17/01/2020

In The Shadows

I got a new PC a couple of weeks into Onslaught, and after playing through the new story both on the old machine and the new one, I was surprised to find some noticeable differences between the screenshots I had taken on one vs. the other. I thought that I'd already been playing with maxed out settings beforehand, but the newer screenshots seem to indicate otherwise.

Most striking was the difference in terms of shadows in shots like this one of Darth Shaar on Mek-Sha:


The second one made for a much moodier scene, giving the briefing room a dark and sinister air that was pretty appropriate for the situation... but it doesn't make for very good character shots.

This got me thinking about how much enabling bloom changed my perception of certain things back when I first did that. Now, glowing archaeology crystals are one thing, but later on I noticed that it was also causing other, more subtle changes, as you can see in these before and after screenshots:


Notice how in the second/newer screenshot everything in the background is blurry (at least I think it's bloom that's causing this - EDIT: now that I'm checking again, this might actually be the setting called "conversation depth of field"). It gives the whole scene what I'd call a more cinematic feel, with the camera being tightly focused on the characters instead of giving the eye a chance to get distracted by background detail.

It has a clear purpose, but even so... I can't say that blurring the background strikes me as objectively "better" than not doing so. I like the effect enough to keep it, but it's still a strange new experience for me that turning everything up to max doesn't necessarily result in the best possible graphics.

I'll definitely have to have a think about whether I want to turn down the shadows in particular, now that having them is apparently an option, simply because while it's a cool effect it doesn't make for the best screenshots. And I love taking screenshots way too much.

Have you ever opted for "worse" graphic settings not for performance reasons but because you actually thought the game looked better that way?

13 comments :

  1. For me, it is basically no. I do have anti-aliasing turned off, mostly because on my big 1440p monitor I honestly can't see the difference having it on or off. Since it is a performance hit to have it on and I don't see any visual improvement I just leave it off. I know this isn't what you are asking, but that's about the closest I get to lessening the features for appearance sakes.

    To go off on a tangent, I've gotten to the place that I try to run my MMOs on maximum graphics settings. I want to see all the visual 'bells and whistles' even if performance suffers a bit. I even bought a GSync monitor to handle framerate dips. I can get a bit salty when I need to turn down settings to be able to find quest items (Onderon in Swtor and Uldum currently in Wow come to mind.)

    I originally started playing Swtor via Bootcamp on an old Mac Pro. It eventually got me to build my own PC. When I revisited some of the areas I was wowed by the better graphics I was seeing. Just visiting Nar Shaddaa was an explosion of neon and glittering lights. From there I've been a good consumer and chased the better graphics rabbit until I hit the previous graphics generation of cards. (I'm waiting until more games support ray tracing before I spend that kind of money.)

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    1. Considering the age of most of the big MMOs on the market right now, the requirements to run most of them on max settings shouldn't be too high.

      That said, in my particular case it helps that I don't give a damn about fps - I'm always confused when people complain about not getting 60fps or whatever, because I don't run a fps counter and I don't really find it noticeably distracting unless it drops into the single digits.

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    2. I can suffer from motion sickness so noticeable frame drops or screen tearing can be really bad for for me. It's probably a mental thing. I would start playing a shooter and have problems, but if I took my time and got used to it I could eventually play it for hours in casual multiplayer.

      Now with a sync monitor I don't have those issues, though some MMOs can still drop to single digits with FPS. At least then it is more like a very slow slideshow.

      My real issue these days is with raid/ops boss fights. When everyone's spell effects are going off it is hard to see what is going on, especially when you need to avoid bad stuff on the ground. This is when I wish all MMOs had an option to hide everyone else's spell effects!

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  2. I typically run games in whatever the highest settings are, except for shadows. Hi-res shadows take up a lot of processing cycles, and frankly don't add anything to my enjoyment of the game. As you noticed, they can sometimes even get in the way of it.

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    1. This has nothing to do with the content of your comment, but I just wanted to note that I follow a YouTuber called "Todd in the Shadows", so seeing a comment notification from Todd on a post called "In The Shadows" really threw me for a loop for a second, hehe.

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  3. Generally I use one of the presets the game offers me, not the highest one but one or two notches lower. If that runs smoothly I tweak it a bit if necessary (I like as much foliage and lens-flare as I can get) and leave it at that. I usually don't run games on the highest settings even if my aging PC can handle it. NOt sure why - I think I just like to know there's room for improvement. I never really like to know I'm getting all there is to be had.

    As for screenshots, if they don't look quite right for publication on the blog I mess about with them in paint.net. Currently I'm sharpening all the ones I use from EQII which makes a big difference and I often up the saturation to make things pop.

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    1. Yep, I use Paint.net too actually, but I prefer not to do too much editing beyond cropping and occasionally tweaking the lighting/contrast ever so slightly. Needless to say that with these new shadow settings on I've had to do a lot of the latter, which to me is just one more reason to turn them off.

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  4. I got so used to playing without any shadows because the graphics card I had before this one went from 30+ fps to ~5 on every game when I switched them on.

    I'm not deliberately turning them on now, but I guess I still don't notice them because I think I didn't fiddle with the settings like I used to, a few years ago...

    Also I find the first shadow example simply too dark. Not good.

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    1. Yeah, it didn't feel off to me while playing because as I noted it felt appropriate for the scene, but it really doesn't make for very good screenshots.

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  5. Huh, that's funny. I thought that I couldn't see the screen well in Mek-Sha because I played through it soon after moving to my current apartment, and we don't have any curtains as of yet, meaning between noon-and-sunset (which, of course, is a couple of hours) sometimes the screen would get... Very very dark. By the time it *did* get dark, I was done with Mek-Sha, so, it's possible it was because of the shadows instead? I had everything set on Ultra, I remember... Which I have dialed back, because I find it impossible to run Ops on it.
    But, yes, what happened to me was that I played swtor for a long while in a computer that was ok but with a low graphics card which meant I was always in the lowest possible setting. I found the game beautiful, then -- dated, but beautiful, and lovingly crafted.
    Then, I bought myself a proper desktop with a proper graphics card, and it was shocking... But some of my favourite outfits became "too much" for me. Sensuous Dress comes to mind, as it's more layered in low than scale-y while with the aspired graphics it just looks like you glued together a few grey-drops from reptiles into a dress. The top works regardless, the skirt? Awful!

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    1. Hah, I hadn't thought about how outfits would look different on different graphics settings, though now that you say it I do seem to remember seeing Swtorista post some comparisons and being quite surprised by the differences.

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  6. I remember doing similar comparison years ago. That conversation depth of field effect wasn't available back then. It's amazing to see the same scene with and without it. Great idea and thanks for showing these!

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  7. I change my shadows only on certain planets (I'm looking at you Onderon) it's not hard to do it and takes seconds. Highest shadow settings in swtor can really give your fps a hit. I'm waiting for my 2070 super to arrive so hopefully I'll be able to just max out anywhere regardless of the planet.

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