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Drigovas

Designing for multiple monitors

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I have several monitors. Many of you likely have several monitors, but this is in no small part to the fact that we [most of us anyway] are developers in some branch, and are not what you would categorize as a 'casual user'. When I play games, I turn all but one screen off, because no game I've ever played actually takes advantage of multiple screens, and many of them behave strangely in the case of multiple screens [such as having a mouse cursor that falls off the full screen game and into the desktop to the side]. Many computer users don't have multiple screens though, so designing a game around them is a bit tricky. Part of the reason they don't have multiple displays is because developers like us don't actually support the second display, leaving it instead just sitting there. So the challenge becomes pretty obvious. What should the design of a games interface take into consideration when targeting an audience that *may* have multiple monitors? My current work enables the use of multiple monitors in a rather crude way. My project was a game with a free floating camera. Each screen was just a different view of the same world. It was helpful at times, because it enabled the player to pretty much be in two places at once, but it was still a bit of a unsophisticated use of the other screen[s]. It IS however, a solution that could scale arbitrarily, so if a player had a dozen screens, they could use them all if they chose.

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The major key would be in multiplayer games, where you shouldn't allow the presence of additional monitors provide a major advantage to those players and throw off the balance.

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For multiplayer games it is a bit trickier. But in all honesty, better hardware is going to provide you an advantage in nearly every situation, and not just for additional displays. In multiplayer though, how low do you set the bar beyond which you are going to render all additional resources useless? Having a display with the desktop shown could be an advantage as well in these cases...

Anyway, it's a bit of a side track. It could be argued that implementing bookmarking for cameras would level the playing field [to the extent to which it could be leveled] in the case that I mentioned.

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How exactly do you render in a fullscreen mode onto all monitors?

I hope you mean by using the video card driver's expand mode where it puts all the monitors together to form one high resolution virtual screen. For example, three 1280x1024 monitors create a 3840x1024 display.

That's the only way I know, are there others?

If you mean using that mode, then I guess a good approach would be to allow for any resolution, and make sure your HUD scales well. Most importantly, allow the game to place the HUD in an arbitrary position, to make it possible to have the HUD on the center monitor only (if it's a triple monitor setup). Of course, a proper FOV adjustment is a must.

I guess that's pretty much all you can do to ensure your game will look ok when stretched on multiple monitors. This applies to racing/flight sim games, and perhaps FPS.

I get the feeling you're thinking of more novel uses of multiple monitors (akin to the Nintendo DS), rather than properly stretching your one-screen game onto multiple monitors. In that case, I can't offer much advice... But I heard a strategy game Supreme Commander had some interesting support for dual monitors.

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Original post by shurcool
How exactly do you render in a fullscreen mode onto all monitors?
You can capture them as individual adapters, and display them individually. The whole virtual desktop thing works well for [certain] windowed applications, but for full screen stuff, you pretty much get stuck doing it yourself. If you want some more details, there are plenty of threads in the technical forums on this site about this subject. A quick search would turn up answers. Also, MSDN has lots of details, and if you have a DirectX SDK installed, it has full details as well in it's docs.

Anyway! Design! Implementation is left to the engineers.... what about designing for multiple monitor support. How would you utilize such a wide variability in your display resources?

[Edited by - Drigovas on July 25, 2008 3:23:02 PM]

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it would be nice to have your inventory screen and stats on another monitor and it wouldnt be that hard to implement.

I guess their is not enough demand. Supreme Commander supports multiple monitors but i'm not sure how it works.

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I suppose that the most obvious use of multiple monitors is to separate the main display from the information display. In a RTS or in a RPG, there are often mini-maps, character descriptions, inventories / list of resources, that could all be on the second screen to keep the primary display fully for the game.

Other than that, I think that management games where you need to keep an eye on many things ate once are a win there. In most trading floors, 6-screens setups are the standard, and that can go up to 8 or 10, because traders need to see tons of information at the same time. Air traffic controllers (military and civil) also have generally several screens, with for example one for the main radar display, one for the list of planes being managed, and one for general information.

I suppose you could actually make some pretty neat strategy game where you would play the role of the top general, and manage several battles at once while keeping an eye on your industrial output, your spies reports, the weather forecast (can change the outcome of a battle!), and your diplomacy staff. In that case, it is probably a win to provide a very configurable display, where the player can open a number of empty windows, and fill them with the individual controls. You'd need of course to provide a default 1 screen interface, and maybe a default 2 and 3 screens interface.

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Quote:
Original post by small_duck
I suppose that the most obvious use of multiple monitors is to separate the main display from the information display. In a RTS or in a RPG, there are often mini-maps, character descriptions, inventories / list of resources, that could all be on the second screen to keep the primary display fully for the game.


This is what I first thought of. I've recently got the new Advance Wars for the DS, which uses the second screen for stats on terrain and units or any other mission specific points of interest (such as a radar showing a missile approaching, or the "second front" of your battle such as the high-altitude battlefield for aircraft). For an RTS this is probably the best way to go. In an RPG, something like always having your inventory open could allow interesting use of items in the middle of the action etc.

http://www.gamethink.net/IMG/jpg/advance_wars_DS_2005.jpg

I suspect you might find some decent inspiration from DS games here, although many are a bit of a cop-out, using the second screen only for a map.



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Original post by WavyVirus
although many are a bit of a cop-out, using the second screen only for a map.
Which is a pretty big concern of mine. For the DS, there is a pretty strict budget on screen space, even with two of them, since they are so small. Monitors on the other hand, are pretty big. It seems wasteful to even use a second screen at all if you're just going to use it to store a tiny little bit of information in one corner of it, and leave the rest effectively unused. Even if you have enough information for two screens, what do you do if the user has 3?

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Original post by Drigovas
Even if you have enough information for two screens, what do you do if the user has 3?


Display a message "This is clearly a developer's system,... GET BACK TO WORK YOU LAZY SLACKER!"?

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