Half Life 2 & Source Engine Tweak Guide
[Page 5] In-Game Settings
In this section I provide full descriptions and recommendations for Half Life 2's in-game settings, allowing you to achieve a good balance between image quality and performance. I note the performance impact of each setting, although bear in mind that it is impossible for me to give exact performance impacts (e.g. a 10% rise in FPS) because it all depends on your specific hardware combination and your other game and system-wide settings.
To access the in-game settings start Half Life 2, and under the main screen select Options. The various sections are covered in detail below:
On the main menu, you can now listen to the developers' commentary as you play through portions of the game. Click 'Developer Commentary' and select the chapter for which you would like commentary, however importantly note that when commentary is enabled, you will not attain Achievements while playing. This is also the case if you have cheats enabled. So if you're trying to complete certain Achievements, disable Developer Commentary and any cheats during your session - restart the game if necessary to ensure these are not enabled.
You can select the difficulty level of the game on this screen. The choices are Easy, Normal and Hard, with the default being Normal. Set the difficulty level to suit your taste - obviously the higher the level the more challenging the game is to complete. There isn't any noticeable performance difference between the settings.
You can assign the various game commands to specific keys on your keyboard here. Highlight the command you wish to change, click the 'Edit Key' button and press the key you wish to replace it with. If you want to remove a key from a function without replacing it with another key, highlight the function and click the 'Clear Key' button. You can return to the default key assignments - which are actually quite good - by pressing the 'Use Defaults' button. Nothing here affects performance, so set to suit your taste. Note that you can also alter key bindings by using the bind command - see the Advanced Tweaking section.
Advanced: The Advanced button leads to two important additional settings. The 'Fast Weapon Switch' option if ticked allows you to switch instantly between weapons by pressing the relevant weapon's number (e.g. 1 to switch to crowbar, 2 for Pistol etc.). If unticked, you can still switch weapons by pressing the weapon numbers, however you will also have to press the Primary Fire button before the weapon actually appears in your hard. This has no impact on performance so set to taste - I recommend enabling it. Note that if you want a method of switching between two specific weapons rapidly, use the 'Last Weapon' key (Q by default) - pressing this key quickly alternates between your current and last used weapon.
Importantly, the 'Enable Developer Console' option available here provides access to the in-game console. If enabled, you can open and close the console at any time by pressing the '~' key (the key under ESC). Access to the console is critical in allowing you to use the tweaks in the Advanced Tweaks section later in this guide, so I strongly recommend you tick this option.
Reverse Mouse: If ticked, this option means that when you push the mouse forward, your character will look down, and vice versa. This has no impact on performance so set to suit your taste.
Mouse filter: If ticked, this option attempts to smooth your mouse movements by averaging the movements over two frames. If you find the mouse movements too jerky, enable this setting. Note that this setting does not resolve mouse lag, and might actually make it worse - see Mouse Sensitivity below.
Mouse Sensitivity: This slider allows you to adjust how sensitive your mouse is to movements. The greater the sensitivity slider (the higher the number shown), the more sensitive your mouse is to movements. Note that while this setting has no impact on performance, if you are experiencing a 'laggy' mouse and/or general movement then you will need to reduce your graphics settings, especially any Antialiasing. Mouse lag is almost always due to low framerates.
Enable the gamepad: If you have a gamepad you wish to use with the game, tick this box, otherwise leave it unticked. You can adjust the gamepad characteristics, including horizontal and vertical sensitivity here.
Game Volume: This slider allows you to adjust the overall volume of sound in the game. Note that this has no impact on performance, and setting it to the far left (0) will not remove sounds or music from memory.
Music Volume: This slider allows you to change the volume level for any background music played throughout the game. Once again, setting this slider to the far left (0) will not yield any performance improvements, and can also disable developer commentary.
Speaker Configuration: This drop down box allows you to select the number of discrete audio channels Half Life 2 will provide for your speakers. You must make sure that the number/type of speakers chosen do not exceed that connected to your system, otherwise you may experience audio glitches and/or missing sounds. On some systems with a 7.1 or 5.1 speaker setup, you may find better audio performance from choosing the '4 Speakers' setup or even '2 Speakers'. The less the number of speakers chosen here, the better your performance since more audio channels require more audio processing which is shared by the CPU and your Sound Card. For most systems the 2 Speaker setup provides the most trouble-free sound performance.
