Call of Duty: Black Ops Tweak Guide

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General Optimization

Call of Duty: Black Ops Tweak Guide by Koroush Ghazi

Call of Duty: Black Ops is the seventh game in the Call of Duty series, which has rapidly become one of the biggest-selling entertainment franchises of all time. As a first person shooter set during the Cold War, Black Ops provides both an immersive singleplayer campaign, and a fast-paced multiplayer component which should be familiar to anyone who has played previous COD games online. The aim of this guide is to allow you to better understand and best utilize the various configuration options available in the game, as well as covering the important advanced tweaks.

The game's minimum system requirements are provided below, and are quite low for a modern PC game:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 / AMD Phenom X3 8750 or better
  • Memory: 2GB RAM
  • Hard Drive: At least 12 GB of free space
  • Video Card: Shader 3.0 or better (e.g. GeForce 8600GT or higher)
  • Sound Card: Direct X 9.0c compatible
  • OS: Windows XP / Vista / Windows 7

Although a dual-core CPU is accepted as the minimum requirement, this game benefits greatly from having a quad-core CPU.

What follows are full descriptions for Call of Duty: Black Ops's in-game settings, including screenshot comparisons to highlight the impact on image quality of changing the various 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 the precise balance of visual quality and performance which is acceptable to you.

Legal Disclaimer

The recommendations in this guide are not endorsed by Activision or Treyarch. Please use them at your own risk. Activision and Call of Duty: Black Ops are trademarks of Activision Publishing Inc. All other trademarks and trade names are the properties of their respective owners.

ESRB Rating - Mature 17+

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especially stuttering, crashes and sudden slowdowns, can be traced directly to sub-optimal settings in Windows and out-of-date or badly configured drivers. For this reason it is recommended that you download the relevant version of the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion (TGTC) and take the time to optimize your Windows installation correctly. 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 quickest and easiest way to measure your FPS in any game is to use the free FRAPS utility. Download, install and launch FRAPS before starting up Call of Duty: Black Ops. You will now see a yellow FPS counter displayed in the corner of your screen.

If you don't wish to use FRAPS, you can enable a framerate counter within Call of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer by first making sure that under the Game section of the Settings the 'Enable Console' option is set to Yes, then within an MP game press the ~ key (the key above TAB) to open the command console at the top of the screen. Type /cg_drawfps 1 in the console and press Enter to enable the FPS counter. You can disable this counter at any time by entering /cg_drawfps 0 in the console.

Pay attention to the FPS figure, particularly during graphically intense scenes, such as in heavy combat - if it 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 25-30 in singleplayer, and higher still (e.g. 40FPS +) in multiplayer given its fast-paced nature.

Note that in Call of Duty: Black Ops your framerate is capped to a maximum of around 85FPS, even if you disable VSync. To learn more about VSync, and for the advanced tweak required to remove this engine cap, see the Sync Every Frame setting later in this guide.

Graphics

To access the in-game settings, launch Black Ops and select the Settings option on the main screen. The settings you can alter here are covered in detail below, but keep in mind that singleplayer and multiplayer settings are saved and applied separately from each other.

Graphics

The graphics settings have the greatest impact on game performance. In the following section, we'll go through each setting and see 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 their maximum, along with 8x Antialiasing and 16x Anisotropic Filtering. From this baseline, we vary individual settings to measure their effect on performance and image quality. The test system consists of a GeForce GTX 460 1GB and Intel Core i7 940 CPU. To see how various combinations of settings work for other Nvidia GPUs in this and other games, check out the Optimal Playable Settings section of the site.

Full System Configuration

  • GeForce GTX 460 1GB
  • Intel Core i7 940
  • 3GB RAM
  • Win7 64-bit
  • Nvidia 262.99 Drivers

Black Ops Settings

Resolution & Anti-Aliasing

This setting determines the Resolution of the game image, measured by the number of pixels horizontally and vertically (e.g. 1920 pixels x 1200 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, with noticeably less blurriness and jaggedness. However higher resolutions also generate an increased load on your system, particularly your graphics card, and hence will reduce your overall performance. For the sharpest image on an LCD monitor, you should select the maximum available resolution here, which is also referred to as your Native Resolution. However the performance impact can be quite substantial, so if adjusting the other settings fails to sufficiently improve your performance, reduce your resolution and consider using Windowed mode to maintain a sharper image, as covered below.

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

Performance Comparison: Resolution Chart

As the graph demonstrates, resolution has the largest impact on your framerate of all the settings.

