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Universal vs separate HD version

04-22-2011, 02:41 PM
Joined: Dec 2009
Posts: 1,282
Universal vs separate HD version

Seems like there's been quite a bit of talk about universal versions and HD versions of games. Frequent forum readers here probably know how I feel about the issue already, I've posted comparison screens of several notable releases.

My question is to programmers and artists. What reason is there behind releasing a game as two separate apps? This is coming from someone whose never made an iOS game before, so maybe the answer is obvious. Also, it's more about apps that look like direct upscales, rather than those that have added features in an HD version.

I understand that Apple limits the upscaling of retina graphics on an iPad, but programs like FullForce can make a nearly perfect upscaling of a large number of games, even those without retina. I won't post the pictures here again, but Gameloft, Firemint, and EA are the studios that come to mind when I think of the comparisons I've made in their threads.

Seeing what FullForce and RetinaPad do makes me wonder if it's only because of money, or lack thereof, or if there's some technical limitation.

If any developers can shed some light on this I'd appreciate it.
04-22-2011, 04:07 PM
Joined: Nov 2008
Location: Sweden
Posts: 164
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I'll take a stab - although mine is just one voice and my opinion.

Even with 3d game engines "automatically upscaling", it is still a huge amount of work to make games that look great on iPads. This can be somewhat problematic to control with multiple versions of art (textures and models) and especially controlling it so it runs on 1st+2nd generation hardware that has very very limited memory. E.g. for Tactical Soldier we simply could not get it down to approx 40 mb runtime. The textures simply took too much memory when they also had to look crisp on the iPads (we did a universal build on this one with 1 set of art).

For 2d games, you'll most likely have to redo the entire art to look nice. Again huge amount of work.

Technically its just easier in many ways to have 1 set of "low quality" art copied in and release as iPhone version and then a higher quality set for the HD version. In many ways a simple replace of existing files and you dont have to worry about dynamically switching between one and the other without eating double RAM (+ download size might come into play too).

End of the day its down to money too - no doubt in my opinion. iPhone games sell for $1-2 before lots of gamers crying out that we rip them off. iPad games can go up as high as $10 without much fuzz.

Because it can be crazy expensive to make something look super good on the iPad (to warrant the higher prize), a universal build can go the middle ground. We can have 1 set of "nice" graphics released at a middle price. Under the excuse of them giving you gamers 1 build only that can be used on both platforms.

So its a trade off. Do you want to spend extra development money to make super good looking and then release it at a higher iPad price + a lower quality art set at low money? Or release one version at a medium price with medium artset as a universal build.

There are lots and lots of other reasons too. if you have 2 builds, you can release them separately (e.g. once you've seen that its a hit on iPhones you can spend the money on developing a higher quality/price iPad version). Risk management.

One can also run separate deals on 2 versions. Much harder to make a iPhone only sales when you got a universal.

One might also see the iPhone version as a marketing tool to get people to pay for the iPad/HD version.

Lastly for 2 different versions you should also make 2 different UIs that take more advantage of the extra screenspace. Again this costs lots of money to do. Something a universal build can get away with too being "just" scaled.

Doesnt cover all reasons, but I guess those are some of the thoughts I have had.

The problem here, is that many high quality games cost in excess of $50-100k to make. Average sales of a game is maybe $4-5k (looking at Apples released info on number of apps + amount of $ paid to developers). Its a huge risk to make high quality games for iOS for small time developers like us.

So universal builds I think is a way to manage risks. Trade away the ability to sell 2 copies and controls things better to have less expenses making the games and hopefully hopefully make back some of your money that allows you to make the next game + eat.

Dunno if that makes sense


Thomas Hentschel Lund - Full Control ApS
ElectroCute, Smack Boxing, TouchWars, Monster Ball, Smack Hockey, Tactical Soldier, Frontline Tactics, Space Hulk
04-22-2011, 09:44 PM
Joined: Dec 2009
Posts: 1,282
That makes sense to me, for the most part.

I'm sure there's a lot of case by case situational stuff that determines wether it'll go the universal route or not.

I'm still interested in Gameloft though. If a hack like FullForce can make, for example, Modern Combat 2 run smoother on an iPad than the HD version does, is money the only factor? They're a well known and established company at this point, so I can't imagine them not being able to make most of their games universal fairly quickly.

I'm sure it comes down to their bottom line though. Business is business.
04-25-2011, 01:28 PM
Joined: Apr 2010
Location: Germany & Tokyo
Posts: 1,101
I would be interested how Retina weighs into the upscaling problem?
Is it better or worse?

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