Oblivion: LODs

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LOD/VWD Overview

LOD Replacers are packages of the ".lod" data files (LODs) necessary to view landscapes that are not in the foreground; that are "distant" in the middle- or background. These are distinct from the static objects you see in the distance, also known as "Visible While Distant" (VWD) objects. Not all replacer packages contain all the files related to LOD/VWDs, such as meshes, textures, normal maps, and VWD static objects. Many include some of the optimized "_far.nif" (low polygon mesh) files lacking in the vanilla game to make objects visible from a distance, but not necessarily the same ones. (A "_far.nif" file is required to build a ".lod" file.) They are intended to overwrite the vanilla versions of the files they do contain, and generally work with the remaining vanilla versions of the related files, to varying degrees of success.

VWDs need less detail and fewer polygons than items viewed up close to render acceptable images more quickly. High resolution is desirable in close objects, but detrimental to system performance for distant ones where the detail can't be seen. Therefore they are generated as separate files from the foreground texture files. While it is possible to simply take the .nif file from a texture and copy and rename it as "<name>_far.nif", it will adversely affect performance by rendering details that are too small to be perceived. Consequently, _far.nif files should be optimized to have the fewest polygons and texture details necessary to achieve the desired distance effect. Those interested in this issue might want to look at Nif Optimization and Visible When Distant tutorial on the TESCS wiki.

LODs are built on the basis of 'quadrants' (quads) of four adjoining blocks of 32x32 cells. As mods are added to the game that affect the view in the distance, these quads realign themselves. They are highly dependent upon 'load order' (LO) and the heightmaps used for each cell. As a result, it becomes necessary to rebuild the distant LOD files whenever mods (such as texture replacers) affecting those quads are added, removed, or relocated in the LO. In practice, most people find it easier to simply rebuild the LODs whenever they make changes to their LO. The tools that perform this rebuilding are known as 'LOD Generators'.

LOD files are stored in:

  • "\Data\Textures\DistantLOD\" ("_fn.dds": DistantLOD normal maps)
  • "\Data\Textures\LandscapeLOD\Generated\" (".lod": DistantLOD texture files)
  • "Oblivion - Meshes.bsa\distantlod\" (".lod": DistantLOD texture files; and ".cmp": compressed collection of ".lod" files.)
  • Related files such as "_far.nif"s (for distant objects) are in the more general folder locations (i.e. "\Data\Meshes", etc.)

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Unusual Aspects of LOD/VWD files

  • Unfortunately, the Oblivion rendering engine does not render objects or water that are behind the _far.nif mesh. Basically, the only things that can be seen behind a transparent _far.nif are the sky and the Distant Land (not distant objects). See the hazy circle in the left half of this image for an example of the following: (Thanks to Lanceor on the Bethesda Softworks Mods forum for ferreting out this information and providing the image.)
    • DistantLOD meshes can be transparent and the background land can be seen through them.
    • Water inside or behind a distantLOD mesh won't be rendered though…
    • Neither will other DistantLOD objects … making transparency (the alpha property) pointless in most cases.
    • If the distantLOD mesh has collision data, it won't be used by the engine.
      • As a result, for really huge distantLOD objects, the player can walk right into them… until the regular mesh loads and the collision data ejects them all the way back out.
  • If the game thinks it has to display a building or landscape, it will pick the model based on distance, and for landscape at least, will display the LOD/VWD mesh if there's no regular one, as you can see by running way past the borders when you turn them off.
  • The LOD/VWD meshes will get used even when the ESP file is unchecked, or removed. Those meshes have low-res textures, of course. LOD/VWD files remain installed and will be used until they are uninstalled. This is because, in common with other texture replacers, they have overwritten the vanilla version of those files or provided new ones that the game uses simply because they are present.
    (Thanks to ghastley on the Bethesda Softworks Mods forum for both of these tips.)
  • Some LOD/VWD files only modify textures. Others only modify meshes. Always check their documentation carefully.

