America's Army Tweak Guide

[Page 6] In-Game Settings

In this section of the guide I provide descriptions and recommendations for all the in-game settings to allow you to achieve a good balance between audio-visual quality and performance. It is virtually impossible to provide a specific measure of the performance impact of any particular setting, as it varies significantly based on different types of hardware and their level of support for shader effects for example, or your chosen resolution and the interaction of various other settings.

To access the in-game settings, start America's Army and click on the Settings option in the main menu, or press ESC during a game and click the Settings button. The settings under this section are explained in detail below:

Click to enlarge


Render Device: This setting determines the API (Application Programming Interface) which America's Army uses to render (draw) the 3D graphics in the game. The main APIs are DirectX and OpenGL, however the choice here is limited to Direct3D (the component of DirectX which relates to rendering 3D graphics). This is because America's Army is designed around DirectX, and will perfom at its best using Direct3D. It currently cannot run under OpenGL, however see the Advanced Tweaking section for more details on how to change the Render Device.

Resolution: This setting determines the Resolution for the in-game image - see this page of my Gamer's Graphics & Display Settings Guide for more details. The higher the resolution, the more detailed and clearer the game image, but the more graphics card power required and hence you will see less Frames Per Second (FPS). The highest resolution available in this list of resolutions is limited to what your graphics card and monitor are actually capable of rendering. The resolution alone will have the biggest impact on your framerate, but if changing the resolution doesn't impact significantly on your performance then it is likely your CPU is the performance bottleneck. Note that in general America's Army only officially supports standard resolutions ranging from 800x600 to 1600x1200. To set a non-standard resolution such as 640x480 see the Advanced Tweaking section.

Brightness, Gamma, and Contrast: These sliders affect how bright/dark, washed out or crisp your graphics appear in-game. Adjust them to suit your taste, and remember that it is considered cheating by PunkBuster if you raise Brightness or Gamma too high (e.g. to make night maps appear almost like daytime).

Full Screen: If this box is ticked, your game will run in full screen mode which is highly recommended. If you untick this box you will run the game in a window. Note that if your in-game Resolution setting is higher than your Windows Desktop resolution before switching to windowed mode, the game window will be larger than your screen and you may have problems - make sure you change your resolution to be the same or lower than your Desktop resolution before switching to windowed mode.

VSync: Vertical Synchronization (VSync) is the synchronization of your graphics card and monitor's abilities to redraw the screen a number of times each second (measured in Hz). If VSync is disabled (unticked), you may see some image 'tearing' as your monitor and graphics card go slightly out of synchronization at certain times. This does no damage, it just may be annoying to see. However it is always recommended that you disable VSync to increase performance. Enabling VSync can remove tearing, but not only does it cap your FPS to your Refresh Rate, it will also reduce your average FPS, usually by up to 50%. For that reason, I recommend disabling VSync. For a clear explanation of this see this page of my Gamer's Graphics & Display Settings Guide. Note that you should also check your graphics card's control panel for the VSync setting there and make sure it is set to match your VSync choice here or set to 'Application preference' (recommended) to allow this setting to work correctly.

Texture Detail: This determines how detailed the in-game textures (the images that cover the surface of every 3D object) will look. The options range from Lowest to Highest. The higher the setting, the crisper and more detailed the textures around you will look. Higher texture settings primarily impact on loading times and loading pauses in-game, although they can have a noticeable impact on your FPS. The more Video RAM your graphics card has (ideally 128MB or more), and the more system RAM you have (ideally 512MB or more) the higher you can set your texture settings without experiencing performance issues. The image quality difference between Lowest and Normal is quite noticeable, whereas the difference between Normal and Highest is less so.

Important: As of America's Army 2.7 this setting has been broken, as is the Detail Textures setting (See further below). Texture Detail cannot be increased above Normal in the game - any setting above that is ignored and will not actually result in better textures. The Developers are aware of this bug, but there is no workaround or fix at the moment.

Character Detail: Similar to the Texture Detail setting above, from Lowest to Highest this determines how detailed the textures on all the characters (and their weapons) look. The higher the setting combined with the number of players in a match determines the performance impact, particularly on loading times. Once again the image quality difference between Lowest and Normal is quite noticeable, whereas the difference between Normal and Highest is much less so.

World Detail: Options are Low, Normal and High. The higher this setting the richer your surroundings, as more optional 3D objects are loaded onto the landscape, but the higher the computing power required (and hence the lower your FPS) especially on levels where you can see further and/or there are more optional objects to see. If you have a slower graphics card and/or CPU lower this setting to improve your FPS. In practice the visual differences are not major on most maps, because to maintain fairness most visible geometry has to be seen by all players equally regardless of this setting.

