Battlefield 3 Tweak Guide

PreviousNext

General Optimization

Battlefield 3 Tweak Guide by Koroush Ghazi


Published: November 9, 2011. Updated: December 6th, 2011. Game Version Used: R3.Battlefield 3 (BF3) takes massive online warfare to a whole new level of immersion. Those of you familiar with Battlefield: Bad Company 2 will notice the similarities, however BF3 turns the formula back towards the wider mix of infantry and vehicle warfare that was in Battlefield 2. Fighter aircraft take to the skies again, there are over 20 driveable vehicles, and a whole new range of vehicle and weapons modifications provide something for every style of gameplay. With 9 huge multiplayer maps and 5 game modes (Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch, Rush, Squad Rush and Conquest), playing BF3 is as close as many of us will get to the feeling of being in the thick of a large-scale battle. It's no exaggeration to say that Battlefield 3 really pours on the adrenaline-charged action in precisely the way that many BF2 fans have been eagerly awaiting.

The aim of this guide is to allow you to better understand and best utilize all of the configuration options available in Battlefield 3.

Before proceeding further, make sure you meet the game's minimum requirements as provided below, with the recommended requirements in brackets:

  • Processor: 2 GHz dual core CPU (Quad Core CPU)
  • Memory: 2GB (4GB) RAM
  • Hard Drive: At least 20GB of free space
  • Video Card: DirectX 10 compatible (NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT minimum, GTX 560 or above recommended)
  • Sound Card: DirectX compatible
  • OS: Windows Vista or Windows 7

Importantly: Battlefield 3 does not run under Windows XP. It requires DirectX 10 support at a minimum, which only Windows Vista and Windows 7 can provide.

What follows are full descriptions for all of the settings available in BF3's various options menus. Screenshot comparisons are provided where relevant to highlight the impact on image quality of changing these settings. Performance information is also provided for every setting, although bear in mind that the precise impact on your particular system depends on your specific hardware combination and your other game and system-wide settings. The aim here is to give you enough information so that you can make an informed choice as to the settings you enable or disable to obtain a balance of visual quality and performance acceptable to you.

General System Optimization

Almost as important as any in-game setting is the way your Windows installation is configured. A great many problems and performance issues, especially stuttering, crashes and slowdowns, can be traced directly to sub-optimal settings in Windows and out-of-date or badly configured drivers. Take a look at our Stable Gaming Guide for tips on how to get your PC in the best shape. At the very least make sure to update your graphics drivers to the latest available version, as the latest drivers are specifically optimized for Battlefield 3.

Performance Measurement

To successfully conduct any tweaking, you will need some way of objectively measuring your performance in Frames Per Second (FPS). The quickest and easiest way to measure your FPS in BF3 is to open the in-game console by pressing the ~ key (above the TAB key). Then type render.drawfps 1 and press Enter to display a small FPS counter at the top right of the screen. You can disable this FPS counter by opening the console again and typing render.drawfps 0 and pressing Enter. More details are in the Advanced Tweaking section of the guide.

Pay attention to your FPS during the game, particularly during graphically intense scenes, such as in heavy combat or in highly detailed outdoor areas. If your FPS dips into the low double or single digits for example, this is a good indication that you need to adjust various settings until your minimum FPS is consistently above 20-25 FPS during normal gameplay, such as when walking around, and higher still (30-35 FPS) during combat to maintain appropriate responsiveness in a fast-paced game like BF3.

General Settings

Before covering the various graphics-related settings which have the most significant impact on performance and image quality, this section examines the other settings. To access the in-game settings, launch BF3 and in the main menu click the Options button. The Video options are covered on the next few pages, but below we look at the Controls, Gameplay and Audio settings.

The settings below have no significant impact on performance.

Controls

Vertical Look: If this option is set to Normal, moving your mouse forward results in your character looking up, and moving the mouse back will make your character look down. If this option is set to Inverted, the arrangement is reversed, so that moving your mouse forward will make your character look down for example. This option only affects the Vertical (forward/back) not Horizontal (left/right) mouse axis.

Vertical Flight: This setting works in the same manner as Vertical Look, however it only affects flight controls, not soldier or land vehicle controls.

Mouse Sensitivity: This slider determines the level of responsiveness of the mouse to your movements. The higher the slider, the more responsive the mouse will feel. Keep in mind that if your mouse movements feel laggy even after raising the Mouse Sensitivity, you should check your framerate. If your framerate falls below around 20-25 FPS at any time, you will need to adjust your settings to improve FPS and hence keep your mouse feeling suitably responsive. Also be sure to set the Vertical Sync option to Off if you still experience a laggy feel - see Vertical Sync in the Video section of this guide.

Vehicle Mouse Sensitivity: This slider is independent of the general Mouse Sensitivity slider and controls the sensitivity of mouse movements only when you are in a vehicle.

Raw Mouse Input: When set to On, this option is designed to make mouse movement more accurate by ensuring that your mouse input is processed directly by BF3, and doesn't have any mouse acceleration or other Windows-related changes forced upon it. Enabling this option should improve your aim by making mouse movements more predictable and precise, but again, low framerates and VSync will impact on mouse responsiveness regardless of this setting.

Joystick Sensitivity: This slider only determines the sensitivity of controllers like joysticks and gamepads, not the mouse.

To change the default keys and buttons bound to specific actions, look under the Key Bindings section of the Options screen in BF3, and set them to suit your taste.

Gameplay

Subtitles: If set to Yes, text subtitles will be shown under spoken text. If set to No, subtitles are not shown.

