A deep dive into Life is Strange: True Colors on Nintendo SwitchThe full Life is Strange: True Colors experience is available on Switch, but what did Deck Nine do to make the game look so good?
Life is Strange: True Colors has arrived on Nintendo Switch! It’s a fully featured version of the game, with visuals and gameplay comparable to other, more powerful platforms.
That didn’t just happen by magic - there’s no ‘Export Version To Switch’ button that magically ports everything from a PlayStation or Xbox over flawlessly. In fact, a whole lot of work has gone into making sure you don’t notice much of a difference - and it’s taken a lot of time and effort to get there.
To give you an idea of what it took to bring Alex’s journey and the soaring Coloradan mountains of Haven Springs to this amazing console, we’re going to dive into the development and explain seven reasons the Switch version of the game is so impressive.
Dragons, Decks and Squares
Together with developer Deck Nine Games and publisher Square Enix, a team of 30 at Dragon’s Lake Entertainment worked solely on the Switch port for a whole year - including programmers, 3D artists, and specialised QA dedicated to optimising its visuals and performance.
This collective of industry veterans ensured that players get the same experience on the Nintendo Switch as they would on any other gaming platform, and also that the game was optimised for both docked and “on-the-go” handheld modes.
All Killer, no filler
The Nintendo Switch version of Life is Strange: True Colors contains exactly the same content as the other platforms, including all of the character performance capture and facial animations, plus full, uncut audio and extensive licensed music soundtrack.
That means players on Switch get the full, uncut game just as it’s meant to be - including the awesome Steph-focused DLC, Wavelengths, included in the Deluxe Edition.
Let there be lighting
The lighting engine has been entirely rebuilt, including a bespoke LightBaking pipeline and new approach to reflection probes, shaders, and dynamic shadows for dynamic objects.
In addition, a new Switch lighting model has been created specifically for the rendering of lights on faces. The result of all this work is that the reconstructed, Switch-specific solution reaches a similar level of lighting as on the other platforms - albeit via a different route.
It’s been optimised from the ground up to work efficiently with the way Switch processes graphics, so think of this as one of those ‘iceberg’ moments – as a player, you’re seeing the beautifully lit tip of the iceberg that looks much like the other versions. But underneath the surface, the lighting on the Switch version is working in a totally different way, with a whole bunch of Switch-unique processes set up to deliver each frame, and squeeze out every bit of performance and quality, especially in handheld mode.
Every character model and environmental object has been optimised and reworked in the game, preserving fidelity during decimation while optimising polycounts. If, like me, your response to that was “uh… what?”, I asked a member of our production team to explain.
Basically, the number of polygons, or triangles, have been reduced in most of the models, while still keeping the amount of detail and quality, AKA ‘fidelity’, within them. Decimation is another term for ‘LOD’ing – or Level of Detail. Long story short, at the Switch’s handheld and docked resolutions, the character and background models look pretty darn good.
Another trick we’ve done to speed up rendering time is a process called ‘batching’, whereby static items that are close together are clumped into a single item. A bunch of plant pots in the flower shop, a pile of rocks by the river, or a set of trees in the park - while all platforms have some form of batching in play, the Switch version is optimised to ensure performance.
To put all this into perspective, the Haven Springs Main Street saw total scene polygons reduced from 13 million to 9 million, and the Processing Plant at the Mine reduced scene polygons massively, from 21 million to 10 million. Despite this, very little will be noticeably lost to the player - thanks to the wonders of game optimisation, it’s performant but still looks good.
To cut a long story short, developers are geniuses.
As you probably know, your display is composed of pixels - the smallest element of every digital image - and these pixels are rectangular in shape. What this means is that when round shapes are shown on screen, you’re almost guaranteed to see some jagged edges - known as aliasing.
Anti-aliasing refers to a process of eliminating these angular edges and smoothing them out. For the Life is Strange True Colors Switch port, anti-aliasing has been reworked using a TAA solution, yet optimised to be as performant as FXAA. If these all just sound like a bunch of letters to you, let me break it down a bit.
TAA and FXAA come into play once the computer has already rendered the object, which allows for the more efficient and less resource-heavy removal of jagged edges.
The primary difference between TAA, which stands for ‘Temporal Anti-Aliasing’ and FXAA, which stands for ‘Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing’, is the method in which they identify and eliminate aliasing, or ‘rough edges’.
FXAA directly analyses every pixel, identifies the jagged bits, and corrects them before pushing the frame to your screen. TAA, on the other hand, compares the frame with the previous frame to identify edges and prevent issues.
Basically, Life is Strange: True Colors’ Switch version makes use of the gorgeous visuals provided by TAA, with all the advantages of minimal GPU load when using FXAA. Result!
The beauty of Nintendo Switch is having the best of both worlds. If you fancy a chilled session on your big TV at home, dock the console and settle in on the sofa - completely uninterrupted.
Within Life is Strange: True Colors, we have integrated the AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) technique for when the game is docked, which increases performance at 1080p without a hit to visual quality.
In an effort to match the visual quality of the other platforms, we’ve also built and reworked unique post-processing features, adding in the Atmosphere, Light Shafts, Bloom, Depth of Field and screen space ambient occlusion (SSAO) that conjure the unforgettable world of a Life is Strange game.
You can see all these things in action in the video at the top of this page, but hopefully we’ve done a good job of explaining how much time, expertise and passion have gone into the Nintendo Switch version of Life is Strange: True Colors!
Thanks for reading and to all Switch players, see you in Haven Springs!