker, a 2D game creation software. It is a beginner friendly tool, even if it isn’t the most versatile, so it was a natural next step for SmokingWOLF to want something that allows for more finetuning and custom settings.
With that in mind, he developed his own tool called WOLF RPG Editor to fulfil this need. He made WOLF RPG Editor available for download, gratis, and it became a favoured program for some game developers, who used it to create highly-regarded games such as LiEat, Mad Father, and Yuen Monogatari (Faraway Story).
However, the WOLF RPG Editor does have one drawback: the games with which it was created cannot be ported from PC to other platforms. Despite making a living by selling his games since he graduated from the university, SmokingWOLF has had no formal training in programming and isn’t really a professional programmer.
Moreover, WOLF RPG Editor was initially created for his own use, over a decade ago, solely for the purpose of “making a game that runs on PC.” The idea of developing and selling games for consoles was not at all on this indie game dev’s mind.
SmokingWOLF has been asked a number of times about porting games made with the WOLF RPG Editor, but he’d explained that he feels the task is too difficult and he wasn’t skilled enough for the job. He thought it might be possible if a professional porting programmer were to make alterations to the software’s root code, but he didn’t see himself achieving that as he refers to himself as a “nonconforming amateur in the game business.”
Every time he was approached about porting WOLF RPG Editor-based games, he approved all the proposals as he saw no reason to refuse, except always with a disclaimer that it would be a challenging process. Though he was curious to see WOLF RPG Editor-made games being played on consoles, he’d never received word that any porting attempt was successful.
As publisher, PLAYISM was aware that it will be an extremely troublesome task—near impossible even— to port WOLF RPG Editor-made games to consoles, but believed it would be of significant importance if they could pull it off.
PLAYISM then came across ESQUADRA, a system development company based in Japan, that has previously ported various indie games. Upon hearing their CEO Shigemoto declaring there’s “probably nothing they can’t port,” PLAYISM reached out and proposed, without any real expectation, for them to take a look at One Way Heroics. Within months, the game was seen working on Nintendo Switch.
How the seemingly impossible task of porting was made possible
And with that long introduction, let’s dive into the commentary from EAQUADRA about technical difficulties they experienced and their solutions to porting One Way Heroics to Nintendo Switch. Hopefully, this sheds light on the porting process and perhaps opens up more doors for WOLF RPG Editor-made games to be ported to consoles, to the joy of many game developers.
───What does ESQUADRA do? Will you tell us how the porting process came to be?
I think any game creator would agree that they want to release games on consoles. To accomplish that, we took on the challenge of porting WOLF RPG Editor-made games to consoles, hoping that day will come.
I want to create games that are truly fun to play.
I want to create content that would be enjoyed by many.
ESQUADRA (Portuguese for ‘squad’) is a company made up of people who share the same passion for video games. We develop and publish games for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, Steam, and mobile. Our strength lies not only in game development on multi-platform, but also the know-how and expertise, the trade experience in game release and publishing.
We have a wealth of knowledge porting games to multi-platform utilizing the Unity engine, which makes speedy development possible. From new game development and design to additional development and design changes for game porting, they are all done in-house.
───Was porting a WOLF RPG Editor-made game really difficult?
The WOLF RPG Editor has a rich, expressive feature set and is a highly versatile tool, so we couldn’t ignore the processing load of event execution and graphics. Especially with One Way Heroics, as a rogue-like game, it involved a lot of calculations for something as seemingly minor as a character taking a single step, or the graphics of the font.
We also had to remove or modify certain features and functions from a program that could only be run on Windows, though that can be said about any game made solely for Windows.
───So, how did ESQUADRA manage to succeed in porting?
We took the measure of making the entire base program of WOLF RPG Editor into a native plugin for Unity. We came up with the plan to take advantage of Unity’s capabilities for multi-platform development as a bridge between players and the WOLF RPG Editor-made game. For example, when Unity receives a command that the [A] button is pressed on Nintendo Switch, it converts and relays that information to the [Z] key on a PC keyboard being hit in the WOLF RPG Editor program.
As for graphics processing, Unity receives and executes the commands in place of WOLF RPG Editor’s original graphics library. In other words, it manipulates the source code into thinking that it’s running in the Windows environment.
With this method, optimization of graphics is made possible without compromising the processing speed for events, comparable to the original. Especially with the feature in Unity called the Scriptable Render Pipeline that processes graphics efficiently in small units which has been a big contribution for optimization.
───How long and how many people did it take to port the game?
The research for this porting project began around July of last year and passed the final assessment in mid-April this year. Altogether, it took about ten months to implement it. The team consisted of three people: two programmers and one designer.
───What was the biggest obstacle?
When we altered the events that were created on the WOLF RPG Editor, it led to a lot of bugs surfacing. Because the Nintendo Switch has fewer buttons compared to a PC keyboard, the control mechanics had to be changed in many instances. But One Way Heroics has so many more common events than other RPGs, those changes often had unexpected effects.
Also, a compiler used in developing WOLF RPG Editor and a compiler used in Nintendo Switch behaved very differently in C++ and that caused bugs to appear from time to time.
───How did you overcome that?
Having an in-depth understanding of One Way Heroics and the WOLF RPG Editor was essential. It can be said about porting games in general but in this case, there were two factors to consider: “are WOLF RPG Editor events properly executed?” as well as “is One Way Heroics reproduced faithfully?”
Especially with the former, debugging a native plugin isn’t an easy task. However, because the game was originally built for Windows, we were able to make the plugin Windows-compatible, to have it run on UnityEditor. It allowed us to do testing and comparison against its behavior in Nintendo Switch.
To give a simple example, identifying things like “the drawing of an object is misaligned because a one-byte difference means -128~127 values in one environment and 0~255 values in another” through these comparisons.
───Will porting WOLF RPG Editor-based games be a smooth sail from here on?
Yes, we’ve gained knowledge from this porting experience so we’ll be able to perform the task much quicker going forward. Having said that, it doesn’t mean all porting procedures can be done instantaneously. The WOLF RPG Editor has been around for a long time and there are multiple versions of it.
Beyond that, there are different platforms to deal with. As I mentioned before, Nintendo Switch has fewer buttons on the controllers compared to PC keyboards and that requires modifications to key binding depending on the scenes. The same goes for the differences in screen resolution.
In order for a game to be ported, it’s important to keep the question “if this game can be played on Nintendo Switch, how would it be actualized?” in mind and consider each element, taking the time to implement accordingly. I think this is the crucial factor in the playability of the game.
───Thank you for your time.
We are excited to see more games made by game developers on the beloved WOLF RPG Editor on consoles. ESQUADRA would spare no effort to help you on your journey.