Hint System: If set to Yes, the game will prompt you with on-screen hints as to how to take particular actions with weapons and vehicles. For example, if you are in a tank, the game will show a '[LMB] Fire' prompt on the right of the screen, hinting that you should press your Left Mouse Button to fire the tank's gun. To disable these prompts, set this option to No. It is recommended that the Hint System be set to Yes initially, so that you become accustomed to the various actions possible and how to trigger them, especially if you are experimenting with different key bindings.

Reload Hint: If set to Yes, the game will prompt you with a flashing '[R] Reload' text hint at the bottom right of the screen, just below your ammunition counter, whenever your weapon has nearly expended all the ammunition in its current magazine. Set to No to disable this prompt.

Weapon Zoom: This option allows you to control the way in which you zoom (look down your sights) on a weapon. The default zoom binding is your Right Mouse Button (RMB), and when this option is set to 'Hold Button', you will only zoom for as long as you hold down RMB; as soon as you let go, you revert to normal view. If set to 'Click Button' on the other hand, whenever you press RMB you will zoom in and stay zoomed, even if you let go of RMB. You will then need to click RMB again to get out of zoom mode.

Allow PunkBuster: This option must be set to Yes to enable the PunkBuster (PB) anti-cheat system and thus allow you to play BF3 multiplayer on ranked servers which have PB enabled. If set to No, you will only be able to play the BF3 Campaign (singleplayer) mode, or on unranked non-PB multiplayer servers. You can use the Battlelog server browser filter to find servers which are or are not PB-enabled, but playing on non-PB servers greatly increases the chance that people will be using cheats and exploits. If you're having problems with disconnections which could be due to PunkBuster, you can manually update PB by going here. Follow the instructions to save the two .htm files to your \Program Files (x86)\Origin Games\Battlefield 3\pb folder.

Network Smoothing Factor: This slider controls interpolation, a technique which determines where a particular moving object or character is currently located in the game world, based on actual locational data periodically received over the network. If an enemy soldier is running along in front of you, interpolation allows their movement to appear fluid, calculating their movement across the screen even though your computer is receiving only periodic updates of where they actually are. So instead of seeing a person jerkily warping from point to point, you see smooth animated motion all the way along. By reducing this slider, you can reduce the use of interpolation, and in turn potentially increase your accuracy by reducing latency; you're more likely to shoot at where someone actually is at any time. The downside to reducing the slider is that it may make character movements more jerky in the game. This depends on a range of factors, including the quality and latency of your own connection to the server, and those of the other players. Start by lowering the slider to the midway point. If after a period of gameplay on your favorite servers you don't notice any jerkiness in friendly or enemy movements, then lower it slightly again. If you do, raise it slightly until things are smooth.

Audio

Master: This slider is the master volume control, affecting the level of sound effects and spoken dialog.

Your Speaker System: This option determines the way in which in-game audio is processed, and is best matched to your speaker configuration, although it also depends greatly on personal taste. The available options are:

  • TV - Designed for smaller speakers, such as those on televisions;
  • Headphones - Suits most basic stereo headphones;
  • Hi-Fi - Suitable for speakers which have reasonable dynamic range, such as stereo speaker (2 or 2.1 channel) setups and good quality headphones;
  • Home Cinema - Suitable for multi-channel (e.g. 5.1 channel) speaker setups;
  • War Tapes - Provides an exaggerated sound stage with greater reverberation and impact on any speaker system, though it can make accurately detecting directional sounds a bit more difficult at times.

Enhanced Stereo Mode: If set to On, this setting enhances stereo to simulate a wider audio field for those using speakers or headphones which don't have surround sound functionality.

Voiceover Language: This setting controls the language used for voices in the game. Select your own language to ensure that you can understand what your teammates are saying.

On the next page we begin our look at the various graphics-related settings in Battlefield 3.

Video Settings

The full range of video settings can be found under the Video tab of the Options screen. In the following sections, we'll go through each of the video settings and see how they affect performance and image quality.

 

Settings

 

In the performance graphs shown, for each setting we start with a "baseline" where all options are set to the High video preset, as well as setting Fullscreen to On and VSync to Off. From this baseline, we vary individual settings to measure their effect on performance and image quality. To see how various combinations of settings work for other NVIDIA GPUs, check out the Optimal Playable Settings section of the site.

Full System Configuration

  • GeForce GTX 560 1GB
  • Intel Core i7 940
  • 3GB RAM
  • Win7 64-bit
  • Nvidia 285.62 WHQL Drivers

 

General Video Settings

The general video settings can be found on the left side of the Video tab, and are covered below.

Fullscreen Monitor: If you have multiple monitors, this setting allows you to select which one to use as your primary display monitor for BF3.

Fullscreen Resolution: This determines the Resolution of the game image, measured by the number of pixels horizontally and vertically (e.g. 1920 pixels x 1080 pixels). It also lets you select the Refresh Rate at your chosen resolution shown in Hz. The number of resolutions and refresh rates available here is limited by the capabilities of both your graphics card and monitor. The higher the resolution you choose, the more detailed the image will be. However higher resolutions also generate an increased load on your system, particularly your graphics card, and hence can reduce your overall performance. The performance impact can sometimes be substantial, so if adjusting the other settings fails to sufficiently improve your performance, reduce your resolution. For the sharpest image on an LCD monitor, either select the maximum available resolution here, which is also referred to as your Native Resolution, or if choosing a resolution below your maximum, set the Fullscreen option to Off - see further below.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Resolution Chart

The graph shows that progressively higher resolutions will reduce your FPS significantly. Resolution is one of the major determinants of overall performance in BF3.

