| PC Visual Enhancements
Oblivion is undisputedly one of the prettiest video games ever made. However, there are several places in which Bethesda held back on visual quality so that the game would still run on lower-end computers. For those of us who have invested in a powerful machine, there are a number of easy strategies to make Oblivion look better than ever.
This guide will be divided into two sections: Initialization Tweaks and Mods.
Find the file Oblivion.ini in the My Documents/My Games/Oblivion directory. Save a back-up copy somewhere else on the Hard Drive, then open the original file in Notepad. By editing certain values in this file, you can significantly improve the game's visual quality.
Track down the following settings in the .ini file and switch them all to 1 from their default setting of 0. High-end systems should be more than able to handle the performance hit. Changing these values from 0 to 1 will add water reflections of static objects, trees, buildings and even the player character. You can see the result of this in the screenshot above.
iActorShadowExtMax=10 The above two options control the maximum number of Interior and Exterior Shadows possible; a setting controlled by your in-game sliders. The normal maximum is 10, but this can be raised to increase the amount of shadows visible. The performance hit experienced will be proportionate to how far your raise the maximum.
fSpecualrStartMax=1000.0000 - This option controls the max range of specular lighting, if enabled. You can raise this value further to gain specular lighting on distant objects. The mispelling of specular (to Specualr) must be kept for the game to register your change.
bGrassPointLighting=0 - Setting to 1 provides more accurate lighting on grass at the cost of reduced FPS.
bForceFullLOD=0 - If set to 1 uses full Level of Detail (LOD) for trees, making them appear slightly better in exchange for a small FPS drop.
Make Bloom lighting look like HDR (without the performance hit): fSkyBrightness=0.7000
iMaxDecalsPerFrame=10 - This value controls the maximum abount of blood marks (decals) which can be seen on the screen at any time. Raising the value can increase the gore but reduce FPS in combat.
fMinBloodDamage=1.0000 - This value determines the minimum amount of damage you must inflict to draw blood. Set it to 0.0000 to increase the bloodiness of combat.
fDecalLifetime=10.0000 - This value determines the number of seconds it takes for decals to disappear. The higher the value, the longer the blood marks will take to fade away. Longer-lasting decals impact performance, but can make battles more realistic.
From TweakGuide.com's guide to installing Oblivion Mods, by Koroush:
Installation instructions for each mod are usually included with the mod itself in a Readme.txt file. Where instructions may not be provided (perhaps a sign the mod isn't very professional), the procedure typically involves extracting the contents of the mod archive into your \Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Oblivion\Data directory (and subdirectories as required), then if necessary using the Oblivion Launcher, selecting 'Data Files' and ticking the mod from the listing shown there. Note that you should make sure to run Defrag after installing larger mods to reduce stuttering in the game.
Next, to make sure your mods are always detected by Oblivion, even after being patched, see the instructions under 'Updating Mods for New Version of Oblivion' further below. That method is quite simple and should work for most basic texture replacement mods, such as those I've recommended above. However, I've found that for the 'Grass Without Tiling' mod, I needed to create an empty text file, rename it to ArchiveInvalidation.txt, paste the path to the 'Grass Without Tiling' mod file into it (i.e paste the following into there textures/landscape/terrainhdgrass01su.dds), and then place this Archiveinvalidation.txt file into into my \Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Oblivion\Data\ directory. This isn't always necessary, but basically it tells Oblivion to always check for subdirectories under the default directories for added texture, sound, music and image mods, and load up whatever is in there. You can use this utility to automatically do it for you, adding the proper entries required. Update: Based on further research by members of the Oblivion community, it turns out that due to (most likely) a bug in Oblivion, the ArchiveInvalidation.txt method doesn't necessarily work properly for all mods. The detailed explanation is here, but for those of you who just want the solution, it involves using the Oblivion Mod Manager utility. This utility makes the appropriate changes to your Oblivion files, but note that you need to install .NET 2.0 for it to work. If you're still having problems installing your mod and getting it to work correctly, try this Oblivion Mod FAQ for more detailed instructions.
LOD Replacement Pack - This mod by Shaja scales the original 1024x1024 textures to 2048x2048, meaning textures are much more detailed, particularly at a distance. Even on high-end computers the vanilla version of the game renders far-off hillsides in plain, flat, splodgy colors. At the expense of slightly longer loading times Oblivion's terrain is made far more detailed with the LOD Replacement pack.
LOD Replacement Border Regions Pack - This mod, also by Shaja, contains new textures for Oblivion's more isolated regions. It operates on the same premise as the above pack, and has the same results, simply building on the work of the first mod.
Also, if you have the patience to download a 335mb file and a ridiculously high-end graphics card then you can pinch the High Resolution LOD Replacement Pack, which replaces the original 1024x1024 textures with 4096x4096 textures.
Here is a visual comparison between a vanilla landscape and the same landscape with the LOD Replacement Pack & Border Regions Pack installed. (Made from images that formed part of the Make Oblivion Pretty guide at GameSpot).
Normal Map Replacement Pack - Improves the shadows on all distant terrain, meaning the landscape contains far fewer dark splodges. When combined with the LOD Replacement packs, Oblivion's landscape suddenly becomes stunning.
Natural Environments - Another indespensable visual enhancement, Max Tael's Natural Environments mod adds 33 weather varieties (the game comes with seven), adds detail to the sky textures and tweaks the water settings to make sea-side or lake-side scenes impossibly beautiful. The mod also adds a variety of new ambient wildlife, overall making Oblivion's landscape incredibly vibrant.
Here is GameSpot's comparison between vanilla Oblivion and the game with the LOD Replacement Packs + the Normal Map Replacement Pack + Natural Environments installed:
Grass Without Tiling - replaces the standard distant grass texture, which contains obvious signs of tiling, with one that does not. At just over 100kb, this little mod is clearly worth the visual gain.
Alternate Grasses - changes the textures for the three varieties of grass in Cyrodiil: yellow, brown and green. Each change is contained within a seperate OMOD file, allowing you to change only the textures you want. You may think the original textures are more attractive, but this mod is a nice choice for those who want a 'change of scenery'.
ATI Chuck Patch - ATI's newest video cards allow Anti-Aliasing and HDR lighting to be enabled at the same time. Even if you have a card with this capability, Oblivion doesn't allow it. Until now. You'll need an X1900, X1800 or equivalent for this mod to work.
BT Mod - The BT Mod is one of the most popular and highly recommended User Interface conversions on the net. It contains bigger map and inventory screens, as well as a host of other useful changes (including a full-colour map).
Submit suggestions to ledriver at gmail dot com.
GameSpot's "Oblivion: Make It Pretty" feature & TweakGuides.com's Oblivion Tweak Guide (by Koroush Ghazi) were invaluable in the construction of this guide.
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