I'm currently designing a competitive 2D, side-scrolling multiplayer game and I want support full screen play at any aspect ratio (e.g., 4:3, 5:4, 16:10, 16:9). Doing that is not so much a problem, my concern is that the viewable area of the game for a player with a 4:3 monitor will differ from that of a player with a 16:9 monitor quite a bit. In a competitive multiplayer game where being able to see more of the game world gives a player a significant advantage over players who cannot this is a serious problem.

So far I've come up with two possible solutions for this:

  1. Just support different aspect ratios and don't worry about it.
  2. Pick a specific aspect ratio (say 16:9) and do a best fit on all other aspects (i.e., letterbox or pillarbox)

Option 1 doesn't suit me because it's a lazy cop out. Option 2 is much better but then a portion of the screen will be unused for some players. Certainly not the end of the world but not incredibly desirable either. This could be mitigated by rearranging the UI based on the aspect ratio and filling the letter/pillarbox with UI elements instead of simple black bars making better use of available screen real estate.

How is this sort of thing handled in games like Quake, CoD, StarCraft and Battlefield?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you investigated how other games such as some popular RTS games handle this problem? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mokosha
    Mar 15, 2013 at 23:34
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You'd also have to worry about screen resolution, wouldn't you? And the size of the monitor? What about performance? If a player has inferior hardware, they might only get 15 fps, should you then limit everyone else to that? I'm not sure "lazy cop out" is accurate, this is a big reason why gamers buy newer, better hardware. In my opinion you're picking one disadvantage and focusing on it, there are plenty of others you won't have control over. \$\endgroup\$
    – House
    Mar 15, 2013 at 23:35

1 Answer 1


Basic rule of thumb is: Don't artificially handicap the player.

It is each players own decision if they want to invest into better hardware so they can play the game better.

You wouldn't limit the framerate to 30 so that people with better GPU have no advantage over people with a bad GPU due to more fluid gameplay, you wouldn't limit the update rate of the input so that people who invested in better mouses or keyboards would have no advantage. It's not your role as game designer to play the judge for those who like to play competitively with sub-optimal hardware.

The games you mentioned do nothing, and as far as I know there are no games who do such a thing. There maybe a few games who make the amount of displayed content independent from the resolution, but most likely out of reasons of artistic control not because of the idea of fairness.

If the limited amount of visible information is important for the gameplay, you might want to apply techniques like "Fog of War".

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    \$\begingroup\$ Arguably the biggest competitive game ever did interfere though. StarCraft rendered on a fixed resolution of 640x480, which was fairly low even back in 1998, because the developers wanted to level the playing field. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 16, 2013 at 23:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarcksThomas I don't think StarCraft was was designed to be competitive from the beginning, it just happened to be. Competitive play was basically nonexistent at that time. The same goes for multiple resolutions, in that time most games were only set up for one particular resolution, there might have been a few which had a choice of 1 or 2 resolutions but that wasn't that common. \$\endgroup\$
    – API-Beast
    Mar 16, 2013 at 23:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Letterboxing is a form of "fog of war". \$\endgroup\$ Jan 7, 2015 at 5:37

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