I Envy You Because…

By Alec Meer on May 17th, 2010 at 10:34 pm.

…You’ll download this Dragon Age texture pack, and it’ll just work for you and it’ll look super-spanky and that will be that. Me, I’ve wasted over three hours trying to make this collection of spit’n'polished graphics take with my own DA install, hoping to be saved from the disappointingly muddy visuals of what was otherwise one of the finest games of 2009, but I’m still only getting itermittent, glitching results. Not the fault of the mod at all, I stress – something is just wrong with my install, and I’m avoiding re-downloading 18Gb of RPG to fix it. If the mod’s screenshots (poorly represented by the compressed JPGs herein) are anything to go on, though, it’s well worth it. But: why do mods like this exist in the first place? Why don’t the developers cater for this degree of detail themselves? Well, because it would be insane.

You’ll need a lot of memory and a flawless DA install to get working, but from the screens and the odd moment it seemed to flicker into life for me, JBtexutres definitely pepped-up Dragon Age’s otherwise rather murky visuals. Obviously these enthusiastically/agressively upscaled files are absolutely no substitute for enjoying enormo-res textures in the first place, but the simple fact is the devs have only provided us with low-res versions. Which reminds me of a mutually uninformed conversation I had with a chum recently – why don’t PC games just ship with mega-texture files for those who want them? The modders will always make them, so if chaps Photoshopping in their spare time can do it, why can’t the original creators?

There’s much going on there, I suspect, and it’s all too easy for relatively tech-au-fait PC gamers (in which I include myself) to blindly grumble about perceived graphical shortcomings.

Number one, if you’re trying to get your game finished and perfected on time, the last thing you want to worry about is a fringe collection of guys with enough disposable income to afford power-rigs that dramatically exceed a game’s mainstream system requirements. Come up with something that works on everything, rather than cater to the outliers.

Number two, filesize – Dragon Age plus the Awakenings expansion is over 18 gigabytes already. This mod pack is chasing 3gb once installed. It’s best to keep things lean in this age of ADSL throttling and continued dependency on 9.7GB DVDs.

Number three – even if you have found the time and resources to create it, the technical issues of QAing yet another set of textures are immense. Sometimes this mod seemed to work, but I’d see everything from physically impossible reflections to guards who seemed to be replacing their armour every three seconds due to some rendering or caching problem (admire my technical jargon, realise how little I know). Which is perhaps basically #1 again, but it is an important point – the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few with Radeon 5870s.

I admit, I do wish more PC games shipped with built-in nods to people with high-end PCs, purely and selfishly because I currently happen to have a relatively good PC myself. On the other hand, I would sacrifice all the textures in the world for there to be more games like Dragon Age at all. I’ve only been playing it (finally finishing it, in fact) this weekend because I felt I had such a pathetically small number of contemporary options if I wanted to lose myself in an RPG. I’d take ten low-tech options over one super-fidelity offering any day. The need for high-technology as well as immense amounts of dialogue and player-choice permutations is, I suspect, a major element of why Richie McRich Bioware is one of depressingly few major players in this genre. To create an acclaimed RPG in 2010 must be an incredibly frightening prospect for anyone who isn’t already incredibly successful.

Or, to link both contradictory arms of my lamentation, if my roleplaying kicks weren’t so dependent on such a tiny handful of games, I wouldn’t feel the need for third-party texture packs. I’d be confident in finding a splendid world to lose myself in, rather than having to make the only available world (that I haven’t already visited, before you proceed to name a dozen great RPGs from the last five years) as absurdly picture-perfect as I can.

I really, really wish I could get that texture pack to work, though. The number of happy customers in its comments thread reveals I’m just a victim of poor chance, of course – I have faith that, in another install or in another game, this gambit would have worked out beautifully. Morrowind, for instance, was transformed beautifully by mods when I replayed it last year. This is why I love PC gaming. An infinity of minds wanting to improve something they love – and on this platform, they have the means and opportunity to achieve it. This is why I love PC gaming.

In other Dragon Age news, I’ve had to apply a dodgy crack because EA/Bioware’s broken, paranoid, Ubiosoftian online authentication system claims I am not entitled to access the DLC I already own. God, I miss codewheels.

