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I have a 1280 x 1024 (4:3) resolution monitor. However, because my graphics card is absolutely horrible I have to play every game with the lowest possible settings.

Even then games barely run at more than 10fps. To increase this, I always use a 800 x 600 full-screen resolution So the game is actually stretched to my screen.

Assume now a player with a certain amount of skill in a first person shooter who has 2 setups:

  1. game running at 1280 x 1024 resolution with a 1280 x 1024 resolution monitor
  2. game running at 800 x 600 resolution with a 1280 x 1024 resolution monitor

In what setup would the player achieve the best performance?

I was thinking setup 2 because the same amount of content is stretched to a bigger surface, however reasoning further makes my brain hurt...

Note: there are similar questions about stretching resolutions on Arqade but unlike those I'm not interested in the effects on the graphics card.

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Are the fps rates in your two options meant to be the same? –  alnorth29 Feb 15 '13 at 13:58
Yeah, the fps shouldn't be the same, otherwise there wouldn't be any difference. Then you are better off running with the 1280x1024 if the fps stays the same. But it usually won't, lower resolution means higher fps, now by that number 2 would make a difference –  Lyrion Feb 15 '13 at 14:09
Simply disable stretching from your driver or BIOS settings. Screen stretching isn't free. –  badp Feb 15 '13 at 14:38
@Aarus can you please edit your question to make it more clear that you are asking about which screen resolution gives a gameplay advantage regardless of the framerate? Some people seem to have difficulties understanding that. –  Philipp Feb 15 '13 at 14:54
@Philipp Done, thanks for mentioning that. –  Aerus Feb 15 '13 at 15:48
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5 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Most first person shooter engines have a fixed FOV (Field Of View) angle. That means the screen from left to right always shows the same content regardless of screen resolution (usually about 90°).

So a lower resolution on a screen of the same size means basically one thing: larger pixels. Larger pixels mean less detail. That means on long range, a player with a higher resolution can perceive details which a player with a smaller resolution wouldn't. This gives him a distinct gameplay advantage on larger distances.

Also note that running a screen on a different resolution than what it was designed for will result in interpolated pixels which further reduces image quality which can also affect the players performance negatively.

An argument I read in a similar discussion several years ago is that bigger pixels means that you aim at larger targets and thus have an advantage. This is based on the wrong assumption that you hit what you see. This is wrong because hit detection is usually done with invisible hitboxes which aren't affected by the screen resolution of the player. In online gaming it's double-wrong, because the hit detection is done on the server, and the server doesn't even know the resolution the players are playing with.

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Just because you display the same content (in amount of polygons) doesn't mean you do the same work. Take shaders for example, they require more work on a higher resolution. –  Gnoupi Feb 15 '13 at 14:31
@Gnoupi But that wasn't asked! He was asking about the gameplay performance of the players. As in which player will win when both have an equal skill level. When you read the question gain you will see that he is making the assumption that both players have equal framerate but different resolutions. –  Philipp Feb 15 '13 at 14:40
@Philipp No i think he means, the same player with 2 setups, with which he will play better –  Lyrion Feb 15 '13 at 14:49
@Lyrion but he assumes that the player has exactly 20 fps with both setups, maybe because the first one is a slightly better system. –  Philipp Feb 15 '13 at 14:52
@Philipp - read too fast, indeed. Nevermind, then. –  Gnoupi Feb 15 '13 at 14:58
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As other said, mostly NO, BUT Some older singleplayer games used pixel precision aiming, it can be decided quickly by rendering everything black and only targets colored and ask color of pixel and its player friendly (if you see you should hit, you hit).

As sidenote: there can be benefit of using lesser graphical fidelity. Eg, no flare efects - you are not blinded by light, simple smoke in CS allowed to see through but better obscured much more.

And there can be small advantage in smaller resolution - if some texts are sized in pixels, they can be easier to read when pixels are bigger (but thats beneficial only with smaller native resolution). But that is not something that should have impact on player's performance in FPS (only on comfort)

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Just out of interest, what are some games that sue pixel precision aiming - not meaning to pick at your answer or anything, I have just never come across a game that does and am interested in an example –  Gareth Jones Feb 16 '13 at 6:50
I read this thing on some game developement forum as trick someone used, so I don't know where it was used. It could be some indie or very old game. Or I misunderstood or someone was kidding. –  user470365 Feb 16 '13 at 19:35
Ah ok. Fair enough –  Gareth Jones Feb 16 '13 at 19:37
About text readability not affecting player performance in FPS: This is not necessarily true. Many games tell you who kills who with text messages. When the player notices these messages more easily, it results in a better situational awareness which is especially important in team-oriented games. –  Philipp Mar 11 '13 at 9:32
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If both resolutions run with the same FPS, then setup 1 would be more beneficial. Because it has higher detail and the game will run just as smooth as setup 2.

But because it usually doesn't work that way, if setup 1 gives you 20fps, setup 2 might give you 30 fps. Then setup 2 would be better certainly in a fast action first person shooter.

Frame rates in video games refer to the speed at which the image is refreshed (typically in frames per second, or FPS). Many underlying processes, such as collision detection and network processing, run at different or inconsistent frequencies or in different physical components of a computer. FPS affect the experience in two ways: low FPS does not give the illusion of motion effectively and affects the user's capacity to interact with the game, while FPS that vary substantially from one second to the next depending on computational load produce uneven, “choppy” movement or animation. Many games lock their frame rate at lower but more sustainable levels to give consistently smooth motion.

In modern action-oriented games where players must visually track animated objects and react quickly, frame rates of between 30 and 60 FPS are considered acceptable by most, though this can vary significantly from game to game.

Gotten from : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frame_rate

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The only real reason to reduce resolution is to improve performance. A better solution is to upgrade your computer or reduce other settings in a way to balance smoothness (ideally you want 60 FPS, 20FPS is very bad, 30 FPS is passable but not good) and looks okay.

Higher resolution allows you to see much, much more detail (remember a resolution 2x as wide is actually 4x as many pixels). There's no "stretching the same amount of content" or anything as long as you're in full-screen mode. An object that is 1" wide on a 20", 480p display will be 1" wide on a 20" 1080p display. The only time "stretching" occurs is when you're in windowed mode and the window isn't taking up the full screen area.

There's basically no good non-performance reason to play at a lower resolution.

Additionally some people prefer to play some games at lower resolution since your mouse moves around the screen faster. This doesn't affect FPS games anyway due to how they accept mouse movements, but the proper way to fix that problem is to increase mouse sensitivity and/or DPI.

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In a competitive context you should always aim for the lowest settings available to you, optimising for the worst case frame rate. Having 120 fps while staring directly at a wall isn't going to do much for you if you have 7 fps in the heart of a battle and your opponent doesn't.

On the other hand, only a few problems come to mind when you're not using your screen's native resolution:

  • If you're in full screen mode but the resolution isn't native, application switching back and forth may take forever and Windows really does have to tell you about the downloads it has installed right now!
  • If you're in windowed mode, you'll occasionally be clicking outside of the window instead of firing a shot - but alt-tabbing back in is very much faster than the alternative.
  • The GUI may become unreadable/unusable at low enough resolutions
  • Very long range sniping, where the enemy head can literally be only a couple of pixels

Things will steal your focus from the game at the most inopportune time no matter what, and fullscreen at lowered resolutions gives you the worst possible scenario. However, you can fix this simply by not using full screen.

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Often the lowest possible settings are lower than what the in game ui lets you choose. This depends on the specific game however. –  badp Feb 15 '13 at 14:57
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