Guide:Mod Testing

From S.T.E.P. Project Wiki

Contents

Warning-Logo.png Warning: This page is under construction!

Mod Testing for S.T.E.P. -- by the S.T.E.P. Team GUIDE FORUM THREAD


Introduction

It is beneficial to reduce as much variation as possible in mod testing, since variation can cause a host of issues and inconsistencies. Therefore, this guide will lay out standardized techniques for testing mods which could be potentially included in STEP. The approach will be bottom-up, meaning recommendations will begin at the hardware level, progressing to software and setup, and then to mods. All STEP staff member who wish to be involved in testing mods are required to read and follow this guide.

Mod Testing

What is mod testing? Mod testing can be many different things; however, for the purposes of STEP, mod testing is the testing of mods for inclusion/exclusion in STEP:Core/Extended. This includes testing a mod's stability with other STEP mods, checking it against Elder Scroll lore to make sure the mod is lore-friendly and meets the STEP Mandates, testing the mod's function to make sure it's working as intended, comparing it to other mods of similar content to find the best solution, and more. Mod Testers are the staff members whom this job falls to, however, many other staff members usually help out.

Testers, regardless of staff position, are not unlike foot soldiers. They are the front lines in mods getting added or dropped from STEP, and similar to real soldiers, their job is often the hardest and most un-glamorous one. Mod testing can be long and tedious at times, but it can be fun and joyful too. This is to say, mod testing is only for those that have a real dedication to it. As such, the turnover rate on Mod Testers positions tends to be rather high since MTs quickly become "worn out" when they don't realize what they've gotten themselves into. Much of the other staff come and go from time to time where testing is involved. If you're a regular member and after reading this guide, you want to be a Tester, let us know!

Mod Tester Requirements

To test mods for STEP, there are a few requirements that testers need to meet. If you can meet these requirements and are interested in becoming a Mod Tester for STEP, contact an Administrator or Senior Staff member.

  • Computer must be able to play Skyrim with a fully installed STEP:Extended profile in Mod Organizer. The system should be able to play the game with High to Ultra settings. At minimum, the computer has to meet the STEP Recommended System Requirements found at the top of the STEP Guide.
  • Mod Organizer must be used to test. Mod Organizer is the official recommendation for STEP and testers are required to use it.
  • Official Mod Testers must be able to set aside a small amount of time that will be used for mod testing. Generally, approximately 1-2 hours per week is enough; however, the more the better! Some mods will require actual playtime to test.
  • Official Mod Testers and staff who wish to test must possess general knowledge of modding and troubleshooting to be effective. Knowledge of the tools used for modding such as xEdit and the Creation Kit are not required but are extremely helpful, desirable, and preferable skills for testers to have!

Overview of Testing Procedure

This will be updated as the procedures are developed and outlined within the other tabs. Testing is separated into two sections: external testing and in-game testing.

  • Examine the mod in-game. This is non-negotiable for all staff! If a mod has not been tested in-game, it much be clearly stated so in the mod topic.
  • All mods with scripts should include methods for installing and uninstalling or, at the very least, stopping scripts with a console command.
  • Each mod is to be examined in multiple ways in game to confirm functionality and compatibility:
    • Test in relevant key spots of the world.
    • Test in relevant key points of quest development.
    • Test with a vanilla Skyrim installation if there are issues with the mod to determine if there is an issue with the mod or a mod conflict (as needed).
    • Test on a STEP:Extended profile that is complete and up-to-date with the latest dev Guide.
    • Test with a new game and with adding the mod to an existing game (as needed).
    • Note changes to the game's Appearance, Gameplay, etc.
    • Note quantitative changes like VRAM, GPU, CPU, RAM, and FPS usage.
  • Write a review of the mod with personal findings providing supporting data such as screenshots, benchmarks, etc.
  • Contact mod authors with hard evidence and constructive criticism on how to improve any areas of the mod in need of improvement.

System Preparation

A stable system and Skyrim installation is critical to mod testing. Without a stable computer and game installation, it will be much more difficult to determine if the mod itself is incompatible with STEP itself, or if the mod is incompatible with the system it's running on. Below users will find guidance on how to increase system and game stability, as well as, how to setup a system for testing.

Info-Logo.png      Notice:Reference the Skyrim Installation Guide as needed. If any questions arise around testing, pursue the Mod Testing topic; asking questions is how one learns.

Device Drivers

A driver is software that allows computer programs to interact with hardware devices. Most drivers are updated relatively frequently, especially drivers for graphic devices such as AMD's or Nvidia's graphic cards. Driver updates fix bugs and often provide performance improvements. As such, it is important to have an up-to-date set of drivers for all hardware devices within the system.

If the system being used for mod testing is pre-built, for example, an off-the-shelf computer under a brand name such as HP, ACER, or ASUS a program is usually included that assists in vendor specific driver updates. If this is the case, it is important to use this program since many off-the-shelf computers have drivers specifically designed for their hardware devices, rather than generic drivers. Consult the manual or the manufacturer's website for more information on how to do this on specific off-the-shelf computers. The exception to this is usually graphic card drivers. The latest drivers for these cards should normally be obtained from the card manufacturer's website (AMD or Nvidia).

