It’s a pretty sad fact, but Team Fortress 2 is one of the most poorly optimized games available on PC.* Released what seems like an eternity ago, the game has nonetheless continually run worse and worse on my computer, even though my PC is faster than it was when TF2 launched.
What’s dragging it down so much? That much should be obvious: Valve has added new levels, new items, dozens of hats, miscellaneous extra, new particle effects, additional features, and probably a ridiculously secret ARG that will begin when the Steam community decodes the Pyro’s mumbles into an Arabic folk song played in reverse, played in binary.
Whatever the actual causes are, it’s fairly depressing that a game this old sometimes chugs along on my rig,** while games that came out much later, including Starcraft 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2, breeze along on the same computer at max or nearly max settings. While I haven’t actually tried it, I had often wondered if my computer would fare better with the original Crysis than it would with our favorite hat simulator. Could anything make TF2 run at a consistent framerate?
After weeks of struggling to put together a workable config file, the ultimate solution left me scratching my head.
Before jumping into the gist of the matter, let’s review the Team Fortress 2 requirements, straight from Steam:
Minimum: 1.7 GHz Processor, 512MB RAM, DirectX® 8.1 level Graphics Card (Requires support for SSE), Windows® 7 (32/64-bit)/Vista/XP, Mouse, Keyboard, Internet Connection
Recommended: Pentium 4 processor (3.0GHz, or better), 1GB RAM, DirectX® 9 level Graphics Card, Windows® 7 (32/64-bit)/Vista/XP, Mouse, Keyboard, Internet Connection
When I first purchased the game back in its beta glory days, my setup was very close to the minimum. I had a single core processor clocked in the low 2 GHz range, 1 GB RAM, some terrible (but not integrated) video card, and the lovely Logitech G5 laser mouse. I don’t distinctly remember having an operating system, a keyboard, or Intenet access, but let’s just say those aren’t the required specs I usually worry about. Regardless, my settings were already in the low-to-medium range, but I had had no problem achieving a solid 40-50 fps in most instances. To me this made sense; I was running TF2 on a computer just above the minimum requirements, so getting a moderate framerate at the lowest settings was acceptable.
Of course, as the years progressed, so too did the game “improvements”, starting with the humble Medic and Pyro updates. Valve introduced new weapons and maps, and performance started dipping lower and lower. Since my computer was pretty old anyway, I gave it to Serge for his current MAME cabinet project,† and built a new computer from scratch (my first). While I nearly burned down my house and violated at least seven New Jersey state laws regarding radiation exposure, the new rig was complete and ready for action. With a Core2Duo E8500+, 4 GM of RAM, and the power of a Radeon HD 4600XT, it would seem, based on the recommended requirements, that this thing was ready to blow TF2 to smithereens.
After installing the “operating system” and putting out “electrical fires,” I booted up Steam, installed the game, and jumped in. My expectations were shattered like a stream of arctic urine being hit by a wayward snowmobile. Sure, the game ran better, but not by much. At the low settings, I was still getting just under 60 fps in most instances, and my attempts to push the game to the medium-high range were met with what can only be interpreted as Valve laughing at me. I couldn’t believe it, and I checked the requirements over and over. I had twice the processing power recommended, four times the RAM, a GPU that barely existed when TF2 was released, and I even had a keyboard and Internet connection.††
Baffled, I continued to play Team Fortress 2, albeit slightly begrudgingly. But as time progressed, so too did the deterioration of my gameplay experience. More and more weapon models were thrown at my computer, not to mention hats, new particle effects, hats, new lighting effects, and a Golden Wrench (I’m sure everyone had this problem). As of a few months ago, I was regularly hitting 25 FPS during firefights, which isn’t fun when it results in constantly missed backstabs, meatshots, and quickscopes. In effect, Team Fortress 2’s terrible optimization was costing me games. And sure, I’m just a mid-grade pubber, but this was insane.
Enter the 460GTX and Chris’ Configs
At this point I decided to once again kick things up a notch. I overclocked my CPU and bought a GeForce GTX460 SE, hailed by many as the new 8800GT. Right out of the box, I also OC’ed the card using the included Afterburner software to about 60% over stock. I tried Starcraft 2, which now played at maximum settings easily at 1680 x 1050, and also found that performance in Battlefield Bad Company 2, Portal, and yes, even Magicka, had all improved.
I started up Team Fortress 2, then used every ounce of willpower available to not throw my newly-minted Logitech G500 into my monitor.
60 FPS. 20 FPS. 35 FPS. 24 FPS. 55 FPS. My framerate was all over the place, and averaging only slightly higher than it had previously. Worse, it was still dipping into abysmal, nigh-unplayably low ranges. Desperate, I headed over to Chris’ famous TF2 config files and installed the maximum performance script, designed to eke extra frames from the game at the cost of it looking like it was made for Playstation 2. I started the program once again and almost nothing had changed. Yes, I was now getting 100 FPS in some instances, but in battles, it was still dipping into the 20s and 30s. And it looked terrible to boot.
I was on the brink of madness. I had built a computer that by all logic should destroy Team Fortress 2, a game that had come out years ago and which ran well on a computer that was easily one eigth as powerful as what I was throwing at it today. I mean seriously… what the fuck?!
With nothing left to lose, I was ready to give up Team Fortress 2 and write an angry letter to Valve (or more realistically leave a raging rant on SPUF). In one last act of defiance, I decided that if Team Fortress 2 wanted to kill my computer, it should deliver the finishing blow. I hopped back onto Chris’ config site and copied the eye-bleeding maximum quality config. This was a file designed to push the game to its graphical limits, enabling console options that mortal man was not meant to have knowledge of, let alone activate. I wanted to watch Valve’s bloated monster bring my rig to its knees, make it beg for mercy. I saved the custom file and booted Team Fortress 2.
121 FPS. 121 FPS. 120 FPS. 90 FPS. 119 FPS.
Wait… what? What the living shit?!
No seriously, what the fuck is this?
The game had miraculously been restored to amazing performance, while looking gorgeous. Team Fortress 2 was now using its highest level everything and it was blazing. Motion blur, 16x AA, cinema-quality character models, all kinda of fancy-pants lighting. And despite (or seemingly because of) the newly placed demands on my PC, it was all going swimmingly.
I’m not going to pretend to know how it happened. Maybe at some point in the distant past I had enabled or disabled a single config setting that caused Steam to shit my RAM into a toilet. Or maybe video cards are actually like muscles, and they need to be exercised to reach their maximum potential. Or maybe, just maybe, Artemis saw my pitiable final state, and she smiled down on me with an arrow or anisotropic filtering and a shining shade-filtering sword of justice.
But when it all comes down to it, who gives a shit? I could finally play Team Fortress 2.
* Whatever game you’re thinking of that’s worse, it’s not worse. Unless you were thinking of Magicka.
** E8500+ OC’ed, GTX 460 OC’ed, 4 GB RAM, 12 trillion fans
† True story, though I don’t know if that project ever came to fruition.
†† I double checked the wires, they were all plugged in!