Written by: Keith "Farrel" McClellan
I'm probably the only true-blue geek that works on the site at this point. Back in the day, not only was I into the whole technical/computer scene - playing around with my old 8088 and taking apart all of my electronic toys (much to my parents semi-dismay - dismay because they had paid for them but glee because that meant the damn things stopped making noise), but I was into role-playing games. Not role-playing games on the computer - but old school, pencil and paper role-playing games. And, guess what, Vampire: The Masquerade was one of the games we played. So you can only imagine the joy I had when I popped in Vampire: the Masquerade and found that it was not only a decent game, but it was also pretty tweakable. Woohoo!
One of the first things you should consider when tweaking out a game is whether or not you have the most current drivers for your hardware. When you are talking about a game, there are two different pieces of hardware that you should make a point of checking out - your video card and your sound card. Video card drivers are pretty obvious - everyone mentions them and they seem to have a huge effect on gameplay. However, sound card drivers are just as important because it is highly likely that the new drivers will have lower CPU overhead, which is great for gaming in 3D sound. Both of these drivers should be available at their respective manufacturers website.
Another thing you might want to check on to make sure that the game runs properly would be to make sure you have the newest version of DirectX installed. With every new revision this 3D platform seems to get faster so having the newest and greatest DirectX drivers is a must - DirectX 7.0a (the most recent version) is included along on the installation disks. Something else you might consider would be to download any applicable system updates from Microsoft such as IE 5.0. You wouldn't think it'd speed up the game but because it includes a faster version of the Windows 98 shell it is pretty useful.
Installing the Game
There are three different choices as to how to install the game - minimum, medium, and full. There are benefits to each of the installs, but personally I would recommend installing the largest installation that you can afford the disk space for. You won't regret it. If you have the spare space on your system to install the game totally to the hard disk, you won't even have to worry about the speed of your CD-ROM drive because even the in-game movies are run off of your hard drive.
The first set of configurable options within Vampire is the game options. In this section there are two settings, no blood and subtitles. The first setting, no blood, obviously disables 'blood' splattering everywhere in the game. Disabling the blood in the game will give a slight performance increase, but seeing as this is a game about vampires and the like, it wouldn't be very realistic without the blood, would it? The second option, subtitles, simply subtitles all of the in game (and in engine) cutscenes. Enabling this will help you be able to understand what the characters are saying, and unless you are on a very low-end system it won't cause a problem (mainly because it is only active during times when you have no control over the game).
In the control options, you wouldn't think there would be many things to tweak, but because all of the AI stuff for the game is in there, there is quite a bit you can mess with. The first thing to disable would be auto camera slewing. Not only is it annoying, it slows down the game by requiring the processor to calculate where the camera should be. The other stuff that can be tweaked is the Coterie (group) AI options. Disable as many of the things in there as you find convenient. The fewer things you have enabled the less CPU overhead the AI requires. Personally the only thing I have enabled is the Auto Cast healing setting - simply because I hate it when my guys die when they could have healed themselves. The only time I turn the other functions on is when I'm jumping into a big battle and want them to use all of their blood powers.
Basic Display Options
Under the basic display options (you will note an advanced options button at the bottom of the screen - more on that later), you have a couple of important choices. The first choice you have is resolution and color depth. 32-bit color looks better but it has a big performance hit on the game so I would recommend using 16-bit color. As for resolution, because there is no timedemo in this game, this is going to depend on feel. If you don't feel like the game is choppy, and you are satisfied with the resolution, then you are good. However, if the characters look blocky or the camera feels choppy, you may need to change the game's resolution.
The brightness setting in the game can be very useful if things are too dark to see for the most part, but I wouldn't overuse the setting - putting it up to high will ruin the textures and you might very well lose a great deal of the game's 'feel'. The only other thing in the basic display options I would recommend changing would be the detail level - set it to custom and move on into the advanced options section.
