LOTRO Screenshot, Follow-up

By Shamus Posted Thursday Dec 10, 2009

Filed under: Pictures 44 comments

Responses on the previous post were gratifying, since nearly everyone had the same complaints that I did. I brought this up not because I wanted to pick on poor LOTRO, but because I was really curious how other people would react to it. I was worried that perhaps noticing this sort of thing was a leftover from the time when I did this for a living. Maybe I was just being a 3D art snob? Maybe the average player doesn’t notice or care about details like this? But it looks like people do notice this sort of thing.

For the record, I was talking about the texture mapping:


(Also for the record: I’m playing the game with high detail settings, and this shot is not indicative of what the game looks like as a whole. Also also: I just now tried to fire up the game and make sure I didn’t accidentally set the graphics to “ass”, but LOTRO is in the middle of an update at the moment. So let’s just go with what we’ve got here.)

The big central pillar is very low resolution, making the texture seem “fuzzy”. The floor on which it rests has much tighter mapping, thus making it look more detailed. Then the steps have tighter mapping still. This is usually a huge no-no and the artists I’ve known would go bonkers if you asked them to do this.

The general rule is that your textures should all be at the same resolution. Having the entire scene in low resolution is far better than some low and some high. The eye can fill in a lot of details and can accept a low fidelity image, but having huge variations in detail levels seems to prevent this. This is why I can go back and play Deus Ex without being offended by the graphics, but this pillar looks “wrong” to me. Until we get 100% photo-realistic games (which is not any time soon, and not even something I really want) then the brain is going to have to fill in the gaps for us. Uniformity and consistency are crucial to making that happen.

Someone pointed out that they don’t remember this area looking this bad. I didn’t think of it before, but it’s possible that this screenshot comes from a low-definition version of the game. I was still playing the trial when I took these, and and maybe it downloads a “lite” version of the client and fills in the big textures later. I don’t know that this is the case, I’m just trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.

But even if you improved the size of the texture on the central pillar, there is still this:


The texture in the orange box is the same as the texture in the green box, except that in the green one it has been scaled down AND squashed vertically. I don’t care what you do with the texture sizes, this will never look right.

Even when I was a 3D / texture artist for a living, I never rose very far above the level of a common hack. I’m just too much engineer and not enough artist. But even I knew better than to do this.

To be fair to poor Lord of the Rings here, the game often looks quite pleasing:


But the varying texture resolution is still there. Here is another example, although it’s a lot less jarring with the transitioning fade:


This doesn’t ruin the game for me or anything, it’s just odd to see a big-budget game with this kind of problem.

EDIT: Game is back up and I just hopped on for a minute. The graphics are definitely set to “Triple Awesome Overkill”. So this isn’t a problem with the settings.


From The Archives:

44 thoughts on “LOTRO Screenshot, Follow-up

  1. Andrew B says:

    I think (although can’t say for sure) that the Download Manager for LOTRO (if you’re using it) downloads stuff on the fly as it thinks you’ll need it. So starter areas and game engine first, other stuff later when you’re not looking. The idea being to allow you to play quicker. I suppose it might do the same with textures (download the low ones right off so you can start playing quicker, then fill in as it goes along).

    EDIT: I could be talking out of my hat though.

  2. krellen says:

    So Shamus, have you just tipped your hand as to what your next LP is?

    1. Shamus says:

      krellen: I’ve been considering a few games for the LP, with Conan and LOTRO leading all others.

      Barring an epiphany, the next LP will be one of those.

  3. Gahazakul says:

    Would like to pipe up and say that there is a HD version of the client and a streaming client. It can be a lovely game if it likes your hardware. Lord help you if it decides it doesn’t like whatever you are using and decides to drop some bugs.

  4. Catiff says:

    Nope, still looks like Vader..

