General: Setting Graphics Options

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General: Setting Graphics Options

Post by Kromaatikse »

With the release of Railworks 3 (or TS2012 if you insist), there's a lot of confusion and misinformation about how much hardware is needed and how to make best use of it. A lot has changed, but as always the key thing is not to panic! As promised beforehand, nearly everyone can run RW3 if they could run RW2 before - and the few exceptions will doubtless be addresed if your problems are reported to in good time.

Step 1: Remove any graphics-driver tweaks you may have previously used. In your driver control panels, or RadeonPro or whatever, the antialiasing must be set to "Application Preference". It is best to set everything else that way too. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about here, chances are you have never applied such tweaks and therefore your system is already set up correctly.) Vsync can be left forced on, if you like.

Step 2: Open the "Settings" tab of the Railworks Launcher. This is where you turn the TSX engine on or off, set your screen resolution and a few other basic settings:

Step 3: To begin with, set everything in this panel as shown in this screenshot - but replace my screen resolution (1920x1200) with the correct one for your monitor:

Note the red arrow pointing to the Multicore setting. This should be left OFF for most people. It appears to enable a workaround for some broken power-management features under Windows XP, but there are better ways of fixing that without the side-effects. Very few people wil see a performance increase from the Multicore setting - it does not turn on or off the new multithreading features - but it can overload your CPU and force it to slow down.

Step 4: Launch Railworks proper, and immediately go to the Options Begin by selecting the "Lowest" option. This is simply to demonstrate that the TSX engine will actually run on your hardware. The settings under TSX are very different in scope and scale when compared to the old RW2 engine, so don't be tempted to throw everything to "Highest" immediately.

Step 5: Go back to the main menu, select "Drive By Route", go to the Oxford-Paddington route, and choose the "Autumn Leaves" scenario. (Don't worry if you're not experienced enough to drive this all the way through yet, it is enough to just sit in the cab and watch for now.) When the scenario loads, press 1 to get into the cab, then Shift-Z to show the frame counter (near top-right of screen).

You will notice that the cab windscreen has rain on it, (press V to turn on the wipers), and shortly a train will overtake you with it's headlight shining on the track, followed after a couple of minutes by another train passing in the opposite direction. These are key TSX features and demonstrate that everything is working correctly. Make a note of the typical framerates you see during this sequence, as this is your baseline.

If your baseline framerates are at or near 14fps, then TSX is too much for your hardware. (About 20fps is fine.) Exit Railworks and turn off TSX, leaving all other settings the same, then go back to Step 4, substituting all mentions of "TSX" with "RW2".

Step 6: Exit the scenario (Ctrl-Q). Go back to the Options, select Custom mode, and gradually begin to turn up the settings.

After each change, repeat Step 5 and check to see if the framerate has gone down compared to your baseline. If it has gone down, this means you have found the point where your graphics card can no longer keep up with your CPU. If your framerate is still quite high (above about 40fps) then you may still wish to carry on turning up settings to take maximum advantage of your hardware. Otherwise, you might want to back off the lst thing you changed, and try turning up something else - or perhaps only one of the group of changes you just made.

The first things to turn up are the Shader Quality and the Scenery Detail - most computers should be able to run both of these at maximum. Many routes rely on having the Scenery Detail set very high - some very large and prominent objects such as entire stations can disappear if this is reduced at all!

After that, raise every setting except Shadow Quality by one step in concert, until they are all at High (not Highest).

Then, try turning on "Procedural Flora", "Adaptive Bloom" and "Depth Of Field", as these features help immersion noticeably. To do this, you might need to select the "High" preset, return to the "Custom" mode, and then manually turn the Shadow Quality to Off.

Now, turn up the Shadow Quality setting one notch at a time. This is reportedly the setting which gives people the most trouble on relatively recent hardware. Pay particular attention to what happens when you turn on your own headlights (H) and as other trains with headlights pass you, as these introduce more shadows into the scene.

If all goes well, you should have all toggle features except Low Detail Shadows turned on, all settings at High, and Scenery Detail at the maximum 10. If your framerate is still fine at this point, it's time to move on to Step 7.

Step 7: Exit Railworks, go back to the Settings panel of the Launcher, and look at the Antialiasing slider. If your graphics card still seems to have some headroom with your current settings, try pushing this to the right by two places, so that it says "MLAA + MSAA x4". This will help to make small, distant objects - such as signal aspects - clearer and more consistently visible, and will also smooth the edges of other, larger objects. Now go back into Railworks and check that performance is still fine.