Note that changing the speaker configuration here may also change your default Windows speaker configuration under Control Panel>Sounds & Audio Devices, so keep this in mind if you notice your sound output sounds different for other games or in your media player for example. Also note that you should disable any special effects in your sound card's control panel. On the Audigy range of cards for example this involves going to your SoundBlaster AudioHQ, opening the EAX Control Panel and clicking the 'All Effects Off' button to disable additional EAX effects – these can cause audio glitches and problems in Half Life 2. Finally, if you experience audio looping or stutters, see Stuttering under the Troubleshooting Tips section of the guide.
Sound Quality: This setting controls the quality of the audio used in the game. The options are Low, Medium and High, and in experimenting with this setting I found that the general sound quality (sample rate) remains the same for each setting level. At High however the audio has additional special effects which affect its pitch and ambience. At Medium and Low the audio is less rich and atmospheric. However the performance difference between High and Low can be noticeable, so I recommend Medium or even Low sound quality to boost your performance without a significant drop in audio quality, especially if you get lots of audio looping/stutters.
Audio (Spoken) Language: This option affects the language of the spoken dialog in the game. You can choose from English, French, German or Russian. If you experience missing spoken dialog, try changing your language to another, Apply it, then back again to your preferred language and Apply to reload the spoken audio.
Captioning: This option lets you select whether or not the game shows captions for the hearing impaired or for translated text in foreign language editions for example. 'No Captions' provides the best performance and is recommended for those who don't require any captioning/subtitle functionality. 'Closed Captions' provides subtitles for dialog and also provides text indicators of important events and sound effects, however it can reduce your performance slightly if enabled. 'Subtitles (dialog only)' is recommended for those who just want text subtitles for spoken dialog in the game, and there is a mild performance hit.
Resolution: The resolution box allows you to select the Resolution for the game, as shown in pixel width by pixel height. The higher the resolution, the more detailed the image due to the larger number of pixels used, but the greater the performance impact on your machine. If you find your gameplay is 'laggy' or you experience slowdowns in some areas and nothing else helps to reduce this, consider lowering your resolution. Note that only the resolutions supported on your graphics card/monitor combination are shown here. Also note that the Aspect Ratio setting (see below) affects the resolutions shown in this box. To set a custom resolution, see the Advanced Tweaking section.
Display Mode: You can select whether to run the game in 'Full Screen' or Windowed mode. Windowed mode means that the game will run in a window on your Desktop as opposed to taking up the entire screen. Full Screen mode is recommended for the most optimal, trouble-free display; Windowed mode may lead to problems or even reduced performance due to memory management and desktop performance issues in both XP and Vista.
Aspect Ratio: Depending on your display, there are three available settings here: 'Normal (4:3)', 'Widescreen 16:9', and 'Widescreen 16:10'. The aspect ratio is the ratio of the width to the height of a display. The traditional ratio for monitors and standard TVs is 4:3, and this is recommended for most people. A Widescreen (16:9) aspect ratio is the display ratio for a standard widescreen TV which is much wider than it is tall, and 'Widescreen (16:10)' is a slightly taller non-standard display ratio for widescreen TVs. Note that as you change the aspect ratio, the list of available resolutions under the Resolutions drop-down box will change, since you are changing the width to height ratio of the display.
Adjust Brightness Level: Click this button and use the Gamma slider to adjust the overall brightness of the onscreen image. As the setting recommends, you should ideally be able to see all three lines of text, however in my personal adjustment of this setting I noticed that the correct Gamma level to my eyes meant that some of the text was still next to invisible. This setting has no effect on performance, the main aim is to make sure the game image is not too 'washed out' or too dark. The default setting is 2.2 for CRT monitors and 1.7 for LCD monitors, however the "correct" setting is also influenced by your existing monitor brightness and contrast settings.
The next section continues the In-Game settings by covering the Advanced video functions.