  5. SoldierHawk says:

    Very interesting couple of posts, Shamus! I’m a writer, not a coder/visual artist, so had I been playing, I probably would have noticed something ‘off,’ shrugged my shoulders, and gone back to the story. This is one of the reasons I LOVE coming to this website: we enjoy the same sort of games/other things, but you bring a hugely (and wonderfully) different perspective to them than I do. Its like thinking with the other side of my brain a lot of the time.

    Can’t wait for the next LPs btw! Either one of those will be awesome.

  6. RTBones says:

    Here’s hoping the next LP is LOTRO. Of course, I’ll read whatever you choose to write anyway, so it makes no odds. :) I’ve played through the free trial of LOTRO, and have wondered how a game that at times looks so beautiful can occasionally have some AWFUL textures (like your screenshot pillar).

  7. cassander says:

    I can understand having cobblestones fade into dirt, but who on earth thought that it was a good idea to have big cobblestones fade into small cobblestones? That’s just bizarre.

  8. Heron says:

    Gah, I’m already toying with the idea of playing LotRO come January. If you do an LP with LotRO, you’ll make it too entertaining to resist :P

  9. pnf says:

    I think either LotRO or Conan would make a fun LP. I found LotRO to be very generic in its gameplay but it has all the lore that I imagine you’ll have a lot of fun with. Conan (which I only played for a short while after release) had a number of problems but the starter area wasn’t one of them; I thought it was very well done.

  10. Jay says:

    So odd. I played that game for awhile. . .a year or so total, maybe. I didn’t really notice things like that. To be fair though, I *expected* cruddy graphics sometimes, since the endgame almost demands you turn off the fancy stuff to eliminate any possibility of lag. So you run with your online teammates through a beautifully rendered and designed lair of fire (I liked the Forge!), but none of it is really given the treatment it deserves, so you don’t wipe. When soloing, though, I’d deal with occasional lag in places like Bree to have the settings jacked up. The game does have some beautiful scenery.


  11. Tesh says:

    It’s funny, with my “artist” hat on, I notice these things and they drive me crazy. (Note also the warping of the vertical bars on the base of the smaller pedestals; it’s a natural artifact of mapping a square texture to a trapezoidal polygon.) I see this sort of thing ALL the time in games, and I want to slap around the UV artists. I’ve given presentations about how to set up UVs and do your textures the right way. These things are trivial to get right.

    And yet, with my “player” hat on, I can’t work up the energy to care. If I’m having fun, I don’t notice it, and if I’m not having fun, no measure of eye candy will salvage the experience.

  12. MuonDecay says:

    Yes, when you play the trial, and you don’t download several gigabytes of data up front, the game you see has diminished texture resolution and overall looks a lot worse. Trial players are given the option to stream the game in order to start playing right away. Unfortunately this does make the game look like ass.

    If you wait for the game to be brought fully up to date, it looks a lot better.

    I think I recognize the area in the first screenshot and it never looked that bad for me, because I let the full client download and patch first.

  13. Hal says:

    Shamus, is there a reason you seem to be sticking with MMOs for your LPs? Is it just that you’re playing a lot of them these days? Are they representative of the silly writing that makes for good LP humor? I’m just curious.

  14. Khoram says:

    I definitely do not recall that pillar looking like that when I’ve played. I am 97% sure this is an example of you playing with the minimum downloaded to actually “play”, and the patcher downloading all the hi-res stuff in the background.

  15. Girl Gamer says:

    Oh man, if you do the LP on this one, I’m going to have so much trouble resisting it! I’m a sucker for anything LoTR and I really would like to find an MMO I can play. I better go fire up DDO before you start so at least I’m addicted to something free.

  16. Nazgul says:

    So the problem with the graphics wasn’t your character’s big child-bearing hips?

    Well, never mind then. ;^)

    But seriously, the pillar looks absolutely horrible. I’d say it looks like it was imported from the original Doom, but it’s far too bright for that.

    ps – Odd, my gravatar isn’t showing up.

  17. Kell says:

    “The general rule is that your textures should all be at the same resolution.”


    Well actually, no. The general rule for people with a decent sense of aesthetics, i.e. the people that should be making your game environments, is that everything should be of the same resolution unless there’s good reason to make an exception.

