I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to make my Skyrim even better. It’s a pastime from which I derive almost as much pleasure as playing the game. I’ve installed mods to make the sound effects of thunder better and completely overhaul of the inventory UI, that’s child’s play. But I’ve also spent time editing my Skyrim.ini file to tweak the display so shadows don’t just flicker all over the place. And that’s what I wanted to talk about before I listed some of the mods I tried this week.
Fair warning: I’m going to get into some technical stuff here, so if you want to skip ahead to the cool new mods feel free to do so … now.
Basically, the Skyrim.ini file in your game folder (\My Documents\My Games\Skyrim if you used the default install settings) is a massive set of variables that determine how the engine displays the graphics. Some of the variables are easy to understand like “fAudioMasterVolume” which adjusts the maximum volume of sound output by the game while others are a little more arcane like “iBlurDeferredShadowMask” (more on that in a bit). By changing the values in the file in a simple text editor and saving them, you can alter the way your game plays and looks.
Note that some variables that the Skyrim.ini file can read don’t appear in the file by default, but you can adjust the settings if you add them in. Also, some of the variables have weird restrictions like odd numbers only or a limit to how high or low you can set them. For example, uGridsToLoad will change the area the game draws the most detailed graphics around your character. This must have an odd number for a value (don’t ask me why) with 11 resulting in detailed and awesome looking scenery yards away. The tradeoff, of course, is performance as the higher detailed graphic will slow down a middling to low end graphics card. Proceed with caution.
The file is read when you boot up the game and load the engine for the first time. Feel free to experiment with the values, even if you screw up the file and the realm of Skyrim looks like it might have been sprayed out of an aerosol can, there is a solution. Just delete the file and the game will create a new one with default settings. But it’s probably a good idea to back it up before fiddling too much, just in case.
While there are tons of things you can do with the Skyrim.ini file, I’m going to concentrate on fixing one part of the game that really annoyed me. The shadows in the default settings were just terrible, always flickering and appearing blocky and pixilated like sunlight magically transformed into 8 bit Atari graphics whenever it hit Lydia’s face. Any immersion I mustered in Skyrim was destroyed when I noticed the flickering shadow pixels, so I decided to see what I could do to fix it.
Here are the relevant values in my Skyrim.ini file:
iShadowMapResolution=8192 – If your graphics are set to Ultra, this value will be 4096 but raising it will improve the resolution of shadows so they appear less blocky. You can change this to any value that is a multiple of 8, but 8192 is the highest it will go. Unfortunately, the edges of shadows will still look a little rough, but it’s a hell of a lot better than how they looked before.
iBlurDeferredShadowMask=7 – This variable basically blurs the edges of shadows so that the blockiness is less apparent. Combined with a higher iShadowMapResolution, this will make your shadows look palatable. But what about the weird shifty shadows that seem to always occur in broad daylight?
fSunUpdateThreshold=0.100 – Adding this setting with a value of zero will essentially decrease the delay between updates to the shadows of the game to nil.
fSunShadowUpdateTime=0.000 – This setting controls the time of the transition between one shadow update to the next and it is responsible for the weird strobing and flickering effect. Add it to your Skyrim.ini file with a value of zero and transition happens instantly. While it doesn’t prevent some strange shadow movement when NPCs move their face in the daylight, the updates essentially occur in real time so it looks a bit better.
By changing and adding the above variables, I was able to get Skyrim‘s shadows to make a lot more sense in how they were displayed, at least for me. I have a decent gaming computer (2ghz Dual Core duo CPU, nVidia Gforce 285 and 4 gigs of RAM) and, after messing with these variables, I didn’t experience and stuttering or slowdown from altering my Skyrim.ini file. Your personal mileage may vary and you may have to sacrifice looks for performance, especially when it comes to displaying higher resolutions.
There are tons of other ways Skyrim.ini can be used to finely tune your gaming experience from altering the way the in-game map is displayed or controlled to disabling blood and gore. Nvidia has a great guide to tweaking your Skyrim which you can check out if you’re interested in learning more, and there are tons of helpful hints/pitfalls on the official Bethesda forums and other places on the web. Happy tweaking!
Now on to the mods!
I freaked out when I saw this mod pop up on SkyrimNexus. Finally, a full UI overhaul that takes advantage of screen real estate and sortable lists? Sweet! I happily replaced QD Inventory with SkyUI to check it out. The new mod completely remodels the inventory UI to organize your items according to category and has handy icons to help distinguish them. The columns look and act great, allowing you to sort by weight, name or applicable stat and the filter form at the top effectively lets you search your bags for that one item very quickly.
