Flash Games: dimensions, resolution and screen size

What's been on my mind today is the size of Flash games. Not the minutes of gameplay, number of levels or the file size, but the amount of physical screen-size the game occupies. There are 2 competing forces pulling in opposite directions here - the world of slick experiential websites as showcased by thefwa is trending towards high-resolution, full-screen, immersive experiences, and many of these sites are games. On the other hand, there is the world of game-portals and indie-developers keeping resolutions lower, where the game only occupies a part of a larger HTML layout. Here's some positives and negatives of each approach:

High Resolution (i.e. 800px+ in width, often full-browser or even full-screen)

  • More immersive.
  • Occupy a decent percentage of a high-resolution monitor.
  • More room for gameplay elements and user interface.
  • Greater detail possible in artwork.
  • Artwork right-size to port to console
  • Slower performance.
  • No keyboard support in full-screen before FP10.
  • No room for anything else on the page.
  • May not actually fit on monitors of netbooks / older computers.
Low Resolution (i.e. 400-700 pixels wide):

  • Much faster performance / less variation between new and old computers.
  • Leaves room to sell advertising around the game (decide for yourself if this is a good thing).
  • More flexibility for use on HTML pages - e.g. "Add this to my site" embedding etc.
  • Pixel art looks better in low-res games.
  • Artwork right-size to port to mobile / iPhone
  • Games get completely lost on high-resolution monitors, especially laptops where the pixel-density can be much higher (e.g. on 15inch screen with a 1800 pixel width, the average Flash game is only a couple of inches wide)
  • Less immersive, further away from the console experience
It's a tricky problem with no right answers. I think a wide-screen format of something like 760x400 works quite well across all devices and is a good compromise. I haven't checked the exact numbers, but many portals are still restricting to around 640 pixels wide, presumably so they can sell add-space around the game and maximise the number of devices that can see the content, and Kongregate needs to fit in their chat window, for example. I think this restriction is a bit of a shame.

But hold on a minute! Flash is a re-scalable technology, right? So can't we make games that work at any size? Well, yes and no. Vector graphics scale nicely, but performance suffers at higher resolution. Bitmaps scale up smoothly but aren't so great scaled down (Remember to turn allow smoothing on in your library and/or code!). For pixel art there is the option of turning smoothing off, too. There is hardware scaling on full-screen mode, but text and some graphics start to look a bit strange to me. I think the ideal situation might be to be able to build your game at 1280x720 (720p) and scale down to the correct window size. This is how XNA handles both HD and SD TVs when publishing for Xbox. I don't think the current generation of computers is quite up to this in Flash though, without hardware acceleration. In general Flash does do a much better job at upscaling than you would expect, and if you build with rescalability in mind, it's a bit more work, but you can generally pull it off. Portals should maybe start offering the option to have alternative resolutions - like Flashkit used to!

Do we mind playing tiny games on our huge monitors? Should a Flash game be thought of more like playing a gameboy or iPhone within a window than a playing a traditional PC or console game? Leave your thoughts in the comments please!


Lawrie said…
It's interesting that you posted this on the same day that Emanuele Feronato posted this - http://www.emanueleferonato.com/2009/04/20/the-perfect-size-for-a-flash-game/
It's obviously something we're all thinking about. I'm still undecided though.
I'm keen to try making some larger and even full screen games, but realise they'll be hard to distribute as they won't run on the majority of portals.
Anonymous said…
Low resolution should not mean that it's lost on high resolution displays. Because if a display is running a high resolution, it should be because it's a big display, and therefore the pixels shouldn't be much smaller if smaller at all. If people are running a resolution so high that things get small, then they have that problem with everything else too on webpages and programs they use, and it's not really something for a game developer to worry about.
nadav said…
hi iain,

now that you told me the size of the screen , what about resolution? 72 dpi? 164 dpi?

please send answer to nadi.bar@gmail.com

thanks a lot

Iain said…
The supposed resolution of a screen is typically 72 or 96 DPI, but Flash doesn't really have a DPI, so there's no point in thinking about it in those terms. Just think about it in terms of pixels.
hyperbola said…
Wider, bigger games are better. They allow for more detail, better artwork and are simply more enjoyable than playing simplistic small sized games (in my opinion only!).

As tech continues to evolve, we should be looking at broadening our apps and I mean size wise.

In-game type advertising is also another method to circumvent the inability to advertise around a game if the size is too large.