Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Quality Test - Planetside 2 and 'Ultra' Settings (1080p Video), Screenshots


Although I am still working on a First Impressions for this game, I am just having waaay too much fun playing and testing out different settings on it. For those who don't know, Planetside 2 is a Free-To-Play MMOFPS (massively multiplayer online first person shooter) and is available on Steam for easy install and login.

Now, when I first tried playing the game, it sometimes got sluggish and choppy, even though my system isn't 'old' yet, with a 6-core AMD CPU and a Radeon HD 6870. So, being a computer technician, I got down to [having fun] troubleshooting..

The first thing I noticed is that larger fights lagged out the game more. Defending a little outpost with a dozen or so people running around, the game flew at 60fps; but in a large Bio-dome 3-faction battle with what must have been a hundred players tearing about, my frames per second dropped below 30 quite often.

What do you do in this case? That's right, lower the graphic settings. In an OPTIONS or SETTINGS menu (as it is in this game) you can usually find Video settings that you can lower or disable, to help the game perform better, by telling your videocard, "don't do this... or that". The funny thing is, putting it on Medium and then Low, made no difference whatsoever.

What does that mean? In case you didn't know, that means that it is not your videocard that is getting overworked. If running on Low settings with no special effects, the game is sluggish and turning everything up to High with all the bells and whistles, the game is just sluggy (yes I make up words), it is not your videocards' fault. Don't send it to it's room just yet.

What is happening then, is that somewhere else there is a limitation of some sort. Loading models/polygons/effects and other things as you move, the hard drive has to feed data to be displayed. My hard drive light wasn't going on much (I defragment often), so it must have been something else. My RAM tested out ok, so what's next? That's right, the CPU. Looking at the performance of my 'main-brain' processor as the game ran, showed it didn't really overuse it either though, only about 20-60% at most. It also didn't use more than about 1.5GB of RAM, so it must be running in 32-bit address space (if your head got 'swimmy' at that last couple sentences, it means the game didn't tire out my computer very much).

Now I don't want to point fingers without really knowing, but the testing suggests that there is possible CPU optimization problems, either within my system, or on the server systems (and possibly some data communication issues). After doing a little research into what I found was a large number of people having problems, I read that the developers have promised some sort of optimization patches over the next while. Great! I see already, whenever I load the game, that there are little hotfixes and patches coming down the pipe. A good sign of good treatment for the game, hopefully.

Looking around some more, I also found there was an 'Ultra' graphics setting in the Beta (I have been in many but I was not in this game's Beta phase) that was taken out. I assume this is to limit the work put onto players' systems and appeal to a wider audience of older hardware owners. However, it was still somewhat usable now, as long as you didn't mind doing some text editing of a settings file in the game's folder. Of course, I had to test it out!

What was essentially an uploaded text file with no Creditation (it just says Uploaded By: A Guest), what it contained were some settings such as turning up Draw Distance and Lighting Quality, by setting it to a higher number than the game normally does (the game's HIGH setting seems to be '3' and this text file was suggesting '5' in many places). Trying it out, some screenshots of the result are right here:





This wasn't taken with Ultra settings (I was running on High at the time), but 
I liked this shot from the BioLab atrium and wanted to share it, it's my wallpaper at the moment:


The problem was, these Ultra settings didn't really help the lag/sluggish gameplay I was experiencing, although it made it look spectacular. Since the issue of the sluggishness seemed to possibly be tied to CPU optimizations, I further changed the settings on my own, lowering ones that taxed/used the CPU more - and lo' and behold, what I ended up with was a nice, smooth, excitement-adding(!) gameplay performance - from a batch of settings that I now want to share with everyone else!

The [what seems to be] original "Ultra Config" settings are found here:
http://pastebin.com/XFkf8sYJ
^ That is a website where people can upload and share text files and you can simply save it as the text file it is and rename it UserOptions.ini and put it in your
<whatever drive steam is on>//ProgramFiles/Steam/steamapps/common/PlanetSide2
folder. (Make a backup copy of the original if you want)

Since those settings resulted in great-looking graphics, I wanted to keep most of it, but simply changed some of the more CPU-utilizing effects. My changes were all under the section Rendering (you can just copy and paste this 'Rendering' section over your 'Rendering' section in your UserOptions.ini if you want to):


[Rendering]
GraphicsQuality=5
TextureQuality=0
ShadowQuality=3
RenderDistance=2000.000000
Gamma=0.000000
MaximumFPS=60
UseLod0a=0
VSync=0
OverallQuality=-1
LightingQuality=3
FogShadowsEnable=1
EffectsQuality=5
TerrainQuality=3
FloraQuality=3
FloraDistanceScale=2.000000
ModelQuality=5
ParticleQuality=5
ParticleLOD=5
MotionBlur=1
BlurQuality=3
MotionBlurQuality=3
VerticalFOV=74
AO=1
AmbientOcclusionQuality=3
AOQuality=3
GpuPhysics=1
* Update: we have put our own Pastebin text file of the entire UserOptions.ini up here (simply save it/rename it to UserOptions.ini): http://pastebin.com/6j9aHVav

** For even more performance while still looking nice overall, try inserting these settings, most of which release even more CPU demand from the game:
RenderDistance=1000.000000, FogShadowsEnable=0, EffectsQuality=2, ParticleQuality=2, ParticleLOD=2

