Competitive videogame players and graphics
June 15, 2006 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Can you help with my videogame research question?

I'm writing an academic paper on videogames and I am stumped trying to find references to something. I even asked on Google Answers and no researchers picked up the question.

I remember reading somewhere that competitive gamers playing first-person shooters will sometimes turn down the graphics (such as textures and polygons) so that they can concentrate on the game better--they can "see" the game fundamentals without being distracted by pretty graphics. I've found some references to people turning down the graphics when playing PC games if their graphics cards sucked and couldn't keep up the frame rate, but nothing about what I'm looking for.

Is this practice actually followed? Or, was it followed at one time but now is no longer done? Does anyone remember anything like this? And, can anyone give me a reference or suggest a place to look for one?

Answers very much appreciated!
posted by underwater to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
People certainly tweak the graphics for reasons other than video performance. For instance, they add a crosshair in games where no crosshair is provided. Or they change the field of view to a wider angle to make themselves harder to sneak up on. Or they remove bits of the heads-up display so that they can see more of the game world. I don't know, however, about removing distractions. It seems highly plausible, but I haven't specifically heard of this.
posted by Songdog at 10:56 AM on June 15, 2006

Yes, it's followed all the time by pretty much all serious fps gamers. You could go to pretty much any LAN party or competitive videogame event and see this in action.
posted by felix at 10:58 AM on June 15, 2006

There was the "white walls" hack in counter-strike, which replaced all shaded walls with flat white walls.

I would love to provide a photo, but a lot of counter-strike related links turn out to be spammed porn, and I'm at work, so I can't sort through them. :)
posted by IvyMike at 11:21 AM on June 15, 2006

You could try directly contacting some competitive gamers, I can't imagine they're that hard to find. I'm painfully old-skool so the only names that come to mind are fatality (or f@T@71ty or whatever it actually is), kornelia, Killcreek... somebody who's not 200 years old, help me out here.

The only tweak I ever used was ~GOD, but don't put that in your paper >:)
posted by BruceL at 11:21 AM on June 15, 2006

It's also well known that games based on the quake engine have different laws of physics at different frame rates, with the advantage on the side of the guy with the faster frame rate. I haven't followed FPS games since around q3 so I can't really offer much more, but there were even custom config files that made quake look like one of those vector-based arcade games from the early eighties.
posted by kaytwo at 11:22 AM on June 15, 2006

What felix said, this is perhaps so common that you won't find much formal discussion over it.

But for MMO games as well. When a guild is in an instance with 40 people, the effects that are cool in the solo game can be a serious frame rate killer. If you go to the support forum at you'll be able to find (with much digging which I'll leave to you) many people talking about this.
posted by Binkeeboo at 11:24 AM on June 15, 2006

most players that are worried about performance while playing online will do this - i don't know about how many single players do this. the reasoning for fps is simply that the frame rate doesn't suffer as more "stuff" happens on the screen. the same thing is carried over into MMORPGS - people that run "raids" or any other event with, say, 30 or more people are going to suffer if they don't turn off certain options (like graphic effects, smoothing, weather effects, etc.).
posted by sporky at 11:28 AM on June 15, 2006

I do remember reading an article within the last year (which, of course, I can't find right now) on one clan's graphics tweaks to lessen distractions and improve contrast between the environment and the players. It covered weather, horizons and other stuff. I *think* that it was about CS, but it could have been BF2 or even Q3A. The article had before/after screenshots and everything.

I suggest Googling on "graphics tweaks clan match" along with whatever the filenames are for CS, BF2 or Q3A's config files are.
posted by turbodog at 11:35 AM on June 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments so far. One thing that I guess I didn't make clear--I am not looking for information about people turning down graphics to help their frame rates. I am looking for any type of article or reference about gamers turning down graphics voluntarily so that they can look only at the game itself without distractions.

Does this not happen? Is the only reason that gamers turn down graphics for better frame rates?
posted by underwater at 11:39 AM on June 15, 2006

Is this practice actually followed?

Yes, quite frequently. Every time I played Q3 with a tourney mod (Arena, OSP, etc) at a LAN and went over to shake my opponents hand they had a flat-shading configuration file in use. As kaytwo referenced, this is a longstanding practice in Quake Engine titles. Here's a screenshot of a heavily modified Q4 config along these very lines:

And, can anyone give me a reference or suggest a place to look for one?

I seem to recall a statement from John Carmack regarding these types of config files being used in RTCW competitions; he seemed nonplussed at the idea that as developers they've put all this work into the eye-candy only to see their most hardcore audience filter the parameters out. I'll post a link if I stumble across it, but I'm not having much luck.
posted by prostyle at 11:55 AM on June 15, 2006

All hardcore gamers - people playing to win - will turn off as much of the eyecandy as possible, including smoke effects, particle effects and the like. Many of the anti-cheat mods actually have to make sure that certain rendering options are turned on to provide a reasonably fair baseline experience for everyone.

This helps framerate, but also helps in other ways. For instance, if explosions and smoke grenades normally produce obscuring smoke, and you turn smoke effects off, you've gained a specific in-game advantage over all players who have it turned on.
posted by jellicle at 12:11 PM on June 15, 2006

also, in some games reducing graphic quality eliminates gives an advantage because enemies lose "camoflage".

