BioWare explains SWTOR's missing high-res textures

Star Wars: The Old Republic players have been wondering why high-resolution textures disappeared from all but the cinematic dialogue sequences after it officially launched. BioWare responds.

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The official Star Wars: The Old Republic community forums have been abuzz with complaints from players who've been wondering why most high-resolution textures in BioWare's MMO have gone missing after the game launched. After some promised investigation, word has finally come out as to why said textures have vanished, and while it makes sense, it's probably not the answer that player were hoping for.

In an exhaustive post on the SWTOR forums, Senior Online Community Manager Stephen Reid explains that the high-resolution textures--which players were able to enjoy before the game's official public launch--were removed due to a "deliberate decision by the development team."

Apparently the decision to remove high-resolution textures rendered outside of the cinematic cutscenes was due largely to the fact that in an MMO, it's not really possible to know how many characters will be on screen and viewable at a given moment. Reid explains that in the case of SWTOR, "we discovered that using our 'maximum resolution' textures on in-game characters during normal gameplay could cause severe performance issues, even on powerful PCs." Places like "popular gathering places," "Operations with large teams," and Warzones were particularly affected.

BioWare elected to solve this problem by using something called a "Texture Atlas," which Reid explains in detail.

When a character in the game is 'seen' by another character - ie, gets close to your field of view - the client has to 'draw' that character for you to see. As the character is 'drawn' for you there are a number of what are known as 'draw calls' where the client pulls information from the repository it has on your hard disk, including textures, and then renders the character. Every draw call that is made is a demand on your PC, so keeping that number of draw calls low per character is important. With our 'maximum resolution' textures a large number of draw calls are made per character, but that wasn't practical for normal gameplay, especially when a large number of characters were in one place; the number of draw calls made on your client would multiply very quickly. The solution was to 'texture atlas' - essentially to put a number of smaller textures together into one larger texture. This reduces the number of draw calls dramatically and allows the client to render characters quicker, which improves performance dramatically.

Given that the same rules don't apply to cinematic dialog sequences--since the developer has "control over exactly how many characters are rendered and can ensure that the game performs well," those sequences still support the beefier textures.

Perhaps the only real surprise is how Reid addresses what he refers to as a "UI bug," which led to much of the confusion. The "bug" pertains to how players can still select "Low," "Medium," and "High" graphics options. The UI should just reflect "Low" and "High" options, wherein the old "Medium" is the new "High." Players understandably assumed that all three settings would reflect themselves appropriately in-game. It's an oversight that's let to some completely avoidable fan-frustration, and it's not unreasonable to expect that a future patch will remedy this issue.

That said, Reid states that BioWare looking for ways to improve the game's presentation even further. "With that said, we've heard your feedback here loud and clear," Reid notes in his post's closing statements. "The development team is exploring options to improve the fidelity of the game, particularly for those of you with high-spec PCs. It will be a significant piece of development work and it won't be an overnight change, but we're listening and we're committed to reacting to your feedback."

From The Chatty
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    January 13, 2012 7:00 PM

    Jeff Mattas posted a new article, BioWare explains SWTOR's missing high-res textures.

    Star Wars: The Old Republic players have been wondering why high-resolution textures disappeared from all but the cinematic dialogue sequences after it officially launched. BioWare responds.

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      January 13, 2012 7:02 PM

      Good grief. They really need to do something, because even WoW looks better than swtor at times.

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        January 13, 2012 7:18 PM

        Like running into players is even a problem, this game is a fucking ghost town tbh.

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          January 14, 2012 4:55 AM

          Really? I feel like there are almost too many people at times

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            January 14, 2012 5:15 AM

            The zones are ridiculously huge. I was on Hoth yesterday, 150 people on the planet I didn't run into anyone for an hour.

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        January 13, 2012 7:30 PM

        Well you also need to take into account that in WoW there aren't as many items you can equipped that effects your characters appearance. From what I can tell so far, everything except relics makes and aesthetic change.

