Arwen's Oblivion Journal

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(updated September 02, 2013)

Arwen's Graphic Tweaks
Introduction to Oblivion Graphic Tweaks

My Need to Tweak

When you run Oblivion for the first time, the program automatically sets the graphics for you, based on your PC. If you're actually happy with the way the program set things up graphically, then just play the game and don't change anything . . . and you're probably in the wrong place right now, because that's 90% of what this section is about. But if you want to find some ways to tweak up the graphics AND still get acceptable FPS, then you might want to try out some of my tweaks (Oh, I should probably point out that "my" doesn't mean that I come up with all these tweaks (although I did come up with a few of them on my own) . . . "my" refers to my collection of tweaks, that have helped improved both the appearance and the performance of Oblivion on my computer.

My Gaming Computer (opens a new page): What I'm now playing mygames on. (This is a MUCH faster computer than what I initially ran Oblivion on).

Previous Laptop PC (purchased in 2005)
This is what I ran Oblivion on for the first year:

- Processor: Intel Pentium M, 1860 MHz - FSB: 533 MHz
- Memory: 1023MB SDRAM
- Graphics Adapter: (PCI Express x16) ATI Mobility Radeon X600 w/128MB
- Monitor: 15.4 Wide Screen - Active Matrix (1280x800)

The main problem was that my graphics card only had 128mb of memory. So I had to back off the graphic settings quite a bit. But I was able to find a good compromise between appearance and performance (I'll cover that in a lot more detail in just a bit).

FPS (Frames Per Second)

Oblivion was released over three years ago, but it can still bog down all but the fastest computer systems - especially when you're trying to run it with over 100 mods installed. Very few people who have a bunch of resource eating mods installed are able to play Oblivion on it highest settings.If you're not happy with the appearance or performance of the game, you can open the option menu and make all sorts of adjustments. Plus there are like a zillion adjustments that you can make in the Oblivion.ini file. (But I'm only going cover a few here)

The trouble is that it's really difficult to improve the appearance and still have good FPS. I tried all sorts of things - some helped my FPS a bit, but most didn't help at all, or even made them worse. Please don't just start changing things, unless you know what you are doing. Every thing that I tried came from suggestions that others had used - but computers and graphic cards are so different. But I finally was able to get the game running fairly well.

When you're playing Oblivion, you can turn on your FPS by doing the following:

1.) hit the ~ key (right below the Esc key) to open the console (also pauses the game).
2.) type: tdt
3.) hit <Enter>
4.) hit the ~ key again to close the console (and return to the game).
You should now have your FPS displayed in the upper right corner of you screen.
Note: If you want to get rid of the FPS display, just repeat the 4-steps.
(Restarting the game will also turn it off.)

FPS are a good way to tell what effect your changes in graphic settingsare having. The higher your FPS, the smoother (less jerky) the game is.

These tweaks will also help to reduce the in-game stutter (jumps), which will make the the game run smoother, even with semi-low FPS.

Things in Oblivion that really cause your FPS to drop: the forest, the 3D grass, rain or snow, shadows, lights, spell effects, NPCs, and the Oblivion gates.

In the beginning of the game, I didn't have any trouble at all. But as soon as I left the prison sewers I found that my game had slowed down a bunch. So I learned how to check my FPS and started tweaking all sorts of things, until I had a playable game.

Running Oblivion on a Slower PC

Updated 3/06/09: Please note that this page was made when I was running Oblivion on my laptop. My newer desktop PC is much more powerful so I'm now running Oblivion at much higher settings than what I've given here (while running over 130 mods).

Default Settings

Please note that these screenshots can't fully show how the actual in-game graphics look - they are just the only way that I can illustrate the differences here. These are all untampered screenshots - my only edits were in reducing the image sizes. The actual FPS are displayed in all the images and I restarted the game after each change to the video settings.

After I installed Oblivion, the program selected the graphics based on my computer. I ended up with the resolution set at 640 x480, with medium textures (and a bunch of other low settings). This is what it looked like:

640 x 480 (FPS=12)

Reverse view, looking back into forest (same location as above):

640 x 480 (FPS=9)

But this resolution looked horrible on my computer Trust me, it looks much worse in the game, when it's running at full screen size. Everything gets stretched sideways to fill my 15.4" wide screen - which made my Wood Elf look fat!

