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Introduction

Final Fantasy XI for the PC has a number of different settings relating to the quality of graphics used in the game. The purpose of this guide is to assist the more adventurous PC users in improving the graphics and/or performance of their PC while playing Final Fantasy XI. This guide assumes the user has a basic understanding of computers. It is not intended as a beginner's guide.

WARNING: This guide describes using the Windows Registry to make changes to the game's settings which may or may not be possible through the standard FFXI Config tool. Altering the Windows Registry is dangerous, and improper adjustments could prevent FFXI from working or even prevent Windows from functioning altogether. Alter these settings at your own risk and always make backups before making changes!

Definitions

render 
This is the process by which a 3-D environment is flattened into a 2-D image to be displayed on your monitor or television.
polygon 
The 3-D environments in Final Fantasy XI are made up of a large number of simple geometric polygons. It's easy to identify a polygon because its face will always be flat and its edges will always be straight. These polygons are the foundation for Final Fantasy XI's 3-D environment.
texture 
This term refers to a 2-D image which is applied to the face of a polygon in order to give it the appearance of having a texture rather than a single solid color on a perfectly flat surface. Quite often textures will start out as a very complicated 3-D design, and be rendered out into a 2-D image during the game's design phase in order to save the gaming platform from having to render each and every bump on each and every surface. Instead, a pre-rendered texture is repeated over the surface to create the illusion that the objects being rendered have more detail than they really do.
pixel 
A pixel is the smallest unit of display on a display device like a monitor or television. Their size can vary depending on your display's size and resolution. The following red dot demonstrates a single pixel on your current display: ·

Registry Overview

All modifications to the settings of the game described in this guide will be done with a program called Regedit. To access this program, click on Start > Run, type "regedit" and click "OK". The configuration for FFXI is stored in the following registry key:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\PlayOnlinexx\SquareEnix\FinalFantasyXI

If you are running a 64 bit operating system, the configuration is located here:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\PlayOnlinexx\SquareEnix\FinalFantasyXI

"xx" denotes the regional version. PlayOnline for JP clients, PlayOnlineUS for US clients and PlayOnlineEU for EU clients.


Before making any changes to the above key, it is recommended that you create a backup. In order to make a backup, select the key and click on "File > Export...". Choose a location to save the ".REG" file and remember where you save it. In the event that you alter the registry in a way that breaks Final Fantasy XI, simply double-click on the ".REG" file to copy the original settings back in.

Please note that all values given in this guide for altering the registry are in decimal (base 10), while the default for the registry is hexadecimal (base 16). When modifying numeric values, please make sure all values you enter are in decimal. If not, any values greater than 9 that you input will be saved incorrectly.

The following is a quick reference for the values found in the above registry key:

Value Description
0000 MIP mapping
0001 Screen resolution width in pixels
0002 Screen resolution height in pixels
0003 Background resolution width in pixels
0004 Background resolution height in pixels
0007 Music and Sound effects (0=Off, 1=On)
0011 Environmental Animation (0=Off, 1=Normal, 2=Smooth)
0017 Bump Mapping (0=Off, 1=On)
0018 Texture Compression (0=High, 1=Low, 2=Uncompressed)
0019 On-Screen Maps (0=Compressed, 1=Uncompressed)
0022 Intro Movie (0=Disabled, 1=Enabled)
0023 Simplified character creation visuals (1=Yes, 0=No)
0024 FUNCTION UNKNOWN (0)
0028 Gamma Base (0x3f800000=1.0, 0=0.0, 0xbf800000=-1.0)
0029 Sound Effect Number (12-20)
0030 FUNCTION UNKNOWN (0)
0031 FUNCTION UNKNOWN (1002740646)
0032 FUNCTION UNKNOWN (0)
0033 FUNCTION UNKNOWN (0)
0034 Window Mode (0=Full Screen, 1=Window Mode)
0035 FUNCTION UNKNOWN (0)
0036 Fonts (0=Compressed, 1=Uncompressed, 2=High Quality)
0037 Menu resolution width (0=defaults to registry value 0001)
0038 Menu resolution height (0=defaults to registry value 0002)
0039 FUNCTION UNKNOWN (1)
0040 Graphics Stabilization (0=Off, 1=On)

Overlay Graphics Resolution (Screen Size)

The screen resolution is defined in values 0001 and 0002 of the registry key. It represents the physical number of pixels displayed on your screen. Value 0001 represents the width of the screen and value 0002 represents the height of the screen. Therefore, when a resolution of "800x600" is referenced, this means 800 pixels wide, 600 pixels tall. If you wish to run your game in 800x600 resolution, you would set value 0001 to "800" and 0002 to "600". As mentioned above, please make sure you enter the values in decimal, not hexadecimal. It is recommended that you use the FFXI Config Utility for specifying this value.

This setting is very delicate, and can only be set to a limited number of supported resolutions. It is important that both your video card and your monitor support the screen resolution, or the game will not work.