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          January 13, 2012 7:48 PM

          It's the exact same number of slots in WoW and TOR, if one game has more items that change your character's appearance that would be WoW with only 1 slot (cloak) =P

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          January 13, 2012 7:52 PM

          I also like how the leather helmet with the face flap folded up makes me sound like I'm wearing a trooper helmet.

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      January 13, 2012 7:26 PM

      It sounds like they are forcing Low quality all of the time. Why not just fix the settings to do what they say and then let the players decide?

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      January 13, 2012 7:37 PM

      [q]"put a number of smaller textures together into one larger texture"[/q]
      Megatextures - gotcha.

      So look at Carmack and id's notes, where they state the importance of muting texture variety to allow more things to be covered by a single megatexture, creating separate pages of megatextures (one for player characters, one for this region, one for that region) so less unused data is loaded at any given time, and removing textures from areas the player should never see.

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        January 13, 2012 8:32 PM

        Texture atlas != virtual textures.

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      January 13, 2012 7:41 PM

      Why don't they just load low res textures for characters and keep environmental textures high res?

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        January 13, 2012 8:30 PM

        Umm? Thats what they are doing.

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          January 13, 2012 8:38 PM

          They don't explain that in the article.

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          January 13, 2012 8:42 PM

          I think he means real-time, like LOD-bias similar to Quake 3.

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      January 13, 2012 7:54 PM

      This is the last thing people should be worrying about with this game.

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        January 13, 2012 8:33 PM

        Not necessarily, one of the main reasons to keep playing mmos is do to character progression, grinding for gear, of course while having fun. If your character looks like shit, which they mostly do, its not very appealing.

        However, I keep playing just because the game is damn fun, but I really want my high res textures back. I had no performance issues during beta and had more people on screen than I do now, not counting fleet.

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          January 13, 2012 8:42 PM

          I meant in terms of features missing or bugs that are affecting actual gameplay :(

          I don't mind how it looks with everything turned up. I can't remember what the beta looked like though.

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            January 14, 2012 12:09 AM

            Graphics in MMOs are strange.People who rush, grind and do repetitive quests don't really care after a while how great the game looks, yet there seems to be a general understanding that it should fulfil some kind of minimum of graphical standard, which is somewhere between medium and high.

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              January 15, 2012 4:30 PM

              ^This. Shinies are nice and all, but after a time even crap graphics get accepted. Still, what I wouldn't give for an mmo that managed to have awesome graphics on par with Crysis. Some day. Some day.

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                January 16, 2012 9:46 AM

                That isn't going to happen until the current enthuasist level performance is shrunk down in to a integrated or HTPC GPU form factor found in low-end machines. Alot of MMO players are known for not being the most up-to-date hardware or system wise. Just look at what machines people were running World of Warcraft on or even glance at the steam survey.

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                  January 17, 2012 12:51 AM

                  Ran fine with full on high res textures at 1600x1200 on my Athlon 64x2@2.9Ghz and an 8800GT. 6 year old processor, 4 year old vid card, 30-40FPS with everything maxed and about 5 people/square yard in game. (Beta was busy lol)

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                    January 17, 2012 1:40 PM

                    He wasn't talking about running SWTOR with max quality but running a MMO with Crysis quality.

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      January 13, 2012 8:27 PM

      They should to be honest leave it up to the player to decide if they want to sacrifice quality for performance. The could do what games in the past by calling the maximum textures as ultra and put a disclaimer about performance.

      I really don't think this game is suffering in the FPS department as I can average around 110fps.I do however wonder if excuse they are giving now was the initial reason why anti-aliasing was removed from the game.

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      January 13, 2012 8:40 PM

      Why the fuck can't they just let me decide, i mean if my computer cant handle running high textures then i wont use them. I guess they think we are just all idiots and everyone will run at high res even with shit computers.

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        January 13, 2012 10:15 PM

        well, honestly. there are some pretty stupid people out there.

        RIP George Carlin

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      January 13, 2012 8:41 PM

      Why not just have an "Ultra" graphics option? Usually no one can use Ultra settings, but then at least the developer is giving you the choice - if for nothing else you can turn it on for a moment to take a wicked nice screenshot of your avatar.

