Call of Duty: Black Ops II Tweak Guide

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General Optimization

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Tweak Guide, By Koroush Ghazi

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 takes elements that fans enjoyed about the first Black Ops, and improves upon them in almost every way. Aside from continuing the Cold War plot established in the first game, Black Ops 2 also provides an interconnecting storyline set in 2025, expanding the Call of Duty series into futuristic warfare. This time, with branching storylines, the choices you make during the campaign will directly influence the outcome. If you enjoy fast-paced multiplayer, then Black Ops 2 provides a solid enhancement to the online gameplay style of the first game. And for PC gamers everywhere, the good news is that Treyarch has listened to your requests: Black Ops 2 drops support for DirectX 9 in exchange for the more advanced DirectX 10/11, and features a range of settings to utilize your PC's capabilities above and beyond those available on consoles.

The aim of this guide is to allow you to better understand and best utilize all of the configuration options available in Black Ops 2.

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

  • Processor: 2.4 GHz dual core CPU
  • Memory: 2GB RAM (32-bit OS), 4GB RAM (64-bit Windows OS)
  • Hard Drive: At least 16GB of free space
  • Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT
  • Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible
  • OS: Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7 or Windows 8 (XP not supported)
  • Internet: Initial installation requires Internet connection for Steam authentication

What follows are full descriptions for all of the settings available in the various Black Ops 2 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. Go through our Stable Gaming Guide to get your PC in the best shape. At the very least make sure to update your Graphics Drivers to the latest available version.

Performance Measurement

To successfully conduct any tweaking, you will need some way of objectively measuring your performance in Frames Per Second (FPS). The easiest way to do this is to use the built-in Draw FPS option, found under the Advanced section of the in-game Settings menu. Enabling this option will result in a yellow FPS counter being shown at the top right of the screen.

Pay attention to your FPS during the game, particularly during graphically intense scenes, such as combat with multiple enemies, or when special effects such as smoke or explosions are visible. If your FPS dips to a very low level at any point, or is constantly spiking, then this is a good indication that you need to adjust various settings, whether to raise your minimum FPS to at least 30 FPS, or simply to stabilize your framerate to prevent stuttering and variable responsiveness. Keep in mind that since Black Ops 2 is a very fast-paced game, for multiplayer you may need a minimum FPS that is much higher than 30 FPS to maintain sufficient responsiveness to remain competitive.

General Settings

To access the full suite of in-game settings, launch Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and select the Options item on the main menu, then select Settings. The main graphics-related options are covered in detail later in this guide. First we examine the general gameplay, sound and control options in this section. None of these settings has any significant impact on performance.

Gameplay

Subtitles: If set to Enabled, text subtitles will be shown at the bottom of the screen during conversations and cut scenes, while Disabled removes all such subtitles. This option is specific to campaign mode.

Graphic Content: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 contains content which some players may find disturbing. If this option is set to Disabled, as much of these elements as possible is removed from the game without changing the storyline. This includes blood and gore effects, foul language, and any violent historical footage shown during the campaign. This setting has no impact on multiplayer mode.

Player Name Indicator: This setting controls the information displayed above player heads in multiplayer mode:

  • Full Name - The player's rank icon and rank, any clan tag, and name will be displayed, in that order.
  • Abbreviated - Only the player name, devoid of rank or clan tag, is shown.
  • Icon Only - Only the rank icon and rank level is shown, without any name or clan tag.

Color Blind Assist: If set to On, this option changes the colors used in the minimap so that they are more easily distinguishable for people who are color blind.

Chat Messages: If set to Show, this option will allow the display of player text chat messages on the screen in multiplayer mode. If you find these messages distracting or annoying, you can remove them by selecting Hide for this setting.

Sound

Volume: There are multiple sliders here allowing control of the volume level for various game audio elements. This includes: Voice for spoken dialog, Music for in-game background music, SFX for special effects such as gunfire and explosions, a Master volume slider that controls the overall volume of all elements, a Cinematic volume slider that determines the level of audio for in-game cut-scenes during campaign mode, and Codcaster sliders to control the volume of gameplay and commentary when watching a pre-recorded game. None of these sliders has any impact on performance, so set them to suit your taste.

Hearing Impaired: If this option is enabled, spoken dialog will be enhanced over any background audio to make it easier to distinguish.