Fullscreen: If you want to run BF3 in a window on your Desktop, as opposed to taking up the entire screen, then select Off here. Running BF3 in windowed is best done if you want to reduce the game's screen resolution to improve performance, but still maintain a crisp image.

Brightness: This slider controls the level of brightness for the in-game image. It has no impact on performance, so set to suit your taste.

Vertical Sync: Vertical Synchronization (VSync) is the synchronization of your graphics card and monitor's abilities to redraw an image on the screen a number of times each second, measured in Hz. This is not the same as FPS, but when VSync is On your maximum FPS will also be capped to your monitor's Refresh Rate - see your Refresh Rate value in the Fullscreen Resolution setting. For most people the refresh rate is around 59-60Hz, which means your framerate will be also capped to around 60 FPS if VSync is On. When VSync is Off, you may experience a phenomenon known as 'tearing': portions of the image temporarily appear to be out of alignment. This does no harm to your system, but it can be annoying. Enabling VSync removes tearing but aside from capping the framerate, it can also reduce your FPS by up to 50% or more, and importantly, introduce some mouse lag. To benefit from VSync without taking the performance hit, you can enable Triple Buffering, which should already be enabled by default in BF3. Otherwise the easiest way to guarantee the highest framerates, and to prevent any mouse lag, is to simply set Vertical Sync to Off. You can also disable Triple Buffering as covered in the Advanced Tweaking section.

Field of View: This setting determines your Field of View (FOV), which is how much of the game world you can see at once on the screen. The default is 70 degrees, and here you can select any value between 60 and 90 degrees. Raising FOV requires a level restart to apply any changes, and it can also reduce performance if raised due to more of the game world being visible. See the Advanced Tweaking section if you want to set a custom FOV value.

Motion Blur Amount: This setting determines the amount of Motion Blur used. Since it's dependent on the Motion Blur setting, its impact is covered in the description for that setting later in this guide.

Open Screen Adjust: When you click 'Open Screen Adjust', a new screen will open. Within it is a dark gray window with arrows on its edges, indicating the maximum extent to which the Heads Up Display (HUD) elements, such as your compass and ammo counter, can be displayed on your screen. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to resize this window. For example, expand the gray window all the way to the edges of the screen, and in turn your HUD elements will be displayed at the far edges of the screen as well, making them less obstructive.

Stereoscopic 3D: Battlefield 3 now supports stereoscopic 3D. NVIDIA users who have a 3D Vision-capable system can turn this option On to provide a more immersive gameplay experience. More information on how to enable and use this functionality is on this page.

Colorblind Support: If set to On, the game will alter some of the colors used for various game elements to ensure that they are easier to distinguish for players who are color blind.

Once you've adjusted the settings on this screen, you will be prompted to apply and save your settings before you can move on.

Graphics Presets & Texture Quality

On the right side of the Video tab under the Options, there are a range of advanced settings which allow more detailed control over the image quality and performance of BF3. These are covered on the next few pages.

Graphics Quality: This setting controls your overall graphics quality, allowing you to choose from four separate presets: Low, Medium, High and Ultra. Additionally, you can select Auto which allows BF3 to attempt to automatically adjust the various settings to suit your system's detected specifications. Finally, there is the Custom option, which when selected, allows access to all of the individual graphics options, letting you to customize your graphics to achieve the best compromise between image quality and performance. For this reason custom is the recommended setting.

Importantly, you must quit and restart BF3 whenever you change the Graphics Quality setting in order to properly see the real difference in image quality and performance on your system. This is because several of the individual settings involved, including Texture Quality, Terrain Quality, Terrain Decoration and Anisotropic Filtering, require a full restart of the game engine before any changes to them are implemented.

 
Graphics Low
Graphics Medium
Graphics High
 
 
Graphics Ultra
 
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above show some of the differences between the Low, Medium, High and Ultra presets.

  • At Low the scene displays a fair bit of jaggedness, particularly in the form of clear steps distinguishable on shadow lines and the edges of objects. The image is still acceptably detailed, but when in motion, the jaggedness becomes an eyesore. DICE has stated that Low is roughly equivalent to the console versions of BF3.
  • At Medium, the most noticeable changes are: the shadows become smooth and soft-edged, and slightly more atmospheric through the use of SSAO; jagged lines throughout the scene are softened through the use of some post-processed Antialiasing; and there's more detail on surfaces, such as the soldiers' uniforms, due to higher resolution textures and 4x Anisotropic Filtering. Medium is aimed at mid-range DirectX 10 graphics cards.
  • At High, the biggest change is the added depth and realism in the scene due to more accurate shadowing via the implementation of HBAO, along with the improved detail which High Shadow Quality brings. Meanwhile Texture Quality rises and Anisotropic Filtering reaches its maximum of 16x, making surfaces much more detailed throughout. Not visible in this static screenshot is the fact that Motion Blur has now also been enabled, and object and terrain complexity is slightly higher. High is designed for faster DirectX 11 GPUs.
  • At Ultra, the most significant difference is the enabling of 4x Deferred Antialiasing, which helps to smooth out any remaining jaggies. This is much more noticeable during gameplay than in a static screenshot comparison. Ultra also adds other subtle improvements not necessarily visible here, such as further softening of shadows, and higher detail on distant objects and terrain. Ultra is aimed at multi-GPU systems such as SLI machines, but is playable on the fastest DirectX 11 single GPUs.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Graphics Quality Chart

The graph demonstrates the clear jumps between each quality level. Even from Low to Medium the performance impact is substantial because Medium enables most of the more fancy effects in BF3. Medium to High has a slightly smaller but still major performance hit due in large part to HBAO being enabled. From High to Ultra, the use of 4x MSAA is the single biggest reason for the dramatically reduced performance.

