Porting Torchlight: The Secrets Behind The XBLA Version Of Runic's RPG Hit


Posted April 20, 2011 - By Guest Writer

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Porting Torchlight: The Secrets Behind The XBLA Version Of Runic's RPG Hit

Console ports are a polarizing topic.  Whether it’s due to hatred for console controls, or the disproportionate amount of content given to the PC platform on release, gamers will always cringe at the mere mention of a port. Sometimes though, there are rare exceptions that translate well from one platform to the other. Even rarer are the ports that are actually good

Runic Games’ Torchlight has captured a lot of attention from PC and console gamers alike. Of course there are several reasons for this, but one of the major points is that the console version of the game plays exceptionally well. Especially for a PC designed top-down dungeon crawler. Is Runic entirely responsible for the excellent conversion? Read on to find out, and the answer might surprise you.

Porting Torchlight

The surprising answer is no, but Runic has no problem touting the skills of World Domination Industries, the company responsible for the converting Torchlight from PC to Mac and then to Xbox Live. One of the behind-the-scenes wizards of porting, WDI has worked on many game transfers in the past on every system from the Commodore 64 up to the PlayStation 3. The problem is, not everyone knows what is involved in making a port. I was able to chat with Cameron Madani and Thomas Djafari, the GM and CTO of WDI, and they shed some light on the whole process behind it all.

Traditionally, World Domination Industries is in the business of tech, working on developing custom AI software for multiplayer gaming. But R and D can’t pay all the bills. With even their most junior programmer having over ten years of experience, opportunity soon knocked on WDI’s doors and they began branching out into game conversions and ports across platforms. After several successful projects, WDI has a record and reputation of getting the job done on time, on budget, all while delivering an excellent product.

Anybody who has played the XBLA Torchlight version can attest to the work WDI has done, although none of us can actually pinpoint what exactly they did. Djafari broke the process down for me in detail. “There’s always the same kind of challenges,” he explained. First, there’s the memory issue. Games made for the PC platform usually don’t consider the amount of memory that is used for the game, which presents a major issue for consoles that can only handle so much memory usage. Changing much of the rendering of levels and enemies to a stream and render as you go solution, memory space is cut down dramatically. Often times they may even redesign parts of the level to cut back as well.

Porting Torchlight: The Secrets Behind The XBLA Version Of Runic's RPG Hit

Next on their list is processing power and usage of the console as a whole. PCs can be much more powerful than a console if customized correctly, but the hardware in an Xbox or Playstation is fixed. WDI then has to go about cutting back on physics engines, timing, and the like to lower the amount of power needed. Finally, they redesign the user interface. “For a computer, everything is so close to your face you don’t even think about the size of things, but with a console you’re not sitting right in front of the TV so you need to make things bigger or smaller and more streamlined for the screen,” mentioned Djafari.

Madani stressed communication between a conversion house and the developer, especially since each project has to feel unique in its own way and not too much of a clone. Runic and Microsoft wanted to add some special features, like the new Chakawary pet, for the XBLA version of Torchlight. In the midst of Runic’s development of these features, WDI had to continue porting and add the new material as well when it was given to them.

Porting Torchlight: The Secrets Behind The XBLA Version Of Runic's RPG Hit

While this was a standard job for the skilled WDI team, there were some complications. Madani and Djafari both lamented the fact that they didn’t anticipate the amount of work they would have to do on implementing the new UI, not to mention the enormous frame-rate issues they tackled. To top it all off the team had to port the graphics system Ogre, which Torchlight was designed on, to a console platform when it was only meant for PC usage.

After all this hard work, are their praises sung? Madani regretfully admits that little to no publicity has been shown for their company in the consumer spectrum. “On the other side it has opened door for us in the industry with other companies though,” he admitted. Despite Runic mentioning and pushing WDI for its work and help, WDI remains in the background of Torchlight’s success.

Both Djafari and Madani agree that a conversion house like World Domination Industries is not the place to start if you’re looking to break into game development. The amount of skill and dedication it takes to successfully port a game well and on time is something acquired over years in the industry. One could almost see it as a trade or a craft, rather than a job.

Porting Torchlight: The Secrets Behind The XBLA Version Of Runic's RPG Hit

While World Domination Industries works behind the scenes to help games like Torchlight reach more audiences and achieve greater success, their handiwork is displayed in full view by the gamers that enjoy it. Even though they don’t develop the games they port, their work is essential in bringing the games you want, to the platforms you own. 

By John Sollitto

Porting Torchlight: The Secrets Behind The XBLA Version Of Runic's RPG Hit


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