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When you plan a game, or even when you already made a game, and its time to publish, you wonder how much of your audience is covered by the game technology demands.

I'm directing this essentialy to casual games, as I constantly see people having old laptops and being unable to replace them. Laptops with integrated cards whose OpenGL version doesn't even support textures larger than 1024x1024. These people may be avid gamers as well, and a reasonable share of the audience to consider giving them the chance to play casual games, once they cannot play any blockbusters.

As I've seen happening, a very "noticeable" example is Angry Birds. It's gameplay is merely casual (I think nobody disagrees here) and still, it uses so high resolution textures that at least OpenGL 2.0 or around is needed, which blocks away a lot of people.

So, the actual question is: what is a good tradeoff for this issue? Would it be better to just sacrifice the texture resolution for everyone, but have more supported hardware? Would it be better to keep the high quality and just slice the textures into smaller ones, sacrificing the performance a little bit? What else?

Any ideas about this topic are welcome for discussion.

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5 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

"It depends."

On a lot of factors.

First, there's the game style. If you're making Angry Birds 2 then, yeah, it would probably be in your interests to make sure it runs on everything. Your target audience may have a rather crummy computer and the larger you can cast the net, the better. Conversely, if you're making Quake 6: Gorestone Bloodbath, then you can probably get away with not running on a five-year-old platform. Your target audience wouldn't be caught dead with anything that old.

Second, there's the sheer game requirements. If you're making Angry Birds 3 and your design doc requires that each individual plank of wood be able to split apart into properly-simulated splinters, then your users will have to have a good computer, and therefore you can probably rely on your users have a reasonably good graphics card. (Especially with the new Intel integrated graphics.) Conversely, if you're making Bejeweled 3 . . . well, you could run Bejeweled on a wristwatch, so you don't get a free pass to say "yeah, we'll just require more".

Finally, there's your own resources. A one-man game studio doesn't have much time to spend to make sure the game functions on absolutely everything under the sun - it may be perfectly sensible to say "okay, we're going to require opengl 2.0, we'll pop up an error message that recommends updating drivers, we're just going with that." Conversely, if you're a 200-person AAA studio, you may find yourself doing compatibility tests on specific individual network cards.

In the case of Angry Birds, I would personally implement a fallback to split high-res textures apart, at the cost of some efficiency, and go with that. If I found that a significant number of users were hitting the fallback and then having a bad game experience - but not such a bad game experience that I felt it was unsolvable - then I might spend time on a better fallback. But I'd be spending far more time making a good game than trying to eke out percentage points of potential market share. A great game that 95% of humanity can play will sell a hell of a lot more than a mediocre game that 99% of humanity can play.

And finally, if you're an indie developer making artistic games, remember that the long tail is your friend. If your game is great, ten years from now people will still be buying it, and your "OpenGL 2.0, 2gb of RAM required" message will seem laughable compared to the bargain-basement 256gb RAM OpenGL 6.0 machines that Wal-Mart will be selling. I don't think this applies as much to the AAA or casual markets, though.

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Just look at what the big games do. They have the ability to scale. Some automatically, some manually.

Detect the capabilities of the platform you're trying to run on and adapt as best you can. Maybe ship with assets at different levels of detail and use the highest you can.

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Look at titles like World of Warcraft, do more artistically with fewer polys and shaders. My favorite example of this is the draw distance in the original Silent Hill, through the use of careful design most players barely notice the actual draw distance being so low, they are aware of it only as a game element.

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Always remember, who is your target audience.

If your game is a new fps, you can probably start working in it assuming DX11, just because anyone that plays fps games will put up with that restriction or already have upgraded.

If your game is casual, slow paced, your technology needs to be centred differently. Possibly around the idea of lowest common denominator hardware.

The point is: who are you trying to sell the game to?

In your question you allude to the audience being more casual gamer, in which case, find the lowest spec you are willing to work to, and then make the best game you can within those limits. Making a game that scales its graphical beauty with the spec of the machine detracts time from making your game pretty at all levels of tech. The best example I can think of is Plants Vs Zombies. There's no "super graphics" mode, and that's because the game was designed to be pretty without resorting to tech.

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Use Direct3D 9, not OpenGL.

That way you get to work on those machines with integrated graphics which have bad OpenGL support, you get to work on machines with OEM drivers that don't even have OpenGL support, and you get to spend less time dealing with driver bugs from AMD and Intel.

True, your platform support is now limited to Windows (although WINE may help some) but the number of computers you will potentially work on will be higher.

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