Mass Effect Tweak Guide
[Page 6] In-Game Settings (Pt.2)
Motion Blur: If set to Yes, this option enables Motion Blur, a form of effect most noticeable when you change your view rapidly; the resulting slight blur in the image may improve visual quality and realism for some people, while others may find it distracting. A comparison is provided above however this is a difficult effect to capture in screenshots. Note that enabling Motion Blur does reduce FPS slightly, but ultimately you should decide whether to use it or not based more on how you feel about its visual impact, and bear in mind that it can also help cover up the shimmering from jagged edges in the game.
Wait for Vertical Sync: Vertical Synchronization (VSync) is the synchronization of your graphics card and monitor's abilities to redraw an image on the screen a number of times each second, measured in Hz. It is explained more clearly on this page of the Gamer's Graphics & Display Settings Guide. When VSync is enabled (set to Yes), your maximum FPS will be capped at your monitor's maximum refresh rate at your chosen resolution, and more importantly in some areas your FPS may drop by as much as 50% or more if the graphics card has to wait to display a whole frame. Thus enabling VSync can have a major negative performance impact, and the easiest solution is to leave it disabled. However if you find the image 'tearing' annoying, you can enable VSync and counter the subsequent performance drop by also enabling Triple Buffering - see this page for details of how to enable it properly.
Importantly, the game engine has an FPS cap regardless of whether VSync is disabled or not - by default, the game is capped to a maximum of 62 FPS. This is done by the developers to prevent FPS spikes and thus provide smoother performance, and in general it works quite well, especially since Mass Effect is not a fast-paced shooter. However if you want to remove or alter this FPS cap, see the bSmoothFrameRate, MinSmoothedFrameRate and MaxSmoothedFrameRate variables in the Advanced Tweaking section.
Film Grain: If set to Yes, this option enables a mild grainy overlay. To see an animated screenshot comparison which highlights the impact of the effect, click this link: ME_FilmGrain.gif (317KB). When On, there is a dark grain on the image, most noticeable when contrasted against a lighter background. Film Grain also has tiny swirling motion when viewed on screen, and has a noticeable negative performance impact when enabled. In the end however whether you enable it or not is up to your tastes, as despite the reduction in FPS, it also serves to cover up jaggedness and can make the game much more atmospheric for some people, while others find it annoying.
Hardware Audio: If ticked, the game will use hardware acceleration which can improve audio quality and performance. I recommend ticking this option in most circumstances, unless you experience audio glitches or other issues. Note in particular that you will need to tick this option if you have a multi-channel audio system and want to use more than 2 channels. Vista users with Creative sound cards in particular should enable this option, as it allows for proper hardware acceleration without the need for ALchemy.
However there are many users experiencing problems with getting full multi-channel hardware surround sound in Mass Effect. First of all, make absolutely certain that your sound card's control panel as well as the Sound properties in the Windows Control Panel are set up correctly to use the number of channels you wish. The game uses Creative's proprietary ISACT OpenAL-based audio system, and this cannot be changed, but there are some issues with the way the game can incorrectly identify audio device capabilities, so if you are still having problems and want proper hardware audio, follow these steps:
1. Go to your \(My) Documents\BioWare\Mass Effect\Config directory and rename the BIOEngine.ini file to something else.
2. Launch Mass Effect without running the Config utility. The game will recreate BIOEngine.ini using default values, and should correctly identify your audio hardware.
3. In the in-game settings Hardware Audio should already be selected - do not change it back to software audio or make any other changes to the Sound settings.
4. If the above steps don't work, follow the additional instructions as described under the [ISACTAudio.ISACTAudioDevice] part of the Advanced Tweaking section of this guide.
To see if your sound hardware is being detected properly at any time, exit Mass Effect and open the MassEffect.log file found under your \(My) Documents\BioWare\Mass Effect\Logs directory with a text editor. Look for the line starting with Init: Audio Device - it should say 'Generic Hardware' or the name of your audio device. The lines above it and below it should also have the correct information, and no audio initialization errors should be showing.
Obviously, as also noted under the Troubleshooting Tips section of this guide, you must ensure that you are running the latest version of the game, as well as the latest drivers for your audio device. You can also try installing the latest version of OpenAL for Windows, available here. Creative sound card owners in particular may find the latest 2.18.0004 X-Fi or 2.18.0001 Audigy drivers might resolve their issues if nothing else does.
