Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Tweak Guide
[Page 5] In-Game Settings
In this section of the guide I provide detailed 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 support for shader effects for example, or your chosen resolution and the interaction of various other settings. However a general indication of the impact is given for all settings which affect performance.
To access the in-game settings, start Oblivion and click on the Options item in the main menu, or press ESC during a game and click the Options item. Note that the first time you launch Oblivion, it will automatically adjust your settings to what it feels is best for your type of system. While these auto-detected settings aren't too bad, I strongly recommend that you take the time to adjust each individual setting below until you have a good balance of performance and visual quality.
Note: For people running older graphics cards, or those who are in dire need of FPS, as of the 1.5 patch onwards the Oblivion Launcher has a 'Very Low Quality' setting it can enable to improve performance at the cost of image quality. After installing the patch, start the Oblivion Launcher, select Options and click 'Reset to Defaults' to allow it to detect and set this new mode.
Difficulty: This slider controls the overall difficulty of the game. It determines how challenging your enemies are for example. However note that because of the way Oblivion automatically scales its difficulty, most enemies and objects will be tailored to approximately match your current level. This prevents level 1 players from facing incredibly difficult level 50 characters for example, and also prevents things from getting to be too easy if you steal an overly powerful object. The difficulty slider cannot change this limitation significantly. To alter difficulty/game balance further, you can use a popular mod like Oscuro's Overhaul (See the Patches & Mods section).
General Subtitles: This setting controls whether dialogue subtitles appear outside of actual conversations. For example, when you pass a talking character, their muttered words will be written as text at the bottom of the screen. Note that at times it doesn't seem to capture all such dialogue. However if you actually engage in a conversation with a character, this option will not show the conversation subtitles (the Dialogue Subtitles setting below does). Does not have any performance impact so set to suit your tastes.
Dialogue Subtitles: To complement the option above, if enabled this option displays subtitled text for all words spoken by characters who you actually choose to start a conversation with. However anything they say outside of an actual conversation will not be subtitled. Neither this option, nor the one above affects other forms of subtitles or text prompts such as location text. Does not have any performance impact so set to suit your tastes.
Crosshair: If enabled the crosshair appears in the middle of the screen and provides context-sensitive hints as to the actions you can undertake with particular objects or characters. The full list of crosshair icons is detailed in the manual. If you want a more immersive Oblivion experience and/or if you are an experienced Morrowind/Oblivion player I recommend turning off the crosshair. This option has no significant performance impact.
Save on Rest: If set to On, whenever you rest in a bed, the game will automatically be saved over your latest autosave at the start of your rest.
Save on Wait: If set to On, whenever you Wait (i.e. try to rest outside of a bed), the game will automatically be saved over your latest autosave at the start of your wait.
Save on Travel: If set to On, whenever you use the map to quick travel from place to place, the game will automatically be saved over your latest autosave before you arrive at your destination.
If you want to reduce loading times and/or stutter, you can disable any or all of the above options for a reduction in hard drive usage. Also see the bSaveOnInteriorExteriorSwitch command in the Advanced Tweaking section.
Whenever you launch Oblivion from the default desktop icon, you will see a small Launcher menu appear. In this menu screen, click the Options item, and you can adjust some of your Video-related settings here. Note that most of these options can be adjusted using the in-game options menu (see further below), however, there are two options that you can't access in the normal in-game menus, and they're actually quite important:
VSync: Video Synchronization (VSync) is the synchronization of your graphics card and monitors' abilities to redraw an image on the screen a number of times each second, measured in Hz. Your monitor will have a maximum rating in Hz for each resolution (e.g. 1280x1024 at 85Hz). When VSync is enabled (ticked), your graphics card will synchronize with your monitor and only display whole frames - this means 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% if the graphics card has to wait to display a whole frame. Thus enabling VSync can have a major negative performance impact.