The problem is that SkyUI is a work in progress and only alters your main inventory window. When you speak to a shop owner, or trade items with your housecarl or a chest, the same annoying default UI comes up. And honestly, I use those windows way more than I do just my standard inventory, so SkyUI doesn’t really improve my game that much. Add to that the necessity of keeping a separate scripting mod up to date, and I removed SkyUI from my system almost immediately after I tried it out.
It’s back to QD Inventory for me, but I’ll be watching the development of SkyUI closely. The mod author team plans to eventually rewrite the whole UI and release them one at a time, starting with the much-needed magic menu overhaul. I’m looking forward to the whole project being finished but feel free to check out the work in progress.
This little mod made me a lot more happy than I thought it would. I love how the light changes when you look up at the sky in the daylight in vanilla Skyrim, but it was always strange just seeing a mass of bright white where the sun should be. This mod adds a non-intrusive glare and lens flare that recreates the effect of viewing the sun through a camera. Skyrim Sunglare adds a cinematic touch to wandering around the mountains and plains of the north.
If you think the lens flare is unrealistic, mod author Laast was kind enough to include a version with just the glare effect.
Enhanced Night Skyrim
Author CptJoker just didn’t think night sky looked right in Skyrim. There were too few stars, and the lack of recognizable galaxies wasn’t realistic enough for him, so he made a mod that replaced the night sky textures. The result for me after I downloaded it was that I instantly enjoyed adventuring at night. I mean, the aurora borealis already looked amazing, but when you have authentic-looking star fields behind it, well, the effect is just awesome.
By definition Skyrim modders love to customize, so CptJoker provided a bunch of different version sof his new textures so fans could pick and choose how the night sky looks. Want more stars but with a blue-tinted galaxy? Or a low level of stars with warmer tones in the galaxy? Enhanced Night Skyrim has got you covered with the ability to mix and match mods.
Skyrim Flora Overhaul
On top of the Lush Grass mod I talked about last week, I really wanted something to make the trees and shrubbery of the north appear more vibrant. The answer was Vurt’s Flora Overhaul which improves the textures and color palette of the forests, grasses and random plants of the game, including that big ol’ tree in Whiterun.
The Flora Overhaul is a huge work in progress, with a large number of textures planning to be added by Vurt, so be sure to check back to see what additions he’s made. The best part of this mod, it plays nice with other mods that deal with the flora like Lush Grass and Trees by OpticShooter. With all of them combined, the fields and forests of Skyrim don’t look as bare.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, check out this video a fan made showing off Vurt’s work:
KenMOD – Skip Bethesda Intro
When I start up my game, I want the shortest amount of time between clicking that icon and playing the game as possible. That’s why I’m always frustrated by the Bethesda Softworks logo popping up before the game menu, because there no way skip through it. I spammed the ESC button but no dice, we are forced to just let the animation play. I get that Bethesda wants brand recognition, but it’s not like I suddenly forget who made the game if I don’t see their logo on a daily basis. You’re just adding steps between me and slaughtering horkers on the beach.
Apparently, this is a quick and easy fix. Kenney – who has the annoying tendency of putting his name in every mod he makes – has provided a mod that replaces the animation file from Bethesda with a dummy that plays through almost instantly. The result: no more logo. I have saved 5 seconds of my life, multiplied by however many times I’ve started up the game.
That’s like five hours … Thanks, Kenney!
Enhanced Blood Textures
The blood in the game was not honestly something that I noticed as being that bad in vanilla. I mean, how much do you examine the pools of blood after you’ve killed someone, or the spatter created by arrows to the knee? But after seeing the screenshots of dDefinder1’s mod, and then trying it out in the game, I can say that it makes a big difference. No longer do the low resolution blood textures look too shiny and sticky, now those blood pools look just like the ones Mom used to make. Errr.
The change to the onscreen blood texture is a nice touch as well, making it appear like more of a splatter rather than a dot or two. Enhanced Blood Textures also changes the duration that blood stays on your weapon, so that it’s not immediately cleaned off after only a few minutes. How exactly does that work anyway? Is there a button to wipe off your blade with a rag?
Like any good mod author, dDefinder1 has included a bunch of different files with option to disable or enable the different things his mod accomplishes. If you’re someone who wants their blood to look a little more real, or to remove the blood spatters from your screen, then Enhanced Blood Textures is the mod for you.