Two mods commonly asked about are 'Qarls Texture Pack 3' (QTP3) and the various 'Almost Everything Viewable While Distant' (AEVWD) mods, especially RAEVWD.

The quick and easy answer is: QTP3 is textures. RAEVWD is meshes for objects. They mod different things and can (and should) be used together. The first post in the RAEVWD thread has suggestions for methods to improve the FPS impact when used together.

Tip: If you are wondering about the impact of LOD/VWD on your Frames-Per-Second (FPS) in a particular area, try the console command 'tll' (Toggle Land LOD) to see it's impact. This may also help you to move through exterior areas where you take a large FPS hit, if it is due to LODs. (Thanks to Ismelda Lasombra on the Bethesda Softworks Mods forum for this tip.)

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Distinctions among LOD Generators

Many mods that add landmark objects such as castles and ruins come with '_far.nifs' and DistantLOD data, but if two mods both change the same area, then you will not be able to see all the correct objects from a distance. VWD mods add '_far.nif' files for many vanilla objects that previously lacked them. Even where they provide LOD files, that DistantLOD data may not accommodate other mods affecting the same cells. The true solution is to generate new DistantLOD data ('.lod' files) that reflect all the objects with '_far.nif's currently in the game.

It is also important to note that landscape files (TES4LL, TES4qLOD) are distinct from object files (TES4LODGen). Objects are placed within the landscape environment. There are separate 'near' and 'distant' versions of both.

  • The primary LOD generator in use today is TES4LODGen. "The purpose of this program is to do away with pre-generated .lod's completely and have end users generate appropriate DistantLOD quad data for their specific combination of mods." - ElminsterAU
    It's a very easy 'one-click' application that handles the placement of static objects visible when distant, such as trees, buildings, city walls, and with the addition of 'Viewable While Distant (VWD)' object mods, large rocks, ruins, more buildings etc by creating replacement '.lod' files for which additional _far.nif's are made available by those mods. This helps resolve floating distant objects and adding distant objects not visible in the vanilla game. There has to be one '.lod' file for each cell that contains anything that's distantly visible (which is pretty much all exterior cell's). TES4LODGen does not create LOD landscape textures or meshes. It does NOT in any way generate new _far.nif's (low-poly meshes that are used to render objects if they are in the distance). The _far.nif's you have added need to be of high quality (meaning low poly and using low res textures) or you might see an impact on performance as '.lod' files are created for them that might not have existed previously. You should only keep _far.nif files in the '\Data\Meshes' folder for objects you want to see in the distance, and get rid of unoptimized (high-poly mesh) ones.
  • The 'new kid on the block' is Landscape LOD Generator tes4ll. tes4ll generates distant landscape LOD meshes that reflect your installed mods, therefore eliminating most floaters and 'land walls' you get when you use TES4LODGen and the distant land doesn't reflect the actual land heights exactly. It can also create normal maps for the landscape, if required.
    NOTE: tes4ll must be installed into the game Oblivion\Data folder. Read the install instructions carefully.
    To accomplish this originally TESAnnwyn was developed to get the actual land heights. Differences in land heights cause 'land tears', so this enables the creation of smoothly blended landscapes. This functionality has now been included in TES4qLOD. Since version 4 tes4ll now incorporates the source code of TES4qLOD directly, and that in turn now eliminates the need for a separate installation of TESAnnwyn to deal with 'heightmaps': now instead you only need the one program: tes4ll. (The handling of these individual tools previously was simplified with the 'Multi Purpose GUI (MPGUI)', a graphical user interface for choosing among the separate tes4ll, TESAnnwyn and TES4qLOD tools. So v4 has reduced the need for 4 apps down to 1.)
    This ability of tes4ll to deal with differences in distant land heights leads to the question of whether or not the Land Magic utility is still needed. Land Magic makes an ESP file, that modifies the near view heightmap itself. tes4ll makes LOD meshes from the heightmap, so they are complimentary. You can implement the LandMagic.esp into the tes4ll procedure.
    There has been some confusion as to what this tool means by the terms "Medium, High, and Ultimate" in the LOD generation options. Per the author: "High, Medium and Ultimate corresponds to the number of vertices of the LOD meshes produced by tes4ll, they have no relation to the textures or the video quality. The textures are normally done with 1024x1024 [image resolution], which is OK (higher resolutions produce blocky textures)." These resolutions (image and vertices) have nothing to do with video display resolutions.
    Also: "The [impact on] FPS does not depend on the number of mods [affecting LOD], as only the shape of the quad meshes is changed by those mods, but not their quality. But RAEVWD [in particular among VWD mods] can have a large impact if one has too many LOD buildings."
    Here are those resolution parameters:
    • "tes4ll_midres.bat" -> "Mid resolution", 10000 vertex points (leads to 20% more triangles as Vanilla)
    • "tes4ll_highres.bat" -> "High resolution", 13000 vertex points (leads to 80% more triangles as Vanilla)
    • "tes4ll_ultimate.bat" -> "Ultimate resolution", 18000 vertex points, and a very detailed wall remover (something for high-end graphics cards)
  • TES4qLOD quickly generates distant landscape DDS textures, the '.lod' files needed for VWD statics (but not the meshes for them), a complete textured map and normal map of your landscape by combining all of your LOD textures and normal maps into one, and now with alpha blending is capable of creating color maps. It does not add meshes to the textures. but does now include the ability to generate heightmaps, eliminating the need of using TESAnnwyn* for that purpose. But it was regarded as more of a mod maker than a player's tool, designed to overcome certain frustrations with the Construction Set (CS), until the addition of alpha blending gave more acceptable results. For example, if you use texture replacers you have to first convert them from DDS to 4x4, either 24 or 32-bit, BMP file format before using TES4qLOD on them. (You can use the free utility 'nconvert' or 'DDS Convertor 2' for this.) It does not currently blend multi-layered textures or add meshes to textures like the CS can, but is a major time saver and less stressful than the CS for quickly developing LODs to test during development. Mod developers will likely want to persevere with the CS, especially with the improvements provided by the 'Construction Set Extender (CSE)', to get that extra quality result.