Sound Device: This item is may not be selectable if you have only one sound output device connected. It displays the name of the sound hardware that Black Ops 2 is currently using to output game audio on your system. If a connected device is not being identified correctly, or you are having problems with audio output on it, then you will first need to check your Windows sound settings under the Sound component of the Windows Control Panel, then check your sound card or motherboard manufacturer's website for the latest sound drivers.

Presets: There are five preset audio mixes here, each determining the way in which game audio is processed:

  • Headphones - Boosts audio response at both ends of the spectrum to provide richer audio on standard headphones.
  • Treyarch Mix - The recommend audio processing for most systems with standard two or more channel speaker setups, as well as high-end headphones.
  • Bass Boost - Increases the low frequency response to provide heavier bass. Suitable if you prefer more bass, or have small speakers.
  • High Boost - Increases the high frequency response to provide crisper audio.
  • Supercrunch - Provides exaggerated sound output at all frequencies. This can make it easier to detect any noise, particularly during multiplayer.

Once a preset is selected, you can click the System Test option to initiate a brief test sequence. However, any changes to the presets during the test sequence will not be reflected until the test is run again.

Controls

The Controls section of the settings allows you to remap your mouse, gamepad and keyboard control assignments. Make sure to go through this section, not only to customize it, but to also become aware of all the various settings. Of note are the following:

Invert Mouse Look: If set to Yes, pushing your mouse forward will make your character aim down, and moving your mouse back will make him aim upwards. If set to No, the arrangement is reversed.

Mouse Sensitivity: This slider determines the level of responsiveness of the mouse to your movements. The further to the right 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, there are several other things you should check:

  • If your framerate falls below around 30 FPS at any time, particularly during heavy combat, you will start to notice reduced responsiveness. You will need to adjust your graphics settings to raise your minimum FPS.
  • Check the Max Frames Per Second graphics setting (covered later in this guide) to make sure it isn't set to a low cap, such as 30 FPS. This is too low a maximum frame rate to allow for sufficient responsiveness in a fast-paced game like Black Ops 2; it should be set to at least 60.
  • If the Sync Every Frame setting is enabled, or you have Vertical Sync set to On or Adaptive in the NVIDIA Control Panel, this can contribute to a less responsive feel to mouse movements. See the Sync Every Frame setting in the Graphics Settings section later in this guide for more details.

Mouse Smoothing: If set to On, this setting attempts to reduce the jerkiness of mouse movements by taking the average of several input samples, rather than just a single sample at any time. Note that mouse smoothing is not the same as mouse acceleration/deceleration. The main benefit of enabling mouse smoothing is that it can increase precision and, as the name implies, provide a feeling of smoothness in mouse movements. The major drawback is that it can result in noticeable mouse lag, making the mouse feel less responsive, particularly during fast-paced action. On balance it is best set to Off for maximum responsiveness in Borderlands 2.

Also keep in mind that a high mouse sensitivity, while it can improve responsiveness, may also reduce accuracy.

On the next page we begin our look at the various graphics-related settings in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

Graphics Settings

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 has a large number of graphics-related settings, and these can have a substantial impact on the way the game looks and plays on your system. To access all of the available graphics settings, select Options under the Main Menu, then choose the Settings item. In the following section we'll go through each of these graphics settings in detail, and see exactly how they affect performance and image quality.


In the performance graphs shown, for each setting we start with a "baseline" where all options are set to the maximum possible, as well as 4x MSAA, FXAA On, Depth of Field Low, Sync Every Frame Off, and Max Frames Per Second set to Unlimited. From this baseline, we vary individual settings to measure their effect on performance and image quality. 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 660 Ti 2GB
  • Intel Core i7 3960X (3.3GHz)
  • 8GB RAM
  • Win7 64-bit
  • NVIDIA 310.54 WHQL Drivers

Resolution & FOV

This section begins our look at the graphics settings in Black Ops 2. Please note that aside from the options provided under the Graphics section of the Settings, you can click the Advanced link at the top of the screen to access a second page with more graphics options. You will have to adjust your graphics settings for each game mode separately.

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). The number of resolutions 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 reduce your overall performance. 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, either use one of the windowed options under the Window Mode option as covered further below, or select the 'No scaling' option under the 'Adjust desktop size and position' section of the NVIDIA Control Panel.

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

The graph shows that Resolution has a substantial impact on performance. If you want a big improvement in FPS, and all else fails to provide it, then consider lowering your resolution.