This is NOT to be confused with the background (3-D) resolution. This is the resolution at which the game will be displayed on the screen, and has a greater impact on things such as menus, chat logs, and other 2-D artifacts than it does on the 3-D environment. This setting should be adjusted more based on what feels natural than what provides more detail. For players with an LCD monitor, it is usually best to use the native resolution of that monitor (the highest allowed, often 1280x1024). The "native resolution" is the physical resolution of the monitor, if you try to display a lower resolution then it will earn you slightly better performance but the image will be distorted in order to display it on your monitor. This is not the case for CRT monitors, which can actually change their physical resolution to match the computer's output.

The following screen resolutions are generally supported by all monitors and video cards:

Standard (4:3) Widescreen (16:10) HDTV (16:9)
  • 640 x 480
  • 800 x 600
  • 1024 x 768
  • 1280 x 1024
  • 1600 x 1200
  • 720 x 576
  • 800 x 480
  • 1280 x 768
  • 1440 x 900
  • 1680 x 1050
  • 1920 x 1200
  • 2560 x 1600
  • 720 x 480
  • 1280 x 720
  • 1920 x 1080
  • 2560 x 1440

Background Resolution

The background resolution is the resolution at which the 3-D graphics in the game are rendered. Most PC games render the 3D enviroment at the same resolution the screen resolution is set at. However, Final Fantasy XI renders the 3D enviroment at an independent resolution than that of the screen resolution. The background (3D) graphics are rendered at this fixed resolution and then scaled to fit the screen resolution.

This setting has the greatest effect on the overall quality of graphics out of all the settings that you can change.

For example, a background resolution of 512x512 is rendered at 512x512 pixels. If the overlay (screen resolution) is 800x600, the background image is stretched to fit all of the screen.

Similarly, when this setting is something other than the screen resolution the game's graphics are either undersampled (the smaller image is stretched to fit the larger screen resolution) or oversampled (the larger image is shrunken to fit the smaller screen resolution). This has some interesting side effects.

Undersampling 
This is the process by which a 3-D image is rendered below the screen's resolution and then expanded to fit the screen. The end result is an image that is poor in quality because the system is only working with the information contained in 1 pixel and trying to span that across multiple pixels. Undersampled images are generally described as "blocky", most noticeably at the edges of a polygon.
Oversampling 
Opposite of undersampling, an image is rendered in higher detail and then shrunken to the smaller screen. The end result is that for each pixel on screen, there is more than one pixel of information to draw from, so the system is able to average the information out and create a much more accurate image. This is very similar to the effect known as anti-aliasing, which does basically the same thing but only for polygon edges. Anti-aliasing is a much more efficient approach since oversampling polygon faces is generally not very beneficial, but unfortunately Final Fantasy XI is not compatible with anti-aliasing.

The example below illustrates some possible background resolutions, demonstrating background resolutions of half the screen resolution, matched to screen resolution, and double the screen resolution.

BackgroundResolution

Pay close attention to the edges between two surfaces. For example, between the floor and the wall in the top image. On the undersampled version you get an extremely jagged edge, sort of a staircase effect. On the matched version, you can still see a staircase, but each stair is exactly 1 pixel tall. In the oversampled version, the staircase is much less apparent. This is because the system is taking 4 pixels and merging them into 1, meaning if the top two pixels are the wall, and the bottom 2 pixels are the floor, then it assigns an average between the two for that pixel on the screen.

For users with a widescreen display, the problem of undersampling (and the subsequent loss of quality) is even more pronounced because the FFXI Config utility only allows you to set the background resolution as high as 1024x1024. As a result, widescreen displays are almost always being undersampled along the X-axis (since they display more than 1024 pixels wide). Using the maximum default settings, any display of 1680x1050 or higher is being undersampled on both axis which results in a sometimes considerable loss of quality. In these cases, even setting the background resolution to match your monitor's native resolution can provide a substantial visual improvement. Obviously, oversampling will improve the visuals even further.

Another thing to pay attention to is the fact that textures are affected only minimally. This is because the rendering engine is able to access the textures at a much higher level of detail even if the scene is rendered at an undersampled resolution. The textures are pre-rendered with a specific level of detail during the game's development phase, and so changing the background resolution will not drastically alter their appearances.

When specifying the background resolution, using power-of-2 sizes is recommended for best performance and compatibility with graphics cards and drivers (256x256 , 512x512, 1024x1024, 2048x2048). Specifying a background resolution equal (or scaled 2x,etc) to the overlay resolution (screen resolution) via a registry edit is possible, but may not function or be optimal for frame-rate, keep this in mind if you make changes to this setting and encounter any problems.

Note that this setting will not affect the appearance of 2-dimensional artifacts such as the chat log, menus, equipment, and so forth.

MIP Mapping

Mip Mapping is the process of reducing large textures into smaller ones to optimize for display at a distance. When textures are close to a to the point of view (or essentually close to the screen) they appear in maximum detail. So if you have a 100x100 texture at native or full zoom you will see all 100 pixels represented. However when that same texture in the background it may only take up a 10 by 10 space. this means that when the texture is rendered it will not be accurately displayed and information will be lost. At a 10x10 distance the game will have 10 pixels of information PER pixel. This causes things at a distance to "sparkle" one way to combat this is with "Mip Mapping" which uses lower resolution textures for more distant objects.