It may be helpful to think of these tools as independent but complementary pairs: TES4LODGen ('.lod' files for static objects) and TES4LL (landscape meshes) can be used together, without needing to also call the functionality of TES4qLOD (distant landscape textures, and normal maps) if desired to save steps and time by living without the LOD color maps. All three tools are complementary in function, dealing with different aspects of the LOD environment. There do not appear to be any significant FPS performance issues when combining them.

  • TES4LL (meshes) in combination with TES4qLOD (textures), though this capability is now incorporated in TES4LL v4+;
  • distant static object adding mods like RAEVWD, placed with TES4LODGen.

Note that there are other tools for other texture issues. Please see the Utilities page.

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Common Questions

  • How do I tell which pair of tools I need?

Well, it depends upon what you are intending to 'fix'. Hopefully after reading the 'Overview' above you will understand the distinction, which in turn should make it obvious which pair you need in any given situation. Also, note that you don't need both parts of the pair in all situations. One is for textures and the other is for meshes.

Since you are looking here, presumably you are working on LOD/VWD issues. If you have installed several LOD mods and are now trying to 'stitch them together', suggest first checking for matching *.dds (textures) and *_far.nif (meshes) files for 'objects' and terrain you want to have visible in the distance. Wherever you have one but not the other, you need the appropriate tool to generate the missing element (see the next common question). Once you have both types of files for each distant terrain, then you can try to optimize (see the Utilities page) everything for the same resolution if you wish, and finally you must run TES4LODGen, which will build the .LOD files based upon all the '_far.nif' files it finds. (See the 'sequence summary' below for a bit more detail.)

Bear in mind that adding lots of distant static VWD objects (such as architecture and ruins from RAEVWD) WILL have an impact on FPS when outdoors in the game. VWDs are distinct from terrain objects. Prioritize what you want to see in the distance, and optimize what you can the more you want to see there. High resolution & detail in distant objects is an unnecessary FPS killer. Distant objects are supposed to be blurry and low in detail; it's how you know they are distant.

