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Making Skyrim look and run better
Thursday, November 10, 2011 10:22 PM
I'm sure a lot of you have started playing Skyrim and noticing...well, it doesn't exactly do our video cards proud. Sooo...some tweaks!
- In the UI, make sure to click the 'Advanced' button and enable the more advanced features, there, after choosing the 'Ultra' quality option. Enable FXAA, for example. And check any of the reflection options not enabled, as well as cranking any video options not currently maxed.
(Note that I am, specifically, disabling the regular AA modes - setting that to 'None' - so as to make the absolutely gorgeous ambient occlusion tweak still result in usable performance. And then I use FXAA, instead. Using FSAA instead of FXAA...or in combination with it...may be possible for Geforce 580s, but it's really not for 560s or 570s. And since the game doesn't seem to work with SLI...)
- Next, you'll want to tweak some .ini file settings.
The user Skyrim .ini file is located in the folder:
NOTE THAT THIS IS THE LOCATION IT USES, EVEN IF YOU'VE MOVED YOUR 'MY DOCUMENTS' FOLDER IN WINDOWS.
There are two settings, that even on 'Ultra High' quality aren't enabled by default in that file:
...you'll definitely want to turn those on:
Increasing particles rendered on-screen at once seems like a decent idea. In the section: '[Particles]', there is a value: iMaxDesired=750
...I bumped that to 1500 (doubling it)
The shadows are also a little odd. There is an option to adjust their softness/sharpness in this file. The value:
...determines blur level of the shadows. I increased that to '5' to make the edges softer, and IMHO that helps some.
You can also increase the sample passes used for water rendering. This definitely makes the water in the game look MUCH nicer. In this value, the value:
...can be changed to '8'.
Range that some objects are rendered at can be improved quite a bit as well, which helps 'flesh out' the horizon:
...can be changed to:
And the tree render distance can be adjusted as well:
...can be changed to:
- Adding this as a new line item, because it's a tweak very much a matter of opinion/balance on, although it's in the same SkyrimPrefs.ini file referenced above.
The shadow details are apparently controlled by two variables in the .ini file (for internal vs external). For a comparison of what this tweak does, a user posted a video on Youtube:
Now, here is the problem with the tweak. What you are doing to increase the shadow resolution is decreasing the distance the rendered shadows render. Substantially. The default value is '8000' for external shadow distance. The above video was set with it reduced to '400' (and no other changes - that's the ONLY thing changed, distance that exterior shadows render). Clearly, having shadows pop into view as you close on objects will be...very odd looking, so I recommend a balance of settings (and note that interior and exterior distances can be managed distinctly):
If you wanted to change these to 'sharpen' close shadows, perhaps use values such as these:
...although, in fact, I'm preferring to INCREASE the shadow distance in order to provide some more 'depth' to distant objects.
Exterior Range = 4000 (reduced) vs Exterior Range = 8000 (default) vs Exterior Range = 16000 (increased)
- You'll PROBABLY want to disable the mouse acceleration, too, assuming you have a fairly high DPI mouse and would rather just crank the mouse speed without dealing with the...very console-like acceleration. That's the value in this file:
...change that to '0'.
- You can disable v-sync in the same folder structure, but a different file:
You'll notice there is a '[Display]' block in that. Add a new line to that block as the last line:
(you do need to add that, it won't be there by default)
- Assuming you are tied of the tunnel vision in the game, and want to adjust your field of view to something more common to shooters (and useful on widescreen monitors), this is pretty easy to do.
In the file:
...add the following line to the [General] section at the bottom:
(where 'XX' is the FOV you want)
In the file:
...and add the following 2 lines to the [Display] section:
(as above - 'XX' is the desired FOV)
Finally, load up a saved game and hit the tilde key (~). That brings up a console overlay (hit tilde again to make it go away) that you can type into. Enter something like:
...and hit [enter], and you can immediately see the fov is adjusted. I'm using 90, FWIW, but you can play around with different values to see what looks best.
The best value to choose will depend on your monitor aspect ratio. For example...
