Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Tweak Guide
[Page 3] Troubleshooting Tips
This section contains specific troubleshooting tips which address many of the common problems experienced by Oblivion players. I can't stress enough the importance of taking the time to go through the checklist of advice below if you're having a problem with the game.
Official Support: The first place to look for official support details is in the Readme.txt file in your \Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Oblivion directory, and also read the Bethesda.txt file in the same directory for tech support contact details. Importantly you should check out the minimum system requirements in the Readme.txt file, and the supported hardware list, since if any of your hardware is not supported then you will experience problems with the game, or quite simply won't be able to run it (e.g. GeForce4 or lower graphics cards are not supported). You should also check the Official Bethesda Oblivion FAQ for your OS for details of how to resolve specific error messages and other issues. In terms of community support, there are a wide range of forums which provide varying degrees of help for Oblivion problems. The best one to start with is the Official Oblivion Forums. Almost every other major tech forum has an Oblivion section or a major thread devoted to the game. There's plenty of valuable advice out there if you spend some time searching for it.
Quest Glitches & Bugs: Try the latest patch for the game - see Page 4 of this guide for more details. There is also an Unofficial Patch compiled by modders which may help if all else fails.
Update: There is a major Shivering Isles bug as explained here which can be fixed by using the latest 1.2.0416 Patch (See page 4).
Unsupported Graphics Cards: If you have a graphics card which is below the minimum requirements for the game, try the 'Oldblivion' application which lets you run Oblivion on older graphics cards. Generally speaking however any card made in the last few years will run Oblivion, and with a small outlay you will get the greatest benefit simply by updating your graphics card.
Windows Vista Users: If you're having problems running this game under Windows Vista, first make sure that you're using the latest Vista graphics and audio drivers for your hardware, and the latest version of this game (see page 4 for patch details). Next, make sure you don't change your UAC settings after the game has been installed, as due to Virtualization this can change the location of the game files and settings. If you can't launch the game successfully when UAC is enabled, you will need to run the game with full Admin privileges. To do this either right-click on the launch icon and select 'Run as Administrator', or right-click on the launch icon, select Properties and under the Compatibility tab tick 'Run this program as an administrator' then click OK. I strongly recommend that you refer to the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion for Windows Vista for more information on how to get optimal trouble-free performance in Vista.
In-Game Lag/Freezes/Stuttering: Most people are complaining about 'stuttering' in Oblivion, and the cause is fairly straightforward: the Oblivion game world is very large, detailed and complex one. As you walk around, any time you encounter a new area, new object, new sound effect, new music etc. a fair chunk of information will be loading from your hard drive into your system RAM and video RAM and back again onto the drive. This means that for systems with slower hard drives and/or less system RAM and/or less video RAM, there will be noticeable periods of stutter and inconsistent FPS as you wander around. See the In-Game Settings and Advanced Tweaking sections for ways of reducing this, but I must stress that this is not an engine flaw - Oblivion handles this situation admirably considering the sheer amount of information around you (e.g. in large outdoor areas). One of the best things to do whenever you enter a new area, or load up a save game, is to do a quick 360 degree turn around on the spot, as this will load much of the data before you start moving.
In some cases, only a hardware upgrade will reduce the stuttering. If you are considering an upgrade, I would recommend a newer, faster SATA or SSD hard drive. Combined with at least 2GB of RAM, this will provide the best method of reducing stuttering in any game. However you will also need a balanced system to get the most out of Oblivion. I built a system over four years ago which played Oblivion very smoothly at close to maximum settings, as detailed in my Hardware Confusion article. If you have a bigger budget and want to build a modern system, see my latest Hardware Confusion 2009 article instead.
Update: The latest patch also helps reduce stuttering by improving file loading throughout the game.
Defragmenting: The sheer size of the game files (around 5GB of data) mean that you must run a defragmentation program after installing the game to reduce stuttering and loading issues. The normal Windows defragmenter is fine, however to get an even better result consider a commercial defragmentation package. More details in the Drive Optimization chapter of my TweakGuides Tweaking Companion. It may take quite a while to defragment but it is a critical step in reduce stuttering.
The Latest Graphic Drivers: Given the continued popularity of Oblivion, and the fact that the popular and more recent Fallout 3 game is also based on the same Gamebryo game engine, both ATI and Nvidia have incorporated many optimizations and fixes into their graphics drivers for the game over time. As such I strongly recommend using the latest release drivers with Oblivion. These drivers may not only provide better performance in Oblivion, they will correct bugs and glitches and provide proper support for SLI/Crossfire configurations. See my ATI Catalyst Tweak Guide or Nvidia Forceware Tweak Guide for details on where to download the latest drivers and how to install them 'cleanly'.
CPU Issues: Oblivion is a CPU-intensive game. There is a great deal of complex physics, quest states, weather states, and artifical intelligence data for example which is being crunched by your CPU at all times, much of which cannot be scaled back. As such, many systems are currently limited in performance by their CPU - i.e. even with a high-end graphics card, you may be experiencing reduced performance because your graphics card ultimately has to wait for information from the CPU. The best way to determine this is if you notice that changing the graphics settings has no major impact on your performance. See the In-Game Settings and Advanced Tweaking section for more details of settings you can adjust to reduce CPU load and make better use of Dual Core/HyperThreading CPUs. In the end, some people may have to consider a CPU upgrade, particularly as Oblivion is not kind to overclocked CPUs which can generate a lot of instability due to the excessive load (see below).
Background Programs: The game's developers recommend that you disable all background applications - especially virus, trojan and spyware scanners and messaging utilities. These applications can and do use up valuable CPU resources, take up precious RAM, cause memory conflicts and crashes to desktop, but most importantly they interfere with read/writes to your hard drive effectively slowing it down and causing even more in-game stuttering. Full instructions on how to identify your startup programs and services and how to correctly disable unnecessary ones are in my TweakGuides Tweaking Companion. This is an important step you should not miss as it has a major impact on Oblivion performance and stuttering in particular.
Overclocking: Oblivion is sensitive to overclocking. If you've overclocked any components on your system and are having problems such as crashes, reboots and graphical anomalies, the first thing to do is set everything back to default speeds and try running the game. If you don't experience the same problems at default speed, or they're reduced in severity, then your overclock is the primary culprit. Either permanently reduce your overclock and/or increase cooling to regain stability. Don't just assume that because other games run with stability at a particular speed that Oblivion will do the same.
I cannot urge you strongly enough to follow the advice on this, and the previous page. In particular make absolutely sure that you take the time to go through the completely free downloadable PDF TweakGuides Tweaking Companion, because that alone will make the biggest different to the stability, performance and smoothness of Oblivion. I realise most of you are after a patch or a tweak which will make all these issues go away but Oblivion is incredibly stressful on all the components of your system, and unless you optimize your entire system you will keep experiencing problems. It may be boring to go through the TGTC, but it will give the biggest rewards to those who do.
The remainder of this guide goes into more specific settings and tweaks which can help improve your performance and resolve any problems.