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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Completly Oblivious

Bethesda Softworks has finally got Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on the shelves. Needless to say, since Elder Scrolls III is the basis for Arvil Bren's Journal this is big news around me. My oldest son, who introduced me to the Elder Scrolls games in the first place, had a preorder copy which arrived the day it hit stores, and I built him a new machine specifically to play it. In return he bought me a copy, which I loaded into my almost current game machine. It is the totally immersive experience that is the claim to fame of the Eleder Scrolls, and I'd say neither of us is disappointed. But there are some key bits of information...

The PC version has a few bugs, and Bethesda is apparently working on a patch. This is not too surprising really. ESIII: Morrowind went through the same kind of growing pains, which I was happy to have missed out on. The patch will be available to download at some point, and some people might want to wait for it. The most aggravating bug to me is that the installshield seems to never quite close (has worked exactly once in a series of five reinstallations done for various reasons).

Next on my irritant list is the system requirements. The kid's a hard worker and pretty frugal about almost everything else, so for him to be able to spring $1700 for a machine geared to top the recommended specs in almost all areas was not a big surprise. His old one was a dinosaur. My game machine though is not that far out of date...really...no, really, it isn't! But, I was willing to go with the 'it's a cutting edge game so a little out of date is too much...we couldn't make it reverse compatible' explanation. Except I think the guys at Bethsoft should have been able to do it during the years we've been waiting, since a couple of 'garage developers' on the fan boards have gotten it done in the couple weeks since it was released. Okay, maybe they had beta copies, I dunno, but anyway.

So on my machine that doesn't meet the minimum processor speed, barely meets minimum memory, and has an 'unsupported' video card, oblivion runs like a bat outta hell, and looks quite a bit better than Morrowind does, though nothing like it looks on Scott's new machine. It's fun to play though, no doubt, and until my loyal readers come through with a vid card it will have to do.

Here's how it's done, for those who want to know:

This site belongs to the community minded guy who came up with the 'Oldblivion' loader. It loads reverse engineered 'shaders' that work with older vid cards that another guy developed, and automatically does all the patching to make them work. The shader package is bound into the zip file, so it's a one stop shop. You will note there are some cards listed as 'unsupported' (even here), and some listed as 'poorly supported' (which are unfortunately very common, but here's the good news) including mine. However, 'poorly supported' is actually due to the cards being technically capable of dealing with the new generation shaders. In fact my machine can run a good high visual quality slide show without using the Oldblivion patch, it's just too slow to be playable. So the trick is to change one switch in the ini file to force the shader selection into the patch. No big sweat. After that it was just a matter of getting settings that didn't overwork the slightly shaky system.