If you're after image quality which is adequately pleasant and suitably responsive for online gaming, then Medium is a good choice, particularly as shadows and jagged edges are softened somewhat, and textures aren't a blurry mess. For those who enjoy their eye candy and run a fast GPU, High provides excellent image quality without destroying performance. Ultra is primarily designed for people using multi-GPU setups, and for most people the bump in image quality isn't worth the major decline in performance over High.

Fortunately you are not limited to these presets, and you should be able to arrive at a better outcome if you adjust the various settings individually - which is what the remainder of this guide is all about.

Texture Quality: This setting controls the quality of textures, which are the images covering every surface in the game world. The available options are Low, Medium, High and Ultra, and as this setting is raised, so too is the resolution of the various textures being used in BF3.

Importantly, this setting requires that you quit and restart the game for any changes to be implemented.

 
Textures Low
Textures Medium
Textures High
 
 
Textures Ultra
 
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above highlight that as the Texture Quality setting is increased, the blurry pixelated ground textures shown here steadily become crisper and more detailed. The improvement from Low to Medium is quite obvious, while High adds more detail in turn, but any subsequent difference between High and Ultra is difficult to see. Note that some textures in BF3 look less detailed even at the highest setting. Furthermore, during fast-paced action, and at normal viewing distance, even Low textures can look acceptable at a casual glance.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Texture Quality Chart

As the graph shows, higher settings for Texture Quality do not significantly affect FPS. However as texture detail rises, so too does the amount of Video RAM (VRAM) needed to hold these textures on your graphics card for quick access. In BF3, textures are streamed in as required, but your Texture Quality setting determines the texture pool size, which is the amount of VRAM allocated to storing textures at any one time. At the Low setting, 150MB is allocated to the texture pool; Medium = 200MB; High = 300MB; and Ultra = 500MB. Keep in mind however that your VRAM also stores a range of other game information, and that an average multiplayer level in BF3 can have 1.5GB or more of textures, so it can't all be stored on your GPU at once. Thus setting this option too high may result in stuttering or visible texture streaming. The Ultra Texture Quality setting for example is designed specifically for GPUs with 1.5GB or more of VRAM.

If you notice that your system is constantly stuttering or momentarily freezing, or you frequently see textures being streamed in while you're moving around, then lower Texture Quality to see if this helps reduce the issue.

Shadow & Effects Quality

Shadow Quality: This setting controls the level of shadow detail. The available options are Low, Medium, High and Ultra, and at progressively higher levels the shadows in the game become softer, more detailed, and hence more realistic, at the cost of some performance. The general impact and realism of shadows is also greatly affected by the Ambient Occlusion setting, which is covered later in the guide.

 
Shadows Low
Shadows Medium
Shadows High
 
 
Shadows Ultra
 
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above show that at Low there are plentiful shadows, but they are all hard-edged. At Medium, the shadows are softer and thus more realistic, however there is actually some loss of detail in the shadows compared to Low. For example, look at the white vertical pipe at the far right of the screen: at Low it has shadows (though quite jagged ones) under the different sections of the piping; at Medium those shadows are all but gone. So going from Low to Medium is a step backward in some respects. At High, shadow edges are further softened, but importantly, shadow detail also returns. At Ultra, there is slight additional softening, and a bit more shadow depth and realism.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Shadow Quality Chart

The graph above highlights an interesting fact that at higher resolutions, the largest decline in FPS comes from the very first jump between Low and Medium Shadow Quality. This is because Medium is the first setting to enable soft shadows, and at subsequent levels of Shadow Quality the FPS impact is less marked. If you want a good balance of image quality and performance, then High is ideal. At Medium, you will be trading off some shadow detail in return for softer shadows, and Ultra has the biggest performance impact without substantial improvement over High. Low is obviously the best choice if you're struggling for FPS, but note that shadows can't be completely disabled; this is to maintain fairness in multiplayer.

Effects Quality: This setting determines the level of intensity of particle-based effects such as smoke, tracers and explosions. The available options are Low, Medium, High and Ultra. As with some of the other settings which can impact on the fairness of multiplayer gameplay, this setting is not highly scalable, in that between Low and Ultra there is no dramatic change, and certainly the effects can't be disabled completely.

 
Effects Low
Effects Medium
Effects High
 
 
Effects Ultra
 
Click to enlarge

 

Though an accurate comparison of smoke and explosion effects is difficult using static screenshots, you can see that the particle effects from the smoke and fire are reasonably realistic at Low, giving off dark smoke and occasional sparks. At Medium, the smoke becomes more complex and there are more emissions in the form of sparks from the fire. What is not as noticeable in these particular screenshots is that at Medium and above, particle effects can create shadows beneath them. Furthermore the amber sparks rising from the fire cast their own light, in effect becoming individual dynamic light sources. At High these particle and lighting effects increase in complexity and volume, and Ultra sees a slight increase again.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Effects Quality Chart

As expected, the performance impact of Effects Quality is noticeable but not major, especially at higher resolutions. For most people Medium is the best choice as it enables some of the key enhancements without being overly taxing. This is particularly the case if you notice slowdowns during heavy combat.