Display Mode: By default the game runs in Full Screen mode, which takes up the entire screen, and is generally recommended for optimal image quality and memory management. If you want to run the game in a window on your desktop instead, then you can select Windowed, or Windowed (Fullscreen) here. If you select Windowed, the size of the game window which appears on your desktop will depend on your Screen Resolution setting. If you select Windowed (Fullscreen), a borderless window which takes up the entire screen will be used. The key difference is that Windowed (Fullscreen) mode prevents any of your desktop from showing in the background. Running in Windowed mode is recommended if you want to reduce the game's resolution to improve performance, but still maintain a crisp image with no black bars or image distortion. Note that you can switch between windowed and fullscreen modes at any time by pressing ALT+Enter.

Monitor: This setting determines which display is used in a multi-monitor setup. If you have a single monitor, the default of 1 should be shown.

Brightness: When this option is selected, you will be taken to a screen where you can use the slider at the top to adjust screen brightness.

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 FOV range possible on the slider here is between 65 and 80 degrees, with the default being 65. Raising FOV will make more of the game world visible at once, effectively zooming out your view, while lowering it will do the reverse. Increasing your FOV may also reduce performance slightly.

Shadows & Ragdoll

Shadows: This setting firstly determines whether dynamic shadows are used throughout the game. If set to anything other than Off, dynamic shadows will be enabled, providing realistic shadowing that reacts dynamically to light sources, such as sunlight or lamps. Furthermore, as this setting is raised from Low, to Medium, to High, it will progressively increase the resolution of the shadows.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Shadows Off vs. Shadows 16x.

In the screenshots above, at Off you can see there are shadowy areas, but they are rather generic and are not an accurate depiction of the way in which the light is reacting with objects. At Low, the scene suddenly changes, as dynamic shadowing is enabled, and as a consequence, the sunlight through the leaves casts a multitude of shadows on surfaces and players. At Medium and High, the main changes are that the shadow edges become more distinct, as higher shadow resolution is used.

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

The graph shows that Shadows has a marked performance impact, especially when going from Off to Low, which is when dynamic shadowing is first enabled. Subsequently, the jump from Low to Medium is small, but is more pronounced when going from Medium to High. As such, if you're going to enable Shadows, then Medium is a good compromise between performance and image quality. Otherwise for a big boost in FPS, turn off the Shadows setting altogether.

Ragdoll: This option is only available in multiplayer mode, and determines whether ragdoll physics are enabled in the game. If set to Enabled, dead bodies will be thrown about realistically based on the environment. For example, if a grenade explodes near an enemy, the body will move in reaction to the blast. If this option is disabled, dead bodies will not move around at all in reaction to various environmental forces, which can seem unrealistic at times. However, death animations are still reasonably realistic even when this setting is disabled.

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

The graph essentially shows that there is no significant difference in framerates when this setting is altered. In practice, the impact may be more noticeable during heavy combat, and moreso on older systems. Generally, you can leave Ragdolls enabled, and then only turn it off if you're getting slowdowns in combat.

Texture Quality & Filtering

Texture Quality: Textures cover the surface of every object in the game world. The available options for controlling texture quality in Black Ops 2 are Low, Normal, High, Extra and Automatic. The higher the setting, the clearer and more defined surfaces will look in the game. Note that Automatic typically provides lower quality than Extra, as it appears to scale textures to maintain acceptable Video Memory usage.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Texture Quality Low vs. Texture Quality Extra.

The screenshots above show that at Low, the surfaces in this scene are very blurry and indistinct. The brick walls, wooden door, sandbags and tiles all look quite poor. At Normal, there is a noticeable jump in surface clarity, and again when going to High, where surface details become quite clear. At Extra, the added sharpness in texture detailing over High is difficult to see at first, but is definitely there if you look closely at the sandbags, or the cracks between the tiles for example.

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

The graph shows that Texture Quality has little impact on framerate. This is because the main impact of increase Texture Quality comes from consuming more space in your graphics card's Video RAM. As a result, if you set Texture Quality too high for your system, you may experience stuttering whenever textures are switched into or out of VRAM. If that is the case, then lower this setting to see if it improves the smoothness of gameplay.

Texture Filtering: This setting is designed to improve the clarity of textures that are shown at an angle to the viewer. The available options here are Low, Medium and High. The higher the filtering quality used, the crisper and more distinct surfaces will look as they recede into the distance.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Texture Filtering Low vs. Texture Filtering High.