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        January 14, 2012 12:10 AM

        Because WoW has ultra. They would have to name it into "Bestest 4 evar" so it would be different.

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      January 13, 2012 8:42 PM

      Take a look at this thread: http://www.swtor.com/community/showthread.php?t=175099
      People have the legitimate complains about being misled.

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        January 13, 2012 8:45 PM

        wow, that's crazy. I had no idea it was that different.

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          January 14, 2012 5:08 AM

          I haven't played but it almost seems like a bit of false advertising. Show screens and videos and the beta as having something that the final product does not...I can certainly see the player frustration.

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            January 17, 2012 12:23 AM

            It is not ALMOST false advertising, it is blatant and ongoing false advertising and in the case of former beta players, bait and switch, almost a textbook example of the practice. The game DID look like that (like they advertise) in beta, and ran fine (40+FPS on average, dipping into the high 20's - low 30's when a lot of people were using abilities around me) on my 6 year old processor (Athlon 64x2@2.9Ghz) and 4 year old vid card (8800GT). Every area of the game is heavily instanced, so even after launch you won't be seeing more people on average in a given area than we did in beta (beta was massive and instanced just like retail).

            Bioware Corp has an F rating with the BBB already. I think that bringing this to the attention of the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is in order at the very least. Contact your states Attorney General. Contact your local equivalents if not in the US. Possibly bring a class action lawsuit about this.

            Yeah, I'm pissed. I dropped $150 on the game based on what I saw in beta, installed it at launch, and spent the next week replacing pieces of system hardware and reinstalling my OS because I thought something was horribly wrong with my computer. The difference is that dramatic. And even today they continue to advertise the game with these gorgeous characters that you will never be able to see once you buy it, because they turned it off thinking that players are too damn stupid to turn down the setting on their own if they have issues.

            Biggest budget MMO in years and THIS steaming pile of pixelated crap is what we get? No thanks.

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      January 13, 2012 9:53 PM

      I must admit, I'm not a graphic whore at all - my PC is always behind the times - but I'd be pissed at not even having the OPTION to use the better textures that were in the beta, and being used to promote the game.

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      January 14, 2012 12:15 AM

      Whatever happened to graphics didn't matter. It's nice, but the game is still fun!

      Also it supports Eyefinity very well.

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        January 14, 2012 6:30 AM

        Graphics do matter, they always mattered, and they always will matter. What's the point of denying people scalability when the assets already exist. If people want to give up performance for visual fidelity or have the ability to run it, let it be their choice.

        It's like giving a kid their first taste of chocolate using high quality stuff, then turning around and selling them Hersheys.

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      January 14, 2012 2:48 AM

      This game cost 2-300 million dollars right? i cancelled my pre order after getting into the beta and being underwhelmed.. seems to me the only innovation about this game is the huge amount of voice acting..

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      January 14, 2012 6:47 AM

      To all you MMO players- HA HA!

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        January 14, 2012 6:53 AM

        Not like things were better with DA2 or Rage :(

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      January 14, 2012 9:45 AM

      Graphics do not make the game.

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        January 14, 2012 10:23 AM

        No, but they do make a game a lot more enjoyable.

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          January 14, 2012 10:27 AM

          Tell me you're not serious. Also, I can't see a massive difference, some of the areas are massive and awesome as is.

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            January 14, 2012 11:30 AM

            Are you really unable to see how good graphics can increase immersion and enjoyment?

            Just look at some of the breathtaking scenes on a game like Skyrim. If they graphics sucked, those scenes wouldn't be nearly as powerful as they are.

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              January 14, 2012 12:12 PM

              If they were half the fidelity it'd still be a great game. Graphics can enable new gameplay types e.g. PS1 could never do GTA3, and I love the extra smoothness of PC versus consoles right now. But saying they can make a game a lot more enjoyable is a stretch IMO. I played AC2 on PC, then ACB on Xbox and didn't regret it at all.