Mesh & Terrain Quality

Mesh Quality: A mesh is the 3D wireframe structure of objects in the game world. Buildings, rocks and trees for example are constructed of these meshes, which are then wrapped in textures and have various effects added onto them to complete the illusion of a realistic three-dimensional object. The available options here are Low, Medium, High and Ultra. This setting controls the geometric complexity of object meshes, and hence the level of detail of the objects in the game world, particularly as they become more distant to the viewer. It also determines the mesh pool size used to store meshes in Video RAM. It does not affect terrain surface complexity, as that is controlled by the Terrain Quality setting further below.

 
Mesh Ultra
Mesh High
Mesh Medium
 
 
Mesh Low
 
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above show that as Mesh Quality is reduced from Ultra to High, some of the buildings lose minor details, particularly noticeable on the portions furthest from the viewer. From High to Medium, the rocky portion of the mountain to the left appears to deflate slightly as it reduces in complexity, and additional details like railings, window frames and portions of building facings are removed, even on the building at left closest to the viewer. At Low, the rocks to the left become quite flat, round objects become less round, and more minor details and stripped from virtually every structure.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Mesh Quality Chart

The graph shows that Mesh Quality reduces performance incrementally, and its impact is more pronounced at lower resolutions. As with other settings which can affect the fairness of multiplayer gameplay, Mesh Quality can't be reduced to the point where it makes a substantial visual difference, such as removing entire buildings from the distance. Reducing Mesh Quality will reduce draw distance and detail, but the fundamental structure of every object will remain regardless of this setting, so if you don't mind the fact that it can make the game world seem a bit more plain, you can lower this setting to gain a few FPS.

Terrain Quality: This setting determines the geometric complexity of the terrain, which is the surface on which everything sits in the game world. The available options are Low, Medium, High and Ultra, however a DirectX 11-capable graphics card is required in order to enable the High or Ultra settings, because at these settings, tessellation and displacement mapping are used which require DirectX 11 hardware support. Also keep in mind that some of what can appear to be portions of the terrain, such as rocky mountain faces, are actually controlled by the Mesh Quality setting covered above. Lowering this setting may reduce terrain detail slightly, however to maintain fairness in multiplayer, it does not substantially alter the terrain - otherwise you would have unusual situations, such as some players appearing to float in mid-air, because they're standing on what they see as a small hill on their screen, but that hill doesn't exist on yours.

Importantly, this setting requires that you quit and restart the game for any changes to be implemented.

 
Terrain Quality Low
Terrain Quality Medium
Terrain Quality High
 
 
Terrain Quality Ultra
 
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above show that it is difficult at first to spot major differences in the overall terrain. However if you look closely at the two white mounds at the bottom of the screenshots, just to the left of the player's hand, you can clearly see that as this setting is increased, the tips of the hills go from being angular to smoother and more rounded. Similarly, look at the mountains in the distance and they too become rounder as this setting is raised. What you can't see in a static screenshot comparison is that at lower levels of this setting, a form of geometry 'pop-in' becomes quite noticeable. That is, as you move around, you will be able to see the terrain noticeably change shape in front of you.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Terrain Quality Chart

The performance impact of Terrain Quality is fairly consistent at each step from Low to Ultra, even at higher resolutions. In most cases Medium is a good choice, but if you notice the terrain constantly changing shape as you move around and this distracts you, and if you have a DirectX 11 GPU, then High is preferable. Ultra has a noticeable performance impact which may not be worth the visual improvement it provides over High.

Terrain Decoration

Terrain Decoration: This setting only affects visual decoration objects on terrain, such as grass, bushes, small rocks, and debris. The available options are Low, Medium, High and Ultra. However because terrain decoration is frequently used as a major source of cover during multiplayer, the setting is designed not to be highly scalable, so you can't disable grass and bushes altogether for example.

Importantly, this setting requires that you quit and restart the game for any changes to be implemented.

 
Terrain Decoration Low
Terrain Decoration Medium
Terrain Decoration High
 
 
Terrain Decoration Ultra
 
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above show that at Low there are patches of grass, bushes and flowers, but these are fairly sparse in most areas, especially in the middle distance. At Medium, High and Ultra the amount of grass, bushes and flowers incrementally increases. What the screenshots don't show is that foliage 'pop-in' becomes more pronounced at lower levels of this setting, such that at Low for example, you will see flowers and some patches of grass appearing or disappearing a few meters away from you as you move.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Terrain Decoration Chart

The graph above indicates that the performance impact of Terrain Decoration is minimal, however in practice this will depend on the particular scene. In large outdoor multiplayer maps with lots of terrain decoration such as Caspian Border, the impact will be more noticeable.

Antialiasing

Antialiasing Deferred: A method of reducing the jaggedness of lines in computer graphics, Antialiasing (AA) can be enabled using two different techniques in BF3. The first of these is called Deferred Multi-Sampling Antialiasing (MSAA), which refers to the fact that the deferred shading method used in BF3 requires a special type of AA in order to actually work. The available options here are Off, 2x MSAA and 4x MSAA.

In fact this MSAA is really a customized selective Supersampling technique which increases the resolution of the scene only in areas where the engine detects the most prominent jagged edges, and in doing so, takes more samples, which makes those edges smoother. This can reduce jaggedness on terrain and objects, but it doesn't address jaggedness on foliage and some transparent edges for example. Another major drawback with this method is that it is performance intensive.

