Panic Button producer tells us why their Switch ports are so freakin’ good

Talking to Panic Button on Switch ports, Torchlight II

With the likes of Rocket League, Doom, and Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Panic Button has kept busy with challenging porting tasks on Nintendo Switch. The company has, in fact, become acclaimed for its stellar Switch ports. So at PAX West 2019, I was elated to speak to the head of production at Panic Button, Dan Hernberg. Accompanying him was a Nintendo Switch containing Panic Button’s latest efforts with Torchlight II, alongside Deanna Peter of Perfect World Entertainment. We went over how they managed to bring Torchlight II to consoles in only 9 months, their overall development process, and the studio’s success with a non-traditional team.

Hitting the Panic Button on Torchlight II

Torchlight II is Panic Button's latest effort on towards the Nintendo Switch

I was multitasking through the interview, playing Torchlight II that’s soon to release on Nintendo Switch. From what I experienced, the action RPG felt properly adjusted to the console. With a UI overhaul that retains the RPG aspects, it makes itself more palatable than some other games that have transitioned from mouse-and-keyboard setups.

When asked how Panic Button retained so much of the game’s complexities while simplifying the controls, Hernberg stated that this is largely the result of art director Joe Bird and his team at Panic Button. It may seem strange that a studio that mostly releases ports would benefit so greatly from an art team. Yet the artists had the task of revising the HUD and menus in a way that fit with not just a controller but also on a handheld like the Switch. It was an ambitious objective for a smaller collection of devs to accomplish, but they managed it with grace.

Assuring the utmost quality

The user interface had a massive overhaul for Switch

Hernberg further explained that, while Panic Button is largely composed of engineers who are veterans in the games industry, the communication they have with their quality assurance (QA) team is invaluable. QA is a largely unsung part of the industry that is critical to games’ financial success. As the years have passed, it’s been something that’s majorly outsourced to contractors.

To hear from Hernberg and Peter about how much they valued the people who work in QA was refreshing. Around 20 percent of the approximate 50-person studio is a part of this QA team. Open communication with engineers and the original developers is credited for the high level of polish in Panic Button ports. Hernberg couldn’t stress it enough, and hopefully, other studios take from his example.

Finding passion by helping the companies they love

Panic Button also helped Runic Games with Hob

While impressively balancing four or five projects at a given time, Panic Button has its hands full. However, their unique development setup allows the most effective and efficient porting possible. And when asked how the team still finds its passion creatively when working on preexisting titles, Hernberg said that working with the games and franchises that they love makes it easy to maintain energy. It’s evident that Panic Button is doing something right, and their passion for Nintendo’s console and supporting other devs has paid dividends.

What should Panic Button port next, will you be picking up their version of Torchlight II? Let us know in the comments below.

Daniel Thompson
Hey folks! I'm Daniel (Danny) Thompson and I've been writing in the games industry for quite a few years. I have a deep love for the industry that's rooted in the people behind the games that you enjoy.