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Guide to video settings

Guide to video settings

What are adjustable video settings?

Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither was Rapture for that matter, and rendering all those game worlds takes processing power, a lot of processing power. Everything that appears on screen is drawn in real-time by your Mac, which makes thousands of calculations a second to ensure everything looks just right. And you thought it was just a pretty face.

More recent games tend to require more processing power than older ones. That’s because game developers like using the most advanced technology available to them. While this results in a stream of very cool games, it also means that a Mac that was well able to run cutting edge games four years ago is likely to find recent ones much more challenging.

Adjustable video settings are a way to let less powerful Macs play the most recent games. By adjusting the quality of the graphics in the game, you can improve performance on a lower spec. Mac, or make games look their very best on a whizzier one.

With us so far? Great!

Jargon!

Things can get complicated pretty quickly with graphics technology, so to try and keep it so that we all know (sort of) what we are talking about, here’s a quick jargon-busting session:

CPU - The Central Processing Unit, or “processor” to its friends. It manages all the calculations you don’t see, like game AI (artificial intelligence), collisions and in-game physics.

GPU - The Graphics Processing Unit, commonly referred to as the graphics card or video card. This clever piece of hardware is dedicated to processing graphical calculations. All modern Macs have a GPU, though the make and model varies widely by type of Mac. Much of the variation in how well different Macs display games can be explained by the capabilities of their graphics cards.

Graphics options - The different visual effects that you can control in the game. These are such things as resolution, shadows and texture quality. In Feral games some of these, such as “resolution”, can be accessed from the pre-game Options window, but options like “shadows” and “reflections” are usually accessed from an in-game menu. The number and type of graphics options varies considerably by game.

Video settings - The settings available for each graphics option. Some settings are binary; for example, options like “enhanced fog” and “real time reflections” are either “On” or “Off”. Other options such as “detail” and “texture quality” usually have a range of settings, like “High”, “Medium” and “Low”.

Performance - Performance has two main components: the speed at which frames are rendered to the computer screen (“Frame rate” see below) and the amount of time that it takes your computer to put your instructions into effect (“Lag”, see below).

Frames - Frames are the individual still images that, when played in quick succession, give the appearance of a moving picture on your screen.

Frame rate - The number of times per second that your computer draws a frame on its screen. A low frame rate will make the game appear jerky, a high frame rate will make it smooth.

Lag - The time delay between when you give an instruction to the game (using a device such as a keyboard, mouse, gamepad, wheel or joystick) and the game’s on-screen response. When the game is performing well, you won’t notice a delay. If you detect a pause between your input and the game’s response, the game is said to be “laggy”. This may spoil your enjoyment and put you at a disadvantage in games where fast reaction time is important.

Low frame rate? Lag? Oh no! You’re experiencing bad performance!

Don't worry, it isn't time to start looking for a new Mac or give up on gaming just yet.

You see, games are the brilliant but spoilt stars of the software world. They do amazing things and look spectacular, but they can be greedy and selfish, too. If they don’t get everything they want, they may throw a tantrum or two, so careful management is needed to make sure they behave themselves.

If you’re experiencing bad performance, the first thing to do is limit the amount of applications you have running. Games demand a lot of the CPU’s processing power, and other applications running on your Mac at the same time will divert that power away from the game. That means that the fewer other application running alongside your game, the better.

Done that? Good. It’s time to adjust your video settings.

Wow, there are quite a few. What do they all do?

Every game has a unique range of graphics options and will respond in different ways when you alter their settings. However, here are some common options listed in descending order of the impact they typically have on performance:

Resolution - This is the setting that will likely have most impact upon your game’s performance. “Resolution” refers to the number of pixels that comprises the image displayed on screen; it is expressed as the number of columns of pixels multiplied by the number of rows of pixels. For example, a resolution of “1024 x 768” means that there are 1024 columns and 768 rows of pixels being displayed by the game. That’s 786,432 pixels!

The higher the resolution, the more pixels are used to comprise the image and the crisper it will appear on screen. However, the more pixels the game displays, the higher the demand on your Mac’s GPU. Although a recent, high spec. Mac can display games at high resolutions without breaking a sweat, less powerful Macs will struggle to do so without a drop in performance.

Resolution set to
in Empire: Total War
High resolution Low resolution

FSAA - Full Screen Anti-Aliasing. With this setting on, on-screen objects will have smoother edges, making their appearance more realistic. This places an extra burden on your GPU, which on less powerful Macs may result in a drop in performance.

Anti-aliasing switched
in Tomb Raider: Underworld
Anti-aliasing off Anti-aliasing on

V-SYNC - Vertical Synchronization. This option prevents "screen tearing", a visual artefact that occurs when information from two or more different frames is being displayed in a single screen draw. Such “tearing” is caused by a mismatch between the computer’s frame rate and the refresh rate of the monitor, and shows up as a line drawn horizontally across the screen at the boundary of which objects comprising the image do not line up, and so appear “torn”. Enabling V-Sync prevents this.

V-SYNC switched
in Tropico 3: Gold Edition
V-SYNC off V-SYNC on

Particle effects (fog, dust, smoke) - Fog will make BioShock more atmospheric. Dust will make DiRT 2 feel like more like a real-live rally. Explosions in Mafia II will feel just a bit more real when they leave smoke behind. However, rendering each tiny particle uses a small amount of processing power. This all adds up, so when there are a lot of particles, a lot of processing power is required to draw them.

Particles switched
in DiRT 2
Particles off Particles on

Reflections - Puddles, lakes, oceans and mirrors will look more realistic if they reflect light properly. Although enabling reflections will make bodies of water more inviting to jump into (and mirrors more tempting to smash), it will come at the expense of some performance.

Reflections switched
in BioShock
Reflections off Reflections on

Shadows - In real life, all three-dimensional objects cast shadows when they obstruct rays of light. Simulating this effect in video games is a complex business that requires lots of calculations, especially when there are multiple light sources and the objects in question are moving. Enabling shadows will make the game world look deeper and more realistic, but all those calculations demand quite a bit of processing power.

Shadows switched
in Batman: Arkham Asylum
Shadows off Shadows on

Enhanced graphics - In LEGO games, you can enable Enhanced Graphics. This will make the in-game objects appear more shiny, plasticky and more, well LEGO-like. Most Macs will be able to run the game with this setting enabled without too big a hit on performance, but you can always turn it off if things get slow.

Enhanced graphics switched
in LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4
Enhanced graphics off Enhanced graphics on

Is that it?

Many games feature additional graphics options to those listed above, and there’s no “right” combination of video settings. When you first launch a Feral game, the video settings will automatically be set in a combination that we believe is optimal for your computer. However, you may decide that a slight drop in performance is a small price to pay for better graphics, or that you'd rather sacrifice a particular graphical effect for speed.

It’s your call.

The only way to find out what works best for you is to experiment, and that’s easy. Just open up the graphics options menu and have a fiddle. Go on, we recommend it!

If you require any assistance with graphics settings, please feel free to email us at support@feralinteractive.com