Category Archives: Work In Progress

Supporting iPhone and iPad Resolutions

I recently added a profile of my forthcoming game, Pawns for iPhone, to the website IndieDB. As I was generating screenshots I found to my dismay that I could not generate high-resolution screenshots of games in progress. The iPhone version of Pawns is currently hard-wired for iPhones in landscape mode.

I had planned all along to look into iPad and “retina display” support later on, possibly after the first release for iPhone. It never occurred to me that I would find those higher resolutions useful myself. Oops.

Even more embarrassing, the original version of Pawns supported many screen resolutions. It’s something I lost as I tuned the game for iPhone.

The original version used Unity’s GUI objects, which are always sized proportionally to the screen. To make the graphics crisper on the iPhone I had converted much of it over to UnityGUI. But pixel-correct textures come at the cost of needing to draw gui elements at every resolution that you will need them. The plan is to rebuild my gui elements at a much higher resolution and let them be scaled pretty much wherever they are used. Hopefully the result won’t be too blurry.

Isometric vs Perspective Camera

Recently I’ve been experimenting with using an isometric camera for Pawns for the iPhone.

Isometric views have always felt a little cheesy to me, for historical reasons. In the old days it was often used to fake 3D. Since things don’t get smaller as they move further away from an isometric viewpoint, you could use 2D sprites instead of drawing true 3D objects. This was useful when the graphics hardware was only good at drawing sprites. (For example, old arcade games like Q*Bert or Zaxxon painted their 3D graphics this way.)

The iPhone is of course perfectly capable of rendering true 3D. And with Unity I don’t gain any speed just by switching to a isometric view. Even so, the isometric view has a few advantages.

Firstly, the squares near the rear of the board are the same size as those in front, making it easier for the player to place arrows. Pieces in the back are also more visible this way.

I can also optimize the appearance of the 3D pieces. Under perspective it’s hard to make out the crosspiece on top of the king, for example, depending on the angle. In an isometric view the king’s rotation relative to the camera is always the same, whether it is on the left side of the board or the right. So each model only needs to look good from one angle.

This isn’t just a matter of aesthetics, or covering up my mediocre artistic skills. Pawns will not be fun on the iPhone unless each type of piece is instantly recognizable despite the small screen.

For that matter, with care I could improve the graphics by prerendering high-resolution chess models to make 2D sprites. This might improve their appearance- I’ve been having wrestling with lowering the polygon counts without having the pieces look too crappy. (A topic for a future blog entry, perhaps.)

Of course, if I go to billboarded sprites I can’t simply reposition the camera or lights whenever I feel like. And after seeing Pawns in perspective for so many years, I’m having a hard time getting used to the isometric look. Still, I’ll leave it this way for a while longer and see if it grows on me.

Pawns puzzle editor?

Now that the dust has settled down on the new website I can finally get back to developing Pawns. I recently reached the milestone of 50 puzzles (including the 9 tutorial puzzles), my original target goal.

For fun I made a private build of Pawns which allows puzzles to be defined in a text file. I gave this to a friend of mine, who soon designed two fun new puzzles of his own, the first ever Pawns puzzles not designed by me. Here’s a screenshot:
The first 3rd-party puzzle for Pawns

I’m delighted by this, but it presents me with a dilemma. It would be fun to create an editor for the puzzles and see what people come up with, but it would be a lot of work to support it. For starters, the Pawns engine will run most puzzles I throw at it, but certain complex situations confuse it. This is easily avoided when I design puzzles, but to support arbitrary puzzles from other people I’d have to rewrite the game innards. That’s on top of the effort to create a bulletproof editor, and a way to trade or submit puzzles.

Something you hear a lot these days is how fostering communities will make or break your game. And it’s true, some games take on a life of their own when the players are given the tools to extend them. I suspect Pawns is not one of those games. However, if you are someone who loves Pawns and want to try making puzzles for it, let me know.