Ancient Frog on the iPad
By James on Friday 29 January 2010, 19:09 - Permalink
You may have missed it - the news slipped out pretty quietly - but Apple has announced a new product line.
The iPad is essentially a scaled up iPod touch, so naturally I'm interested in what it means for Ancient Frog.
According to the announcement (and my experiments in the simulator), iPhone apps work on the iPad straight out of the box, with no changes needed. However, since the screen is higher resolution (1024x768 instead of 320x480), and a different aspect ratio (4x3 instead of 2x3), such apps won't look their best. Below are a couple of mockups of what you'd see if you had an iPad right now and ran Ancient Frog on it. (All of the pictures are shrunk down to fit on your screen - click on them to see them full res.)
The first mode just runs the iPhone app at its original resolution, giving you a little window in the middle of the screen:
It also gives you the option to run it "2x" - doubling the size of each pixel (in each direction), so the app uses more of the iPad's screen (640x960 of it). This makes it bigger, but either blurry or blocky depending on whether or not the device is going to filter the image when it scales up. I suspect they'll go for blocky, which is what I've simulated here.
Now, neither of these options is particularly elegant or attractive. With a bit of fiddling around though, I can make the current iPhone application recognise the iPad and behave more like a native application on that platform. What I've done here is run it at 768x1024, but allowing it to letterbox slightly to retain the original aspect ratio (luckily the ragged border gives me a neat way to bring the edges in a bit, as well as a bit of room to lose some pixels top and bottom). This already looks way better than the previous shot - lots of elements are still blurry, but things that appear at varying scales in the game are already at a higher resolution. This means the text, the daisy and the particle effects are all crisp, which makes the whole thing seem higher resolution.
So that's good - I can put a bit of work into the current app, and release a free update that makes it play nicely on the iPad. But it's still blurry - what would be involved in making it look great on the new hardware?
That's where it gets a bit tricky. The work involved suddenly goes up by an order of magnitude. Every level has to be reworked, and I have to handle the original aspect ratio, as well as two new ones for the iPad (for portrait and landscape). The download size also goes up - currently I fit just under the 10MB limit that allows people to download over their phone. With the background textures doubled up, I'm over 20MB and start to lose impulse buys (as well as bloating out the app for everyone, regardless of whether they have an iPad).
So my plan is to leave it at that - an incremental upgrade to make the experience worthwhile on the iPad - and offer a separate, HD, version for iPad only. This will use the reworked levels I've been beavering away at for the last few months, and make use of its groovy auto-aspect-ratio handling (the desktop version can be stretched to all sorts of whacky resolutions without breaking the effect).
And here's the result:
It's work in progress (the lighting has yet to be graded correctly, and the particles are missing), but you get the idea. The full screen is used, the frog is back down to a more appropriate size for human fingers to prod at, and there's some nice little environmental stuff going on for you to play with.
It would be nice if there were a way to offer a cheap upgrade path for people who already have the iPhone version, and I'm looking at whether there's a clever way to do that.
I can't wait to get my hands on the physical hardware. I think there's going to be some very interesting times for gaming in the next few years.