In the screenshots above, look closely at the stack of boxes in the distance, especially the right hand side of the stack. At Low, the logos on the boxes at the far right are blurry; at Medium, they become much clearer; and at High, small text on the boxes also becomes more distinct. Similarly, the tiles on the ground become more defined as Texture Filtering is raised, as well as the brick walls in the distance, though the change is less pronounced.

To ensure the highest level of texture filtering, you should also open the NVIDIA Control Panel, and under the Program Settings tab select 'Call of Duty: Black Ops II' in the first drop-down box - select the mp .exe file for multiplayer, and the sp .exe file for singleplayer campaign. If a profile isn't shown here, untick the 'Show only programs found on this computer' check box and try again. Scroll down and click the 'Texture Filtering - Quality' box, and select 'High Quality' mode, then click the Apply button.

Note that forcing 16x in the Anisotropic Filtering setting in the NVIDIA Control Panel will not yield any better result than using the High option for the in-game Texture Filtering in Black Ops 2. However, if you want to make textures even more crisp, you should disable FXAA, as it can induce a slight blur over textures. See the FXAA setting on the next page.

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

The graph shows barely any difference at the three levels of Texture Filtering quality. This is to be expected on modern GPUs, as they can handle texture filtering processes very efficiently. Start off with this setting at High, and only lower it if you are truly struggling for FPS.

Anti-Aliasing, TXAA & FXAA

Anti-Aliasing: The term Anti-Aliasing (AA) is applied to any method used to help smooth out jagged lines, and reduce the distracting shimmering and crawling of those lines when in motion. If you don't like jaggies, then luckily there are several anti-aliasing methods built into Black Ops 2: Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA) at sample rates of 2x, 4x, and 8x; 16x Coverage Sample Anti-Aliasing (CSAA); and NVIDIA's TXAA, available at 2x and 4x, which will only be shown if you have a GeForce GTX 600 series GPU.

TXAA is covered separately below, and refer to the FXAA setting further below for one more built-in AA method. There are additional anti-aliasing methods available to be applied outside of the game, and these are covered in the Advanced Tweaking section.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing AA Off vs. MSAA 8x and here for an interactive comparison showing AA Off vs. CSAA 16x.

In the screenshots above, we start off with no Anti-Aliasing applied whatsoever, and that includes disabling the FXAA setting. Pay particular attention to the power lines in the sky: the lack of AA is painfully obvious, and there are jagged lines aplenty. Switching on 2x MSAA gives a noticeable reduction in jaggedness, though same saw-toothed edges still remain. At 4x MSAA, the scene has been cleaned up substantially, and there's little sign of jaggedness on any edges - except on the trees. At 8x MSAA, any improvement over 4x MSAA is hard to tell in static screenshots, but might be more noticeable during actual gameplay. Similarly, 16x CSAA looks virtually identical to 8x MSAA. Again, it should be noted that the foliage, particularly the palm tree in the center, hasn't been affected at all by any level of MSAA or CSAA, and remains jagged throughout.

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

The graph demonstrates the progressively larger performance impact as the sample rate of MSAA is increased, culminating in a major drop when 8x MSAA is enabled. Interestingly, 16x CSAA, which as we have seen in the screenshot comparisons can look similar to 8x MSAA, performs more in line with 4x MSAA. Any form of MSAA or CSAA could be considered a luxury and not a necessity, so look to FXAA instead if you want to reduce jaggies on slower GPUs.

TXAA: If you have a GeForce GTX 600 series GPU capable of supporting TXAA, it will be shown as an available option here, with two choices: 2x TXAA and 4x TXAA. While TXAA is based on the MSAA technique, it goes much further in addressing a key problem: distracting shimmering, also known as temporal aliasing. In a fast-paced shooter like Black Ops 2, anything that momentarily draws your attention away from enemies can be disastrous. TXAA helps you to smooth out the scene in motion, making sure that any movements you observe are due to actual changes in the game world, and not graphical artifacts.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing TXAA Off vs. TXAA 4x.

The screenshots above show that when 2x TXAA is enabled, unlike MSAA or CSAA, it smooths out both the jagged edges of buildings and objects, such as the power lines and the rooftops, as well as the rough edges on the foliage, such as those on the tree. The use of 4x TXAA further smooths out the lines in all areas of the scene, although the difference between 2x TXAA and 4x TXAA is not as significant as the jump from no AA to 2x TXAA.