If the system is custom built, then there are several excellent programs to assist with driver updates. One great tool is Driver Genius. This program will download an up-to-date list of drivers for almost all hardware devices, scan the system using that list, and specify which drivers need to be updated. The free version will do all of this except download and install the drivers; however, users can manually search the web for the drivers using the summary the program provides. It is not recommended to allow this program to update your graphics drivers. This is best done manually by downloading them directly from AMD or Nvidia.

Info-Logo.png      Notice:Never use beta drivers for a system used for mod testing!

Overclocking

If the system being used testing is currently overclocked, it is optional but recommended to revert all timings back to their default/stock settings. This includes the CPU, GPU, and RAM. Although the chances are low, it's possible for a new mod which is resource intensive to instigate stability issues even if the overclock settings were stable to begin with. CPU and RAM overclocks can be managed from the motherboard's BIOS or UEFI, and GPU overclocks are usually managed by a 3rd party program.

Bloatware and Unnecessary Programs

Bloatware and unnecessary programs can slow down a computer and use valuable resources. These programs include browser tool bars, shareware programs installed during the installation of a separate program, bloatware that was installed by the computer manufacturer, and programs installed by the user that are no longer used or needed. Many of these programs automatically start at system boot, eating up system resources and slowing down the computer. It's important to remove these programs for a more stable system. There are a few tools which will help users do this:

PC Decrapifier is a great tool which will help detect and remove many of the programs described above. It will scan both new and used computers for any bloatware and unnecessary programs and then run the uninstallers for these programs. This isn't foolproof; however, so manually scanning through the installed programs list is still recommended. Remove any programs that are no longer needed on the system; however, be careful of uninstalling unknown programs because they might be important. For any unknown programs, Google the names and read about them before uninstalling.

CCleaner is a powerful system tool with multiple functions. At this point, the one of most interest is the Startup list. This is found under the Tools tab and then by clicking on Startup. Programs listed here will start automatically when Windows is started. Users should review the list and disable (double click) any programs which are not needed from the start of the computer. Most programs listed here can be started manually by opening the relevant programs; however, most are not necessary from system boot and can be disabled until they are opened manually. Be sure to review the list carefully! Some programs may be desired such as audio software, graphic card software, fan control software, printers, etc. Use best judgement when deciding what to disable from running at system boot.

Ghosts in the Machine

Over time a computer will generate many useless files that, at the minimum, will do nothing harmful or, at worst, could cause stability issues. These files can include temporary files left by programs that are no longer needed, redundant or unused registry entries and more. It's recommended to use a program such as CCleaner to clean up these files; as well as, to fix any registry issues.

To ensure proper registry cleaning, it is recommended to restart your computer after any program installations or uninstallations and any hardware driver related changes. This is important because Windows will clean up some of the registry on its own when the system reboots. Once the system has been restarted, it is safe to proceed with cleaning the registry as well as removing unneeded files; however, be sure to back up the registry when asked in the event it needs to be restored.

To clean the out old files using CCleaner, open the tool and it should already be on the "Cleaner" tab. Just leave the default selections and click on [Analyze]. It will scan your system for unused and unneeded files. Once finished, click on [Run Cleaner] and let it delete all those files.

Info-Logo.png      Notice:STEP is well aware of the debate on registry cleaning. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

Cleaning the system registry is an advanced process and is only recommended if users know what they are doing. It is not a click and done process! Some research is required. To use CCleaner for registry cleaning, click on the "Registry" tab on the left. Select an options you want the program to scan for and click, [Scan for Issues]. Once complete, research what it finds. Some items may not be desirable to delete. When the research is complete, click [Fix selected issues...] and allow CCleaner to make a backup of the registry before continuing. This backup will be required if the registry needs to be restored.

At this point it is also a good idea to do a thorough cleaning of old files and remove them from the system, as well. Backup pictures to an external device, delete any personal files no longer needed, delete any old log files, downloaded software installers, and so on. Get the hard drives as clean as possible before continuing.

Spyware and Viruses

Ensuring the system is clean of spyware and viruses is critical to a stable system. The first step is to ensure there is an anti-virus installed with up-to-date definitions running at all times. Most users here could be considered power users and; thus, Microsoft Security Essentials should be all that is needed. It's lightweight and minimal and is perfect for users that follow "best practices". Avast is also well respected in the IT community, but is a bit heavier than MS Security Essentials. Both are free to use and there is no need for the paid version of Avast. The free version has everything anyone will ever need to protect their systems. User should run regular scans of their systems using the anti-virus software.

Now that the system is protected, ensuring it clean and free of any possible spyware is the next step. There are several free programs for this; however, one of the best is SUPERAntiSpyware. This program comes in several different versions, including a portable version. The free version will do the job well so no need to pay for it. SUPERAntiSpyware will scan for any potential spyware issues and clean them from the system. Close the program completely when it's done and uninstall it. It's not recommended to run the program in the background consistently as your anti-virus program would. Simply run it once a month along with the rest of the regular monthly maintenance on the system. Another great program is, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.

As always with spyware and viruses, the best solution is prevention by following common best practices.

