Releasing a PC classic like Titan Quest on the modern console generation seems like an easy task, but in fact the way technologies and user expectations shift over time can mount to a herculean effort.
There is no straightforward approach when it comes to such a “re-modernised” porting goal – since as such there isn’t really a thing like an “easy” port. Consequently we approached Titan Quest for consoles & handheld with the mental and infrastructural readiness that we would re-write a good amount of code, have the necessary tools ready for diverse applications to, for example, increase the quality of textures (and redo them where useful).
1. Adapting the control interface to the Dualshock 4
As we dissected the original PC version of Titan Quest, we realized we had to change a bunch of features and implementations. The first one we addressed was the input system which handles how a game is controlled and with what hardware it is controlled. Simply said, we had to have gamepad controller input management in order to make sure we can test this new incarnation of Titan Quest as early as possible. We then dived into changing all the bits and pieces of the navigation system to ensure it was working properly with the gamepads.
This led to the next big area, the user interface. Having a controller used in a UI that was originally designed and implemented for mouse & keyboard use only is one of those points where your mental preparation comes into play. You take a critical look at what you have from the original, which is a GREAT game, and make sure that you move forward with two considerations in mind: How do we keep the usability of the original? As you answer this by understanding what made the original good, you ask the next question: What has changed in a decade that shifted gamers’ behavior and expectation?
2. Changing the UI and the HUD
This where you sneakily modernize the original game: Some will never notice it, but we added a bunch of new features into the UI and the HUD. Threw in a new loot window to make sure the player can actually see everything he is looting because this time around, there is no mouse cursor to hover finely on those pixels, choose the item and then click to loot. Good, but modern gamers will still want some direct information on what they are looting from the ground as well.
We all take it for granted that a modern game will somehow highlight what the player is focusing on and there again we upgraded the usability of the game by adding a seemingly tiny feature that highlights that object for you. We then went one more step beyond for readability and accessibility, and revised all of this specifically for the PS4. So technically, the goal was to port a circa 2006 computer screen (think 19 to 21 inches as standard back then) game to the new norm of 37 to 43 inches TV set screens.
3. Improving the textures
Throughout this process, we increased the quality of the textures on one side of the fence and reworked the streaming system for performance on the other whilst reworking the gameplay system features wherever needed.
Expanding on the same approach to fighting, we realized now there is no longer a mouse cursor to actually fight enemies! So we added a target cone system that allows you to better focus your attention on item interactions and fighting. It works like a charm for those AoE attacks…
Modernizing the game required us to revisit the way the graphics were handled as well: SSAO, improved shadows and anti-aliasing was implemented to make sure that the visual richness of the game was properly transferred to larger screens to maintain a high quality result. This is relevant for the gamers; however it also made it possible that much of the rendering work is done on the GPU rather than the CPU of the console. This is critical for console projects, as it is naturally a must have for the players because you want to enjoy a stutter-free game.
4. Re-work the quick slot system into a radial menu
What about those HUD or keyboard shortcuts to pop a potion in the midst of combat? While we reworked the quick-slot system, we realized that we are missing a crucial modern feature: enter the player behavior and expectations shifting, and implement the multifaceted and versatile idea of radial menus. We added radial menu support where needed, and redesigned the user-interface elements around them. A skill assignment screen is also another new feature added into the midst along with several options to make the player experience more accessible and modern.