If there was one thing I took away from E3 2018, it was that the end of the current console generation is indeed nigh. Starfield was confirmed for "next-generation consoles" while Cyberpunk 2077 was demoed on a $2000 PC. Developers are clearly looking toward the next round of hardware, and that puts the Nintendo Switch in something of an awkward place as it continues through its sophomore year.
But Panic Button general manager Adam Creighton is upbeat about the Switch's future. Panic Button is one of the Switch's main port specialists, having been responsible for the transition of Rocket League and Doom, and he still thinks that there's plenty of room to grow.
"It's a really neat piece of hardware, and we're learning more all the time. We work closely with Nintendo and Nvidia, and it's an opportunity for us to do more and more with the hardware. It's interesting, it's still pretty early for the Switch as a gaming device, so I'm excited to see what happens on the hardware and the optimization front," Creighton tells USgamer.
Creighton and I talked at length about the Switch's future at E3 2018, particularly in the context of how it will fare in the next generation. I noted that third-party developers are already struggling to make some games work on the hardware without major compromises. Ys 8 and Valkyria Chronicles 4 are two games that look notably worse on the Switch.
But Creighton sees it as more of a game to game issue than a broader challenge for the Switch. "[I]t depends on whether a game is pushing a ton of content. You have a title like Wolfenstein that is supporting so many languages, voiceover, and everything else, so there's a lot more content there," he says.
Creighton and his team have most recently ported Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, which is due out next week, and they've had to deal with issues relating to memory constraints. Perhaps the biggest challenge, though, is that Wolfenstein 2 wasn't developed with the Switch in mind.
Creighton thinks a more collaborative relationship from the start will help immensely in the future. "As people get us involved earlier in the process, we're able to help them with decisions like assets and gameplay, and things like that with Nintendo Switch in mind. That has a benefit when it comes to what might come down the road later," he says.
But will it matter if the Xbox Two and PS5 are on a level far beyond that of the Switch? Creighton says it depends on the direction that Sony and Microsoft decide to go with its next-generation consoles.
"It'll be interesting because who knows what's going to happen with next-generation. Does one party do an even beefier, more powerful machine? Do they look at what's happening with Nintendo and try to do that? Will they do both?" Creighton wonders. "Nintendo in previous generations has made it clear that they're not competing on horsepower. Switch is a great example of delivering that without impacting the quality of the games. And they've made some great partnerships with Bethesda and others to bring triple-A content to their platform."
Creighton also points out that the Switch itself isn't necessarily a fixed platform. The New 3DS is one recent example of Nintendo willingly splitting its install base in the name of a power boost.
"[M]aybe when they evolve the hardware they'll amp it up one area," Creighton speculates. "Maybe that'll be graphics or hardware, maybe they'll add to the controller set so it has additional inputs similar to other platforms. So there's a lot of innovations to be had."
It's hard to guess what will happen to the Switch once new consoles start to appear. Recent history doesn't offer a lot clues—the Wii U was pretty much a dead letter from the start, and the Wii was well behind pretty much from the start. Should the next generation commence as expected in 2020, the Switch will be in the middle of Year 4, which is a pretty tidy run for any console.
Power may not even matter much anymore. After all, one of the Switch's biggest hits is Stardew Valley, which can run on almost anything. Fortnite is one of the biggest games in the world and no one would confuse it for a graphics showcase.
Asked what he hopes to see in the next generation of consoles, Creighton points to what any good developer wants: better tools. "It's all about really good tools. And not tools that make it 'easy' to put content on a device—that's a pipe dream, especially for high-end triple-A games. I want more tools, and more low-level tools for graphics debugging and things like that. I always like more horsepower—more powerful GPUs, CPUs, RAM, and things like that. Give us more options for doing things in games. I do enjoy additional innovation from things like Joy Cons, HD Rumble, touchscreens and all that, so I can have gameplay that makes sense in different contexts. Nintendo tends to do things like that and surprises us with what they come up with, so I'm looking forward to that."
In the meantime, Panic Button is wrapping up Wolfenstein 2 on Switch, which Creighton calls a "challenging, meaty, highly technical project." Creighton says that the final version has definitely improved since PAX East, and that the team is prioritizing the "overall experience" in terms of making it feel fun to play. "It's a game that does a lot. There are places where [frame rate's] going to dip, but hopefully not a lot because perceptually we want it to be a smooth, fun, non-interrupted experience."
Panic Button itself is growing, and its next Switch port is reportedly due to be announced very soon. Panic Button is also hoping to develop some of its own IPs in the very near future, some of which will undoubtedly be for Switch.
But no matter what, it's still the very early days for Switch, and there's no reason to suppose that Nintendo's hit platform will be losing momentum any time soon. Panic Button is counting on it. Wolfenstein 2 for Switch releases June 29.