4:3 (1024x768, 1600x1200, etc)- 79.9000
16:9 - 105.3000
15:9 - 99.0000
16:10 (1680x1050, 1920x1200, etc) - 95.2000
After getting that right, go ahead and save the game and exit to the desktop. The game will remember whatever the last FOV value was for a properly-exited session (setting the value to something and then having the game crash to desktop doesn't seem to let the value 'stick').
- Mentioned in passing, below, but with incomplete details - the game does support Ambient Occlusion on nVidia cards. This improves depth of the image CONSIDERABLY by adding shading to corners of objects, however it's somewhat tricky to enable. First, you need to create a profile for Skyrim in your nVidia control panel. Just do this the usual way - point it at the tesv.exe file, if you don't already have a 'Skyrim' profile listed (I think the latest beta adds one). You don't actually need to change anything, here, just make sure you have a profile for Skyrim.
Next, you need to download and run nVidia Inspector (it's available at Guru3d's site, among other places)...basically, a GPU-Z like app specific to nVidia cards.
Once run, click the configuration icon (the screwdriver and wrench icon) to the right of the 'driver version' field. This brings up a new window with a lot of options. In the top of this window is a drop-down box. You'll note that it's set to the 'Global' stuff by default. Click the drop-down, and find the Skyrim option. (Depending on your driver version or how you added the profile, this may show up as 'Skyrim', 'tesv.exe', or 'Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim') Select it.
With the Skyrim option selected, there are three fields you need to change:
- Ambient Occlusion Compatibility (in the top section) - default "0x0000000", change to "0x00000003 (Fallout 3)"
- Ambient Occlusion setting (fourth section down) - default "Off", change to "Quality" (after a lot of testing, this is probably the best balance - the higher quality mode does look better in motion. In still screenshots, the difference between the three modes is very slight...almost unnoticeable. Indoors, when the shadows being cast are not of 'moving things', it's REALLY identical, and the 'Performance' mode really does yield MUCH better framerate. Outdoors, though, when leaves and branches are blowing in the wind, the lower quality modes create a mild 'shadow flicker' on the trees or bushes blowing. I'm using "High Quality", myself, although performance is...rough. Sure looks purdy, though.)
- Ambient Occlusion usage (same section as last) - default "Disabled", change to "Enabled"
...click 'Apply changes' in the top, and you are good to go! (This sounds more complicated than it is - the tool has a very user-friendly GUI, all these options are drop-down menu choices, so you aren't actually typing anything in, and the visual improvement is BIG)
SSAO Off vs SSAO on (note shadows on back wall, particularly - the beam, weapons rack, stones on wall above it, etc)
- There have been some notes and comments on crashes to desktop or 'sound crackling' throughout the game. Turns out the Skyrim engine is VERY sensitive to audio driver settings. Adjusting this in control panel should help:
Windows -> Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound -> Sound
Choose the 'Speakers' (Creative SB X-Fi for me, but might be something else for you) option, and hit 'Properties'.
On the 'Advanced' tab, make sure you are using 24-bit 44100 Hz sampling. You could use a different bit rate, I suppose, but the 44100 hz is important - I was getting crackling on the 48000 hz it was set to by default, and I've heard of users with CTDs on 96000 hz.
- When making decisions on overclocking priorities for this game, favor the CPU (presuming you have a relatively new/powerful video card). Over on the official forums, a user tested this in a high stress area and found:
- Prior to overclock (stock Core i5-2500K @ 3.3GHZ) - 44fps
- After overclock (Core i5-2500K overclocked to 4.4GHZ) - 55fps
(that is...about 1fps for every 100mhz of core clock increase)
...in comparison, overclocking their Geforce 580 from 782mhz (stock) to 850mhz core yielded no framerate increase at all. This makes the game appear to be EXTREMELY CPU-limited.
I'd add my own note to this that, while CPU clock seems to matter a lot, number of threads doesn't seem to. Watching the game in Task Manager, I rarely see it using two threads...and certainly never using more than 2 threads. On my four-core chip, I've not seen over 40% utilization by the game, ever, anywhere. So for those overclocking using Intel's turboboost...it's probably the 'two core' setting you want to push as high as you can.
<message edited by xanderf on Friday, November 18, 2011 10:32 AM>