Importantly, if Ambient Occlusion is enabled, it can cause blurriness in TXAA, or if TXAA is combined with SSAA (as covered in the Advanced Tweaking section). For the best quality TXAA, make sure to disable both Ambient Occlusion and FXAA.

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

The graph shows that TXAA has a noticeable performance hit, but less so than 8x MSAA, while still providing comparable image quality. Furthermore, unlike other types of AA, TXAA looks better in motion because not only does it remove jagged edges, it also removes shimmering. If available to you, it is recommended that you try TXAA to observe its benefits in motion.

FXAA: Fast Approximate Anti-Aliasing, or FXAA for short, is a very efficient post-process technique developed by NVIDIA. If enabled, it can scrub a scene of most jaggedness with minimal performance impact, which is why it is an attractive option that is frequently included in recent games. The only real area of concern with FXAA is that it can introduce some blurriness.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing FXAA Off vs. FXAA On.

In the screenshots above, once again we start with all forms of AA disabled. Notice that when FXAA is switched on, not only are jagged outlines such as those of the power lines cleaned up, but equally as important is the improvement in the appearance of foliage - the trees look much smoother. This is because FXAA affects jaggedness throughout an entire scene, and doesn't miss anything. However, as noted, it does add some blurriness. For example, look at the restaurant sign; the lettering on it is slightly blurred when FXAA is on. It's very mild, and should not be cause for significant concern. Still, if you want the sharpest possible textures, then FXAA should not be used.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing MSAA 8X - FXAA Off vs. MSAA 8x - FXAA On.

Since FXAA can also be enabled with the types of AA found under the Anti-Aliasing setting, above we compare 8x MSAA on its own, with a combination of 8x MSAA and FXAA. At first glance, the only real difference is that of the foliage, as we've discussed. But look closely at the pipes sticking out of the roofline at the top left, or examine the roof bar on the armored transport, and you can spot the slight additional reduction in jaggedness that FXAA provides on top of 8x MSAA. Of course that has to be weighed against the slight blurring it also introduces, but basically, the smoothest and least distracting edges come from a combination of FXAA and MSAA, not just one or the other.

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

The graph shows that FXAA fulfils its promise of being a highly efficient AA process, exhibiting minimal performance drop when enabled on a modern GPU. If the mild blurring it introduces does not bother you, it is a great alternative to the more intensive MSAA/CSAA. Furthermore, consider combining FXAA with MSAA or CSAA to get the benefit of smoother edges on foliage.

AO, DoF & No. Corpses

Ambient Occlusion:A technique used to create more realistic shadowing from ambient lighting, Ambient Occlusion is described in more detail in this guide. When this option is set to On in Black Ops 2, it will enable Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO), which should provide slightly richer shadowing in various scenes. SSAO is usually a subtle but noticeable effect.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing SSAO Off vs. SSAO On.

The screenshots above tell a somewhat confusing story, in that there doesn't appear to be any real difference between Ambient Occlusion being enabled or disabled in Black Ops 2. Aside from some moving mist in the distance, the scene is otherwise identical in terms of shadowing.

Importantly: Ambient Occlusion should be disabled if using TXAA or any form of Supersampling AA, such as Transparency Supersampling or Sparse Grid Supersampling, as covered in the Advanced Tweaking section. This is because the AO in Black Ops 2 can induce additional blurriness under these AA modes.

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

The graph shows that despite its hard-to-notice visual impact, Ambient Occlusion has a significant performance impact. Thus it makes little sense to enable the Ambient Occlusion in-game setting, given it has no real image quality benefit as it currently stands.

Depth of Field: Depth of Field (DoF) in gaming is an effect which makes objects in the foreground appear sharper and more distinct, and those in the background blurred and hazy. It is typically used to add a heightened sense of depth to a scene. In Black Ops 2, the most obvious use of Depth of Field is when you are aiming down your weapon's iron sights. The Depth of Field setting lets you adjust how DoF works in the game, with Low providing minimal blurriness, and Medium and High adding successively more blur.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing DoF Low vs. DoF High.

In the screenshots above, at Low we can see that there is only a small amount of differentiation between the foreground and the background through DoF; everything looks reasonably clear. When set to Medium, DoF really kicks in to make everything nearer or further away from the focal point (your crosshairs) blurry. For example, the numbers on the iron sights, and the buildings in the distance are all hazy. At High, there is only a slight increase in the haze, otherwise it looks very similar to Medium.