Step 8: If you still have headroom after all this, then feel free to carefully try turning up the settings to Highest, one at a time, and/or pushing the Antialiasing slider one step to the right at a time. Congratulations on having a powerful computer.
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What Each Option Does

Post by Kromaatikse »

Some people have been asking exactly what, in layman's terms, each option controls. Here's an attempt to explain and, where possible, illustrate.

First of all, for reference, here is a screenshot showing TSX turned on, with all in-game settings on or at Highest. Where possible, I'll use this same scene to demonstrate what happens when each setting is turned down or off. Click each screenshot to enlarge it to full size - they are very big, since I run my monitor at 1920x1200.
The Launcher Settings:

The single most important setting is "TSX: Train Simulator 2012 Game Engine Technology". This enables working headlights, rain on the windscreen, better quality distance and sky effects, and various other things. Some very old or very cheap graphics cards might not be able to use this, but it's well worth trying. Here is what you get if you turn that off, leaving everything else enabled:
The Screen Resolution should be set to match your monitor's best or native resolution if possible. (If you don't know what that is, read the monitor's manual or check what your desktop resolution is currently set to.) Some graphics cards might benefit from using a lower resolution - if so, try to pick one that is exactly 2/3rds or half the native resolution, in order to minimise upscaling blur. For example, if your monitor normally runs at 1920x1080, try 1280x720.

The Monitor Arrangement setting is only relevant if you are using more than one monitor with Railworks. Everyone else should leave it at 1x1.

The Low, Medium, High settings are presets for the Texture Filtering and Antialiasing options. They are almost certainly wrong for your system. Instead choose Custom and set these two options manually.

The Texture Filtering option should normally be set to "Anisotropic x8", which greatly clarifies textures on objects which are almost parallel to the view direction - for example, the trackbed, and the side of the Class 47. The above screenshots were taken at this setting. Here is what happens if you set it to Bilinear, which disables the Anisotropic filtering entirely - compare this to the "no TSX" screenshot:
The Antialiasing option is intended to make small and distant objects more consistently visible and readable, and to avoid jagged artefacts on hard-edged objects. This works quite well with TSX turned off. However, the new rendering methods TSX uses are incompatible with the usual, highly optimised methods of antialiasing (eg. MSAA). Instead, RSC provided some workarounds using an older, less efficient method of antialiasing (SSAA), specifically for TSX.

The above screenshots were all taken at the "MLAA+MSAA x8" setting, which applies antialiasing to non-TSX mode but not to TSX mode - you may notice the difference in clarity if you look at the 25mph speed sign in the middle distance. This next screenshot shows the improvement to TSX given by the "SSAA 2x2" setting, which caused a huge reduction in framerate on my system:
In-Game Settings

All subsequent screenshots are taken with TSX on, "Anisotropic x8" and "MLAA+MSAA x8" selected. First, a screenshot of the settings screen itself to illustrate the baseline settings I used:
As you can see, these are settings for a decently powerful graphics card (in this case, a Radeon 5870). For each of the following examples, I reduced or switched off only one setting at a time from the above set, so as to demonstrate the effect of that setting alone. Each screenshot, unless otherwise advised, should be compared to the very first one in this thread. Most of the settings have the same or similar effect with TSX turned off.

Scenery Detail

This reduces the number of objects which are used to bring the scenery to life. Some routes implement this badly, so that large objects such as entire stations disappear if you reduce this setting. The default routes are usually better at this, removing bushes and less-important houses. For this scene, I demonstrate reducing it to 4 - notice that nearly all the bushes have gone, and the skyline on the far left changes dramatically:
View Distance

This has always been a popular way of reducing the graphics load on your system - simply don't bother rendering objects that are far away. Here's what happens if you set View Distance to "Low":
Shadow Quality

TSX implements shadows in a new way which allows for multiple light sources, and removes the authoring burden of adding shadow volumes to objects. It works well, but increases the load on your graphics card significantly. Here's what you're missing if you turn it off entirely (there is an "Off" setting below "Low"):
If you feel you can't use the high-detail shadows, you might want to try turning on the Low Detail Shadows instead. These just turn the ground dark under each vehicle.

