Texture Replacers and You

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Unless you know what you're looking for (and even if you do), you can easily become overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. Which landscape mod do I want? Ooh, this armor looks nice… and those tapestries are beautiful, and that sky texture… You're like a kid in a candy store - you download it all, install it, walk around for a few minutes admiring this amazing new world… And then your game crashes because you've added too many texture replacers. Argh!

There are a number of choices here. Not only can you go with texture replacers, but you can also get packs that simply improve normal maps, which make textures look better without affecting FPS. Along with that, you have VWD (View While Distant) mods and LOD (Level of Detail) mods. VWD enables you to see things like objects and architecture further away, which makes the game a lot better looking, but can have a serious impact on performance. LOD mods are similar to VWD mods, but they affect landscape instead of statics. Some LOD mods can also reduce the "pepper" effect (those annoying black spots) that are part of vanilla Oblivion. With all of these components, and the various categories of texture types, the question naturally arises: does it matter which order they are installed in? And the answer is: Yes. This section is designed to help you with that.

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Preparation - Oblivion

The best way to mitigate the impact of higher levels of texture detail on your game performance is to have a solid basic game configuration and understanding of your hardware characteristics. Start with the TESCOSI site, which has collected the community's best installation practices in one place. Learn about the difference between 'install order' and 'load order', how to install outside of the 'Program Files' folder tree on Vista and Windows 7 systems, about the advantages of and how to configure various 'Starter' utilities such as Streamline, OSR, OBSE, whether or not the LAA patch is suitable for your system, etc.

Once you've established a good installation, there are a number of tweaks to that configuration needed to take best advantage of your particular set of hardware. The Oblivion Tweak Guide site explains all the many options in your Oblivion.ini file (located in your '<profile>\My Documents\My Games\Oblivion' folder, not the game install folder). Whether or not you ever install any mods or texture replacers, these preparatory steps are necessary for a stable game experience.

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Anyone intending to start experimenting with texture replacement should install and get familiar with BAIN (Bash Installer), part of Wrye Bash (WB). BAIN can automatically install large numbers of files, similar to OMODs, but even better, if you install a mod that overwrites existing files, then later uninstall it, BAIN will restore those files. For someone experimenting with various texture sets, it's invaluable.

Many people have heard that WB is difficult to learn to use because of its many features. The documentation has recently been reorganized and rewritten to help distinguish among those features. One only needs to learn to use BAIN and the Mods tab. The Wrye Bash Pictorial Guide is an excellent accompaniment for both beginners and experienced users of WB alike. It specifically focuses on getting you up and functioning with these two features quickly.

Often people find they like one aspect of a particular texture pack (say the architecture), and a different aspect from another (say the castles). But simply installing both creates problems. This is where the TES Texture Pack Merging Utility comes into play. It is designed to enable you to install two texture packs in separate folders, select specific files between them, and put your preferences into a third folder to create a new, merged texture pack that is specific to your own desires and needs. It is also useful simply for comparing prior to deciding which to install.

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Within these general categories of file types, there are many choices and possible combinations to suit individual tastes. But perhaps it will make a little more sense if you think of the process as putting down layers of texture over the game environment. Without worrying about specific choices, the process can be abstracted like this:

  1. Choose a primary and secondary texture pack, or a normal map replacer pack. Normal map replacers and texture replacers are largely mutually exclusive; people generally choose normal map replacers because they want their game to look good, but they aren't as concerned about it looking as good as it would with a full-on texture pack, or because their system simply can't handle it.
  2. Check VRAM and FPS usage before installing any texture replacers. This establishes a baseline so you can see the impact of each; you should keep a record for comparison purposes. You can choose whatever FPS you feel comfortable with, but generally speaking, 25-35 outdoors and 50+ indoors is sufficient. If the FPS drops below 20, you'll start to notice slowdowns and stuttering; if it drops below 10 or so, the game becomes nearly unplayable and has a greater tendency to crash. As far as VRAM is concerned, as long as you stay below your video card's VRAM, you'll be all right; if it exceeds your allowed value, the game will crash. Oblivion, however, has a memory leak that means VRAM usage gradually increases the longer you play during each individual game session, and it will crash occasionally no matter what you do. Save often.
  3. Choose and install your secondary texture pack as your base. This is because you want the primary pack to overwrite this one, leaving any elements the primary doesn't replace. If you're using a normal map replacer mod, install that instead.
  4. Check VRAM and FPS usage after installing each mod component. Remove any that seem to push your hardware too much. At every step you must prioritize your choices as which is more important.
  5. Install your primary texture pack.
  6. Check VRAM usage and FPS.
  7. Install any other specific exterior texture replacers, such as Architecture, Environment, Flora & Fauna, and LODs, one at a time, checking VRAM usage and FPS after each.
  8. Install your preferred VWD mod, component by component. RAEVWD's components "Core + Forts + Ayleid Ruins" and the "SI core + Dungeons" seem to have little to no impact on performance on the game, but other components' impact varies by the other choices of textures.
  9. Check VRAM usage and FPS.
  10. Install your preferences in the remaining specific texture areas.
  11. Check VRAM and FPS usage.

If you're using a VWD mod, you might want to adjust the uGridDistantCount setting in Oblivion.ini to 20 or even 15, as this can drastically improve FPS without having to turn off distant objects completely (which kind of defeats the purpose of adding a VWD mod). If you're not using a VWD mod, you can adjust Streamline's fog settings based on those of the Oblivion INI. (Follow TESCOSI recommendations for both.) The purpose of the fog is to increase FPS; the less distance that has to be rendered, the less impact on performance.

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