Full Screen

If you want to run Black Ops in a window on your Desktop, as opposed to taking up the entire screen, then select No here. Running the game in Windowed mode can be particularly useful if you want to run the game at a lower resolution but still maintain a crisper image on an LCD monitor. However to prevent problems with memory management and hence overall stability, it is generally recommended that this setting be left at Yes unless you're really struggling for performance.

Anti-aliasing

Anti-Aliasing (AA) is a technique designed to reduce the jaggedness of lines in computer graphics. The higher the sample rate of the AA selected here, the smoother lines will appear in the game. AA can be quite costly in terms of performance, especially at higher sample rates. A screenshot comparison is provided below show you the general visual impact of changing this setting. As you can see, when AA is Off, the tops of the crates on the left are jagged, as is the iron sight on your rifle; at 4x AA this jaggedness is almost completely removed; at 16x AA the improvement over 4xAA is almost imperceptible in a static screenshot, and would only be noticeable during actual gameplay, particularly in terms of removing the 'shimmering' effect which comes with aliasing.

Since at higher resolutions COD:BO isn't a particularly jagged-looking game to begin with, you don't need to set a high sample rate for Antialiasing to get the game looking good - 4x Anti-Aliasing is more than sufficient to remove any obvious jaggedness while still giving reasonable performance. Obviously if you're struggling for performance, AA is one of the first things you should turn Off.

Antialiasing- OFF
Antialiasing- 4x
Antialiasing- 16x

Click to enlarge

For advanced users

By default, the Anti-Aliasing in Black Ops uses dither mode for alpha blending, which provides a good compromise between image quality and performance. You can improve the quality of AA in the game by going to the config.cfg (for singleplayer) or config_mp.cfg (for multiplayer) file, found under your \Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\call of duty black ops\players directory, opening it with a text editor like Windows Wordpad, and changing the seta r_aaAlpha "dither (fast)" variable to have a value of 2 (i.e. seta r_aaAlpha "2"). This enables Supersampling mode which improves the quality of AA applied to objects with see-through portions at the cost of reduced performance. The default value is 1, and you can also use a value of 0 to disable it altogether for improved performance at the cost of visual quality.

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

Performance Comparison: Antialiasing Chart

The graph shows that Anti-Aliasing is second only to Resolution in the impact it can have on performance in this game. Note 16xAA is slightly faster than 8xAA here as it's using the more memory efficient CSAA mode.

Aspect Ratio, Refresh Rate & VSync

Aspect Ratio

This setting controls the ratio of width to height for the image displayed on your monitor. It should be left at Auto to automatically determine the correct aspect ratio for your monitor. If you find that in-game images appear distorted, such as objects or characters looking squashed, or black bars being shown around the image while playing, then manually select the correct Aspect Ratio from the 4:3, 16:10 or 16:9 options. Refer to the chart in this Wikipedia Article for assistance.

Screen Refresh Rate

Your monitor's correct Refresh Rate should be shown here. This is a setting determined by your monitor's hardware limitations, and if unsure of what to select, leave this setting at its default - typically 59Hz or 60Hz - which is optimal. Only alter this setting if you are experiencing systematic frame skipping every second (not stuttering) when playing the game.

Sync Every Frame

This setting controls Vertical Synchronization (VSync), which is the synchronization of your graphics card and monitor's abilities to redraw an image on the screen a number of times each second. When Sync Every Frame is set to Yes, your GPU will be perfectly synchronized to your monitor such that your maximum FPS will be capped to your monitor's Refresh Rate, which is controlled by the Screen Refresh Rate setting. Enabling Sync Every Frame can also reduce your FPS by up to 50% or more whenever your average FPS falls below your Refresh Rate. Furthermore, it can result in increased mouse lag. Setting Sync Every Frame to No (VSync Off) removes the FPS cap, reduces mouse lag, and ensures the highest performance, but at times you may experience a phenomenon known as 'tearing' - portions of the image temporarily appear to be slightly out of alignment. This does no harm to your system, but it can be annoying. A compromise solution which allows you to enable VSync without taking the performance hit is to enable Triple Buffering.

