How can I extend the view distances further?

  • OK, I'm lucky enough to have the game run smoothly enough for my tastes on the Ultra settings - so with all the game-provided settings set to maximum.

    Most of the time it looks brilliant. However, once you find a large open space, and then can see the distance rendering cut-offs, such as these disappearing grasses just past the road and the smudge of a texture up the hill in the distance:

    Screenshot of TESV:Skyrim, showing wide space and obvious item fade out

    Since I'm getting just under 50 FPS from the above location (according to Fraps), and that or more elsewhere, I'd like to sacrifice a few of those to improve the visual quality a little bit by making the game draw things further away.

    After a quick web search I see lots of talk of modifying ini files, but many of these talk about options without really explaining them. I get the feeling that the other recent Bethesda games have been tweaked like this before and so the tweakers write guides for those already in the know roughly how all this works.

    Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people, and I don't really want to wade through tonnes of info and test tonnes of tweaks until I find the right combination.

    So, what ini changes (or any other method!) should I use to extend the draw distance further that the defaults the game provides?

  • DMA57361

    DMA57361 Correct answer

    9 years ago

    OK, I decided not to be lazy and to actually put some effort in myself, and I think it was worth it. Here is the "after" screenshot of the scene from the question. Not quite the right angle and different time of day, but you should be able to get the point.

    enter image description here

    Notice that the grass goes much further, but also that rocks appears in the far distance and the distant trees that were visible are now of much higher quality. There's even a shrine thing on the left that I couldn't see before. All this with a drop of only ~10FPS to ~40FPS. Very nice.

    Here's another shot I took, just to reinforce that this works, before/after the various distance tweaks. Again note the distant trees up the river and through the clearing, but also the bridge up the river and better house on the right:

    enter image description here enter image description here


    First, I set the game to it's default Ultra settings. So all the tweaks I make here are based off of that settings group.

    In My Documents/My Games/Skyrim there are two files called SkyrimPrefs.ini and Skyrim.ini that we will be tweaking. Back them up before changing anything, or in the worst case delete them if you break them and Skyrim should regenerate new ones.

    The most important change: Unlocking the grid

    You need to change how many grid cells around the player should be loaded by the game - apparently if a grid cell isn't loaded nothing will make the stuff in that cell render in best quality, so all you'll get are low-quality "big" items like trees/houses/etc and the landscape, at best.

    So, in the Skyrim.ini I have changed the following:

    uGridsToLoad=5            →  9
    uExterior Cell Buffer=36  →  100
    

    uGridsToLoad is the important one, it says how much space around the player should be loaded and active (and thus allow things to render). This will increase RAM usage and load times (but not too significantly). From what I read, it must be an odd number and too high values will crash the game (if it runs out of RAM, you can apparently hack the exe to be large address aware to avoid this, but I didn't fancy messing with that).

    I selected 9 as this produced the nice image above, but doesn't (yet) seem to be causing any crashes for me.

    uExterior Cell Buffer should, apparently, be set to (uGridsToLoad+1)².

    Warning: A saved game cannot be loaded on a lower uGridsToLoad setting. So if you bump this up to 9 and later try to turn it back down again you will be locked out of your saved game. There is a fix for this, which is to load the game at the higher setting and then do the following lines at the console:

    setini "ugridstoload:general" 5
    saveini
    refreshini
    

    Then save and quit, and change the uGridsToLoad to the desired value.

    Tweaking the Distances

    With it set so distant cells can contain high quality items the next step is to up the loading distances.

    Now, Ultra seems to sort most of them out already, and just loading the game with uGridsToLoad increased was an instant improvement (the rocks/trees/etc). If you need to achieve this on lower settings just crank up all the view distance bars in the settings (I'm sure there's ini settings for them, but didn't bother to investigate).

    Grass was still an issue. So in SkyrimPrefs.ini I did the following:

    fGrassStartFadeDistance=7000.0000     → 25000.0000
    fGrassMaxStartFadeDistance=7000.0000  → 25000.0000
    fGrassMinStartFadeDistance=0.0000     → 10000.0000
    

    I don't know specifically what each of these three items each do, but those three new values provided the results given, so I'm happy with them.

    On advice found in various places I also changed the following variable that should allow more high quality trees. I'm not sure I can see the difference, but it didn't seem to hurt performance:

    uiMaxSkinnedTreesToRender=20  →  40
    

    Other tweaks for extra pretty

    While researching all this I came across various other tweaks that claim to improve the visual appearance of the game slightly.

    The most important (and only ones I could really tell the difference over) are these two, which really improved the game's shadows for me - they are much less "blocky" now:

    iBlurDeferredShadowMask=3     →  1
    iShadowFilter=3               →  4
    fShadowLODStartFade=200.0000  →  1000.0000
    

    I acutally tried extending the draw distance for objects, chars, and grass. although it only works once I start to move around the map and the engine loads more of the enviorment, intially it only loads the default range its set too. Still working on changing the pref.

    Very nice answer. I'm glad to see the results of your research have paid off.

    `uGridsToLoad=5` `uExterior Cell Buffer=36` These are not in my skyrim.ini file

    @Garrett have you run the game yet? And the one in mydocs/mygames/skyrim *not* the install folder?

    Can you be so kind as to include a download link for the files :)

    @Sean the files should already be on your computer if you've installed and run the game at least once. They'll configured with whatever settings level you have set (Ultra/High/Medium/etc), just pop them open in a text editor and make the changes mentioned - although if you're on a setting less than Ultra there's probably other tweaks that can be made, but I'm afraid I didn't investigate those.

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