Instantaneous Performance and Image Quality
The overall results of our tests seem to be optimistic. Fallout 3 runs fast even at the maximum level of detail even on inexpensive cards like Radeon HD 4830 and GeForce 9600 GT. This is true for the resolution of 1280x1024 pixels at least. But can you play at higher resolutions? And can you enable a higher resolution by lowering the level of detail? Will this affect the image quality much?
These questions are interesting, so we performed one more test using a more difficult test sequence and recording instantaneous results for one minute. We performed this test with two popular mainstream cards, ATI Radeon HD 4850 and Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX+, at a resolution of 1680x1050.
The test sequence began in Lucy West’s House. Then there was a run along the Megaton and out of the town into the Wasteland. In other words, the test sequence includes most of the situations the player can find himself in: small closed environments (buildings and tunnels), medium-size environments (halls and towns), and open scenes. Like in the main test, we recorded the frame rate with Fraps 2.9.6. We also used this tool to capture screenshots at different graphics quality settings.
So, this test produced the following data:
It is clear that the lowering of the level of detail doesn’t affect the overall performance much even though we are using mainstream graphics cards. The instantaneous speed can be as high as 100fps or lower than 20fps irrespective of the level of detail, maximum or minimum. Both slumps in the diagrams correspond to the moments we exit the house and town, so you shouldn’t bother about them seriously. It is only the transition from the Ultra to the High profile that provides a practical benefit as it improves the average frame rate in open scenes from 25-40 to 50-60fps. But considering that this game is not a first-person shooter, even it though provides for a similar playing style, you don’t have to achieve the 60fps mark desired for the FPS genre. Practice suggests that you can shoot normally even at 30-40fps unless you are trying to shoot off mutants’ heads from a distance without using the V.A.T.S.
As for image quality provided by the different levels of detail, the Low profile cannot be recommended for practical play because it uses a simplified lighting model without HDR effects and has low-detail textures as can be easily seen even in closed environments. The drawbacks are especially conspicuous in open scenes, particularly in the Wasteland. Distant landscapes lose their details, transforming into a series of bleak and uniform hills.
The Medium profile looks better, differing from the more resource-consuming profiles with minor simplifications in the lighting model and the lack of antialiasing, which has a negative effect on the reproduction of micro-geometrical objects such as power rigs, trees, etc.
The High profile is almost the same as the Ultra one, especially in closed environments. Most of the differences concern such shaders as water surface. It is hard to spot them with a naked eye due to the dynamic nature of such special effects. In open scenes you can note a difference in the distance of reproduction of some objects such as grass, bushes, stones, etc. There is no such difference in closed scenes.
Considering our data about the instantaneous, average and bottom speed, we think there is no real use for the Medium and, especially, Low profile because switching into them doesn’t lead to a significant growth of performance and playing comfort. The game is optimized well, and we guess the High profile seems to be the most optimal one. It differs but slightly from the Ultra profile visually while the difference in speed can be considerable. If you’ve got a graphics card of a lower class than ATI Radeon HD 4850/4830 or Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX+/GT, you may also want to turn full-screen antialiasing off. This will worsen the reproduction of micro-geometry but won’t spoil the overall impression from the game much.