Dialog, Sound Effects, Music Volume: These sliders control the volume level for spoken dialog, the various sound effects, and the background music in the game respectively. Set them to suit your preference, as they have no performance impact.
Invert Y Axis: If set to Yes, pushing your mouse forward will make your character look down, and pulling your mouse back will make him look up. Set to suit your taste, has no impact on performance.
Hardware Mouse: When ticked this option uses your graphics card hardware to optimize rendering of the mouse cursor, which should give the best performance and smoothness. With Hardware Mouse enabled, the cursor switches from the standard white Windows mouse arrow to a custom blue outlined graphical arrow. If your cursor disappears when you select this option, restart the game and it should be fixed. If you experience problems with your game crashing during loadup or any mouse-related issues, untick this option.
Mouse Sensitivity: This slider controls how sensitive the mouse will be to your movements. The higher the value, the greater your view movements will be in the game when you move the mouse. If you're experiencing 'mouse lag', that is a feeling of reduced sensitivity or sluggishness in your mouse, regardless of how high you set the mouse sensitivity slider, you should first make sure you are consistently getting sufficient FPS, especially in more complex scenes with lots of effects. Use FRAPS or the Stat FPS console command (see the Advanced Tweaking section) to check your FPS, and keep in mind that typically anything below 15-20 FPS can bring about mouse lag in most any game, so you will have to lower your settings appropriately to prevent this as much as possible. Next, try disabling VSync as not only is it know to cause mouse lag, it also reduces performance which can make mouse lag even worse.
Here you can adjust all the various keyboard and mouse controls. Note that if you wish to customize these further for any reason, see the Advanced Tweaking section.
Combat Difficulty: In general the enemies in Mass Effect scale upwards to match the player's level. However the available options here can increase or decrease combat difficulty. The initial options are Casual, Normal, and Veteran - each has successively harder enemies, with more protection/immunity. There are two additional difficulty levels called Hardcore and Insanity: you can access Hardcore only after you have completed the game on Normal or Veteran difficulty; you can access Insanity difficulty only after you've completed the game on Hardcore difficulty. Note that changing the difficulty at any time during gameplay can negate proper completion of that difficulty level and relevant achievements, so leave difficulty unchanged for the duration of the game.
Auto Level-Up: This option has an important impact on the RPG aspects of Mass Effect. It determines what happens when your character or any members of your squad gain a level. When set to Off, whenever any squad member gains a level you must manually go into the Squad menu and allocate talent points to various skills for each of the characters in your squad; when set to Squad Only, squad members will automatically level up, and you only have to manually allocate your own character's talent points; when set to Squad and Player, the computer automatically allocates talent points to everyone each time they gain a level, without any user input - this is generally not recommended as it prevents you from customizing your character to suit your individual needs.
Target Assist: This setting controls the degree to which the game assists you when aiming at a target. The available options are Low, Normal and High - the higher the setting, the greater your accuracy when aiming. This setting can affect the overall difficulty of combat in the game, so adjust it in combination with the Combat Difficulty setting above to get the desired effect.
Squad Power Usage: This setting has an important impact on combat strategy. It determines the way in which members of your squad use any powers they have. If set to Disabled, they will not use any powers unless manually assigned by you; if set to Defence Only they will automatically use defensive powers if necessary; and if set to Active they will use both defensive and offensive powers as they see fit. In general it is recommended that you select 'Defence Only', as this allows them to use defensive powers if they're in danger, but prevents them from wasting their offensive powers at inopportune moments.
Subtitles: If set to Yes, text subtitles are shown for spoken dialog. If set to No, subtitles are not shown at first, however in most cases if you wait long enough at a dialog prompt the last piece of dialog will still be shown as subtitled text. Note that if you want to change the color of the subtitles, see the m_colSubtitleColor setting in the Advanced Tweaking section.
Auto Save: If set to Yes, the game will automatically save your progress to a single 'Auto Save' slot at key intervals. This can be useful in case you forget to manually save on a regular basis, however if you don't like the small pauses when the game goes to auto save, then you can set this option to No. Obviously you must then make sure to save regularly, both using the Save option and also the Quick Save (F6) feature, though note that neither of those options overwrite an Auto Save slot if it exists.
Enable Tutorials: This option controls the various tutorial messages which appear throughout the game. You should leave this enabled at first when you begin playing, as the advice can be very helpful. However after the first few hours of gameplay you should be familiar with all the main controls and commands, and thus can disable this option.
The next section looks at the Advanced Tweaking possible in Mass Effect.