Thursday, July 11, 2013

5 myths of screen resolutions

I'll freely admit this post is written with only one thing in mind: the arguments people sometimes use when defending using lower resolutions for their visual novels. Often, those are based on either inaccurate observations or misunderstood information. I want to point out some of the more common 'myths' and discuss why they aren't true.

     1.  Downscaling is destructive.
This theory states that downscaling for whatever reason is incredibly destructive. By putting out a low resolution of the visual novel, all can play the game windowed on native size or upscale in full-screen mode.

In fact, it is downscaling which is preferable. With downscaling, the scaling algorithm can look at the neighbouring pixels and average those out. With upscaling, there are no surrounding pixels to go by, so all the computer can do is some glorified guesswork. This causes either a blocky or a blurry appearance.

Of course, that doesn't mean we should all put out full HD games, either. Upscaling a little is of course preferentially to downscaling a lot, since most scaling algorithms aren't good enough to handle a large factor. It is best to sit somewhere in the middle of your expected audience's computer resolution, so people will have to scale as little as possible. If it is possible, you can look into offering multiple resolutions.

     2.  High resolutions cost more work to draw.

The amount of strokes needed for both low-resolution and high-resolution are of course the same - the main difference is the amount of pixels in between the two strokes. You might want to add some more detail to take advantage of the higher resolution, though. 

     3.  High resolutions are too big in file size

Another often heard argument is that higher resolutions are too big in file size, causing longer downloading times for the user.

The effects high resolutions have on file size is quite minimal. For example, let's take a look at the  optimized image files of 'Days of the Divine', which are roughly ~260 images:

1920x1080      40,4 MB
1280x720        23,4 MB
1024x576        17,9 MB

Something important to keep in mind here is the word 'optimized' above. The original 1920x1080 .png image files are a whopping 217 MB, but there is no reason not to use at least a little optimization if you're worried about file sizes. While the many ways to optimize are too complicated to explore swiftly, using compressed .jpg images where there is no notable difference and basic compression when exporting images is far more rewarding than using lower resolution sprites. 

     4.  It's what Japan does

They don't, or at least not anymore. Although PC gaming in Japan is relatively niche compared to the West (and with it high-end computers), a more important factor is the fact that once a translation patch is released and word of mouth has started spreading, the VN is already a few years old. Most recent VNs from Japan are at least in 1280x720, so there is no reason we should stay behind. 

     5.   Nobody cares about higher resolutions

There are enough people that do. No-one uses 800x600 monitors anymore, and playing a lower-resolution game on a higher-resolution monitor is choosing between seeing a small post stamp on your desktop or going full-screen, ruining the images due to upscaling. Even if it was once acceptable, times change and your audience does too.

While there can be legitimate reasons to choose for smaller resolutions (one example being stock art being harder to locate for higher resolutions), keep in mind some people will care, so think for yourself if it's worth it in the end.



  1. Thank you for this post! We had started our VN at 800x600, but I think I will go back and redo the backgrounds (sprites aren't done yet) for a higher resolution. What are the benefits of including multiple resolutions vs. just one larger resolution?

    1. The benefits of including multiple resolutions are that it's less hard on the game/engine itself, so you prevent possible slowdown. On top of that it looks prettier because it doesn't have to be scaled inside the engine; you can pre-scale images yourself and even check how it looks to ensure the quality.

      It's especially useful if you're using 1920x1080 too, because downscaling a lot inside the engine with this resolution can give you problems like slowdown and quality loss much faster. Plus, 1280x720 and 1024x576 are common enough that scaling is often not even necessary.

      I'm not sure how Ren'py handles it, but NVList has an image optimiser which does these things for you automatically.

    2. Thanks for the help! I may just go with an intermediate 1280x720 (I don't think Ren'py is as flexible with multiple resolutions as NVList).

    3. Totally late on this reply, but I believe newer versions of Ren'Py can take advantage of the GPU, therefore downscaling should not have any performance issues, even on something like the old Intel 945GMA. (this is assuming that the GPU-assisted rendering was implemented properly in the engine)

      In other news, the resolution thing in VNs is something I've been pretty adament about for a while now - in fact directly mentioned it to the Katawa Shoujo devs in IRC even before Act 1 was released; their response was #3 (filesize) and #4 (Japan standard) on your blogpost.

      (fun fact: I found this blogpost by searching "visual novels 1024x576" because I think that's a silly resolution and not really an upgrade at all from 800x600)

  2. It's fascinating to hear about the hang-ups and preferences of a community. Are people really discussing resolution with these arguments/myths? It all sounds so incredibly insular.