Physics Detail: Options are only Normal and High. This setting changes the level of detail for the simulation of physics in the game. The High setting requires more CPU effort to crunch the numbers to show more realistic effects, from the basic 'ragdoll' effects through to effects such as water ripples. I would recommend that if your CPU is closer to the minimum specs (2.4GHz Intel or equivalent AMD), you set this to Normal. However on most maps this setting does not have a significant image quality or performance impact.

Dynamic Mesh LOD: This setting controls the degree to which the Level of Detail (LOD) on Dynamic Mesh objects (i.e. objects like characters and vehicles) is affected by distance. The higher this setting, the less quickly the level of detail (number of polygons) on such objects is removed as they move into the distance. Put another way, the higher the setting, the better the visual quality but the greater the impact on your FPS depending on how many dynamic objects are on screen. A setting of Normal is recommended for most people, and the difference is not significant between the lowest and highest settings.

Decal Stay: This setting (if the Decals and Projectors option are also ticked - see below), will determine how long decals (e.g. bullet holes) will remain on surfaces. The three settings are Low, Normal and High, and unless you want absolute realism, Normal or even Low should be just fine. Setting it to High can have a significant negative impact your FPS, especially during periods when high-rate weapons such as the SAW/RPK are firing on the screen.

Character Shadows: This setting determines whether characters in the game cast any shadows, and how detailed they are. It can have a significant impact on your performance when there are several characters and several light sources on the screen at one time. The following are the available options under this setting:

None - This completely turns off all shadows. If selected it can make things look unrealistic, but is the best option to choose if you are struggling for FPS.

Blob - This allows shadows (if Projectors is ticked), but makes them much less complex and hence improves your FPS. I recommend this as a good compromise between realism and performance.

Full - If chosen this option draws shadows in all their glory (again, only if Projectors is ticked), but can give a significant performance hit which varies depending on your graphics card and the number of players and light sources visible. I recommend only high end systems enable this setting, as it is the most realistic but the most taxing of shadow settings.

Note: Shadows may be disabled by the Administrator on the server you are playing on - this is to prevent a glitch whereby player shadow 'bounding boxes' can be seen through walls, floors etc.

Decals: Decals are the marks left by explosions and bullets for example. If this setting is ticked, such decals are visible, however this can reduce your FPS (depending on your Decal Stay setting above) particularly during heavy firefights as lots of decals are generated. If unticked, no decals will be shown which reduces realism but will improve performance on slower machines. If Projectors is unticked, this option will not be available.

Dynamic Lighting: Dynamic lighting allows interactive lights from things such as the muzzle flash of guns to the tracers from a SAW to react realistically with the objects surrounding them, shining at different angles off weapons, walls and characters based on the light's position. This makes for great effects but can have a significant impact on your framerate when such dynamic lights exist. For realism purposes I recommend you tick this option, however to assist in reducing graphical slowdowns during heavy gun battles, especially when weapons with a high rate of fire (e.g. M4, SAW and RPK) are involved, untick this option.

Detail Textures: Enabling this setting adds a level of detail or 'grain' to certain textures used in the game. This makes them look much more realistic especially when examined close up (e.g the walls of buildings in Radio Tower, SF CSAR or Urban Assault). However this can also reduce your FPS due to the extra texture detail required, so untick this option if you require a performance boost particularly for graphics cards with lower amounts of Video RAM (e.g. less than 128MB).

Important: As mentioned further above, Detail Textures does not work for many textures in the game as of America's Army 2.7. Whether enabled or disabled, many textures will not display the more realistic grain they had under previous versions. Once again there is no fix for this at the moment.

Trilinear Filtering: This rendering method makes textures seem crisper as they progress into the distance, but will reduce performance, especially if you have a slower video card. Most newer systems should notice little if any performance drop from having this enabled. If you're unsure about this setting, or are struggling for performance then leave it unticked - the image quality difference is not significant. If you want even better texture filtering, such as Anisotropic, see the Advanced Tweaking section.

Projectors: Projectors are textures projected onto other textures, such as decals and shadows from characters. The noticeable effect of unticking this option is the disabling of the Decals setting, and the removal of all player shadows and decals, regardless of your Character Shadows or Decals settings. Although unselecting Projectors will improve FPS, I don't recommend unticking this option for the sake of realism. To begin with experiment with different levels of Decals, Decal Stay and Character Shadow settings, and then if all else fails you should untick this to improve FPS.

The next page continues the In-Game setting descriptions.