For Advanced Users

Aside from the framerate cap enforced when Sync Every Frame (VSync) is On, the COD:BO game engine has a built-in framerate cap of around 85 FPS regardless of whether VSync is enabled or not. This cap is not a major issue, because if you are getting around 85 FPS that is more than sufficient for smooth gameplay. However if you wish to remove this cap, you do so by going to the \Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\call of duty black ops\players directory, and opening either the config.cfg file, which contains singleplayer configuration data, or the config_mp.cfg file, which contains multiplayer configuration data, using a text editor like Windows Wordpad. Find the line seta com_maxfps "85" and change the 85 to the FPS value you wish to cap the game engine to, such as 125. Save the file then launch COD:BO for the new cap to come into effect. Bear in mind that removing this cap can result in larger fluctuations in FPS on some systems, which may actually increase stuttering.

Texture Filtering & Anisotropic Filtering

Texture Filtering

This setting is one of several which affects the clarity of textures. Textures are the images covering every object in the game world, giving the impression of depth and detail. Texture Filtering is designed to ensure that textures are displayed more accurately at various distances. The Bilinear method is the most basic and hence the least performance-intensive texture filtering technique, providing acceptable texture image quality. Trilinear improves texture image quality slightly at a minor cost in performance. A screenshot comparison is provided below to demonstrate the difference between these settings, and as you can see, it is difficult to see any difference at all.

Bilinear Texture Filtering
Trlinear Texture Filtering

Click to enlarge

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

Performance Comparison: Texture Filtering

The graph demonstrates that the performance difference between Bilinear and Trilinear is often indistinguishable - in this case, 0.1FPS at 1920x1200.

Anisotropic Filtering

Basic texture clarity can already be enhanced through the Texture Filtering setting covered above. Anisotropic Filtering (AF) is an advanced texture filtering technique designed to improve the clarity of textures that are displayed at an angle to the screen, such as those covering the ground or walls when looking down a corridor. The higher the sample rate, the sharper and more detailed receding textures will appear in return for a relatively minor reduction in performance on most modern graphics cards. The screenshot comparison below compares 1x and 16x Anisotropic Filtering, and the main difference is that if you look closely, the distant tiles in the courtyard are more clearly defined at 16x AF, as well as some additional detailing being visible on the side of the car.

The AF level chosen combines with the filtering method selected for Texture Filtering, so for optimal texture image quality, you should select Trilinear for the Texture Filtering setting and also apply a reasonable level of Anisotropic Filtering, preferably 8x or even 16x.

Anisotropic Filtering 1x
Anisotropic Filtering 16x

Click to enlarge

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

Performance Comparison: Anisotropic Filtering

Although not representative of the performance impact of AF on all graphics cards, on a fast modern GPU like the GTX 460, there is negligible performance difference, so obviously selecting 16x AF would be optimal.

Texture Quality & Brightness

Texture Quality

This setting determines the resolution of the textures used throughout the game. The available options are Low, Normal, High and Extra, and these are demonstrated in the screenshot comparison provided below. As you can see, at Low the ground and the walls in particular are very blurry and blocky, and the detailing on the character's uniform and the electronic equipment is indistinct; at Normal textures are a little clearer though still blocky; at High there is a marked improvement in texture detail; and at Extra the textures have a nice degree of added crispness. The performance impact of changing this setting comes not so much from a reduction in FPS, but in the form of additional stuttering at higher levels of texture quality. If your GPU has relatively low amounts of Video RAM, then lower this setting to see if it helps reduce stuttering and periodic slowdowns/pauses.

Texture Quality - Low
Texture Quality - Normal
Texture Quality - High
Texture Quality- Extra

Click to enlarge

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

Performance Comparison: Texture Quality

As noted, the FPS impact is not indicative of the whole story in this case, because raising Texture Quality primarily impacts on stuttering and loading pauses rather than on framerate.

Brightness

This option allows you to control the overall brightness of the game image. Changing this setting has no impact on performance, it is simply there to ensure that the image is not overly bright and washed out, and not so dark that all detail is lost in dark areas. Experiment to see which value best suits your monitor and viewing environment.

Shadows, Bullet Impacts & No. Corpses

Shadows

If set to Yes, objects and characters will cast shadows based on the position of light sources. If set to No, characters will not cast shadows, but there will be generic fixed shadows shown for various game world objects. The screenshot comparison provided below shows the difference - with Shadows off you can see that the scene loses much of its richness and realism, as the shadows from the desk, the shadows cast by the loose cabling, and the rubble to the right are removed or replaced by generic blobs. The shadow cast by the soldier on the left is also removed, and this removal of character shadows can be particularly noticeable in terms of reduced realism. However because shadows can also impact noticeably on performance, particularly in heavy combat where there are lots of light sources, if you're experiencing low FPS, especially slowdowns during firefights, then Shadows should be one of the first things to turn off.