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

The graph shows that going from Low to Medium has a mild but noticeable FPS impact, which increases when going from Medium to High. Since DoF is mostly a matter of taste, if you don't like the effect then simply choose Low. If you do like the effect, then there isn't much visual difference between Medium and High, so Medium should be more than sufficient without stripping too much in the way of FPS.

Number of Corpses: This setting controls the number of dead bodies that are visible on the battlefield at any one time. The available options are Tiny, Small, Medium, and Large. The maximum number of corpses visible at any one time are 3 for Tiny, 5 for Small, 10 for Medium, and 16 for Large. In multiplayer mode this setting is unavailable, and the number of corpses is fixed at 5. Since characters are complex objects, the more corpses that are lying around, the lower your performance in areas where they are visible. Lowering this setting means excess corpses will quickly vanish, which can improve performance at the cost of some realism.

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

The graph shows that there is some performance variation at the different levels of this setting, but it is not major. In practice, this setting is highly scene-dependent. For example, if you enter an area where recent combat has piled up a lot of corpses, you may notice a slowdown in FPS which could otherwise be averted if you had a lower value for this setting. For the sake of realism, start off with Medium or Small, and then reduce it to Tiny if you do indeed notice slowdowns in corpse-laden areas.

Sync, Max and Draw FPS

Sync Every Frame:This controls a feature that is more commonly known as Vertical Synchronization (VSync). When Sync Every Frame is set to Yes, your GPU will become synchronized to your monitor's Refresh Rate capabilities, which means your maximum framerate will typically be capped at around 60 FPS. When it is set to No, there is no FPS cap (depending upon the Max Frames Per Second setting below), however you may experience a phenomenon known as "tearing", whereby portions of the game image sometimes appear to be out of alignment ("torn") across the screen. This does no harm to your system, but it can be annoying.

You have several options when it comes to the Sync Every Frame setting:

  • Set it to Yes to remove all tearing. However, aside from capping your FPS, this can also reduce your overall performance by up to 50% or more due to a GPU timing quirk, and can introduce noticeable mouse lag.
  • Set it to Yes, but also enable Triple Buffering. This will remove tearing, but without the loss in overall performance. Mouse lag may still occur.
  • Set it to No, and enable Adaptive VSync instead, available by selecting the Adaptive option under the Vertical Sync setting in the NVIDIA Control Panel. This method automatically disables VSync whenever your framerate falls below your refresh rate, preventing any performance loss, while also smoothing out framerates and minimizing tearing. Mouse lag may still occur.
  • Set it to No. This is the simplest method for providing maximum performance, removing the FPS cap and removing any mouse lag. However, tearing will be visible at times, and you may get large FPS fluctuations which can result in stuttering. To control these FPS fluctuations, use the Max Frames Per Second setting, covered further below.

It is recommended that in the first instance you disable this setting and try Adaptive VSync instead. If you experience any problems, or have noticeable mouse lag, or if Adaptive VSync is not available to you, the next thing you can try is to disable Sync Every Frame, and use one of the options under the Max Frames Per Second setting to cap your FPS. This should reduce the incidence of tearing, as well as minimizing large FPS fluctuations, without any mouse lag or performance drop.

Max Frames Per Second: This option controls your maximum frames per second (FPS), and is only available if you disable the Sync Every Frame setting. There are several presets for this setting, including framerate caps of 30, 45, 60, 90 and 120 FPS, as well as an Unlimited setting which completely removes any cap on the framerate. Keep in mind that Max Frames Per Second only determines your maximum possible framerate; it is not designed to attempt to maintain your FPS at an average framerate of your choice.

For most users, it is recommended that Max Frames Per Second be set equal to your monitor's refresh rate, which is typically 60. Selecting a much higher FPS cap, such as Unlimited, can result in large FPS fluctuations in different areas, resulting in a variable feeling of responsiveness, as well as periodic stuttering. Note that in multiplayer mode, the maximum framerate is automatically capped at 200 FPS, even if you choose Unlimited here.

Draw FPS: If this option is set to Yes, a yellow frames per second counter will be displayed in the top right corner. Use this counter to determine whether your framerate is fluctuating significantly, or is falling to low levels during gameplay. Displaying the counter has no impact on performance.

That concludes our look at the in-game settings. The next section examines more advanced tweaking possibilities.

Advanced Tweaking

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 comes equipped with a wide range of in-game settings to control its advanced DirectX 10/11 graphics functionality. Several of the settings which previously required the use of configuration file tweaks to adjust are now accessible within the in-game Settings menu. This is fortunate, because the config files in Black Ops 2 are encoded, and are not designed to be edited by the user.