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                January 14, 2012 4:34 PM

                For an FPS i want great graphics. Every other genre graphics dont mean squat to me. Swtor has been fun for me. Thats all i care about

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                January 15, 2012 1:06 AM

                It might still be good, but people would enjoy it less. While I'm not aware of any studies pertaining to video games specifically, it is well known that humans have a strong preference for things that are pleasing ascetically; if something looks good it pleases us more than if it does not look good. There is little reason to believe that this aspect of psychology does not apply to the pleasure we derive from video games. Empirically, my own experience certainly backs this up.

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                January 15, 2012 5:24 PM

                I will have to disagree. For certain types of games, graphics are a big deal and graphics is, in many cases, the number one draw that gets people interested in a game. I am skeptical Skyrim would have been nominated for anything if it looked like Oblivion and I am highly dubious it would've made Game of the Year.

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              January 14, 2012 3:57 PM

              Everything ends once someone starts using "immersion" in their argument.

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              January 15, 2012 12:06 AM

              Who is looking for immersion in an MMO where you have other players around you jumping around and generally doing stupid things as well as flamewars in the public chat channels?

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        January 14, 2012 10:35 AM

        It's not about the graphics, it's about having options that you want taken away for no real reason.

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      January 14, 2012 10:22 AM

      Why not just leave Low - Medium - High system in and give players a warning when they switch to high that it may cause a severe drop in performance? Or better yet, give players the option to adjust character texture quality separately, since they claim that's where most of the performance hit comes from. The way they handled this just seems stupid, it isn't even worth the PR nightmare.

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        January 14, 2012 10:37 AM

        That's exactly what WoW does. You set it to something they think your computer can't handle very well, a warning dialogue pops up that tells you that it could severely impact gameplay if turned up, but it doesn't stop you. I think Ultra settings might be limited to some hardware configurations, but it has been so long since I played that I could be wrong.

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      January 14, 2012 10:41 AM

      ok onward to the PvE LFG tool, thanks.

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      January 14, 2012 10:55 AM

      Meh who cares. Graphics are the least of swtors problems.

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        January 14, 2012 1:20 PM

        Care to explain?

        I'm thinking of getting it, and this doesn't really bother me... but what else is wrong with it?

        Thanks

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      January 14, 2012 11:31 AM

      I was going to unsub anyway, but I went ahead and put this as my reason for unsubbing. It's lame.

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      January 15, 2012 12:24 PM

      Draw atlas sounds a lottttt like Megatextures.

      That aside, why don't they just have the level of detail scale and have it sit in the options somewhere? :O

      I suppose that would be too easy of a solution, where when FPS dips below an acceptable point textures are dynamically reduced. The answer he gave is pure poppy. Players can decide for themselves what their computer can and can't handle, you just have to mask the option so only experienced players can enable it. I would be furious if I played SWTOR and couldn't enable it via a txt file or console... Good thing I don't play SWTOR.

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        January 17, 2012 12:25 AM

        Yeah, the reason they gave was PURE bunk. The game DID look like that (like they advertise) in beta, and ran fine (40+FPS on average, dipping into the high 20's - low 30's when a lot of people were using abilities around me) on my 6 year old processor (Athlon 64x2@2.9Ghz) and 4 year old vid card (8800GT). Every area of the game is heavily instanced, so even after launch you won't be seeing more people on average in a given area than we did in beta (beta was massive and instanced just like retail).

        Bioware Corp has an F rating with the BBB already. I think that bringing this to the attention of the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) is in order at the very least. Contact your states Attorney General. Contact your local equivalents if not in the US. Possibly bring a class action lawsuit about this.

        Yeah, I'm pissed. I dropped $150 on the game based on what I saw in beta, installed it at launch, and spent the next week replacing pieces of system hardware and reinstalling my OS because I thought something was horribly wrong with my computer. The difference is that dramatic. And even today they continue to advertise the game with these gorgeous characters that you will never be able to see once you buy it, because they turned it off thinking that players are too damn stupid to turn down the setting on their own if they have issues.

        Biggest budget MMO in years and THIS steaming pile of pixelated crap is what we get? No thanks.

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      January 16, 2012 2:15 PM

      This is the stupidest thing, let the user decide if their rig can handle it Bioware