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Content complete, and screen size design

Hey all,

More SaGa updates and design stuff. Things are still moving along at a decent enough rate, and the game has actually been content-complete for a month now. I'm just working on some polish items and awaiting playtest feedback. With a full release probably coming before too long, I’ve taken down the demo as it’s no longer really indicative of the whole game. Hang tight!

On to the design item… I’ll cover screen size, resolution, map layout, and all that stuff. The essential problem here is that the original Gameboy has a resolution of 160 * 144, or 10 * 9 tiles. The monitor I’m using to write this post has a resolution of 1920 * 1200, or 120 * 75 tiles. Let’s say I’m dumb and just use the original resolution. Here goes!

Okay, that doesn’t look so hot. I like pixel art, but this is something like a 12x scale factor, and it makes it hard to see what’s going on on the screen. Instead of blowing up the individual tiles to match the Gameboy resolution, why don’t we just extend the viewport? We’ll keep tiles at 16 pixels by 16 pixels, but display more of them to fill the larger space of my desktop monitor.

This... doesn’t work so well either. The viewport is so ridiculously big that the player can see off one side of the world while standing on the other. It’s hard to see in the preview image, but it’s also difficult to make out individual details of the tiles. Even though the tiles are still 16*16 pixels like the Gameboy version, their effective size is smaller.

It looks like SaGa 4 won’t have full screen support, then. (well, it will, but you’re crazy if you use it in my opinion.) So we have to put together a windowed solution. A 160*144 window sitting in the 1920*1200 monitor doesn’t actually look all the great either because of the effective size problem, unless you like putting your face three inches from the screen. Instead, we’re opting for a combination of upscaling (tiles are 16*16 scaled to 32*32) and viewport expansion (20*15 tiles instead of 10*9) tiles to present a Gameboyish experience that’s appropriate for a monitor. All the screenshots up on the page are in this resolution.

We also considered a scaling strategy sometimes seen on emulators. All of these screenshots have been using a straightforward scaling algorithm that simply turns a 1*1 pixel into a 2*2 pixel with no inference. Instead, we could use a scaling shader like Scale2EX to blow up the image a bit while preserving some of the pixelyness. It was originally designed to work on 32-bit titles where the blockiness was a little less pronounced, and it works pretty well there.

SaGa not as much though. Having only four (well, eight) colors limits the effect a bit.

So now that we’ve decided on straight scaling, there are still a couple of design considerations aside from just graphics. Field of vision was important to a lot of the mazes and dungeons in the original games, and replicating them at the same size in SaGa 4 just wouldn’t feel right. For instance, here’s two field-of-view obstacles as they’d appear on the Gameboy compared with how they’d feel in our window.

Things get a little more obvious. If I want to make a similar puzzle in SaGa 4, I have to expand the map a little to keep the treasure chest or exit stairwell out of the player’s sight radius. With a bigger map, there’s more space to cover. With more space, there’s more tiles, and more chances for a random encounter. So the encounter rate has to be reduced. If we used the original 1 in 12 encounter rate (ew) you’d be looking at four times the encounters as in an average playthrough of SaGa. Clearly scaling things up from older platforms has consequences. As an aside, I think this the reason for one of the most egregious encounter rates of all time: the RM2K/3 default:

If you ever used this encounter rate in your 20*15 tile RPGmaker game, I hate you.


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It's too bad so many of the puzzles in the original SaGa games used extremely simple "ohhh it's just off screen" puzzles and/or secrets. If you are going to be using a larger viewing windows, I'd suggest doing what SaGa 2 did in the Hidden Ruins (the first real dungeon): Use lots and lots of rooms (each with their own ceiling) to hide things in. I think it'd probably end up being a slightly more elegant solution than ending up with really, really big maps that are mostly devoid of content.

It's a shame for older-style games that we've moved away from 4:3 aspect ratios being standard, since straight scaling was super easy and effective back then. With widescreen monitors (especially ones like my shitty laptop monitor) it's an eternal struggle trying to decide on 2x scaling, where I can't see anything, or 3x which doesn't actually quite fit my screen vertically. I cri every tiem.

edit: I'm not knocking "just out of view" secrets, as I use the liberally in my game and support their inclusion, it's just a shame that they don't work as well on fancy modern technology.
I'd consider making the resolution 16x9 16 pixel tiles: 240x144, and then force-upscale it. I think it's the GBA resolution. Still, I'm sure your way is going to be effective!
@Kaempfer: Yeah the hidden rooms are turning out really useful. Even the first cave/dungeon thing they're working similar to that underwater maze from FFL1. Plus we have some of those rooms from FFL3 where there's an overhead section next to a wall that doubles as a secret room.

@JoSeraph: I might play around with allowing resizable windows (within reason) or at least full screen mode. Only problem is it'd break some of our UI, mainly the shops and special stuff like mana mixing or party ordering or whatever that I very haphazardly hardcoded.
oh I am thoroughly against resizing the game screen.
And full screen mode, at least for me, is essential. But I'm sure its easy to get away with full screen stretching! I literally NEVER play anything without full screen. Like, ever. ever ever ever. At least not more than 5 minutes.
Haha, yeah, there's an old config flag back from the Rainfall days that stretches everything to fullscreen. Still works. I can at least patch it up so that there's letterboxing though.
I'd be fine running it scaled up in full screen with letterboxing! I'm used to playing older games with those huge black bars on either side (as it often/always looks better than stretching it out). Then again, I'm also happy enough running it in a window. Just so long as those delicious pixels are where they're supposed to be...
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