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Ask Massively: Age of Conan survival guide (for your computer)

Kevin Stallard

It's time, once again, to unleash the prognosticative and philosophical pulchritude of Ask Massively, where the only thing we take seriously is alliteration. As frequent readers (both of you) of this column might know, we are rapidly approaching the release date for Age of Conan, and while I'm sure it will be difficult to find any information on that new and exciting upcoming title, I thought we would touch on something a little more "real world-centric" while getting in the requisite amount of hype at the same time.

Dear Ask Massively

I'm eagerly anticipating the upcoming launch of Age of Conan along with what appears to be 90% of your writing staff. I was fortunate enough to play in the beta, and I have some serious concerns about performance on my machine. I don't think it can all be explained by "debugging code" as you mentioned in a previous column, do you have any suggestions for things I can do in order to get better game play? I know that I'm going to be stuck on the hardware treadmill and eventually be forced to upgrade, I just don't want to have to do it right now. What is a Barbarian-in-training supposed to do?

-Junior Barbarian

Junior, today is your lucky day. Like you, I have been playing the Age of Conan beta, and , like you, I had some fairly severe issues with frame rate. In the interest of full disclosure, I will provide my own system specs after the jump. Suffice to say that my system isn't exactly a "budget gamer" system, but at the same time, it isn't "top of the line" either. I was able to tweak a few settings in the game that improved my game play experience immensely. In fact, it improved it so much that I created a new character and leveled her to 10 in the time it used to take to load a zone in some of the older beta clients. (Editor's note: that's only a mild exaggeration)

If you would like to have your questions answered by our staff of sleep deprived caffeine junkies, drop us a line either via our tip line or via email at ask AT massively DOT com. My most sincere condolences to my long lost Nigerian uncle's family. Had I known that he would leave me 25 million dollars in his will, I may have sent you guys birthday cards every year or something. For more on our topic-du-jour, read on after the jump.

Before we get in to the technical stuff, let me get in another word about the closed beta since we're getting close to release. Without saying anything that would violate the non-disclosure agreement, I'll say that the most recent closed beta client fixed a lot of issues that many folks have been complaining about in the Age of Conan Forums and elsewhere. So much so that many of my misgivings about AoC's release have been dispelled. The folks at Funcom are pulling out all the stops to make this launch a good one, and a few issues with "pre-release" aside, I think they're doing a good job. The demand for this game appears to be quite high, and if they can pull off a good launch, I will have very high hopes for this game going forward. It's good, folks. Really good.

Now, on to the techie stuff!

First of all, here are my system specs so that you have some idea of what I'm working with.

  • AMD 4800+ CPU
  • 2GB RAM
  • NVidia 7800 GTX 256MB
  • 1.1 TB of disk space across 3 drives (in other words, disk space is not an issue)
  • Windows XP SP 2 (I will play my games using WineX under Linux before I "upgrade" to Vista)

We actually had a discussion on our writer's email list about this very subject not long ago, and Dan O'Halloran mentioned a couple of settings that he tweaked in order to improve his performance. Both of these settings are in the "Advanced" graphics settings tab in the Age of Conan client. First, he disabled "bloom" effects. Judging from some of the information found on Nvidia's Forums. This appears to be an issue with the graphics drivers themselves and not necessarily the game's fault. If you have a high-end video card, this might not be an issue for you, but it might be a driver issue and therefore independent of the hardware model. In any case, if you are having issues with graphics performance, this would be the logical first step.

Next, you may want to have a look at your "shaders" settings. The default setting in Age of Conan uses 3.0 shaders which is supported by the newest graphics cards on the market. I changed the setting to 2.0 shaders in addition to disabling bloom as mentioned above. If you aren't sure what the differences are between these settings, here is a good guide that will explain the basics to you.

I will admit that I haven't spent the time tweaking shaders settings and turning bloom on and off in order to find the ideal combination for my particular system, but I can state, unequivocally, that changing these both of these settings resulted in a quantum leap in performance. My frame rates were smooth, even in the Thirsty Dog Inn, and load times were reduced from several minutes to around 10 seconds.

It should also be noted that most of my other graphics settings remained on "high" in the basic graphics tab. I didn't have to reduce my clipping distance or scale down my texture settings or change anything else from the default settings. I have a bit of background in computer graphics (it was one of my areas of specialization in college) and I could tell a difference in the graphics after making these changes, but it wasn't enough to distract me while I was finally playing the game at a decent frame rate. In fact, the improved framerate made the game look a lot better than lighting bloom ever could.

Since Age of Conan goes live in a few days, it is quite possible that I'll be a bit late with next week's column. After all, columnists are gamers too. If you are on the fence about whether or not you should give Age of Conan a try, I would wholeheartedly recommend giving the game a shot. If you've been looking forward to the game, you are going to be very pleased. If you have any comments or questions about the game, or anything else for that matter, drop us a line at ask AT massively DOT com , or send us your comments below. Until next time, Laissez les abattage rouler! (That means "Let the slaughter begin", loosely modified from the French phrase for "Let the good times roll")

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