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65 Comments »

  1. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Anyone that tried this could please tell me if they fix the dwarves looking like… I don’t really know what they look like… fat, big ass pregnant bigfoot midgets with elongated limbs?

    This has been the one of the greatest RPGs in years. I proudly own that and the expansion and am just waiting for the juicy collectors boxes to add another copy. I really like it. But I can’t forgive Bioware for obviously having payed zero attention to dwarves artwork. Particularly player characters. My dwarf looks awful in about any suit of armor I put it in. It’s hear-breaking they do this to my +20 year favorite class.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Legion of the Damned armour looks great, though. And is peculiarly one size fits all.

    • Bumholio the Wise says:

      HOW DARE YOU!

      My mother is a fat, big ass, pregnant, bigfoot midget with elongated limbs and she looks just like the “Dwarves” in DA.

      Shame on you (I think).

  2. Petethegoat says:

    Gasp! Meer has applied an entirely illegal crack to his game!

    Well done.

  3. Game Journalists... says:

    “Stop! before we begin… time for a quick history lesson.”

    Codewheels were great, and even better when they were entertaining (like the wheels for the first two Monkey Island games).

  4. Grape Flavor says:

    Hrm. Looks like the guy just slapped a noise filter on all the existing textures. Not sure I like this when compared to amazing original textures like Qarl’s Texture Pack 3 for Oblivion.

    • mejobloggs says:

      Yeah agreed. I looked through all the screenshots and didn’t like the results.

      I heard somewhere that the guy did actually just run sharpen or something over them all after resizing them. So their not ‘high resolution’ textures, just ‘enlarged/sharped’

      Looks wierd

      To me, the originals look better ( I didn’t like the originals either, but I’d still chose original over this)

    • Flobulon says:

      Yeah, I’ve personally always found JBTextures quite horrible from the pictures – while upscale + sharpen can arguably improve the look of a game, you really need to just get in there and completely redo the textures (or at the very least just overlay some hi-res grunge).

      Actually, a lot of it looks more like a fractal filter to me. Slightly better than just sharpen, but most definitely overdone here. There’s no substitute for a little hard work.

  5. Jimbo says:

    Fun Fact*: Dragon Age outsold Mass Effect 2. I know DA came out on a whole extra platform, but I bet they still didn’t expect that. I certainly didn’t.

    *may not actually be a fact, but seems to be a fact as far as I can make out.

  6. Lambchops says:

    From looking at the screens I can see there’s a difference so I guess it’s all very impressive and fair play to the lad for his hard work. However I can’t help but think; is it really enough of an overhaul to make that much difference when playing the game? Obviously I haven’t seen it in action so I can’t fully judge for myself but I can’t see it having much of an impact on my playing experience. For me barring sheer technical ineptitude (pretty rare really!) my appreciation of graphics will always come down to art direction rather than the amount of detail in textures.

  7. kikito says:

    I believe Crysis I was exactly “a nod to people with high-end PCs” (in the future, apparently). But the marked didn’t seem to get it.

    • bob_d says:

      I think Crysis was intended primarily to be a game engine to license out, rather than a game. If you make a game engine, you want to make sure that it’ll still look good in 3-5 years when all the games made with it finally come out.

    • Thants says:

      And Crysis showed that there’s a group of people who think that if they can’t run a game on “very high” then that game is badly made. Which is why we can’t have nice things.

    • frymaster says:

      yes. Crysis is “poorly optimised” because, for a game written in year x, the highest graphics options should be runnable on a computer of speed y. The fact that in the games the knob might go higher seems to be regarded as some kind of heresey

      this is especially annoying when there’s no programmatic reason why they can’t have some knobs go very high indeed, but they intentionally limit them so people don’t moan about “poor optimisation”

    • MD says:

      Yes! Good to know that I’m not alone in being annoyed by this. A lot of people really do seem to think that what matters is whether they can turn that knob up to maximum. Even if game x at playable settings looks better than game z at playable settings, game z is ‘better optimised’ because I’m running it at ULTIMATE DETAIL

    • Boldoran says:

      I suspect this is also one the reason why games usualy don’t include super high resolution textures. If the option is there in the graphics menu you could be sure that some people will choose it even if their system can’t handle it.
      It might even run ok when facing a wall or something but start to stutter when entering combat. Then they will either get frustrated or complain about the choppy combat. In the end this could do more harm than good.