 
MSAA Off
MSAA 2x
MSAA 4x
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above have all been taken with Antialiasing Post at Off so as to only highlight the impact of Antialiasing Deferred. At Off, you can see quite a bit of jaggedness throughout the scene, which is even worse when experienced in game as the jagged lines will shimmer and crawl quite noticeably when you move. When 2x MSAA is used, the change is subtle - look closely at the lamp post to the left, the front of the car, and the vertical lines on the white building to the left; the saw-toothed edges of their outlines are now less harsh. At 4x MSAA these become quite smooth. However at no point does MSAA affect the jagged outlines of the palm leaves or the horizontal telephone wires in the distance.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Antialiasing Deferred Chart

The graph clearly shows that the performance impact of this form of AA can be very intensive, and is even more draining on older graphics cards. The impact is greater still at higher resolutions, and on most systems can take the game from being playable to unplayable. If you're after more FPS, Antialiasing Deferred is one of the first settings you should disable.

Antialiasing Post: This type of Antialiasing is a Post-Process form of AA, so-called because it is applied after the scene has been rendered, thus it is not as precise as Deferred AA. The actual form of Post-Process AA used is NVIDIA's FXAA, which can run on any graphics card, and is extremely efficient. The available options are Off, Low, Medium and High.

 
Post-Process AA OFF
Post-Process AA Low
Post-Process AA Medium
 
 
Post-Process AA High
 
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above have all been taken with the Antialiasing Deferred setting at Off so as to only highlight the impact of Antialiasing Post. At Off, once again we start with a rather jagged and brittle looking scene. At Low, there is an immediate difference, as the entire scene becomes slightly blurred and hazy. However unlike MSAA, the implementation of FXAA means that the jagged outlines of everything are much smoother, including the foliage. Medium brings further improvement, which we can detect most clearly on the lamp post to the left. The difference between Medium and High is virtually indistinguishable, at least in these static screenshots.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Antialiasing Post Chart

Unlike Antialiasing Deferred, Antialiasing Post (FXAA) has a very mild performance hit, and is the best choice for most people who want to remove the eyesore of jagged lines in BF3. Medium is recommended as a good balance between image quality and performance.

As an added bonus, FXAA can be combined with the MSAA in BF3 to provide the maximum amount of antialiasing possible. For the purposes of quick comparison, below are screenshots showing the four main combinations of antialiasing in BF3. It's best to compare particular pairs of screenshots to see the differences.

 
All AA OFF
High FXAA
4x MSAA
 
 
4x MSAA & High FXAA
 
Click to enlarge

 

For example, flick back and forth between the High FXAA shot and the 4x MSAA + High FXAA shot, and it's difficult to see much improvement coming from the addition of 4x MSAA. The main difference is that the 4x MSAA tidies up the slightly jagged vertical lines of the lamp posts and buildings to the left, and this is more noticeable on more distant objects during actual gameplay. However it's obvious that High FXAA does the bulk of the work in cleaning up the scene. Conversely, compare 4x MSAA with 4x MSAA + High FXAA and there is a very obvious haze which comes over the scene due to the FXAA, and this also adds some additional bloom effects to the lighting which some people may find undesirable.

In short any amount of FXAA will introduce some blurring, but FXAA is necessary if you want to reduce the jaggedness of things like foliage. Meanwhile MSAA provides a crisper result but with jagged foliage and a major performance hit. If you don't mind the haze effect, combining the two gives the cleanest solution but is really only recommended if you have a fast GPU like a GeForce GTX 570 or 580.

Motion Blur & Anisotropic Filtering

Motion Blur: This setting allows the use of motion blurring if set to On. With Motion Blur enabled, you can control the degree to which fast motion is blurred using the 'Motion Blur Amount' slider. The higher the slider, the greater the amount of blurring which occurs during fast motion, such as when spinning around. Motion blurring has its advantages and disadvantages. It can improve the perception of smoothness at lower framerates, and can also bring a cinematic feel to the game. On the other hand it can reduce performance and responsiveness during fast motion, and can also make it harder to spot enemies in your peripheral vision when turning around.

 
Motion Blur Off
Motion Blur Min
Motion Blur Medium
 
 
Motion Blur Max
 
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above show the effects when Motion Blur is first set to Off, then when enabled and the 'Motion Blur Amount' slider is at the far left (0%); at the middle position (50%); and at the far right (100%). All the screenshots were taken as the soldier was spinning around quickly from left to right. When motion blur is disabled or at its minimum, the scene remains quite clear during fast motion. At 50% motion blur, the blurring is quite noticeable, and only slightly more blurry at 100% motion blur. In practice the amount of blurring also depends on how quickly you're moving, so it is difficult to show in a precise manner in a screenshot comparison.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Motion Blur Chart

The graph above demonstrates that Motion Blur has a relatively minor impact on performance. The choice primarily comes down to whether you like the effect or not.

Motion Blur Amount Chart

The second graph shows that the different levels of motion blur, selectable using the Motion Blur Amount slider, reduce performance in a consistent manner.

Motion Blur in any amount can reduce performance during periods of fast motion. This is precisely the time when you don't want a dip in your framerate and any subsequent reduction in responsiveness, so it can be useful to reduce or disable motion blur to improve performance and make it easier to spot enemies.

Anisotropic Filtering: This is a form of texture filtering is designed to improve the sharpness of textures which appear at an angle to your view, such as those on the ground or walls receding into the distance. You can read more about Anisotropic Filtering (AF) in this guide. The available options for AF in BF3 are the following sample rates: 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x and 16x.

Importantly, this setting requires that you quit and restart the game for any changes to be implemented.

