BioWare responds to Star Wars: The Old Republic’s low-resolution textures

If you’ve been playing BioWare’s MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, you have definitely noticed the difference between the in-game and cinematic textures. We’ve all been waiting for BioWare’s response to this, and it seems that the company has been experiencing technical issues with the high-resolution textures. At least that’s what SWTOR’s Community Manager, Stephen Reid, stated on SWTOR’s official forum.
Stephen Reid explained that MMOs have much higher variability in the number of characters that can be potentially rendered on-screen at the same time. In MMOs, even though most of the time players will see a relatively small number of characters on screen, there are certain situations in which many more characters will be seen, such as in popular gathering places in-game, Operations with large teams, and Warzones. In those scenarios the client (and the player’s PC) has to work hard to show off a lot of characters on-screen.
Stephen went into more details about this later on:
“When a character in the game is ‘seen’ by another character – ie, gets close to your field of view – the client has to ‘draw’ that character for you to see. As the character is ‘drawn’ for you there are a number of what are known as ‘draw calls’ where the client pulls information from the repository it has on your hard disk, including textures, and then renders the character. Every draw call that is made is a demand on your PC, so keeping that number of draw calls low per character is important. 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. 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.”
According to Stephen, cinematics can be easier controlled and that’s why BioWare used those higher resolution textures. However, we have to note that we are in 2012 and we’re about to get MMO’s with amazing graphics, like TERA Online. Moreover, the same amount of textures on the same characters would not introduce more draw calls. It would definitely need more RAM and vRAM but that’s just it.
Stephen concluded that BioWare has heard players’ feedback ‘loud and clear‘. As a result of that, the development team is exploring options to improve the fidelity of the game. It will be a ‘significant piece of development work and it won’t be an overnight change‘, but BioWare is listening to the feedback and promise to do their best.