Let me try something new. A “Dev Diary” entry.
As always, I was working on “SUPER TANK WARS!!” this weekend. I reached one of those points in development, where you have to make a decision. I had been to such points before and they are always kinda freaking me out. This time, I had the “joy” of deciding on STW!!’s native resolution. For the 3rd time. (*sigh*).
Originally, I was going with 640 x 360 pixels. Since I will go for a retro look with pixel art, which I love (and I don’t care if others use pixel art as well), resolution is crucial. My initial thought regarding 360p was that it would allow pixel perfect scaling to 720p, 1080p, 1440p, and 4k by multiplying the pixels via “nearest neighbour” upscaling. Just multiply the pixels with a clean integer value and you have nice, crisp pixels. Basically a great idea.
But then, I began to doubt. 360 height may be a bit huge. Since I wanted a retro look and feel, I started to compare video output of consoles such as the SNES and they all had something between 224 and 240 pixels in height. This bugged me. A lot! So I started calculating. Another resolution I came up with was 480 x 270 pixels. This would scale to 1080p and 4k, but not to 720p or 1440p as a clean integer. I primarily want to target TV resolutions, since I HOPE to make STW!! a console game eventually. So leaving out HD ready 720p TVs? Not an option, I thought. So I started implementing two resolution variants – if the display is 720p or 1440p, it would use 640 x 360 and 480 x 270 on 1080p and 4k. This, in turn, was achieved by showing / hiding a safe zone of the screen. This, in turn, meant that people with 720p would see more than people with 1080p. Pretty much pissed me off and likely would do the same for a lot of players. Also, 270 pixels height was still too much, somehow. At least I felt like this. I then did more research and added arcade hardware to the list of suff to check. I came across the Capcom Play System II (a.k.a. CPS2). Street Fighter Alpha 2, being one of its titles, is a major inspiration for me, especially (pixel) art-wise. So this system has a native resolution of 384 x 224. And then I calculated and came up with cutting the height to 216 pixels. So 384 x 216 would scale perfectly to 1080p and 4k and look like Street Fighter Alpha 2! “COOL!” did I think (little did I know). So I spent a weekend on converting the resolution to 384 x 216. It looked okay in 720p / 1440p as I kinda gave up on the “support every resolution pixel perfectly” idea. But this was when game design collided with art style. The sprites were too big for the rest of the screen. STW!! isn’t Street Fighter Alpha. Not at all. I knew that from the start, but now I realised that its resolution also HAD to differ. However, it did take me weeks of playtesting to come to this conclusion. Not much damage done, since I worked on different stuff in the meantime, no assets that I had to redo, except for a very few exceptions such as the title screen. So, lesson learned. You can’t always have it all – retro resolution as well as your desired gameplay that is – if fundamental things collide. What did I do this weekend? I spent it changing the resolution back – to 360p…
Even though I might sound regretful, I actually am not. This was an important thing for me to learn and while I had my doubts on the native resolution before, I am now 100% certain, that I will keep it like this. STW!! still looks retro, its pixel art still looks awesome and I overcame a big doubt inside my head. Win!
Conclusion: If you do pixel art dependent games, test the hell out of it and decide on a resolution as soon as you can – but DO playtest it!!
Title screen in 384 x 216 px