iPhone 5 arrives - game developers react to the 4-inch screen
By Mark Brown 13 September 2012
Game Name: iPhone 5 | Manufacturer: Apple | Format: iPhone
The iPhone 5's stretched-out screen could be one of the biggest challenges that iOS developers have ever faced.

176 extra pixels might not sound like much, but it means that game makers will have a dramatically different aspect ratio to target, and that any current game that's not optimised for the 4-inch display will be flanked by two black borders.

Plus, it brings a whole new level of fragmentation. Developers will now have to design their games for five different resolutions: from regular iPhone to Retina display iPad. Sounds like a pain in the tuckus to us.

But, what do we know, eh?

So, anyway, Pocket Gamer sat down with some notable iOS developers to talk about the iPhone 5 (and fifth-generation iPod touch) and find out how they'll tackle that bumper display.


"At this point, there are so many resolutions and aspect ratios that it makes sense to build all of our games with resolution independence in mind and to create our art with sizing in mind," Alex Schwartz, of Jack Lumber developer Owlchemy Labs, says.

Games and apps that aren't updated for the iPhone 5's new aspect ratio will have bulky black bars on either side of the screen.

"We want everyone to have a great experience playing our games, so doing an update is pretty high up on our list of things to do," Schwartz states.

"This, of course, takes time and money, but it's pretty much expected at this point."

From his time working on Android games, Organ Trail: Director's Cut creator Ryan Wiemeyer knows all about supporting multiple screen sizes: "None of those screen sizes are standardised," he explains.

"We designed our game and will always design all our games around a flexible resolution. Since we released for Android, that was a must."


Developer Lucky Frame, of Bad Hotel fame, discussed the new screen size before Apple's announcement: "It was pretty clear what was going to come out," studio director Yann Seznec quips.

Seznec adds that it probably won't tweak or modify any of its existing games, though.

"It's unlikely that we will go back and change any of our previous apps to take advantage of the bigger screen. It's nice that Apple [has] made sure that existing apps will work fine on the new screen, and it doesn't seem like as big of a problem as the shift from non-Retina to Retina."

These changes are annoying for developers, Seznec says, but it's Apple's world, so you "have to play by [its] rules". Lucky Frame will take the increased screen size of the iPhone 5 into account during the design of its future games.


Randy O'Connor won't be updating his zombie defence game Dead End to support the new screen, but that's not down to restraints on time or money - it's for gameplay reasons.

"I made a single-screen game and I share leaderboards across all devices. Creating full-screen gameplay both on iPad and iPhone means there are differences in level layout and, thus, how levels play out, due to aspect ratio. Adding a third aspect ratio would create even more disparity in a player's scoring capabilities."

Basically, he's saying that gamers on a 4-inch display would be able to see the incoming undead enemies earlier, and have an unfair advantage over players on older, smaller-screened devices. In this instance, therefore, the multiple screen sizes create an uneven playing field for gamers.


Simon Flesser, from Swedish studio Simogo, isn't all that impressed with the update. "The aspect ratio change feels more like a change for the sake of changing stuff, so that people feel like they are getting something new even though the changes are pretty minimal."

"176 pixels won't change much when creating assets or developing the actual game - for us it is much more of a design issue."

For 2D games, especially, a new aspect ratio can mean making new assets or rethinking entire screens.

Upcoming Simogo game Year Walk is safe because of the studio's own letterbox design, but "regarding our previous games we have not yet decided anything," Flesser says.

"Bumpy Road would probably look very nice on the wide screen." Yes. Yes, it would.
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