 
AF 1x
AF 2x
AF 4x
 
AF 8x
AF 16x
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above show the range of settings from 1x to 16x AF. Pay particular attention to the tiles on the ground and the wall to the left. At 1x, from the middle distance onward everything is very blurry, becoming an indistinct mess in the far distance. At 2x clarity is improved slightly; 4x makes things crisper; and by 8x AF the scene is quite clear. The difference between 8x and 16x AF is difficult to see here, but may be more noticeable when in motion during gameplay.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Anisotrophic Filtering Chart

The graph demonstrates quite clearly that the performance impact of Anisotropic Filtering on modern graphics cards is relatively minor. It is recommended that you use at least 2x AF for reasonable clarity, and 8x AF is an excellent compromise between performance and image quality.

Ambient Occlusion

Ambient Occlusion: Ambient Occlusion is a technique used to create more realistic shadowing from ambient lighting, and is described in more detail in this guide. The available options here are Off, SSAO and HBAO. SSAO is Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, which is a relatively less intensive - and less accurate - method, while HBAO is the NVIDIA-developed Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion solution, which is much more realistic, but comes at a greater cost in performance. Note that the implementation of HBAO in BF3 has been improved since its use in Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

 
AO Off
SSAO
HBAO
Click to enlarge

 

The screenshots above provide some indication of the difference. The first shot is with all ambient occlusion Off, and looks fairly realistic due to the existing shadowing controlled by the Shadow Quality setting covered earlier. The next shot shows SSAO in effect, and the difference is minimal, best seen in the addition of a small amount of shadows to the stack of boxes to the left, the corner of the concrete wall to the top right, and the small clumps of grass to the right of the screen. With HBAO enabled, the scene becomes dramatically richer, as some of the unnecessary glare from surfaces is reduced and is replaced with realistic shadowing, giving the grass clumps density and depth, more evenly distributed shadows on the structures, and even the rocks on the ground to the left get vastly improved shadows.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

Ambient Occlusion Chart

The graph demonstrates the heavy performance impact of HBAO, but this must be weighed against the substantial image quality improvement it brings with it. This improvement is much more pronounced than was previously seen in BFBC2. SSAO on the other hand has less of an FPS hit, but any visual improvements it provides are relatively subtle. If you need more FPS, Ambient Occlusion is one of the key settings to disable.

Advanced Tweaking

Battlefield 3 is designed around the new Frostbite 2 engine developed by DICE. The engine has a great many features, with over 3,000 command variables (CVARS) in place to control its numerous functions. However less than 100 of these CVARS are unlocked, and fewer still have any impact on the multiplayer component of BF3. This is a deliberate measure by DICE to prevent alterations to the game which would give anyone an unfair advantage. Furthermore, Battlefield 3's in-game settings are quite comprehensive and allow users to readily customize the game as much as possible within these parameters. However DICE has revealed a few advanced tweaks you can use, and these are described in this section of the guide.

Command Console

The primary method for accessing Frostbite 2's advanced functionality is via the command console. This console can be opened by pressing the ~ key, which is found just below ESC and above TAB on most keyboards. You can use the same key to close the console again at any time. Once opened, you can type any command and press Enter to execute it. Try using the List command to see the available set of console commands. The following are the most useful of these console commands, and a brief description of their function:

render.drawfps 1 - When set to 1, this command displays a frame per second (FPS) counter at the top right of the screen. The counter can be removed by typing render.drawfps 0.

Performance Overlay

render.perfoverlayvisible 1 - When set to 1, this command displays a small chart on the bottom left corner of the screen designed to provide you with key information about your system's performance during BF3. It shows your graphics card (GPU) usage as a green line, and your processor (CPU) usage as a yellow line. The aim is to ensure that during gameplay neither lines spike frequently to very high levels, as this indicates that the particular resource is being overtaxed, and possibly causing lag and instability. If necessary experiment with your in-game settings until you see a reduction in such spikes. Use render.perfoverlayvisible 0 to close the overlay.

RenderDevice.TripleBufferingEnable 1 - By default Triple Buffering appears to be enabled in BF3. If you've enabled Vertical Sync, Triple Buffering can be useful in preventing a drop in FPS, but Triple Buffering can also reduce responsiveness on some systems, even with VSync disabled. Set this command to a value of 0 to disable the built-in Triple Buffering and test to see if it reduces any input lag.

RenderDevice.ForceRenderAheadLimit 0 - This setting controls the number of frames prepared by the CPU before being processed by the GPU. You can try values of 0, 1, 2 or 3 - higher values may improve FPS but can decrease responsiveness, while lower values do the reverse. In experimenting with this on my system using the performance overlay (see above), I found that as the value increased to 3, CPU spikes became more frequent. Smoothest performance was at 0 or 1, but this can vary from system to system.

GameTime.MaxVariableFps 60 - This command allows you to cap your framerate to the FPS value you specify (e.g. a value of 60 for a 60 FPS cap). This is not the same as VSync, as the framerate cap is not linked to your refresh rate, and capping your FPS in this way will not reduce your overall performance or create mouse lag like VSync can. Instead, by capping your framerate you can prevent large fluctuations in FPS, in turn reducing resource spikes and stuttering, and improving the perception of smoothness. However capping your FPS does not mean your minimum FPS will rise to the capped value, it only prevents maximum FPS from exceeding it.

screenshot.render - When this command is executed in the console, the game immediately takes a screenshot (minus the console), and places it as a lossless .PNG file in your \Users\[username]\Documents\Battlefield 3\Screenshots directory. You can use the screenshot.format command to change the format of the screenshot file. E.g. screenshot.format JPG to save screenshots in JPEG format rather than PNG.

ui.Drawenable 0 - If this command is set to a value of 0, it will remove the Heads Up Display (HUD) and any other screen overlays. Using the command with a value of 1 will enable them again. This is primarily designed for people who wish to take screenshots or make gameplay videos, as otherwise it is very difficult to play the game properly without these important screen elements.