      So if I were a developper I would probaply spend my time on textures that can be used on the majority of systems as well.

    • Azhrarn says:

      Crysis was indeed Ultra-high end when it came out, but a decent mid-high end game system can run it perfectly fine with everything set to “Very High” at a decent resolution these days.
      Yes running it maxed out with more than 2x AA at 1920×1080 or more is going to be a bit of an issue unless you have a good high end system, but I manage it just fine at 1400×1050 with only 1 HD5870. :)

    • Thants says:

      That’s one of the advantages of PC games, they get better looking over time just because people have better computers.

  8. westyfield says:

    Dear Bioware: stop messing about with dragons and get on with Mass Effect 3, already.

    Truth be told, I don’t want to hear anything about DA because every time I do it makes me want to install and play it, but that would be a bad thing to do three days before my exams begin. So if Bioware just stop with it, no news will be released, ME3 will be out faster and better, you guys won’t have to talk about it and I’ll be able to go to uni! Everybody wins!

  9. Schmung says:

    In addition to what Alec said :

    Creating textures at mega-stupido resolution is a massive waste of time for starters. If you’re developing cross-platform then you make your textures to work best at the maximum size they’re likely to be seen at. Some people prefer to work at double size and scale down, but they’re looking at getting the best end product for a specific resolution. If you have to make everything at (say) 2048^2 then that’s a whole lot of additional detail and fidelity you’ve got to work in there to get it working nicely and then you have to ensure that it downscales nicely for use on consoles and lesser PCs. (texture memory being more an issue on PS3 than 360 – hence some earlier PS3 games looking a bit muddy).

    These high-res texture packs are a mixed bag as well, there was one for HL2 a while back that used mega texture sizes for everything, but was horribly, horribly done with little to no understanding of how the shaders were put together and meaning that you ended up just looking horrible. Ditto a lot of the stuff floating around for STALKER (though some people have taken the time to make some properly nice weapon textures, which was something severly lacking with the original) A lot of people seem to like them regardless of quality because the additional perceived, but I guess I’m sort of picky about that kind of thing.

    Oh – another thing; normal maps. If you’ve got lower res normal maps you can fake a lot of stuff and just paint it in or generate it, but with higher resolutions you need more fidelity and that means actually paying a good amount of attention to your high poly mesh which is incredibly time consuming.

    So, er, in short – assets are generally created very specifically with a targeted level of quality in mind and trying to exceed that generally creates a disproportionate additional amount of effort. Course, it depends on the game as well.

  10. Stabby says:

    I would like to take this opportunity to point out that anybody not using the Misha the Hoarder mod is missing out. It makes a delightful alternative way to get storage without buying any of the disappointing DLC.

  11. Gritz says:

    Is there a mod that makes hands and weapons not look cartoonishly oversized?

  12. Shivoa says:

    Sharpen mask is not working for me (at least looking at the screenshots they’ve provided), it looks like someone has done an auto-adjust level to make the textures ‘pop’ and ended up ripping the world apart. Nothing sits with the surrounding objects as there is far too much full range black to white contrast on everything.

    Maybe it works in game with different gamma settings or something but I’d take some blur with textures that seem to fit together over the sharp redraws. Of course, there are many times where fan made texture work has been a revolution (Morrowind isn’t the same game Bethesda released with the mod work, Thief 3 and Deus Ex: IW both got significantly de-consolified with texture packs). To be honest I think a lot of the artist workflows are all designed against exporting to a console friendly resolution and then forgetting they could do a maya export at a higher res for a next gen button. There is probably a massive treasure trove of models just waiting for their high res surface texture exports to be blended with the hand drawn layers for the last 10 years of games, just a shame it will never be financially viable to take people off new projects and get them to mess about with the old assets from a game that no longer makes money.

  13. litrock says:

    I actually played through the entire game with this texture pack over the past two months or so, finished it yesterday. It was my first playthrough of DA, so my memories of that game are going to be wildly different than anyone elses (also because I threw in the mod that adjusts all the NPCs and many of the player characters to not look so deformed). Great game, and a great mod. Though I noticed that during the final battle at Fort Drakon, my frame rate was giving me fits, and I’ve got a solid computer.