However, there are several ways in which we can squeeze more graphical juice out of the game, and this section examines these more advanced methods in detail.

Other Antialiasing Methods

Black Ops 2 already comes equipped with four different types of Anti-Aliasing built right into the game: MSAA, CSAA, TXAA and FXAA. These should meet the needs of most players, but if you're extremely fussy about your AA, you can experiment with other types to achieve better results. Several of these are covered below:

SMAA: One method of AA available to everyone is Subpixel Morphological Anti-Aliasing (SMAA). This can be applied using the free injectSMAA utility. SMAA allows for similar results to FXAA in terms of smoothing jagged outlines and performance impact, but without the blurring.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing SMAA vs. FXAA.

The screenshots above show that when SMAA is enabled, jagged edges, such as those on the power lines and foliage, are smoothed. When compared to the use of FXAA in the same scene, there is one key difference: FXAA slightly blurs the scene, most visible on the restaurant sign to the left, and the palm tree in the centre; SMAA reduces the jaggedness of these elements but maintains crispness.

To implement SMAA, follow these instructions:

  1. Download the InjectSMAA utility.
  2. Extract the files from the downloaded archive. In this case, we're only after the contents of the d3d10 folder of InjectSMAA.
  3. Move the files under this folder into the base directory of Black Ops 2. Typically this is \Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\Call of Duty Black Ops II\. Basically it's the same directory in which the t6sp.exe and t6mp.exe files reside.
  4. Launch the game as normal and SMAA will automatically be in effect.
  5. It is recommended that you disable the in-game FXAA option to prevent blurring and conflicts.
  6. To toggle SMAA off/on at any time, use the PAUSE key. This may also bring up the game menu, but it enables or disables SMAA at the same time.
  7. To remove SMAA completely, delete the files you moved into the base directory of Black Ops 2 in Step 2. Typically these are dxgi.dll, injector.ini, SMAA.fx and SMAA.h.

SSAA: Super-Sample Anti-Aliasing (SSAA) is a relatively performance intensive form of anti-aliasing, but a handy and effective method nonetheless.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing TRSSAA Off vs. TRSSAA On, here for an interactive comparison showing SGSSAA Off vs. SGSSAA On, and here for an interactive comparison showing TRSSAA vs. SGSSAA.

The screenshot comparison above shows a scene firstly with no form of AA enabled (including FXAA Off); then with only 4x MSAA applied within the game; then a combination of 4x MSAA and 4x Transparency Supersampling (TRSSAA); and finally, 4x MSAA with 4x Sparse Grid Supersampling (SGSSAA).

As you can see, simply enabling 4x MSAA on its own smooths out jagged outlines on buildings and wires, but leaves foliage, such as the palm fronds on the top left, still looking quite harsh. Combining 4x Transparency SSAA with 4x MSAA smooths out the foliage as well. Instead, you may prefer using Sparse Grid SSAA, which provides a slightly sharper image due to the automatic Negative LOD adjustment now built into the latest NVIDIA graphics drivers to prevent blurring with certain SSAA modes. You can see the difference in sharpness between TRSSAA and SGSSAA by comparing the bark of the tree, and the thickness of the palm fronds, between the last two screenshots.

Importantly, as noted in the Ambient Occlusion section earlier in this guide, you should disable AO if using TXAA, or any form of Supersample AA, otherwise it will induce additional blurring in the scene. You should disable FXAA as well to prevent blurring.

You can enable normal Transparency SSAA in the NVIDIA Control Panel quickly and easily as follows:

  1. Make sure you have downloaded and installed the latest graphics drivers for your card.
  2. Open the NVIDIA Control Panel.
  3. Select 'Manage 3D Settings' in the left pane, then go to the Program Settings tab.
  4. Go to 'Call of Duty: Black Ops II' in the program list - select either the t6sp.exe profile for singleplayer, or t6mp.exe profile for multiplayer. If the game isn't shown anywhere in the list, untick the 'Show only programs found on this computer' box and retry.
  5. Under the 'Antialiasing - Mode' setting, select 'Enhance the application setting'.
  6. Under the 'Antialiasing - Transparency' setting, select a supersample mode. In this case we will use '4x (supersample)'.
  7. Click the Apply button.
  8. Launch Black Ops 2, and to correctly enable TRSSAA, make sure that you select an MSAA setting corresponding to your SSAA sample rate. In this case, since we've chosen 4x Transparency SSAA in Step 5, in the game we will select 4x MSAA for the Anti-Aliasing setting.