The classic tactic is to drop certain effects so smoke, water etc. don't block vision.
posted by Megafly at 12:15 PM on June 15, 2006

Is the only reason that gamers turn down graphics for better frame rates?

Specifically, gamers tweak settings to make themselves better at the game. They're seeking any competitive advantage, which can include framerates, distracting eyecandy, obscuring particle effects, etc.

Imagine you were a professional football player that had the ability to selectively tune out the sounds of the screaming fans, just so you could focus on your teammates' voices. You might be a teeny bit better player. Or make the ball brighter and more visible in your visual field -- your split-second reactions might be that much faster.

I guess you could say they're also a bit like race car drivers, making little tweaks to the car here and there in order to GO FASTER!

This is pretty much only true for "twitch" games like shooters, but some strategy players might turn off things like additional notifications they find distracting. To be the best gamer, you want to turn off things that potentially detract from your competitiveness (e.g. "turn off the stadium noise," above).

Different gamers make different tweaks based on personal preferences. Some Quake players, for example, couldn't care less about pretty particle effects around pickups if said effects drop the frame rate even by one frame per second. Another gamer might think the particle effects aren't a problem at all.
posted by frogan at 12:34 PM on June 15, 2006

Oh, I also recall a comic strip in that touched on the irony of hardcore fans using super-fast PCs to play games ... and then immediately turning off all the special effects that are allowed by the super-fast PCs so they can get an edge on the competition.
posted by frogan at 12:36 PM on June 15, 2006

Best answer: I'm going to go against what everybody else is saying, since I think you're asking a more specific question than, "do players turn down their graphics settings?" The two reasons players do it in my experience are to:

(a) Improve their frame rate;
(b) Cheat by making smoke go away, see through walls, see invisible or camouflaged players, etc.

As far as getting rid of distractions to help concentration, I've never heard of that specific reason for doing it, no. The reason is almost always for better performance and smoother gameplay, not to simplify the visuals.
posted by Khalad at 12:43 PM on June 15, 2006

I have a vague, possibly-inaccurate 10-year-old memory of some Quake players using the "r_drawflat 1" command in the old software-rendered version of Quake to be able to see other players better (since r_drawflat removed all lighting and rendered all world geometry as flat colors).
posted by neckro23 at 12:52 PM on June 15, 2006

What about the field of view? My gamer buddy, who was much more competative than I was, had a cfg script that turned down a lot of the effects, but specifically removed the gun from being displayed. It gave a FPS boost, but also freed up some room in your view. This was for Quake 2, IIRC.
posted by kableh at 1:28 PM on June 15, 2006

There's been hacks on this topic since the beginning of time, too. In early CS competitions, clans got into ugly online fights after it was determined that someone had snuck in an unapproved config file.

Additionally, most 'cheat' apps will also abuse settings. For a classic example, in CTF it used to be popular for people to alter the locally-stored enemy model files so that they were had a 500 foot tall spike growing out of the top of their head, chest, back and sides. After you got used to it, you could tell exactly where everyone on the enemy team was by glancing into the sky.
posted by felix at 1:36 PM on June 15, 2006

Another MMO $.02:

In a raid situation, the prime function of some player classes (e.g., healers) is to support other members of the group. It's not necessary for them to ever target the boss, and being able to switch player targets quickly is a huge asset.

While people upthread have mentioned the framerate factor, facing the wall and/or reducing the action on screen also helps these players focus and retarget quickly.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:48 PM on June 15, 2006

As others have mentioned, tweaking the field of view is popular in many fps games:

The default FOV is usually 90, but many players will set this to something like 120.

Doing this literally allows you to see more since you have greater peripheral vision, but the fisheye style can induce motion sickness if you're sensitive to these things.
posted by Olli at 2:17 PM on June 15, 2006

I have a friend who was a competitive Quake gamer, and he said that flat-shading, in addition to all the visual benefits, also made bunnyhopping more effective.

In case you don't know, bunnyhopping is a little trick you do to move more quickly in-game. The physics engine has a little fluke that allows you to exceed its max velocity by jumping, strafing, and rotating at the same time. A more detailed explanation. Apparently, this effect compounds at higher framerates so you get more of a velocity boost.

Why do you want to move faster? Well, it makes you harder to hit, and also you can pick up more items more quickly, and item dominance is a very important part of deathmatch play.
posted by breath at 3:09 PM on June 15, 2006

If you can't find a source article, why not write one yourself?

Post a poll somewhere: "Have you ever lowered the graphical detail while playing a multiplayer game to improve performance?"

Say something about self selected sample, &c&c but you'll get an overwhelming number of yeses. If you wanted to get fancy, you could ask for personal information to cross-correlate with.
posted by porpoise at 8:05 PM on June 15, 2006

Response by poster: Post a poll somewhere: "Have you ever lowered the graphical detail while playing a multiplayer game to improve performance?"

This isn't a bad idea. Where could I post such a poll to get a lot of responses?
posted by underwater at 6:53 AM on June 16, 2006

This isn't a bad idea. Where could I post such a poll to get a lot of responses?

Try the forum for one of the leagues. Cyberathlete Amateur League or even Cyberathlete Professional League.

Or maybe over at or the Steam forums.

Beware of snarky remarks, these guys can be vicious.
posted by gemmy at 4:37 PM on June 16, 2006

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