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The Resolution Question

  • Darken
  • 10/22/2018 06:29 PM
So if you're like me you've probably grown up with a lot of games that have been rendered in the 4:3 aspect ratio. SNES games especially with their 256x240 resolution (stretched by whatever tube TV you owned). When RM2K released it displayed on a 320x240 resolution which while somewhat wider was the close to the output anyway.

The right is what you probably experienced in the 90s

When moving outside of rpgmaker, issues crop up whenever I want to recreate this look (in 2D anyway). Wanting to do low res pixel art, but then doing proper integer based upscaling (meaning the image enlarges proportionately) is a task within itself. Fullscreen functionality also screws with this entirely. Hell even just getting retro emulators to adhere to these standards drives me insane. But through GameMaker Studio 2, I have developed a decent solution. Basically detect the monitor's resolution, upscale appropriately (through a specific method), use borderless, and you have a pretty robust way of getting a pixel art game displaying very crisp. Only problem is: monitors today are widescreen and vary on aspect ratio. Meaning if you integer scale in window mode, the player is going to see a bit of their desktop.

I've settled on the resolution of 480x270, a resolution that is exactly 1/4th of 1920x1080. According to Steam statistics, 1080p is used by 62% of its consumers and is likely the most popular gaming resolution. However if you have a monitor that is 720p, or anything that's not 16:9 well it's not going to completely cover your screen. The solution is to cover it up with black bars (which some OpenGL renderers tend to do) but I've not been able to find a way to properly implement that. I decided that what I have now is good enough and I should just make some damn games. But I'm not really making the blog post to talk about that.

Behold... the power. (480x270 vs 320x240)

Suppose I get the perfect integer method going. I settled on 480x270, however there is a small issue that lingers in my mind, and the method in how we perceive things. There are constant discussions on what's the best "modern" resolution for games with retro aesthetics. And this also comes down to preference and what we're used to.

Towards the end of the SNES SquareSoft era, character sizes were increased.

Consider these typical SNES games that we're used to playing. How far the player can see, the ratio between the player character's size and the size of the screen, how much can be fit or revealed on a single screen. These are things that largely affect the game design moreso than any of the technobabble I espoused. I would argue it even affects how you would design your maps. Upon testing and designing the areas of Nemoral I've started to notice the con of a widescreen retro resolution. Yes there's more real estate (hey it's free real estate *shrugs*), but it does make me wonder if 4:3 had a balanced look to it when it came to top down RPGs. You can see it in quite a few RMMV games where there seems to be a lot more space on the sides compared to earlier games.

In a platformer the widescreen view likely helps with issues like seeing what's in front of you. In fact if you especially dock the camera to show more of what's ahead the advantage of widescreen to retro games is unquestionable.

So I think the approach is maybe adapting to the widescreen resolution a bit. I've been using a lot of White Screw Assets that are for rm2k/3 games in mind. Which probably means hey, maybe characters should just be made slightly bigger and by extension the common tile size. There's also the case of controlling the camera to favor things that the player needs to see as opposed to just centering wherever the player character is (which is a science in itself).

One would wonder if the placement of tiles would have been different if the resolution had been different.

CrossCode in my opinion is the leading game in terms of representing what a lot of oldschool rm2k3ers hope to live up to. Not just the gameplay and how it adapts mouse control. (Anyone who made an ABS has probably imagined up this game to some degree). But also in how it adapts to modern resolutions. Just glancing at the screenshots the game looks to be about 568x320. Which is hilariously as tall as rm2k3's resolution rotated 90 degrees. But for example, the way it frames its character portraits is interesting, as if to box the cutscene happening on screen. This would be difficult to pull off on 4:3. I think studying how this game approaches a lot of things is a good pivot point.

Notice how the placements of the portraits give room for the ingame characters to breathe.

So what's my conclusion? Well not much really, you won't really see my thoughts reflected on my game as I've already made the size choices regarding its proportions. But I hope this game to be an interesting experiment or demonstration to how one would go from 4:3 to 16:9 and the sensibilities and preferences that come along with it. There are a lot of things that I've gained from finally getting around to GMS and leaving behind RM, but there are a lot of things to keep in mind as well. Considering that it's a horror game, being able to see things (or not) has affected a lot of my choices that went into the design and that inevitably gets tied to resolution. As I develop more games and develop more methods, maybe I'll come to a better understanding (and write an article about it idk).