Terrain Texture and Object Texture

Textures take up a lot of memory on your graphics card. If your card doesn't have very much memory, turning these settings down might improve performance, by avoiding the need to shuffle other textures out of the way in order to render each one. This is what you get with Terrain Textures set to "Low":
...and this is what setting Object Textures to "Low" does. Pay attention to the bushes at the near right - similar effects will show on buildings and vehicles when you get close to them.
There are a couple of options which appear to have no visual effect at all - even when I specifically went looking for situations in which there should be one. These are Adaptive Bloom and Shader Quality. So if turning these to On and High has no performance impact on your system, I recommend leaving them on, just in case RSC gets around to making them count. It's possible that they have an effect only in non-TSX mode, as I didn't investigate that.

Particle Density

Particles are used by Railworks for smoke and steam effects. Some add-on packs also use them for fire, water spray and blowing snow. If you look carefully at a smoke or steam plume in-game, you'll see that it is made of a large number of "puffs", each of which is a separate object in the graphics system and therefore contributes to graphics load. The Particle Density setting controls just how many puffs are used for each of these effects.

Passenger Density

This simply controls how many passengers you see on platforms. Due to the low number of distinct figures available on the old default routes, reducing this setting also reduces the appearance of "Twins & Triplets Day" being in permanent effect. So, set this to your own preference.

Procedural Flora

Some graphics features are not visible in the above scene, so I took some pairs of screenshots from a different route, especially to demonstrate what these remaining settings turn on, or off:
Depth of Field

This softens the focus of very distant objects to make them slightly more difficult to see, as they are in real life due to haze and so on. Objects nearby and in the middle distance, where you should be paying attention when driving, remain sharp. Here is another before-and-after comparison:
Water Quality

This does what it says on the tin. Water appears in pools, lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and so on, depending on the route and the terrain it travels through. There are more or less sophisticated ways of rendering it:
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Re: General: Setting Graphics Options

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Post by Kromaatikse »

In general, settings which increase the number of objects to render will impact the CPU more than the GPU. Therefore, if you have a good GPU but an older CPU such as a Core 2 Duo or Quad, or an Athlon 64, you should consider turning these down first.

The CPU-dependent options are, in no particular order:

1) Shadows, since each object must be rendered *again* to cast a shadow from each relevant light.

2) Particles, since each particle in a plume of smoke is an object.

3) Passengers. Not a huge effect, but every little helps, and having passenger density too high can be a distraction anyway.

4) Visibility Distance, especially on routes with a wide scenery corridor (eg. WCML-N, NEC). Turning this down will remove faraway objects from the draw list. At very low settings you will easily see objects pop into view ahead of you, but the High or Medium settings shouldn't be very easy to distinguish from Highest, while potentially being much faster.

5) Scenery Detail. But this is the last one you want to try turning down, because on some routes entire stations disappear very quickly. Hence, in my guide, it is among the first settings to turn all the way up.

6) Procedural Flora. This dynamically adds a large number of very small objects to the ground near the camera, provided the route author has permitted them in that area. These extra objects require CPU time to set up and pass to the GPU.

By contrast, the options which tend to load the GPU more than the CPU are, in no particular order:

1) Screen Resolution. More pixels on screen means more work to do per frame.

2) Anti-Aliasing. This means more work to do per pixel.

3) Particles, because the multiple objects per smoke plume tend to be transparent and overlapping, causing overdraw. Your CPU might be able to keep up, but only by giving too many pixels to the GPU to render.

4) Adaptive Bloom, and Depth of Field. These are both post-processing filters which add extra work to the end of a frame render. (I still haven't seen any effects associated with Adaptive Bloom, though.)

5) Shadows, which tend to consume VRAM bandwidth rather than shader power. Most mid-range and low-end cards don't have enough VRAM bandwidth to spare for this.

6) Water Quality. Part of the scene has to be re-rendered to provide the reflection from the water at higher settings. At the lowest setting, water is just a flat, transparent film which is very cheap to render.

7) TSX mode. Many of the shaders become more complex than without TSX, so cards short of shader power might fall down simply from turning TSX on. This should only be a problem for very old or low-end cards.

8) Anisotropic Filtering. However, this is almost free on all cards new and fast enough to run TSX, and it provides a huge improvement in quality, so turn this down only as a very last resort.

Notice that some options appear in both lists. If your CPU *or* GPU is weak, these options should be turned down to avoid overloading either of them.
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