  • Which LOD/VWD tools are needed and compatible or work well in combination?

Bearing in mind that there may be alternatives to each of these choices, you want to use 'tes4ll' to generate distant LOD meshes, 'TES4qLOD' to generate distant landscape textures, and 'TES4LODGen' to pre-generate distant LOD static objects from _far.nif files that may have been added.

  • Is RAEVWD (or other VWD mods) needed any more with these new LOD tools?

VWD mods add new distant objects and/or .lod files. They are complementary to these tools. Run them after installing a VWD mod.

  • Is there any particular sequence in which I should run these tools?

Here is a quick summary: (Thanks to zilav on the Bethesda Softworks Mods forum.)

  1. tes4ll generates distant meshes for terrain only; hence the name (TES4 Landscape Lod). It can also generate normal maps for distant land textures with faked shadows. It doesn't create distant textures for terrain meshes though because
  2. TES4qLOD generates textures for distant land meshes, which work together with tes4ll meshes. A version of TES4qLOD is now integrated into tes4ll.
  3. None of the tools above does anything with distant objects!
  4. Distant objects are not the actual meshes (.nif files) you see when up close: they are low polygon versions (_far.nif files). RAEWVD (and other VWD mods) does exactly that - supplies low poly _far.nif files (meshes) and textures for distant objects. However
  5. The game does not show distant low poly objects by default. It uses .lod files in the DistantLOD folder that specify what mesh, where, and at what angle to display.
  6. TES4LODGen generates those .lod files in the DistantLOD folder based on distant objects in your mods and the existence of low poly distant object meshes (_far.nif files) from mods such as RAEVWD (and billboard textures to trees). The vanilla game has .lod files only for a limited number of objects like the Imperial City. Hence the need for VWD mods. If you don't run TES4LODGen, your added distant objects won't appear; unless they came with their own .lod files, and even then they may float or create land walls. TES4LODGen fixes much of that.
  7. Tools/mods work in pairs: tes4ll+TES4qLod and VWD mods+TES4LODGen, but those pairs don't depend on each other at all since they do completely different tasks using different resources/information.

Run TES4LODGen EVERY TIME you change your LOAD ORDER. It should be pretty much the last thing you do after running BOSS and building your Bashed Patch (assuming you are using Wrye Bash, which is recommended) before launching your game again. The others should be run (in any order) after all the altering of your mesh, texture replacement, and related normal/glow/age maps mods and prior to building your Bashed Patch.

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LOD Generators

Link Author Description Screenshots
Landscape LOD Generator tes4ll Gruftikus Generator creates LOD meshes based on the landscape heightmap; batch files allow for low, medium, or high-res LODs. Requires TESAnnwyn
TES4LODGen ElminsterAU One-Click DistantLOD Generator. Must have HDR enabled when building to prevent all distant objects "flash to black" depending on the viewing angle; HDR not required when playing
TES4qLOD Lightwave, Gruftikus Quickly generates DDS texture files for LOD meshes in 1024x1024, 2048x2048, or 4096x4096; plus VWD statics, texture and normal maps. Some limitations
TESAnnwyn Lightwave 3D landscape height map importer/exporter

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Reference Location Submissions

Everyone is encouraged to submit Reference Locations (RefLocs) that will showcase the particular characteristics of the LOD category.

  • Locations should have as many different instances of the LOD texture type represented as possible.
  • Reference location submissions should contain all the Actor Loc, Heading, and Pos lines from the SDT31Data display.
  • Please note the default data display when you toggle on 'tdt' is SDT0, which does not use the same coordinate system as STD31.

Detailed instructions are in the General Information article Taking Comparison Images.
Images submitted for comparisons should be in JPG format and conform to the guidelines presented in the same article.