To be more specific mip mapping will take your 100x100 image and sample it down to 10x10, once the image is far enough away it will sub in the 10x10 version until you get close enough to need to 100x100 version back. The higher the mip map setting the more mip maps (mips) that are generated.

Mip Mapping VS non-mip mapping.

Mip mapping will reduce the amount of "sparkle" in distant options and smooth out distant textures. However it will also cause a slight reduction in detail.

The possible settings are:

0 (off) 
No MIP mapping. Distant objects will be rendered in full detail.
1 (on) 
MIP mapping on. Objects at a certain distance will have a smaller mip applied to them, and textures at a certain distance will be slightly more "blurry".

Note that you can actually use settings higher than 1 here. (note you will need to change the registry or use 3rd party software to adjust this beyond 1) This will not change the distance at which environmental objects (trees and such) have less detail, but it will increase the blurring effect of distant textures. The higher the number, the closer the blurring will occur.

The example below illustrates the effect of the MIP map setting on distant textures. The difference is very difficult to see even with a high level of oversampling.

Mipmap

With low MIP map setting on, you will constantly notice the level of detail being adjusted as you move around in your environment. The optimal setting is one to where you don't notice the changes unless you are watching for them.

Environmental Animation

This is a pretty simple setting, and its name pretty much says it all. This determines the framerate at which objects in the environment move, and is defined in the registry value 0011. The possible settings are:

0 (off) 
No animation. The trees and bushes will not sway in the wind, torch flame will not flicker, etc.
1 (normal) 
The trees and bushes will sway but their motion will not be smooth. They will move a little, stop, move a little, stop, in very rapid succession, making the movement appear unnatural.
2 (smooth) 
The framerate will be increased so that the motion is more natural.

This setting will not have a huge impact on gameplay, and turning the setting down will not free up many system resources. For that reason, it is advised to leave this on 2 (smooth).

Textures

Bump Mapping

Bump mapping is a process by which the textures of an object are given the appearance of 3-D depth. Normally a texture is created with a preset light source in a preset position, so that no matter how you shine light on an object the shadows and highlights of the texture will always be the same. Bump mapping assigns limited 3-D attributes to the texture so that the shadows and highlights can be generated with consideration for the various light sources in the environment. See the figure below for an example:

BumpMapping

Texture Compression

Texture Compression has three settings: High, Low, and Uncompressed. The textures this setting affects are clouds, light flares, and all environmental textures. The gap in quality is very noticeable when playing at a high resolution. Experiment with all of them and find what works best for your computer.

On-screen Maps

This has two settings. Compressed and Uncompressed. Default is set to compressed. I assume this is for the 2D textures displayed in the overlay. Or it may the 2D map textures shown when typing /map, /rmap, /bmap, etc. Clarification is needed!

Conclusion

There are numerous settings to control the appearance of your game, and lots of information on each setting in this guide. How do you know which settings are right for your computer? Unfortunately, no guide can possibly tell you this. Not only is each computer different, but so is each player! When discussing graphics, there are two ends of the spectrum. On one end you have quality, and on the other you have performance. On the quality end you may have a beautiful scene rendered for every frame, but you only get a couple of frames per second which can hinder your gameplay. On the performance end, your game runs smoothly while each individual frame itself is nothing spectacular.

In order to achieve the optimum balance of quality & performance, you must first identify the limits of your machine. Get your game looking as beautiful as possible by turning all compression off (including MIP map), bump mapping on, full shadows and weather effects, set screen resolution to whatever looks most natural, set background resolution to at least double the screen resolution, etc. Now from here you can get a baseline of how your machine performs. If your game still runs smoothly, then you don't need to change anything. However, it's more likely that it will not run smoothly.

This is the hard part, you must decide which settings you want to sacrifice in exchange for more performance. From reading this guide, you should have a pretty good idea of what each setting does. Begin by turning down the settings which do not make a visible difference to you. For example, many people find that bump mapping is not worthwhile in this game due to poor implementation, so that is often the first setting to be disabled in order to gain performance. Another is MIP mapping, many people don't even notice the effects of this setting so it can be a good way to gain a boost in performance. You may even be able to turn up the texture compression or on-screen map compression without any noticable decrease in quality. Trust your eyes here, there's no point in rendering more quality than your eyes can discern.

Once you've turned down as many settings as possible to gain performance, if your machine is still not running very smoothly you will need to begin sacrificing noticable quality in order to achieve better performance. Some of the settings which have a large impact on performance are:

  • Background resolution
  • Clipping Distance
  • Shadows
  • Weather effects

All four of these settings have a high impact on both quality and performance, so they should be adjusted carefully. There are probably a few settings out of these four that you simply will not want to compromise at any cost, which is fine. For example if you really enjoy the weather effects in FFXI, then you may decide to lower your background resolution in order to sustain the weather effects without bogging your PC down. This is where the personal taste comes in and there is no easy solution. Spend the time getting these settings right, and you won't regret it!

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