  14. Zwebbie says:

    Oh, texture pack people, when will you learn the virtue of restraint? Take that very first image in Alec’s post. The original one of the left has forms that you can clearly make out, you can clearly see what’s going on. The new one has tons of noise everywhere, its shapes are undefined and it’s generally hard to focus on.
    It baffles me that people can’t make a distinction between tons of detail and visually pleasing.

  15. Insectecutor says:

    Wtf is this? These aren’t new textures they’re the old textures with the contrast blown out and a sharpen filter slapped on top.

    You can’t just create detail out of thin air, all these textures do is highlight where detail was missing before and crush the dynamic range of everything in the game.

    Louder isn’t better.

    • Klaus says:

      You can’t just create detail out of thin air…

      That’s because detail is pulled out of your ass, not created from ‘thin air.’

      ~The more you know. You’re welcome.

  16. jaheira says:

    Never understood why people don’t like the graphics in Dragon Age. It’s a beautiful game.

    Redcliffe Castle looming in the distance, the tree growing from the hopeless dirt of the elven alienage, the arch look in Morrigan’s eye, the insane height of the Dwarven ceilings….. all full of visual impact.

    • Insectecutor says:

      I agree, I thought all the criticism was levelled at the 360 version, the PC version seemed good enough to me. Certainly not awful enough to warrant this guy making his demented parody of it.

    • jalf says:

      Eh, NWN2 with a marginally higher polycount and, though I hadn’t thought it possible, even uglier dwarves?

      You’re weird if you find the game particularly good-looking.

    • Morph says:

      DA looks nice enough when you’re zoomed in… I’ve always found the ruins beneath the forest to be gorgeous when zoomed in, for instace.

      Trouble is it’s pretty much impossible to fight whilst zoomed in, so I stay zoomed out 99% of the time, where monsters and characters looky indistinct and you can’t see any of the lovely architecture. If only there was some way of making that view look pretty.

  17. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    I have recently found myself wishing for the exact opposite of this, for the mod community.
    I would give a ridiculous amount to a group of modders that turned current games into the equivalent with 2d graphics. Where applicable. Games like Civ dont need 3d. Or Kings Bounty (even if the snakes do look gorgeous).
    Imagine if there were AAA titles in 2d along with all the great other 2d titles. You wouldnt need anything approaching a graphics card to enjoy and keep enjoying them.

    • Springy says:

      It seems to me that so often 2D games look absolutely beautiful. I don’t know if I’m just inherently biased towards a nicely-painted sprite or because they need to use a wider colour palette to be able to show detail rather than just applying shades of brown.

    • Robyrt says:

      Street Fighter 4 for the iPhone is a 2D version of a 3D game, and it looks totally fine. You do lose the dynamic lighting, but otherwise you can convincingly fake most 3D effects with sprites.

  18. timeframe says:

    My word, yes. There are so many examples of misplaced effort in graphics mods, although to be fair often in the base game the art style takes a back seat to buzzword bingo tech and the resulting inflated requirements, but doesn’t look significantly better for it.

  19. Jamesworkshop says:

    Isn’t this mostly redundent most of the time I was playing with a zoomed out camera anyway

  20. Starky says:

    Wow someone likes his photoshop “sharpen more” filter…

    In with the crowd on this one, very few texture packs look good (a couple of the fallout ones, and oblivion ones stand out, stalker complete is okay too), most of them don’t even improve on the standard textures.

    This (going from the screenshots) doesn’t look better – just sharper, to the point of insanity.

    But hey it is a free mod, and if some people prefer it that way, then good for them, it is a choice to download or not.

    I just wish someone would do a mod like this that is a bit more subtle, some of the blurry textures in dragon age could do with a bit of sharpening, but subtlety us required.
    Like this one: http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/images/15-1-1259842264.jpg
    The shield and the door look good, but the stonework looks horrid.