By disabling VSync, not only do you uncap your maximum FPS, your overall FPS will also improve as your graphics card no longer has to wait to synchronize with the monitor before display each frame. This may result in some image 'tearing' (i.e. the top and bottom portions of the screen may go slightly out of alignment), however this is totally harmless and usually not very noticeable. Note that you should check your graphics card's control panel for the VSync setting there and make sure it is set to 'Application preference' (or similar) to allow this setting to work correctly. For more details, see this page of my Gamer's Graphics & Display Settings Guide. Also check the 'Max Frames to Render Ahead' tweak in the last section of this guide.
Fullscreen/Windowed: In Fullscreen mode, the game takes up the entire display area. In Windowed mode the game only takes up a portion of the screen - however make sure that the in-game resolution you choose is equal to or less than your desktop resolution, otherwise there will be portions of the game screen which will be off the edges of your display. While you can get better performance if you run Oblivion in a smaller game window, and you can also set custom resolutions in this mode (See the Advanced Tweaking section), you may also experience some problems, especially crashes related to memory management issues. If this is the case, switch back to Fullscreen mode. Finally, while in Fullscreen mode, you cannot ALT+TAB properly back to the desktop, and attempting to do so can destabilize your system, again because of Windows memory management issues.
The remaining settings in the Launcher Options section match those covered below. Once you have set the above options using the Launcher, I recommend you check the last section of this guide for details of how to bypass the Oblivion Launcher and hence start Oblivion much more quickly each time you want to play.
Resolution: This determines the width and height of the game image displayed on your screen - for example 1280x1024 is 1,280 pixels wide by 1,024 pixels high. The higher the resolution, the cleaner the image which will appear on your screen because there are more pixels showing, but the more power it takes to display it. The list of available resolutions shown is limited by the maximum possible for your monitor and graphics card together. Your resolution can have a significant impact on performance, so if necessary lower it if nothing else works to improve your average FPS. You can also set custom resolutions - see the Advanced Tweaking section. Finally, if changing resolutions doesn't alter your FPS much then chances are your CPU is limiting your performance - see the Troubleshooting Tips section for more details, as well as the 'Max Frames to Render Ahead' tweak in the last section of this guide. Note: you will have to quit and restart Oblivion for resolution changes to take effect.
Brightness: This gamma slider controls how bright or dark the overall screen image will be. Adjust it so that at night the image is visible but not washed out. It has no impact on performance, so set to suit your taste. If you need to increase gamma to be much brighter than the maximum on the slider allows (e.g. on very old monitors), see the fGammaMax command in the Advanced Tweaking section.
Texture Size: The options here are Large, Medium and Small, and changing them will require a restart to reload all the appropriate textures. Textures are the 2D images placed around all 3D objects in the game. A boulder for example is a wireframe skeleton in 3D, with a 2-dimensional boulder surface texture covering it (to see this, use the twf Console Command). When set to Large, the resolution of the 2D texture images used is highest, meaning the textures appear more crisp and real, especially when examined close up. At Medium and Low respectively these textures progressively drop, losing a lot of detail - see an animated screenshot comparison by clicking this link: Obl_Textures.gif (488KB).
The texture setting can have a significant impact on performance and stuttering, because these textures load into your graphics card's Video RAM (VRAM), and the larger the texture resolution, the bigger the size of the texture files and hence the more swapping your graphics card has to do to constantly load new textuyre data from the hard drive into VRAM to decompress and display them. Whenever you enter new areas or see new objects/creatures/buildings, the higher this setting the more loading pauses/stutter you will get, and the lower your FPS will drop, especially if you have less VRAM, system RAM and/or a slower hard drive. For those with less than 256MB of VRAM, I recommend Medium as a good balance of visual quality and performance. For those with slow hard drives and/or less than 1GB of RAM, Low is recommended if you constantly find the game stuttering or slowing down. See the settings below, the Troubleshooting Tips and the Advanced Tweaking sections for a range of other tweaks and settings which in combination with each other can significantly reduce stutter. There is no single magic fix to this issue.
Tree Fade: This slider controls the amount of detail visible on trees into the distance. As you move the slider to the left, the less branches and leaves will be shown on trees. This will improve FPS in areas with trees, such as heavily forested areas. See an animated screenshot comparison by clicking this link: Obl_TreeFade.gif (403KB).
The next page continues the In-Game setting descriptions.