As you can see, most of the textures, complexity and other effects are up, but I lowered a few things like the terrain and shadows (these seemed to use the CPU quite a bit) and the draw distance, which still looks good at "2000". With these settings, I now had a much smoother, still-pretty result! Recording some gameplay as a test of both the new settings and showing the increase in performance, here is few couple minutes of playing as a Medic and Engineer with the settings above:


Recorded with Bandicam Licensed Version at 1920x1080p, 'Default' setting (MPEG-1 Quality 80 VBR)
playing Planetside 2, a free-to-play MMOFPS

That was just a simple pasting of some short tests together, taken in a time of low light/at night and then during the daytime when I went and found some BioLab fighting (which is usually a site of sluggish performance for most people, I know it was for me) where there are many other soldiers around. It shows an example of  the lighting, effects and clarity of the textures, both inside and outside (except for one or two that seemed to be 'stuck' at low resolution) that you can get with these Ultra settings - as well as the smoothness of gameplay that you can even have with my tweaks to them! If you want to make sure the game doesn't change them back (or you don't by accident), make the file Read-Only.

I'm not the greatest player, but I enjoy playing a Medic and Engineer, helping support my team. In the video, you get to see some Healing and Repairing and the Engineer's Turret that he can construct (and then only he can use it) and my Friendly Fire Warning I got using Claymores (if anyone on your team is too close when it goes off after detecting an enemy they get hurt too). You actually get three or four Warnings, but people were standing in front of my Clays a lot when they took out enemies and then you can see my shooting in the back a little in a firefight at the door there, as we all ran in and around it...don't worry it's not easy to get Weapon Locked. If you get a few warnings, just watch out for other people (sometimes you can't help what they do) or even move to a less busy area or just Repair and Heal people for a while.

Hopefully these tweaks will help some of you out there. It's sad to have such a great game with such a large-feeling scope of battle have so many people upset and frustrated that it's too laggy or sluggish and having those people give up or leave or think the game isn't good at all. Don't forget the promise/rumors of further tweaks and optimizations coming out soon, too. Since I can honestly say it helped my bad performance problem, I can honestly say that it should help you, if you are experiencing low fps in your gameplay - and it will look great! If anyone is still having sluggish gameplay, let me know and I can try tweaking the settings a little more to squeeze more out of it and see what happens. Whether you have to turn everything down, or if you can run it full blast, or with these tweaks, I hope you can enjoy the game eventually, and that these tweaks helped some of you at least a little bit.

*** By the way, for those worried about SOE's stance on modifying game files, etc. their Official Statement on client modification is here:
http://forums.station.sony.com/ps2/index.php?threads/important-client-modifications.54265/ 
Quote:
"The most simple guidance here is do not use third party programs which change the Planetside 2 gameplay in any way unless it has been specifically cleared by SOE.
The above does not apply to user initiated *.INI changes, those are allowed, although setting your own options incorrectly can result in bugs."

So they are mainly talking about hacks like aimbots, memory injectors like Cheat Engine, etc.
Thankfully, merely changing how it is displayed on your own screen (as we are doing here) is O.K. Just don't set any of the settings 'too high' or you can cause problems (they call them bugs) such as corrupted display, really really laggy gameplay, and so on (don't worry, you won't hurt your hardware, the game will just crash or something similar). Thanks for letting us tweak the video options, SOE!
NOTE: When experimenting with these changes, please remember that any problems arising from them should not be added to the already heavy load of Sony Online Entertainment's Technical Support Department. Please 'reset' any modifications by deleting the UserOptions.ini file and then after further troubleshooting, bring PS2 problems to the attention of SOE and their staff. Thanks  

Also.. there seems to be a problem with long play sessions, the game gets more and more sluggish for many people. It has been suggested that is is possibly a Memory Leak problem and for now, to restart (the game and/or your system) after a long battle, so that the next one will possibly have less problems. Hopefully this isn't an issue for everyone.

[Update: Testing these settings with an NVIDIA GTX 560 Ti and then with two GTX 560 Ti's in SLI mode, there was near nil increase in performance when switching to SLI. It seems that the bottleneck truly is within the CPU optimizations.
As a sidenote, I was getting about 30fps on average with the NVIDIA cards in my system (even in SLI) and was getting about 40fps on average with the AMD/ATi card in the same system. This is normal however, as some games perform slightly better with one than the other (as the coders develop the game on one or the other/company optimizations/etc. Something could be said for AMD doing some optimizations between the videocard and the CPU when an AMD GPU is coupled with an AMD CPU in the same system, but as I do not work for the company, I do not know.. it does make sense however).]



Personal Notes/Opinions:

At the time of this posting, the game seems to have a lot of aliasing (in my opinion), even at 1080p or higher resolutions. If you want to enable AA, you can do so by forcing it in your videocard's Control Panel. FXAA (NVIDIA) and MLAA (Morphological, AMD/ATi) are both versions of post-processing that should work and be visible in the game [I tested it with AMD's MLAA, the difference is visible]. 
Note that these post-processing AA techniques may not be able to be captured in screenshots and game recordings (Fraps, Bandicam, Dxtory, Playclaw, etc) although the effects may be visible while playing the game [in some games processing such as SweetFX can be capped, some can't].
As per SOE's Official Statement and replies, use of SweetFX is NOT suggested as it is still in the category of utilities that can result in being banned:
http://forums.station.sony.com/ps2/index.php?threads/important-client-modifications.54265/
http://forums.station.sony.com/ps2/...modifications-announcement.55674/#post-692380




See you in the game!