SWTOR and Graphics – Part 5

Now down to the nitty gritty.  Due to the fact that so many people like different experiences with their games I will try and give an overall view of the settings to change and also the impact they have.  The main problem with this is, different cards provide performance aspects in different areas.  Also remember I am running this on a nVidia 570, so this might show good frame rates for turning something on, but it might cause problems for other people.

A couple of points I have found.  The character avatars that are displayed as part of the interface, they can sometimes change and look horrible, it is difficult to fully determine what is happening, my guess would be something to do with the way the shaders get applied to it, or something.  It is the only part I have seen that gets a bit funny.

Another is the performance.  Changing the graphics in the game can sometimes not produce the desired performance.  As such when changing things of this nature.  But I have found restarting the game will get things back on track.

How many frames per second.  It really depends, ideally every thing over 60 is fantastic, anything between 30-60 is good and below 30 is playable but below 25 I find gets to be unplayable.  Press Ctrl + Shift + F and the counter will be displayed in the bottom right of the screen.  There are 2 colours to note.  Green is the GPU that is potentially causing an issue, Red and the CPU is causing some slow down.  The value in the brackets is the average for a period.  I unsure of the period, since a single instance of the frame rate is meaningless it is more a way to see how it performance in certain circumstances.


There are 2 areas that make characters look better in the game, Character.

This is the character on everything low.


We change to the two values that make a massive different to this;

  • Character Level of Detail – High
  • Character Texture Atlasing – High (I have noticed that nVidia as some additional improvements in the Atlasing area in comparison to AMD, but it might be the difference in the physical cards and not at the high level).


Another one that has a marked difference not only on the quality of the characters but also on all surrounding details and that is Texture Quality.  Currently there are only 2 options, a lot of games have different levels of the textures, they make a small difference on the character models but it is mainly seen on the surrounding landscapes that you will see the biggest difference.


Due to the difference to character models being marginal but the performance hit being greater due to the amount of memory required to store all of the larger textures can be very noticeable on lower end systems then my recommendation for character model improvements is to keep;

  • Texture Quality – Low.

A note on improving the character level of detail.  This does improve the quality of your character models, but that of every other character.  So when you are in areas of high concentrated populations, like the fleet, this can cause major problems.  Remember, if this is an issue, make sure you adjust the following;

  • Visible Character Limit – Low

This will just prevent your machine needing to render too many player characters.  A must if you have a lower end machine.


This is a large area and I find that some environments behave differently to others.  A thing to remember is the more physical objects that need to render on screen the slower it can be, the more different textures used the slower it can be.

  • Texture Quality – High

Unlike character models this has a direct impact on the visual quality of everything you see.  I wish there was a medium setting or a very high, this doesn’t give a lot of options of those with mid level cards.


The shader complexity setting can give a decent increase in look but without a massive impact on performance.  Most cards have increased the number of shaders within their cores, the reason for this is it can increase the levels of detail in everything you see, the depth of textures to give them a 3D like appearance from a distance, but without needing to use an actual model, since drawing a texture on a splat surface and applying some shaders on it is much faster than having a 3D model and having multiple textures applied to it, and then any lighting effects to improve the look, or even using shaders.

There are some settings that change the value of the Shader Complexity, Shadow Quality and Bloom.  Since both utilise shaders significantly, especially bloom, it will force the Shader Complexity – High, if you switch Bloom on, or Shadow Quality – High.  Switching the Shadow Quality – Low, will change the Shader Complexity – Low.

See the image below.  This is with Shader Complexity – Low (no other changes other than the textures)


You can see a vast difference in the way the environment looks.  The ground looks like it has more depth and it is darker in the distances.  I do not have any shadows turned on for this.  But wait there is more.  Take a look at the character model.


There appears to be more detail, but there isn’t, it is merely the Shaders doing their job.

Texture Anisotropy, can have an effect on the way the environment looks but it is more to do with the distance and how the textures are redrawn at distance.  There are more options for this in the nVidia control panel, but as I am currently looking at in game options I can say this is more a personal preference.  I am not totally fussed with the way the textures look when you see them at a distance, but in the same token, this technology was one one of the earliest improvements they would make to the cards.  It is a very mature and highly optimised process, and I would doubt that only anything on the bare minimum would you see a significant drop in performance.

Texture Anisotropy – Medium (High if you have a decent card).

But just to show you, see the two images below, the top one is Low Anisotropy the bottom one is high.



I would say if you could seriously see the difference with this, then use it.  I can’t so I will use the nVidia control panel later to show you the differences between them.

