How to Eliminate Blocky Character Shading in Cutscenes



Hey folks! If you’re using DX11, you may have noticed that certain lighting can cause blocky/geometric shading on characters in cutscenes, and make eyelashes look a bit solid. After some fiddling around with settings, I narrowed down the cause–SSAO!

If you have it set to High, it applies extra shadows where edges meet–which looks nice on the environment, but can have weird effects on characters in cutscenes. All you have to do is turn SSAO to Low or Off, and character shading will look much more natural! Check out the differences on the shoulders and eyelashes between these two screenshots:

You will lose deeper shadows in places like the inner corners of buildings, where rocks meet ground, and where other sharp concave areas are created. You can either choose which of the two mean more to you, or switch SSAO to High while running around in the world, then Low before starting a cutscene. In any case, no other settings need to be changed–no need to switch to DX9 or turn down overall GFX to increase cutscene quality in those particular instances when lighting goes pure bonkers.

Other things I found out while fiddling:

  • As a reminder, you can move the advanced sliders by decimals via clicking on the bar, instead of dragging the arrow indicator. If full 4 gives your computer problems, try clicking once to get the sliders to 3.8. It moves by .2 each click, and that slight nudge can give a noticeable increase in performance with only a very minor decrease in quality. It does turn off water reflections (examples in the fourth post of this thread), but that appears to be the most noticeable change.
  • Turning down GFX appears to turn off antialiasing entirely (reflected in the menu only after closing and reopening it). If you have trouble turning it back on (if you use TXAA), try turning on FXAA first. That appears to “warm up” antialiasing, allowing you to turn on TXAA without having to relog.
  • Turning down GFX appears to switch SSAO to Low, while turning it up switches it to High–but this is not reflected in the menu. Don’t forget to manually switch back to your personal preference. (It will presumably turn back to what you last set it to, after relogging–thus, turning down GFX appears to fix blocky shadows if your default is High, but it is a lie. They will come back to haunt you if you do not manually switch SSAO.)
  • Changing GFX settings appears to turn off depth of field (which causes things that are further away to appear more blurry). It turns back on with relog.

Go forth and enjoy pretty cutscenes, sweetlings!


This is not accurate and has never been. Reducing from 4.0 to 3.8 does cause noticeable changes. Each slider controls for different things, so whether or not you’ll notice the change instantly or not is going to depend. Some things you’ll reduce and, sure, in the heat of playing the game you won’t notice but if you were ever given a side-by-side the differences are quite noticeable, indeed.


I’m inclined to argue this is a little subjective, based on what individuals are prone (or able) to “see” or not. I personally don’t notice a difference, and have had similar not-noticing issues with other setting-changing guides that do include side-by-sides. I suppose it would be more accurate to say “…increase in performance, with only subtle changes that you may not notice”?

In any case, if you happen to have examples on hand, or have suggestions for specific differences (and, ideally, where/what situation the differences are most noticeable in), they’d be much appreciated! Folks could give the differences a go in-game, but a reference in the thread wouldn’t hurt.


Here’s the most obvious I know about, since Effects 4.0 to Effects 3.8 was such a longstanding fix for certain FPS issues in TSW:


With SSAO at low, in cutscenes, I get some odd black smears on lips in some rare cases (the last cutscene with the Red’s Bait and Tackle family in Savage Coast) and some other more subtle oddities in other cutscenes. Usually nothing very annoying, except the one case I just named above.

I’ll try setting the GFX slider to max.


Was it a story cutscene, or for one of the repeatable missions? I can go play around with the settings, too–see if I also get the issue, and try to narrow down the cause.


Main story linked to Savage Coast, so not a repeatable.
If I find a shareable example, I’ll post it here.


If you’re legally blind, sure. But if you stand in Agartha and flip (most of) the sliders from 3.8 to 4.0 then you’ll see the differences. I had made a video highlighting the differences a long time ago, but it’s gone now.


Without my glasses, sure. But to give a personal example of what I mean by the ability to “see”–I used to not be able to recognize what wigs look like, at all. After I started to cosplay and acquired both personal experience and learned from skilled friends, I now can’t unsee certain wig tells. If people don’t know (how) to look for a thing, they literally might not be able to see it–thus, whether changing settings gives a noticeable difference is a bit subjective.

So, from my testing (with SSAO on Low, given the topic) here’s all settings at 3.8:

And all settings at 4:

The only differences I am personally seeing, via both screenshot comparison and live switching, is that having View Distance set to 3.8 turns off the very far way, stronger middle glow effect under portals (leaving the spinning glow on). World Detail also made a distant teleport pad disappear. (It suits to reason, if there was grass, turning down Vegetation Detail would remove some of it at the same distance.) However, neither made the test dummy disappear, and the very very far away spinning glows were on with both settings, so only a few small things are lost.