This is 640 x 480 on my wide screen: My Wood Elf at 1280 x800:

Upping the Resolution

I tried playing the game in a window at the other resolution settings. In a window, I actually got higher FPS at 1024 x 768 than I had at the lower resolutions with full screen. And this did fix this stretching problem and it looked much better than at the lower settings. But playing in a window just wasn't the same as full screen.

The only wide-screen setting for this game is 1280 x 800, so I tried that (Oblivion now supports additional wide-screen resolutions):

1280 x 800 (FPS=9)

This looks much so much better. But upping the resolution dropped my frame rates down to a non-playable level. In the forest, they went down to 4 FPS, which is a slide show. I could barely control my character, which wasn't any fun at all! It was pretty, but completely unusable. Bummer!

The Distance Slider Option

Ok, so now what? I really wanted to use a wide-screen resolution, but my one choice was too much for my computer. Hey, what if I try backing off the view distance slider a bit? That's what I had to do in Morrowind to get playable fps on my older computer. So, while still in the game, I hit <ESC>, picked Options, then Video, and scrolled down until I found the View Distance slider - when I slid to the left just a bit. This is what happened:

1280 x 800 - with fog (FPS=11)

Not exactly what I was hoping for! It turns out the turning View Distance down even just a little bit, turns off Distant Land completely, by replacing it with a thick fog.

1280 x 800 - with fog (FPS=11)

My FPS only went up a little, which was still barely playable in the forests, and I hated all that fog. . . bummer again.

Cutting the Grass

So then I went back into the Video Options and tried moving all the other sliders around. I turned all the shadows off, which helped some. And I decreased the Grass Distance way down, which helped a bit more.
So I turned that off as well (by pushing the slider all the way to the left):

This was the result:

No grass, but now I'm getting 11 FPS at 1280 x 800 - and that's with Distant Land turned on!

Ok, I can live with this, but I'll miss all the 3D grass.

Oblivion.ini Tweaks

Since I would feel terrible if you messed up your game, please follow my instructions in my Oblivion.ini File - Basic Edits section before you edit your Oblivion.ini file:

After playing the game for a while, I still wasn't completely happy, so it was back to tweaking again. The next thing that I tried was decreasing the density of the grass in the ini file. If you want to try this, open the Oblivion.ini file and find (near the bottom):

iMinGrassSize=80 (80 was my default value) Change the 80 to 160 and save the file. Start the game.

If you don't like the looks, try a smaller number. If your FPS are still too low, try a larger number. (I'm using 180, which is very sparse, but I can now run the game at 1280 x 800 with 3D grass.)

But my FPS were still not very good. Then I discovered a neat little program that guides you through the Oblivion.ini edits. The program is called Tweaper, and it has been a huge help in optimizing Oblivion for my computer.

Update 3/06/09: Tweaper now seems to be abandoned, as I am no longer able to get it to run (I can still download the program and the Oblivion pak, but the program will not install the pak). A decent alternate program is called TweakOblivion (it is just not as automatic as Tweaper). You also may want to take a look at the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Tweak Guide.

And I also discovered that my FPS were exactly the same when I increased the Texture Size from Medium to Large (note: this goes against everything that I read on Oblivion FPS - so it might just be the way my laptop is set up). But you might want to also give this a try, as using large textures looks so much crisper than the medium ones.

This is how I set my Video Options:

This is the result:

Thinner 3D grass, but 14 FPS at 1280 x 800 at higher distance settings, shadows, and reflective water!

(Note: this screenshot was taken after I installed a couple of graphic MODs - see my Oblivion MODs Page.)

Side-by-Side Comparisons

Here are the side-by-side comparisons:

From default settings of 640 x 480 at 12 FPS to 1280 x 800 wide screen at 14 FPS

From default settings of 640 x 480 at 9 FPS to 1280 x 800 wide screen at 11 FPS

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