  21. John says:

    I’ve never understood the attraction of texture packs like this. They almost always make the game look horrible, because people don’t seem to realise that some textures are meant to be blurry. It helps you distinguish between objects you should focus on, and those that should fade into the background. Why, for example, would you want the grass in ultra-high res? It makes the whole screen too busy.

    I don’t object to anyone trying to improve things, but I agree with others here that Dragon Age is already a beautiful game.

  22. The Hammer says:

    Alec, in regards to the DLC, my release day DLC wouldn’t work a few weeks ago because I had disabled DragonAgeUpdater.exe from automatically running at start-up. Letting it run again fixed the problem, although it does mean I have to run another process (which is otherwise needless if I’m not planning to play DA). Maybe that’s your problem?

  23. Finn says:

    @Mario: nope, it’s just a re-texturing; I know what you mean, dwarves in DA sure deviated from the stereotypical fantasy dwarves and actually look like humans afflicted with dwarfism but no, this pack doesn’t change the rigging or models just the textures.
    And I guess you meant to say “20+ year favourite RACE” ;)

    Ah e já agora, um abraço português.

    • Finn says:

      Also, like Starky said, it’s merely a set of sharpened textures, not brand spanking new ones or new shading or whatnot.

  24. matte_k says:

    If you’re having problems accessing the DLC you own for Dragon Age Alec, try logging in, closing the game, restarting and logging in again. A bit of a fiddle I know, but it works for me. Although installing Awakenings seemed to fix the problem too…

  25. bill says:

    I liked the Morrowind texture pack i downloaded once. This looks like a mixed bag.

    While I understand it might be impractical, I do wish devs would future proof their games a bit more. And including higher res textures (even if not used) and models might be one way towards that. Making the game work with custom resolutions, and having a decent FRAME RATE LIMITER would also be big steps forward.

    I don’t have a powerful enough PC to take advantage of these things around launch time, but its often a pain to get games working even 2-3 years after their release, and that’s also the time when higher res models and textures would be appreciated.

    It’d give such games a much longer shelf life.

  26. bleeters says:

    Whilst there’s a few things presentation wise that bugged me about dragon age (namely, the fact my dwarf rogue is routinely yet subtley mocked in cutscenes which fail to display anything higher than her eyebrows), I never really thought to myself “wow, these textures look terrible”. Honestly, I thought it looked fine.

    These ones also give me a headache, for some reason :(

  27. Jakkar says:

    If only the game were worth the effort. A deeply regretted purchase I couldn’t rectify due to the DRM – no shops would accept it as a pre-owned trade.

    I just don’t get the pleasure of this game. Much like KOTOR and Mass Effect games, it feels like a band of horny hyperaggressive 12 year olds are cloning earlier games, and trying to influence my emotions by hitting them with a dialogue-based sledgehammer rather than actually writing a compelling story.

    Bioware’s games are the Eastenders of gaming. Massively popular low-quality generic repetitive direness that appeals to the baser instincts of a mass of casual consumers -.-

    *wanders off, leaving a pockmarked trail of acid burns from his drooling maw*

  28. Forceflow says:

    Well, Mister Meer …

    could this dodgy crack maybe be the source of your incompatibility problems?

  29. Nick says:

    Is there a smaller hands mod? Thats the only thing that slightly bothered me.

  30. Helm says:

    That the writer thinks ‘upscaled & sharpened’ looks better is worrying.

  31. mrmud says:

    Alec, have you recently moved your installation directory (such as moving your steam folder)?
    I also had problems with getting my DLC to validate when I moved my steam folder to a new bigger hard drive. Turned out that there is a windows service that needs to run for Dragon Age to validate its DLC, if it cant run because the filepath set up in the service doesnt exist (because it was moved) then the DLC wont work.

    There is a loooooong thread in the bio forums about all the issues that come with the validation. I would suggest checking there.

  32. Ubiquitous says:

    @Alec Meer

    Hey, I had the same problem. EA decided that I didn’t own my pre-order items anymore so I couldn’t load my save files. Then it just went away after a restart. I haven’t played it since out of fear that it will do it again. Maybe this mod will give me a reason to start another new second game (without any DLC), and maybe this time I’ll finish it… again.

    It really is a great game. And I agree that we need to keep sizes small, but would it be that resource intensive for someone like EA to host some giant texture pack on thier website, and have a link in game?