Reference Locations Table
Ref World Location Heading Position Map image
01 Tamriel -1, 20 327.75 -41, 83403, -5 In-game World map displaying the cursor at Reference Location 01

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LOD Replacers

Link Author Description Screenshots
4096x4096 Normal Map - 2048x2048 Border Regions Blade9722, Qarl Higher-resolution LODs
AEVWD Fixes Iggey, Silverglade Almost Everything Viewable While Distant, fixed
BTQ Landscape LODs Blade9722 2048x2048 landscape LODs designed for use with Better Tiling Textures
Cell Sized VWD Water Plane Arthmoor, DaMage, Throttlekitty CS resources for setting the basic cell and VWD versions of added bodies of water visible and height adjustable to adjacent cells
Clear Weather Dark Nights Tom Supergan Clears the air during clear weather, makes nights much darker
Colourwheel LOD Update Evenstar, Colourwheel Improvements on part 1
Colourwheel's LOD Project Pt 1 Colourwheel Improved LODs for use with VWD mods
Colourwheel's LOD Project Pt 2 Colourwheel Improved LODs for the IC
Deathb0rns Modified Qarls LOD Normal Maps Deathb0rn Qarl's LOD Normal Maps modified for 512x512, 1024x1024, & 2048x2048 textures to eliminate DXT compression artifacts
Distant Ruins JAY Makes Ayleid ruins visible at any distance
Elsweyr Anequina - Tribal Huts Replacer washington Replaces models for Khajiiti tribal huts in Iliana's Elsweyr - Desert of Anequina mod.
Elsweyr Anequina Valenwood Improved Patch Iliana Includes LOD files for Elsweyr and Valenwood borders.
Far & Away Distant Lands Textures Pt-I Gorric Blends foreground and background LODs better (part 1 of 3)
Far View Phitt Increases view distance for clear, cloudy, and overcast weather by 50% (vanilla weather only)
Immersive Interiors Landscape AddOn Gruftikus Adds Landscape LODs to the Immersive Interiors mod views for some cities: Anvil, Bruma, Cheydinhal, Chorrol
Insanity's LOD Texture Replacement InsanitySorrow High-res LODs
Koldorn's LOD Noise Replacer Koldorn Makes LODs a little clearer
Landscape LOD Normal Map Fix MipMap Fix BlueSteel, Soor Adds mipmaps to normal maps to help reduce stuttering on loading
Landscape LOD Texture Replacement shaja High-res LODs
Landscape LOD Texture Replacement Border Regions shaja High-res LODs for border regions
Landscape LOD Textures Xerus Improved textures for Cyrodiil and SI LODs
Less Pepper for Patched brash Reduces "LOD noise" (pepper effect) on LODs
LOD Palms for Elsweyr Anequina washington Adds LOD models for coconut palms in Iliana's Elsweyr - Desert of Anequina mod.
Max Res LODs Zacharot 4096 x 4096 LODs
MTAEVWD - More Than Almost Everything Visible While Distant jack Makes almost everything visible at distance
Noise Replacer HTF Makes "pepper" effect on landscape less noticeable
Optimized Distant Land Max bunsaki Reduces polygons in LODs for better performance
Optimized LOD Heads fuc847 Uses lower-polygon LODs for more FPS
pk Landscape LOD Color pk Landscape LOD color package
Qarl's LOD Normals 4096 Compressed Qarl High-res LODs
QTP3 High Detail jack High-res LODs
RAEVWD Arthmoor Really AEVWD: Optimized performance compilation of VWD objects. WARNING! In combination with highest-rez, highly detailed textures can stress systems. Test. Note this download page has many other LOD/VWD files as well as the SI Edition
RAEVWD Extra Rocks Zenball Optimized RAEVWD rocks for use with Combat FPS Optimizer Updated
Reduced Landscape LOD Textures Blade9722, Qarl Reduced LOD textures
Vibrant Distant LOD and Vanilla Textures Enhancements Corepc Makes all LODs more colorful without a performance hit
Zacharot's Max Res LODs Zacharot High-res LODs

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