While The Old Republic is a good looking game, there's no doubt that it could look better. In fact, fans have noticed that it does look better, specifically during the cutscenes, than it does for the rest of the game. Whenever a player enters into a conversation the textures suddenly improve greatly, providing significantly better looking characters with crisp, clean art that puts the already strong visuals to shame.
This, when mixed with a bug in The Old Republic that had the "Medium" and "High" graphical options displaying the same exact visuals, left a lot of gamers confused. BioWare's Senior Online Community Manager Stephen Reid has answered fan's questions, explaining why players don't have the cinematic-quality visuals all the time.
Above: It's possible to glitch the game into triggering the cinematic graphics for a second by activating your ship's holoterminal
A long, long time ago on a beta server far, far away, The Old Republic did have three graphical options, with the third sporting the cinematic graphics that fans are clamoring for. Whenever too many players would appear on screen, however (as is oft to occur in massively multiplayer online RPGs), the game would chug, even on the highest-end systems around. Reid explained that the MMO needs to "draw" every character that appears in the client.
"With our 'maximum resolution' textures a large number of draw calls are made per character, but that wasn't practical for normal gameplay, especially when a large number of characters were in one place; the number of draw calls made on your client would multiply very quickly," Reid explained. "The solution was to 'texture atlas' - essentially to put a number of smaller textures together into one larger texture. This reduces the number of draw calls dramatically and allows the client to render characters quicker, which improves performance dramatically."
In other words, the highest settings work great in controlled environments, like cinematics, but not in uncontrolled ones, like Warzones, Operations, or any other situation that would include a few dozen players standing in one area, so BioWare removed the option. Problem is, it forgot to remove that actual "option" from the game's menu, which sparked the additional confusion. Oops.
Above: Images released by BioWare definitely used the cinematic graphics
But BioWare promises that it has listened to the outcry from fans. "We've heard your feedback here loud and clear," Reid said near the end of the post. "The development team is exploring options to improve the fidelity of the game, particularly for those of you with high-spec PCs. It will be a significant piece of development work and it won't be an overnight change, but we're listening and we're committed to reacting to your feedback."
BioWare's explanation certainly make sense, but we'd still really like to see the enhanced texture pack made available, and we have a feeling anyone with an expensive gaming rig would want the same. Even if it's not perfectly optimized for large-scale battles it will still likely make cruising around Hoth with a friend more enjoyable, or at least slightly less blurry.
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