    The actual general rule of game design is not determind by people with a decent sense of aesthetics.

    This bothers me too. An awful awful lot.

    I play Guild Wars with my GF, and I’ve noticed this with the buildings in that game. It’s largely due to architecture being glorified mapobjects these days. That is: models with skins, rather than brushes with textures as per the older BSP method.

    I’ve read people consigning BSP to the bygone era of quaint but now obsolete rendering techniques, as though modern game graphics have advanced so much farther. Yet BSP = all Doom games, all Quake games. And oh yes…EVERY GAME BY VALVE SOFTWARE EVER.

    I’m sorry to sound divisive, but this really looks to me like a nerd thing. Aesthetic talent is not properly valued, or even understood, by the majority of gaming culture. Despite the fact that, as your two posts reveal, it really does make a difference to people.

  18. froogger says:

    By golly geez, you’re such a nitpicker. What’s wrong with a little retro “Rise Of The Triad”-details in environment? Sure, it clashes, but I for one welcome these blurry “details”.
    (that is, until I get my shiny new graphics card installed)

  19. This is why photo-realism or even near photo-realism as a goal is generally self-defeating in first-person 3D games. Users can put the camera anywhere, so they will always find the fudging.

    It’s a real shame when it’s as blatant as in your examples, but it’s more a shame that it’s so common. As far as I’m concerned, super-hi-detail character textures are a waste if they’re just going to float absurdly over lo-res environments. Give me some better light and shadow, any day.

  20. DaMunky89 says:

    Yeah, I have to agree that seeing things like this is jarring. And I’ve always thought games attempting to achieve photo realism come off as lame. I’d much prefer stylized graphics that pick an art direction and run with it, as opposed to trying to replicate what the real world looks like.

    I.E. I liked the art in “Zelda: Wind Waker” far better than “Zelda: Twilight Princess”. (On the other hand, I prefer Z:TP’s story.)

  21. S. Richmond says:

    This’ll all disappear soon enough. Why? Because old Carmack from iD has a solution – One big streamed texture for the entire level. No more swapping in and out of the same textures. Every single pixel on the ‘mega texture’ can be different and it won’t impact performance.
    Its going to be win…I can feel it.

  22. Dave says:

    I play the game on ultra high great graphics settings myself… I’ve NEVER noticed what you’re pointing out. Even when pressed on the original screenshots, I didn’t see it.

    Maybe I’m even further to the engineering side than you. :)

  23. Hawk says:

    Why does the PC throw a shadow, but the pillars don’t?

    Some sort of reverse vampire effect?

  24. Greg says:

    Umm, you may think your graphics settings are as high as they go, but when texture is set to “Very High”, the pillar actually looks like this:

    And for the rest of the game after the intro, the layout there is completely different again:

  25. Kell says:

    “Because old Carmack from iD has a solution”

    And this is the problem.

    John Carmack should be forcibly kept away from any kind of design – and especially aesthetic – decions for the rest of time. The man is almost autistically incapable of comprehending anything to do with other peoples’ experiences.

    If you were to draw up a graph on which the X and Y axes represented various fields of human endevour, and the Z axis represented ability within those fields, John Carmack would be represented by a spike. Centered over engine coding and rocket science. At everything else, he sucks immensely. Engineers should never be allowed to call the design shots, especially when it comes to visuals.

    Exhibit A: the Radiant engine. The most horrendous torturer of pixels ever successfully commercialized, it is a black and shiney hole into which all the most puerile and thoughtless cliches of FPS design were thrown to suffer a slow and ignominious demise.
    “but DooM3 lOoKs Teh AWeSomE!!!11”
    No it doesn’t, idiot. It looks like low-grade plastic smeared with vaseline that, despite being reflective enough to glow white hot under the beam of a cheap flashlight, reflects zero light onto its surroundings. Nothing anywhere in nature could possibly look like that.