You can implement other forms of SSAA, such as Sparse Grid Supersampling, by using the free NVIDIA Inspector utility. Follow the steps below:

  1. Download and install NVIDIA Inspector. Importantly, make absolutely certain that you have also updated your graphics drivers to the latest version, as NVIDIA Inspector requires the most recent game profiles from the latest drivers.
  2. Launch NVIDIA Inspector and click the small Driver Profile Settings button (the crossed wrench and screwdriver icon) next to the Driver Version box.
  3. In the window which opens, click the Profiles drop-down box and select 'Call of Duty: Black Ops II'. If the profile isn't there, see Step 1.
  4. For 'Antialiasing - Behavior Flags', select None.
  5. For 'Antialiasing - Mode', select 'Enhance the application setting'.
  6. For 'Antialiasing - Transparency Supersampling', select an option. In our example, we will use '4x Sparse Grid Supersampling' (4x SGSSAA).
  7. Click the 'Apply changes' button at the top right to save your settings. You can close NVIDIA Inspector if you wish as it doesn't need to be active for your settings to work.
  8. Launch the game as normal, and set the in-game Anti-Aliasing option to an MSAA level matching the SGSSAA level that you have applied. E.g., set in-game Anti-Aliasing to 4x MSAA if using 4x SGSSAA. This is necessary to enable SGSSAA in the game.

To undo these changes at any time, click the small green NVIDIA logo button at the top of the profiles screen in NVIDIA Inspector, and the Black Ops 2 profile will be returned to its default settings.

Graphics Modifications

If you find the InjectSMAA utility useful in applying SMAA, you might also want to consider the SweetFX Shader Suite, which is a modification of InjectSMAA. It functions on the same principle, allowing you to apply a range of post-process changes to any game. This not only includes SMAA anti-aliasing, but also changes to other aspects of the game's visuals, like color saturation, lighting effects, and sharpening.

Usage of the mod is similar to the InjectSMAA tool, but you toggle the effects on or off using the SCROLL LOCK key by default, and must adjust them manually by editing the SweetFX_settings.txt file. You can even edit the settings text file while the game is running, save your changes and press the PAUSE key to update the screen with the new effects, making testing much easier.

SweetFX is highly configurable, and instructions are too lengthy to be covered here. Refer to the download page linked above for a full rundown.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing SweetFX Off vs. Sweet FX On.

The screenshots above demonstrate the difference between the standard in-game image, and one which has been subtly but noticeably altered using SweetFX. If you compare the two closely, you can see that the somewhat bland scene has gained a bit more "pop" through some basic changes. The graphics modified with SweetFX has much greater sharpness, better contrast, and richer colors. Of course the degree to which you modify the graphics is entirely up to your personal tastes; what looks good to one person might look overly garish and intolerable to another.

Conclusion

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 continues the tradition set by earlier COD games, albeit in improved form. Better graphics, more choice, a robust multiplayer and plenty of settings to play around with should keep most PC gamers happy.

In terms of the settings, if you're looking for extra performance, then there's no question that the two main areas to look at initially are Ambient Occlusion and Shadows. Ambient Occlusion provides no noticeable benefit but a steep FPS hit, so it can be disabled. Shadows, when set at Low or higher, enables performance intensive but realistic dynamic shadowing, which you can do without if you need the frames. MSAA or CSAA Anti-Aliasing is also a luxury, and can readily be substituted with FXAA or SMAA for a similar look, but without the same framerate loss. If all else fails to increase your performance, then lower your Resolution.

If you're having difficulties with the game, or just want to talk to other Black Ops 2 players, check the Official Black Ops 2 Forums. If you're experiencing lag in multiplayer mode, refer to the How to Get Rid of Lag guide to correctly determine the source of your lag, and what if anything you can do about it. One final tip: you can configure the way Black Ops 2 searches for public online matches by selecting 'Find a Match' under 'Public Match' in the multiplayer component, then pressing the S key. Here you can select the connection type. If you select Best, it will only try to find matches to which you have an excellent connection, thus giving you a better online experience. If no servers are found this way, try Normal instead, then try Any if you still can't find any servers, though this may result in poor online gameplay.

Until next time, take care!

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