Advanced Display Options
In this section you get to define your own game detail level - much like you get to do in flight and space simulators like Freespace 2. There are a bunch of options in here so I will go over what I can. Draw sky, if enabled, will set the game to draw a detailed sky with clouds and the like. Disabling it will get rid of the 'pretty sky' but will increase frame rates in outdoor areas. Reflections, if enabled, will let reflective surfaces such as glass and water reflect its surroundings. If you disable this setting, any scene with a reflective surface in it (which is just about every scene in the game) will become quite a bit faster. 3D UI heads, if enabled, will show you the characters status not only using the bars but also through the condition of the head next to the bars. This is a really cool feature but disabling it will give you a slight performance increase.
Texture bit depth is something of an interesting beast. You can choose to use 32-bit color textures even if the game is only displaying 16-bit textures and gain a bit in visual quality but you will lose a bit of speed in the process. Leaving this at 16-bit is probably the best bet for speed. As for the texture filtering, theoretically bilinear filtering should be faster but I have noticed no speed decrease by setting this to trilinear - so that is what I recommend. It is a lot better looking this way as well.
For the games static lighting setting, I would recommend setting this to lightmap and leaving it that way. In my opinion it looks better and it is also a bit faster than vertex lighting. Styled lights is similar to the colored light setting in other games - disabling it will give you a speed increase but you might lose a bit of the game atmosphere. Dynamic lightblobs are similar (although I have no idea why they are calling them lightblobs) to styled lights except they are omni-directional, so the same as above goes for them.
There are three settings for LOD, or level of detail. These are model, UI head, and particle. The first one controls the detail level of the character models (your characters and the monsters you fight); the second deals with the UI head on the, well, UI; and the third deals with any particles (blood, etc) that show up in the game. For these settings, high looks better but low is faster. Because they are on a sliding scale you can tweak them to your hearts content.
The next three slide bar settings are decals, # of automatic mip levels, and mip selection. The decals setting is easy - disabling them (set the slider all the way to the left) increases performance but you don't get to see any cool effects. The second two settings have to deal with a property of the graphics engine called mips. Generally, setting these high is good for visuals but may cause slowdowns or graphical anomalies (only if your video card doesn't support them properly, though). Lowering these settings can speed up your system but you will sacrifice visual quality for it.
The last three slider settings are number of character dynamic lights, number of character shadows, and shadow detail. The first setting has to do with how many dynamic lights you want active on the character models at once (assuming you didn't disable them). Fewer is faster in this case once again but more will look better. For the number of character shadows and shadow level detail, if you leave the shadows enabled, might as well be high. One person having a blocky shadow while the others have no shadow at all would look very silly.
In the sound options menu there are a bunch of different sound API's to choose from. If you have some 2D only sound card (Soundblaster AWE64?), choose the Miles Fast 2D sound option. If you have a no-name 3D sound accelerator card that doesn't support EAX or A3D, choose the DirectSound3D API, otherwise choose the best proprietary sound API your card supports (for my card that would be A3D 2.0). Right below that you have the option for choosing your current speaker setup. For your information, the difference between a four-speaker setup and a surround sound speaker setup, to my knowledge, is the inclusion of a front center channel.
Other Ways to Tweak the Game
All of the in game settings are included in a file called masquerade.ini in the programs directory. If you feel so inclined so as to tweak your game settings by hand rather than tweaking them from within the game - this is the place to do it. I warn you, however, many of the settings that rely on sliders within the game are coded in Hex in the .ini file so don't count on being able to change them unless you have a decimal to hexadecimal converter on hand.
The Save Game Trick
This really isn't a tweak but the way saves are handled in the game can be a real pain in the ass. If you want to convert one of your autosaves into a saved game, go into the games save subdirectory and find the sp0 subdirectory. Copy and paste it into the same directory and then rename it to the format spx where x is a number that isn't in use (ex: sp5). This way if you accidentally screw up and lose your autosave you won't have to go back three hours into the game and start again.
That's pretty much it for tweaking Vampire the Masquerade. It's a pretty cool game and you should get a bunch of enjoyment out of it. If you are still yearning for more speed for your system, check out our general system tweaks. If you are playing the game on multiplayer (sadly, I have not found any tweaks for multiplayer), make sure you have tweaked out your modem and/or LAN settings. As always, feel free to email me with your comments and questions.
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