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How Capybara Games made Grindstone feel as good on the Switch

Grindstone out on Nintendo Switch later today

Grindstone characters looking lovingly at a Nintendo Switch Image: Capybara Games
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Grindstone feels incredible to play. Without being told, you know how to begin — just drag your finger across your phone’s screen, connecting creeps of the same color. Tap again, and watch Jorj (Grindstone’s burly protagonist) slash his way through. The game’s animation has a real weight to it, mimicking the friction of your finger swiping across glass. Grindstone’s world fits vertically into your hand, contained within the few inches of screen.

Developed by Capybara Games, Grindstone was originally released in September 2019, alongside the full rollout of Apple’s subscription gaming program, Apple Arcade. Grindstone illustrated the promise of Apple Arcade: a simple, clean mobile designed without the need for microtransactions. Now that Grindstone’s Apple Arcade exclusivity period is ending, the game’s coming to Nintendo Switch, but will that change how it feels? It shouldn’t, according to Capybara. After all, the developer always intended the game to be on the Switch at some point, Capybara game director Dan Vader told Polygon.

“When we felt we had somewhat of a rhythm going [with Grindstone’s release schedule], we were like, ‘OK, now let’s talk about Switch,” he said. “That ended up being many, many months after launch.”

Ice Cave level of Grindstone on Nintendo Switch Image: Capybara Games

Capybara announced Tuesday that Grindstone is out later today on Nintendo Switch. It’s not simply be a straight-up port — taking the vertically oriented game and tossing it onto the horizontal console wouldn’t suffice. Instead, Capybara optimized the game specifically for it to fit on Nintendo Switch, optimizing how touchscreen controls and Joy-Cons are used.

“We had wild ideas at the beginning,” Vader said — stuff like allowing players to play with their Nintendo Switch held vertically, Downwell-style. “And it just felt like maybe we were overthinking it a bit.”

Grindstone on Nintendo Switch will look familiar to people that played it on Apple Arcade’s macOS platform. However, Capybara wanted to create something that felt better on Switch, which is how it decided which tweaks to make. For one, the game board is larger on Switch, whereas there was a lot of dead space on the Mac game. Icons, too, are spread across the screen in a more natural way, with a mini-map added to the main game screen.

Image: Capybara Games and Image: Capybara Games

“All this stuff is designed to be at reach for touch,” Capybara studio director Joel Burgess told Polygon. “You can just reach over with your thumb, and flip on gear and everything like that. It just feels a lot more natural.”

Grindstone actually has had controller support since the beginning, for people that play Apple Arcade on AppleTV. “But honestly, it wasn’t very good,” Burgess said. The user interface redesign is a large part in fixing that for Grindstone on Switch, so players that have the option to move freely between both touch and a controller, if it feels right. But for people playing docked, it was important that the purely Joy-Con-based play was right, too.

“We wanted to take advantage of the Switch specifically, and let people just play how they want and make both experiences feel good, and blend seamlessly between the two,” Burgess said.

With the transition to a new console, Capybara will still continue to support Grindstone on Apple Arcade — players still love it. Capybara expects that the audience on Nintendo Switch will be quite different, especially given the subscription barrier to access on Apple platforms. Updates will continue alongside on both versions of Grindstone into 2021, at least.

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