    If you filled up a skip with rusty old cutlery, then dropped it off a cliff, the way it would sound when it landed is the way the Radiant engine looks. At least when it isn’t gut-punching your processor to render absolute black. It is steel wool vigourously applied to the retinas. The rendering cost is so heavy it can’t handle even half the size of room or half-the number of enemies as the previous engine on the same hardware.

    And no-one told John Carmack that for four f***ing years.

    And please note: after the artistic ( though not of course commercial ) failure of Quake2, especially compared to the achievments of Half-Life 1, id learned just enough to do things differently for Quake3. They had to hire someone just to tell them how to make a game. Not an engine. A game. Quake3 remains the most rigourously designed of any game in id’s 18 years.
    Graeme Devine left ( as the most talented always leave id ) immediately after. Lead Design for Doom3 was handed to Tim Willits, a man with the artistry and panache of a virginal IT salesman. And for Rage? Different Lead Designer again. id learn, but always too late.

    Compare bling-mapped ( thanks to Shamus for that perspicacious turn of phrase ) engines such as Doom3 or Fallout 3 with everything Valve have done with Source. And the Source engine is essentially a generation behind Radiant; Quake1 -> Quake2 -> Quake3 -> Doom3 vs Quake1 -> HL1 -> Source.
    4 generations vs 3. Yet because Valve is staffed with competent designers as well as engineers, plus their disciplined iterative playtesting philosophy, there isnt a single screenshot in their Source games that would compare unfavourably to anything in the Radiant engine.

    We are well past the point when mere quantity should be regarded as progress. Game environments should not be exercises in excessive pixel/poly pushing, nor conglomerations of hackneyed visual noise. They should be evocative, crafted worlds. It only takes putting people with a decent streak of artistic talent in control, but the talentless nerds and neckbeards are beligerently resistant to taste.

    Sorry for the ragedump Shamus, but you’ve touched a nerve with these posts. Gaming culture is filled end to end with wagon wheel coffee tables, and there is no longer an excuse for it.

  26. Heron says:

    Speaking of texture resolutions… if you want to blow your mind, Shamus, boot up Final Fantasy IX in a PS1 emulator, and play it fullscreen on a high-resolution monitor.

    What you’ll get are extremely low resolution textures for the environment and fairly high resolution models for the characters, resulting in a very… interesting gameplay experience.

    (I can’t play it again until I switch back to playing in windowed mode with a much smaller screen size.)

    It looks fine on a generic PS1-era TV, because the TV’s screen resolution wasn’t high enough to show a difference between the character models and the background textures, and the PS1 can’t output any higher of a resolution anyway.

    But what really blows my mind about this is that they bothered making those higher-res character models in the first place. Surely it was wasting CPU cycles or RAM or something they could have used to make the environment look better (although admittedly the environments look pretty good for their time)?

  27. Neil Polenske says:

    “Yet because Valve is staffed with competent designers as well as engineers, plus their disciplined iterative playtesting philosophy, there isnt a single screenshot in their Source games that would compare unfavourably to anything in the Radiant engine.”

    Actually I’ve always considered HL2 visually inferior to the D3 or Q4. The textures are flat and blurry, compared to the meticulously detailed environments of id’s games from that time, while the overall geometry of HL2 is is generally blockier. While Source kicks Radiant all the way to Topeka in animation, lighting and size of environments, up close it just doesn’t compare.

  28. Kell says:

    “But what really blows my mind about this is that they bothered making those higher-res character models in the first place. ”

    Could that be to do with zoom?

    I’m not really familiar with playing Final Fantasy, so I don’t know what sort of controls they have, but that kinda happens with Guild Wars.

    The mouse wheel zoom can take you from a wide third-person view, encompassing an area equivelant to your aggro radius, while also zooming into to first-person view.

    This allows players to keep a wide RTS type view for seeing all enemies during a fight, but also allowing them to get a good look at their character model and enjoy all the sumptuous detail like armour filigree or your elf mage babe’s hippy jewelery. Those details are part of what some players enjoy about an RPG but are undiscernable at useful combat view distances.