Shadows Off
Shadows On

Click to enlarge

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

Performance Comparison: Shadows

The graph shows that Shadows can have a noticeable impact on performance, even at higher resolutions, and certainly much more so on lower-end GPUs.

Bullet Impacts

If set to Yes, your bullets and grenades will leave marks on the environment, such as bullet holes and scorch marks on walls. If set to No, you may experience a relatively small performance improvement in return for the removal of all such impact marks, but this also reduces realism.

Number of Corpses

As the name suggests, this setting controls how many dead bodies are left visible on the battlefield at any one time. The available options here 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 this setting is unavailable and the number of corpses is fixed at 5. Since characters are complex objects, the more corpses which are visible at any one time, the lower your performance will be during combat. On the other hand, realism suffers slightly if you set this to a very low value and corpses literally disappear within seconds.

Sound

Volume

There are five sliders here - four of them control the volume level for a particular aspect of game audio including: Voice, Music, Special Effects (SFX) and Cinematics. The Master volume slider adjusts the volume of all game audio. There is no performance impact from changing these sliders, so set them to suit your taste.

Sound Occlusion

This setting controls Occlusion, which is an audio technique aimed at making sound more realistic. It does this by appropriately muffling noises which are being obstructed by solid objects. So for example, if there is a wall between you and gunfire or a grenade explosion, there should be much less aural impact than if the wall wasn't there. Occlusion can be adjusted to suit your taste in singleplayer, but it may have a performance impact if enabled due to the extra audio processing involved. In practice the performance impact should be negligible on most systems with a reasonably fast CPU or sound card.

For advanced users

Unlike singleplayer Black Ops, in multiplayer there is no option for disabling Sound Occlusion. To disable it in multiplayer, you need to open the config_mp.cfg file and change the seta snd_losOcclusion "1" variable to a value of 0. This can provide a gameplay advantage in multiplayer, as it allows you to better hear and locate enemy gunfire and footsteps. It may also improve performance.

Listening Level

The two available options here are Quiet and Loud - you should select the one which best suits your taste and listening environment.

Speaker Setup

The available options for this setting are 'Laptop or Small Speakers', 'Large External Speakers' and Headphones. Select the one which suits your speaker configuration, or experiment to see if you experience a better audio environment with one of the other options.

Game & Controls

Game

Subtitles

If set to Yes, subtitles will appear during spoken dialog; if set to No, these are not shown. There is no performance impact, so set to suit your taste.

Graphic Content

This option is designed for those who do not wish to see or hear some of the potentially offensive elements of the Call of Duty: Black Ops singleplayer campaign. When set to Unrestricted, the game will play with all elements, including graphic content such as blood, gore and offensive language. If set to Reduced, the mature content will be reduced or removed wherever possible while maintaining the bulk of the storyline. This setting has no impact on COD:BO multiplayer, although you can disable blood during online gameplay by changing the cg_blood variable as covered under the Miscellaneous Advanced Tweaking section of this guide.

Controls

Go through each of the control sections to make sure all the controls are mapped to suit your playing style. One especially important setting can be found under the Look section:

Mouse Sensitivity

This slider controls the degree to which your mouse responds to your movements. It's important to understand that if you are experiencing a laggy/unresponsive mouse at times during gameplay, this is typically due to either low FPS and/or because the Sync Every Frame setting is set to Yes (VSync On). First disable Sync Every Frame to see if this helps, and then check your frame rate during heavy combat to determine if you are getting low FPS - if so, alter your settings to raise your minimum FPS above 20-25 for singleplayer, and preferably 40FPS or higher for multiplayer.

For advanced users

Mouse acceleration and mouth smoothing are both already disabled in Black Ops (both singleplayer and multiplayer) by default, which should provide for the most accurate mouse aiming. Mouse acceleration is a non-linear ramping up of mouse sensitivity for larger mouse movements, and can make aiming with the mouse less predictable if enabled. Mouse smoothing attempts to reduce the jerkiness of mouse movements, which some people like, and some people believe feels unnatural and laggy. Both settings can be altered by editing your config.cfg or config_mp.cfg file as relevant: seta cl_mouseAccel "0" - a value of 1 or higher enables successively greater amounts of mouse acceleration, a value of 0 disables it; seta m_filter "0" - a value of 1 enables mouse smoothing, a value of 0 disables it.