  33. ChaK_ says:

    Don’t hurt me, but I didn’t like dragon age that much.

    Couldn’t get BG2 out of my head, and I love playing RPG from top view, though DAO’s top view was a damn joke, couldn’t see anything more than 15 feets in front of me.

    that and my bower was absolutly crappy doing abysmal damages and just ending up watching fights. Bow damages was bugged I think…

  34. Sarlix says:

    Ahhh, this reminds me of all those hours I spent trying to get Qual’s texture pack to run smoothly in Oblivion. Was it worth it? I’m really not sure…

    In other news:

    “I do wish more PC games shipped with built-in nods”

    Kane would agree! Down with GDI!

  35. JackShandy says:

    Oh gosh, Dragon Age looks just FINE. Make a mod that gives NPC’s better physical and facial animations, one that get’s rid of the “Bioware Face”, and I’ll be interested. Unlikely to happen, though, I assume.

  36. Sam says:

    This is a TEXTURE pack,not a 3D model replacement pack. =)

  37. Robmonster says:

    I remember that the original Unreal Tournament came with a second CD containing high-res textures for those with PC’s that could handle it.

    Of course, high-res back then is nothing compared to high-res these days but it was still a nice thing to have.

    Rob

  38. Sudogamer says:

    In other Dragon Age news, I’ve had to apply a dodgy crack because EA/Bioware’s broken, paranoid, Ubiosoftian online authentication system claims I am not entitled to access the DLC I already own. God, I miss codewheels.

    Alec, I had some similar problems after re-installing DA to play the latest DLC, wrote up a couple of the solutions that worked for me here

  39. Grunt says:

    I received Dragon Age for my christmas this year but was sadly unable to play it due to the extreme age of my former computer (She was turning a bit senile, bless her). So for four long months I had to endue my friend telling me how brilliant it was. Add to this the healthy RPS coverage and here was a game I was really looking forward to.

    Until I installed it on my new PC.

    First thought: “JESUS, the graphics suck! Is it 2006 again?”
    Second thought (which repeated the longer I played) “Dear GOD, the voice-acting is horrible!”
    Third thought: “My word, who on Earth is responsible for this appalling writing??”

    In short, not impressed. DEEPLY not impressed. From some of the more positive – and positively glowing – comments above I can only assume I’m suffering the worst game start in history which is shortly to be rectified once the real Bioware talent kicks in. Can I be bothered to make it that far, though? Do I have the stamina? The sheer bloody -minded fortitude? I’m a nail! Hit me as hard as you like, Mr Hammer – I CAN TAKE IT.

    Incidentally, my friend is now telling me how brilliant Fallout 3 is. Considering I loved Oblivion right up until the moment I hated it and never played it again, and taking into account this wildly inaccurate recommendation, I’m now giving this much more thought than I would otherwise!

  40. Sidorovich says:

    Does this high res texture mod fix the god damn awful dialogue, the stupid gay Paladin bloke and the completely unengaging storyline? If it doesn’t I’m not interested. Recently uninstalled DA to make room for ME2 and have never looked back, tis a far superior product.

    • Jeeva says:

      To be fair, it’s actually a very different product, the real similarities being that both are made by Bioware, and each has varying amounts of RPG underpinnings.

      I might as well say that I really enjoyed both games.

      And that I too have had problems with the DRM just yesterday- fixed by a reinstall of DA, caused by that-crazy-service not being around any more due to my having reinstalled Windows.

  41. Tei says:

    Quake1 has a few retexturing projects of very high quality.

    Here the jump is giganteous, from 486 MS-DOS quality to what you have in engines with real time lighting (like Doom3 and up). These people recreated all the textures from scratch, so are freely distributed. Theres not better way to say “I love this game” than this. Is probably a loot of work from really good artist.
    Theres also a retexturing project for Doom by the same people.

  42. whaaa says:

    Nice nice, HD texture update DA definitely needs, lemme just *clicks for screenshots*… AAAGRH SHARPEN FILTER AAAGRH MY EYES!!!

  43. Iain says:

    I installed this mod last night on my clean Steam install and on my four month old PC and. It’s worth the effort – particularly the landscape pack.