None of the changes I see here are things that I would consider “a noticeable decrease in quality,” given that I had to flip between two screenshots several times to even notice them. Starsmith’s example of losing water reflections is the biggest change I’ve seen, and that one only applies in areas that have water.

Of note, actively changing the GFX settings does mess with a whole bunch of things–it turns off (at least) AA and depth of field (the latter stays off until relog), whether you’re turning it up or down. When you turn GFX down, it auto-sets SSAO to Low, and when you turn it back up, it auto-sets SSAO to High. It should go back to whatever you last had in the dropdown on relog…but those passive changes mean you have to adjust a few things manually to get a proper comparison without a relog.

Now, if anyone figures out how to turn off bloom without having to strangle GFX… :heart:


Good job taking what I pretty much told you not to do and using it for the basis of your entire (and flawed) argument.


I stood in Agartha and flipped the sliders from 3.8 to 4, which is what you said to do.
I also did more than that, by testing what happens if you relog, what happens when you switch one slider at a time, and through that testing discovered that GFX messes with SSAO more than I thought (so that was cool).

Is there a specific slider that I shouldn’t have switched? Should I have stood in a different spot in Agartha? (I did try it looking at the seed in the main tree, but there were even fewer differences in those screenshots.) If I can find a way to offer screenshots of the noticeable differences you suggest exist, I’d like to, but…well, instructions unclear.


I said:

Each slider controls for different things, so whether or not you’ll notice the change instantly or not is going to depend.

Not all sliders will be noticeable in all situations. Standing in the same place and hoping to notice a difference for each slider is not going to go well for you. You’ll have to move around to different zones with different effects. Some sliders are only noticeable in Solomon Island zones. Others are more noticeable in Egypt than anywhere else.


Sorry, your second post seemed to suggest Agartha was a good place to see (at least most of) the differences. It does lack water and foliage, which is why I suggested Vegetation Detail would have an effect similar to the other two sliders, and I expect GFX is what removes the water reflections.

It’s a shame your video is gone. I got the impression it was a video in Agartha, but if it was in each zone showing each difference (especially if it also pointed out which slider did what), that would’ve been a great resource for folks!


I’ll see if the source files are still on my hard drive. I don’t specifically recall where I tested each slider, that was back in TSW and I worked on it for a week trying to find all the differences I could between 3.8 and 4.0 on each slider since a lot of people were telling new players to set everything to 3.8 because “there was no difference” and it fixed performance. If it wasn’t actually doing anything then it wouldn’t have any impact on performance, either.

Edit: Also bear in mind, there were changes to what each slider controlled between TSW and SWL. Some things were shuffled around, some things were removed completely (but can still be controlled through the settings files on your computer), etc.


Awesome, thanks for looking! Fingers crossed, but I understand if you can’t find any of it.

And yeah, I did notice that the tessellation options are gone, so it makes sense that some other tweaks may have happened. Just having a base to go on to for anything past foliage/extra particle draw distance and reflections would be great, though!


That’s rolled in the World Detail slider now which stinks, because I used to do Ground Only. I personally never missed the World & Ground option so I reduced it for a few extra frames. Turning down the World Detail reduces more than just Tessellation, so yea. I lose a lot more detail than I want to with it lower, but lose more performance than I feel is necessary by keeping it up. It’s a stupid grey area. If I ever find the time, I’ll go through the settings files and tweak everything by hand.


Aaah, is that where it went? That’s a bummer. I had tried to find a way to turn it off via nvidia’s settings, 'cause I remember seeing someone suggest World tessellation was the cause of the blocky shading on characters. Not sure if I misremembered (probably) or if it’s changed or what, since I ended up narrowing it down to SSAO, but…yeah. I like more checkboxes/dropdowns over less.


Ground Tessellation is responsible for the checkerboard shadow pattern on the ground in some places, namely in Egypt. It’s also responsible for character and object model warping in some places. It was super common in Slaughterhouse especially around the second boss and it happened a lot in both Manufactory dungeons, but it could happen in a few other places. Interestingly, I haven’t seen that one since SWL.

Edit: Oh, and Tessellation is also responsible for character eyebrows, eyelids, glasses, and other things escaping where they should be…


Yep, I remembered Ground tessellation being responsible for the ground squares (most prominent in Egypt, as I recall). Ah! I think it was the glasses/eyelashes/etc. migrating that I was remembering, rather than the blocky shadows. Thanks for reminding me. :slight_smile:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the specific model warping you mentioned…but then, I didn’t really do dungeons, so if it mostly happened there, that makes sense.


I don’t know how to stop the forum from automatically converting the links to images, but open them in separate tabs and flip between the two. You’ll see the camera barely moves a tiny fraction of an inch, but me and the golem both warp in weird ways. This happened with any tiny camera movement, so if you were running around you were just a weird, floppy mess. If you look close, the people with me warp, too.

Took a while to find these screenshots. This is what my backed up TSW screenshots folder looks like.