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MMORPG | Setting:Sci-Fi | Status:Final  (rel 12/20/11)  | Pub:LucasArts
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Tightening Up the Graphics

By Michael Bitton on January 17, 2012 | Columns | Comments

Tightening Up the Graphics

What’s a live MMO without controversy? Just about every MMO will feature at least one, if not more, controversies in the span of its service and Star Wars: The Old Republic is no different.

Players have been wondering about the non-functional ‘High’ setting in the game’s graphics options for some time now. If you’re unfamiliar, setting the game’s graphics settings to ‘High’ is visually no different from setting the game to ‘Medium’. Players also noticed that they were unable to achieve the same graphical quality they were seeing in the game’s cinematic dialogue while playing out in the game world. With enough folks clamoring for answers to both of these concerns, BioWare’s Stephen Reid promised to get them one.

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After thoroughly investigating an answer, Stephen Reid returned with a lengthy and sometimes technical explanation that basically suggested the two concerns were interconnected, and explained why players were experiencing lower quality graphics outside of cutscenes. The gist of it is this: the ‘Medium’ setting wasn’t actually supposed to be there, and has since been ‘corrected’ in the upcoming 1.1 update, reducing the game’s available graphics options to ‘High’ and ‘Low’ settings. High is (visually) the old Medium, and what should actually be ‘High’ by most players' gauges is essentially what you’re seeing in the in-game cutscenes.

Huh? What’s the deal, then? Why can’t I view the game with real high resolution textures that are clearly already in the game? Well, as Stephen explained, allowing these sorts of settings were presenting a number of performance issues due to some fairly technical reasons (arising mainly due to being unable to control the characters on screen at once), so the textures were disabled outside of conversations (where the number of characters on screen can be tightly controlled). Players expecting this whole situation to be a bug were sorely disappointed. The settings as they are slated to be in 1.1 are in fact, 'working as designed,' and players were initially left only with the reassurance that BioWare has heard their feedback lon the matter loud and clear.

Needless to say, players were, frankly, enraged at this news, going so far as to accuse BioWare of false advertising due to the use of marketing screenshots that depicted the game's characters in high-resolution textures outside of cutscenes. That was the ‘reasonable’ stuff, too. Some even felt the whole fiasco was part of some larger conspiracy – possibly related to copy protection.

Fortunately, Stephen returned that same evening with an update on the situation that would hopefully placate fans’ anger: Improvements were scheduled as part of the game’s next major update. To that end, Update 1.2 will feature a number of changes that are said to “bring greater visual fidelity to your character and those around you, but will still allow for good performance in situations where a lot of characters are on-screen at once.” I don’t know that this will solve the whole problem, but it certainly sounds like an important first step, and I really think the speed with which BioWare addressed and offered a resolution to this situation is worth noting.

In any case, this is one of the more unusual controversies I’ve seen in the MMO-verse. Personally, I run a high-spec rig and I’m fairly confident my system would be able to handle the load of the higher-resolution graphics, so this whole situation did bug me greatly, as I’m sure it did others with high-end systems, especially those who upgraded or built entire rigs around the game.  Honestly, the difference between ‘High' and the quality of characters in cutscenes is stark, to say the least. However, in the grand scheme of things, there are definitely some greater concerns to be complaining about (such as the Crew Skills situation!). With that said, the unbridled rage coming out of the community on this issue was really a bit much.  There is a place for customer rage, but at least give the company a chance to address your concerns first before going ballistic. Working in community myself, I realize that my suggestion here is basically a non-starter, but call me an idealist.

At the end of the day, BioWare made a pretty stupid mistake in not figuring out an adequate solution to these issues prior to launch (or not anticipating that this would be an issue for gamers), but I’m satisfied that we’ll be seeing some sort of resolution to the issue by the next major update. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting BioWare to get that specific with their time-table, especially after the initial response delivered that morning.

Are you satisfied with the way BioWare handled this issue? Is this even an issue for you at all? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager.
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