Bloom, I personally like Bloom and the effect to the environment it has.  But it is a very process intensive shader process, and hence needs the Shader Complexity at High.  It is only used in the scenes that have objects that cast light sources.  It will provide a nice haloish quality to the light, and makes them in my opinion appear more realistic.


Bloom is on.  See the diffuse light that surrounds the source.


A vast difference.  If you have a higher end card, and you want to maximize the quality of your environment I would say turn it on.  But it is a double hit as all other Shader processes will benefit from this increase in the Shader Complexity, which may have a negative impact on performance.

  • Bloom – On

I would rather suffer the small hit of using bloom over turning shadows on, only because of the massive performance drain shadows can have.

Grass and trees, what is a world without both.  The trees I have found is not so draining on performance, but the grass can be.  It is a slider so, the high the slider the better the look but certainly the decrease on performance.

There is a feeling I have, but it is only a feeling that if you are running on a system with fast memory, or fast disk (SSD or Hybrid) then I believe the grass issue at low levels won’t be much of a problem.

It is also one of the items I would first recommend turning off if you run into performance issues.  They are technically just sprites as you walk up to them and move around them they stay facing you.  So later video cards that can handle sprite batching will enable the use of these with little impact on overall performance.

Trees is a little different and is has to do with the quality of the sprites that use as the tree foliage.  The closer you are the better they will look.  The higher you move that slider the more the trees around you will look better.  But I have found there is a limit to this, that anything beyond 15-20 is waste since you are not often looking at the trees in that distances and if you are, the quality will potentially be changed based on the anisotropy filtering being applied to the textures anyway.

  • Grass Quality – 5
  • Tree Quality – 15

If you also decide to use shadows this also causes more issues as the shadows will be cast onto the grass.  A massive performance hit as the grass is moving.  Beyond those values are preferences based on the quality of hardware.

The final settings I will talk about affect the performance more than anything else but also drastically affect the visual fidelity of the game.  Anti Aliasing, there isn’t too many options for it and it is recommended that if you want to use it try these in game settings first, see the performance.  Turn if off, then use the control panel version of your video card.  The Low setting, thought smooths things over it is not as cut and dry and it possibly should be.


It is difficult to see here, but if you look at the support structure in front, and also the ledge that extends all the way along from left to the middle is where it is most pronounced.  The jagged markings.


I can barely tell them apart.  I can see some slight differences, but it is minor in many ways.  The above is Low, below is High.


Far more noticeable than the Low settings.  The impact that Low would have on the card I would hope be minimal, but the problem with most anti-aliasing it isn’t, it is always fairly taxing more so on low end cards, the high end ones are able to handle the lower settings without too much fuss.

I will show some of these changes in the video card control panel.  I believe there is some additions that will help improve the quality of the game but not impose too much onto the card.  I can run it on High, with minimal impact, but then I am not in an area were there are lots and lots of items to render.

For me, it is

  • Anti Aliasing – Off

Shadows, these can look great, and from what I know in Version 1.4 of the product which is coming soon, no release date in which the quality of the shadows have improved, they are also stating that their performance has also increased.  Read the post I linked above which can explain more about it.

The first kind of shadows is what they call blob shadows.  All characters and NPCs cast a circle blob on the ground.  This is similar to a shadow cast in heavily diffused light, very diffused.  But, it doesn’t add much to the realism of the world either.  Shadow Quality – Low.


You can see them above, not pretty, but if you want to include them to add that little more depth to the image and you have power to spare it then go for it, but for me, the small increase of quality isn’t worth that overhead it might add to rendering it.  Shadow Quality – High adds a great deal of depth and darkness as would be in most areas realistically lit.


As you can see there, the shadows come from various light sources as well, they look reasonable in most cases, but can be very taxing to the GPU even the best GPUs would be pushing the frames to include the shadows.

I will include an update to this one that has the improved shadows when 1.4 comes out.  But unless you have a top notch machine, then it isn’t worth the overhead.  But like I mentioned above, frame rate between 30-60 is playable.  So if your frames are consistent in that range and you like the quality of your environment over other things, then you can help compensate that by reducing a couple of other things.  Which I will get to.

Shadow Quality – Off

So that is the settings that can affect the graphic performance and how it looks when we switch between the different options.  Now that said I have not mentioned anything about resolution.  It is simple, if you need to render less pixel on the screen then you will get performance boosts, you might want to reduce it down, to 1600×900, or lower.   I have yet see an improvement in this since I believe my monitor, or the video card is performing an up-scaling of it to the full resolution of the monitor.

Now the next part I will look into using some of the game settings and some of the control panel settings to help make the game look better.


Posted on September 21, 2012, in Article, Games, Star Wars, Tips and Tricks and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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