    Perhaps in FF, it could be predicted that the environment textures would never be seen closer than middle distance, but character models may be zoomed in on by the player.

  29. Steves says:

    “I've been considering a few games for the LP, with Conan and LOTRO leading all others.”

    Well, it is your site and all, but they are both pretty horrid games. Or, more accurately, they are the methadone to WoW’s heroin – not *bad* as such, just a wildly inadequate substitute for the real thing! With awful, awful interfaces, and so many little irritating things not quite right.

    If you want to try something different, original and genuinely fun in the MMO genre I really recommend DDO – it has been improved a lot in the latest free + pay for premium stuff model, and is actually quite a blast, just don’t get too obsessed as to what they have done to the 3.5 D&D rules to make it work as an MMO…and yeah, still pretty bad interface.

    However, if you are going to do your trademark hilarious pedantic/nitpicking thing then AoC WILL provide you with lots of ammo, and I think you could come up with some very funny posts about that, so go for it!

  30. neolith says:

    Shamus, when did you take that screenshot? The same location looks quite different in my game:
    As you can see, parts of the place have been remodeled.
    Also I seem to have a bit higher texture res on some objects compared to your screenshots. BTW, I’m running the DX9 client with textures set to high.

    1. Shamus says:

      neolith: The object is from the tutorial section of the game.

  31. Spider Dave says:

    I must say, the low res stones fading to high res stones makes it feel like the low res ones are in the foreground, maybe on a hill. An illusion probably caused by the blurriness in conjunction with the differing stone size.

  32. neolith says:

    Just to be sure – that is the Fenrir square just in front of Thorim’s halls, isn’t it?
    If it is, I am assuming that it has been worked on for the Mirkwood update that went live a few days ago as I cannot remember the location being changed due to events in the story while I was questing there…

  33. Kell says:

    neolith: good grief, that screenshot looks even worse :(


    “The textures are flat and blurry, compared to the meticulously detailed environments of id's games from that time, while the overall geometry of HL2 is generally blockier”

    Well that’s odd, because everything I’ve seen and read of Doom3 says its default texture scale was 2:1, the same as Quake3. HL2 texture scale ranges from 1:1 to 4:1, depending on how important Valve believed any given texture was. Which is sort of the whole point. Certainly there are textures in HL2 that are less than awesome, but there are also beautiful textures, clever and imaginitive designs, memorable set pieces and evocative vistas. Competent design will use what is best for the overall game experience; incompetnet design will merely sledgehammer the visuals undiscerningly.

    Doom3 was not “meticulously detailed”. Willits and co. loaded up the Acme id Software Detail Hose, pointed it at the engine and ejaculated detail onto every surface, nook and cranny in the game. The result is a clangingly awful homogenity with no mercy for the player’s visual acuity. Everything in the game is glaringly, and equally, over detailed. Add to that the blooming awful specular glare and the result is just a mesh of visual noise.

    Good professional designers – even good amatuer designers – know not to do that. Listen to the Valve commentary nodes. TF2 is a standout example ( though all their games benefit from this ); detail is placed only where detail adds to the gameplay and overall enjoyment of the game. It isn’t added where it doesn’t.
    There is such a thing in game design as ‘visual priority’ wherein elements of the game are made more or less visible depending on their importance to the player. Enemy characters should be more visible than the wall behind them, except in special deliberate cases of camoflauge of course. Health packs need to be discernable amongst the decorative but non-interactive detritus of a post-apocalyptic world. Vegetation decor deserves attention spent on it, but not to the exclusion of the overall scene and the ability to see where the hell you’re going. Characater faces deserve more work and resolution devoted to them than the rusty panels behind.

    id software are utterly clueless about such things, and it is contemptible that gaming culture not only does not criticise them for it, but often celebrates it.