You can also alter the relative sensitivity of the X (left to right) and Y (up and down) axes of your mouse by editing the seta m_yaw "0.022" and seta m_pitch "0.022" variables respectively. Higher values make movements along that particular axis more sensitive, lower values less sensitive, and negative values invert the movement along that axis.

Misc. Advanced Tweaks

Miscellaneous Advanced Tweaks

Advanced users can access a range of variables for altering various options not available in the in-game settings. Use a text editor like Windows Wordpad to open your config.cfg (singleplayer) or config_mp.cfg (multiplayer) file found under the \Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\call of duty black ops\players\ directory. Make a backup of each file before making any changes.

Many of the variables found in these files correspond with in-game settings, and those which don't often have no impact at all when changed, as they have been deliberately disabled by the developers or are not used by COD:BO. Some of the working variables you might like to try include:

Depth of Field ON
Depth of Field OFF

Click to enlarge

seta r_dof_enable "1" - If set to 1, the Depth of Field effect, most commonly visible as a slight blurring of your weapon when you aim down your iron sights, is enabled. If set to 0, this effect is removed. This is shown in the screenshot comparison above.

seta r_multiGpu "0" - When set to "0" this turns off the detection of SLI systems and will have no effect if the game only has 1 GPU. When set to "1" the game will detect (using NVAPI) the number of GPUs on the system and won’t do any SLI optimizations if there’s only 1 GPU.

seta r_multithreaded_device "1" - This will create a D3D device with the multithreaded flag. According to the developers, this is mainly a debugging option and doesn't enhance performance.

seta cg_drawMantleHint "1" - If you wish to remove the 'Press SPACE to climb over' prompt which appears whenever you come near an object you can climb over, then set this variable to 0.

seta cg_brass "1" - If set to 0, disables all ejecting brass, such as expended shells from your gun. This can improve FPS when firing your weapon.

seta cg_blood "1" - If set to 0, disables blood spurts from bullet impacts. This may improve performance, or can be used if you prefer not to see blood during online gameplay.

seta cl_maxpackets "30" - This setting controls the size of data packets sent to the server containing your movements during multiplayer matches. The higher this value is set, the smaller each packet size, and hence the more frequently your most recent movement data is sent to the server. General player feedback is that a higher value of 100 for this variable can improve responsiveness.

seta rate "25000" - This setting determines the rate at which packets are sent to the server. It is set based on your connection type, and the default value of 25,000 is optimal for broadband connections. However you can experiment with altering this value to see if it improves your ping.

seta snaps "20" - This setting controls the rate at which updates are received from the server. Raising this value is unlikely to have any impact given the server's send rate is usually capped at 20 and can't be altered by clients, but you can still try a value of 30 which appears to be quite popular.

There are a range of other variables with tempting names that imply graphics quality changes, such as: r_specular, r_blur_allowed, r_distortion, and r_glow_allowed. In experimenting with these in both singleplayer and multiplayer, no significant visual or performance change was detected. However you may still wish to disable these variables to see if they provide you with a performance boost.

Note that to permanently implement some changed variables you may need to set your relevant .cfg file to read-only by right-clicking on it, selecting Properties and ticking the 'Read-only' box. This is because the game engine automatically overwrites some changed variables with default values when the game is next launched. However be aware that making a .cfg file read-only also prevents any changes made to the in-game settings from being saved.

Some variables can be dynamically tested within multiplayer by using the command console. Press the ~ key to open the console, then type the name of the command, with a forward slash / instead of seta, and a numerical value without quotes. For example, to disable the Depth of Field effect in the command console during a multiplayer game, type:

/r_dof_enable 0

Importantly: be extremely careful what you change in the multiplayer config_mp.cfg file, as altering some variables can be detected as a cheat by the Valve Anti Cheat (VAC) system. In particular any variable changes which result in visual or gameplay glitches that can be considered exploits may be tagged as a cheat either by VAC or by individual server admins and could result in a ban.

Conclusion

With some general system optimization, appropriate changes to the in-game settings, and a bit of experimentation with the advanced tweaks provided here, you should be able to have Call of Duty: Black Ops running smoothly on your machine. If you're still experiencing problems, head over to the Official Call of Duty: Black Ops Forum for assistance.

One final tip: if you're relatively new to Black Ops multiplayer, you should select Play in the main menu of multiplayer, then choose the 'Combat Training' option which allows you to practice in offline mode against computer-controlled bots on the various maps. It's important to learn the layout of each map, and become familiar with each weapon and the various perks and equipment so that when you play against real people online, you don't find the experience overly frustrating.

Until next time, take care!

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