If you wish to apply any console command automatically at startup, create a new text file and rename it to User.cfg. Edit the file using Windows Notepad or Wordpad, entering each command on a separate line. Save this file and place it in your main \Program Files (x86)\Origin Games\Battlefield 3\ directory.

Configuration File

The main configuration file which holds your BF3 settings can be found under the \Users\[username]\Documents\Battlefield 3\settings directory. The file is called PROF_Save_profile, and you should create a backup copy of it before attempting any changes. This file is best edited using the built-in Windows Wordpad, which displays the file with more legible formatting. The vast majority of the settings in this file correspond to those you can adjust using the in-game options menus, so it is not necessary or recommended that they be altered here. However there are a couple of useful settings which can be further customized in this file, as described below:

GstRender.FieldOfView 70.000000 - You can set your Field of View in the in-game options, however there it is capped between 60 and 90 degrees. Using this command, you can set a value outside that cap (in degrees), which will work in multiplayer. The default value is 70 degrees.

GstInput.MouseSensitivity 0.418605 - You can set your mouse sensitivity using the Mouse Sensitivity slider in the game options. However here you can set it more precisely, and it also allows you to use values above the maximum allowed on the slider (i.e. above 1.00000), which will work in multiplayer.

While there are plenty of other variables you can experiment with, keep in mind once again that DICE has specifically prevented any variables which alter aspects of the game that would make it unfair to other players. So there is little chance of finding a variable which removes all foliage, or which reduces object complexity beyond the limits set in the in-game options, and so on. Even if any such commands work, they are likely to be quickly detected as cheat variables and could result in being kicked or banned via PunkBuster if used online. The bulk of the useful tweaking of BF3 comes from the numerous in-game settings covered earlier in this guide.

Tips & Conclusion

Gameplay Tips

For those relatively new to the Battlefield series, the key frustration most people voice with Battlefield games is the feeling that they've shot enough rounds into the enemy to kill them three times over, but the enemy still lives. The vast majority of the time this isn't due to faulty hit registration as most people believe. It is part of the design of the game:

  • Bullet spread and hence accuracy in BF3 is greatly dependent on whether you are firing from the hip (highly inaccurate); crouching (more accurate); or prone (highly accurate). The game is heavily biased towards prone firing.
  • Moving while firing further reduces accuracy.
  • Using iron sights (default is Right Mouse Button) is absolutely imperative for accuracy.
  • Fire single shots or short bursts rather than a spray. You can switch your weapon mode from full automatic to single shot and back at any time (default is V key).
  • Some weapon mods further improve accuracy, such as the foregrip , or the laser sight which boosts hip-firing accuracy.
  • Reduce your mouse sensitivity. A high sensitivity might feel more responsive, but reduces accuracy.

Possibly the best tip of all if you're still being frustrated is to try Hardcore mode. Don't let the name fool you, Hardcore mode is not only for veteran players. The key changes in hardcore mode are: the removal of HUD elements such as your ammo and health counter; the lack of red arrows above spotted enemies and enemy vehicles; much greater damage from weapons; and the removal of regenerative health. While daunting at first, these aspects can actually make it much less frustrating for some players. For example, if you get the drop on the enemy, even while firing from the hip, you can take them out in only a few shots. If you're a stealthy player, it's much easier to approach or flank the enemy, since you won't have a red arrow above your head if spotted, thus alerting the entire enemy team across the whole map as would occur in normal mode. If you're a sniper, you will usually kill with a single shot on any part of the enemy's body.

When playing Hardcore mode you will quickly see that hit registration is not the major problem in BF3, it's simply a case of a difference in the design of normal mode vs. hardcore mode, and thankfully the choice is there for people to choose whichever mode best suits their tastes.

Conclusion

Battlefield 3 has stirred the interest of FPS gamers like few other games in recent times, mainly because it combines compelling online gameplay with superb graphics and immersive audio. At the same time, the game continues to evolve as DICE irons out any of the inevitable kinks that come with such a complex game.

To summarize the performance findings:

  • Resolution and Graphics Quality (preset) have the greatest impact on both image quality and performance. The best way to start your tweaking process is to match the game to your monitor's native resolution and find an appropriate Graphics Quality level.
  • Settings such as Texture Quality, Antialiasing Post, and Anisotropic Filter have a significant impact on image quality with minimal performance impact. If you have to prioritize between settings, these are the ones you want to keep enabled.
  • Ambient Occlusion and Antialiasing Deferred are demanding options but bring appreciably quality improvements; the former greatly improves shadow quality, the latter reduces aliasing and crawling patterns, especially for fine geometry. These options are recommended for those with high-end graphics cards.
  • Other options have generally moderate impact on performance and image quality. Some, such as Motion Blur are best adjusted based on personal taste.

If after reading this guide you're still having difficulties with the game, check the Official Battlefield 3 Forums for further help. Also keep an eye on the Official Battlefield Blog for important announcements.

Finally, if you're experiencing lag in BF3, refer to the How to Get Rid of Lag article to correctly determine the source of your lag and what if anything you can do about it.

Until next time, take care!

Email
Comments