    And they do so because a noisy subset of gamers – adolescent males – have absolutely no taste, being impressed only with excrutiating detail, detail, and more detail. The screenshots for Fallout3 bear this out. The laughable ‘OMG BLACK AND WHITE CONTRAST’ nuclear snow mod for Stalker too. And Madworld is an example so puerile in the extreme as to commit Poe’s law.

    Meanwhile, there are thousands of quiet, thoughtful gamers like me, my GF and ( I would humbly submit ) Shamus who do have taste, who want beautiful, tastefully, professionally made worlds to explore and are willing to pay for them. But the games industry is incompetent at delivering, largely IMO because of their incompetence and unwillingness to stop acting like nerds and start acting like professionals.

    It is BS of the highest order and only drives games as a medium further into the cultural ghetto currently occupied by comics.

  34. Heron says:

    @Kell (29): We’re talking a third-person PS1 game here; it doesn’t let you zoom in or out. In fact you don’t get to choose the camera angle at all, unless you’re on the world map, in which case you can rotate 360 degrees and zoom a little bit (but not nearly enough to justify such high-res character models).

    Here’s a screenshot, so you can see what I’m talking about.

  35. I completely understand why they are using a fade to transition between those stone textures (time constraints, way too much content), but it looks completely weird. It should be a hard change.

    Transitioning between “soft” textures (grass, dirt, water) can work, but it looks like the stones are literally fading out of the world above there. They should have set up a routine for hard transitions (with predefined masks per texture or something).

    Much more work, I know, but I get all perfectionist about that sort of thing and I am so not a 3D texture artist.

    Of course, considering the initial issue (horrendous texture re-usage and stretch) I guess this is not something they even considered.

  36. Pickly says:


    A bit obsessive about how much “taste” you supposedly have, are we?

  37. Bob says:

    Funny. My brain got obviously rewired by years of playing 3D games, as when I look at the screenshot with the pillar, I have a strong feeling that the pillar is actually quite small piece of stone, hovering midair very close to the camera (as my brain assumes that all texture are at same resolution).

  38. Tesh says:

    Even in the pictures with higher resolution textures than Shamus’ original example, there is still a jarring mishmash of different UV scales, as noted on the top stair, and the third stair still has mapping issues. Higher resolution alone isn’t the solution here.

  39. fester says:

    Textures have been a notorious problem in LOTRO since day one. I was a beta player and I reported many graphical problems and glitches, but very few of them ever got fixed.

    The one that continues to bother me to this very day is the “texture pop” that happens on certain objects and buildings. I’m not referring to what happens when you have your settings turned down low and things in the distance suddenly “pop” into view (although this can be a problem). What happens is this: approach a shrub out in the wilderness slowly. As you get closer, the plant will suddenly change its shape in a very jarring way. You can even get it to pop back and forth by simply changing your viewing angle using the mouse, no need to move your character at all. This stuff drives me absolutely crazy when running through town and seeing the textures on the stone steps radically change, or the walls on the buildings. How this passes for a AAA game is beyond me.

    Yes, I run the game at ultra-high quality settings.

    And don’t get me started on the art used for the skill and item icons. You’d think that in a game focused on loot acquisition and button pressing, the art used for those things would be very visually appealing. But LOTRO has some of the most muddled, poorly-distinguished, icons I have ever encountered in a game. I came across a great article a few years ago that showed an example of different MMO’s icon art, wish I knew where it was as it summed up the problem perfectly.

  40. Oleyo says:

    The first thing I thought was that the central “pillar” actually uses the same texture as one that is on the smaller pillars flanking it, big scale up, way ugly.

    The squashed image on on the stairs just looks like a UV mapping oversight…I dont think it was deliberate. Someone probably pumped out this platform in 10-15 min using textures already available and moved on to other content.

    I am a bit surprised…I thought LOTRO was to have a more “real” feel…but this looks more cartoony…not that that is bad.

  41. Neil Polenske says:

    “*Kell’s big ole response.”

    Well let me respond to your ‘holier than thou’ reasoning with the following:

    I’m right, your wrong, so there.

    See? Just as valid and doesn’t require a page scroll.

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