Disk Fragmentation

On hard disk drives (HDD), over time files that are regularly used by the computer will fragment (located on separate parts of the disk). This increases read times and potentially causes stability issues. Defragmenting alines fragmented files by placing them in order on the disks. It is always good practice to make sure the HDDs are defragmented before doing a round of testing. A recommended program is Auslogics Disk Defrag, which allows full drive defragmenting as well as specific file and/or folder defragmenting.

If the system has a solid state drive (SSD), please disregard the defragmentation advice detailed above. Defragmenting a SSD offers no benefit and can significantly decrease the life span of the drive.

TESV Executable Properties (optional)

These settings will ensure that when Skyrim runs, Windows Aero Theme will be disabled, freeing up VRAM, since Aero may use between 64 to 128MB of VRAM. To access these settings navigate to the Skyrim folder, right click on TESV.exe and then click on the "Compatibility" tab. Tick the "Disable Visual Themes" and "Disable Desktop Composition" boxes, as shown in the image below. This only applies to Windows Vista and Windows 7; Windows 8 users will not have these options due to the requirements of the new Start Screen.

thumb:Figure 1. TESV.exe Properties Settings
 
 

Skyrim Stability and Settings

Launcher Settings

Unless intimately familiar with the game settings and INIs, it is recommended to leave the launcher settings as they were set in the STEP Guide. However, they may be changed to the hearts content, as long as the game remains stable. If the settings are changed, keep the following in mind:

  • Select a screen resolution of 1920x1080 or higher. This will provide a true high definition (HD) testing environment.
  • Antialiasing should be set to at least 4x and AF to 16x. SMAA can be used in place of normal AA.
  • All view distance sliders should be at least halfway; maxed out is preferred.
  • Distant object detail should be medium, at the lowest, but High or Ultra settings is preferred.
  • FXAA should be disabled (unchecked).

INI Settings

It is recommended to test a mod on default high or ultra INI settings with the only changes being the STEP recommended ones. The easiest way to achieve this is to use a separate profile in Mod Organizer for testing purposes and keep your personal choices on a separate profile.

Mod Organizer
In Mod Organizer, the INI edits are specific to the profile that is loaded. To make a high or ultra default INI, simply create a profile and copy and paste the default INIs into the INI Editor for that profile then save. When that profile is loaded, so will be the default INIs.

uGrids

This INI setting MUST be set to the default value of 5. For those who use a value of 7 or above, be warned that these higher values are 100% inherently unstable. It may be stable as a rock for some setups; however, do not test mods with anything but the default value of 5. The chances that a new mod may cause stability issues with higher uGrids values is very high, and again, most Skyrim players will be using the default value for uGrids.

Should anyone attempt to test mods on a save game that used to have a higher uGrids value than 5, they will be unable to load it. The only solution to this is to start a new game.

Default uGrids Settings (Skyrim.ini)

[General]
uGridstoLoad=5
uExterior Cell Buffer=32

Mod Testing Setup & Profiles

The required and only supported manager for mod testing is Mod Organizer. It has proven more helpful for mod testing purposes.

Mod Organizer (required)

Reading down the features list of Mod Organizer speaks for it. However, for mod testing it has some key advantages over other mod management programs.

  • Creates a virtual Data folder, which means it will keep the Skyrim directory completely clean.
  • Installs mods in separate folders in its own directory, which translates to organized mods that are quick and easy to track.
  • Ability to create multiple profiles without the need for a third party app. This is essential to mod testing.
  • Full control over BSAs and the ability to extract them during installation which allows the removal of some unnecessary or unwanted assets.
  • Nexus integration for downloading, installing and updating.
  • Portable design that requires not installations. Just unpack and use.
  • Automatic program updating. No more need to keep track of MO's updates.
  • Mod version tracking and notification when mods are out-of-date.
  • Profile specific INI files with internal INI editor. No need to keep track of multiple INIs for multiple play-throughs. Also essential for mod testing.

Mod Testing Setup

  • Skyrim installed in a non windows directory. Preferably something like E:\Games\Steam\steamapps\common\skyrim
  • All DLC's installed and cleaned with xEdit.
  • All STEP mods installed
  • All INIs with STEP modified High to Ultra settings.

General Setup

  1. Ensure a clean install of Steam and Skyrim (non-windows directory)
  2. Use TES5Edit to clean any relevant DLC content present
  3. Install and properly configure utilities and extenders according to STEP Guide
  4. FRAPS can be used for screenshots and performance benchmarking
  5. Start a new game from a vanilla profile (only Extenders and Unofficial Patches installed), play through until you leave Helgen, and save as soon as the dragon flies away after exiting the cave. This save is the vanilla save file from which to test new mods from so don't overwrite it!

Mod Organizer Profile Setup

Follow these instructions to set up the profiles in Mod Organizer for testing:

  1. Create a new profile in MO.
  2. Type the name of the profile. Suggested profiles are Vanilla, STEP Core, and STEP Extended.
  3. Click okay to save the new profile.
  4. For testing:
    • Make sure the "Local Savegames box" is not checked for the testing profiles.
    • Make sure the "Automatic Archive Invalidation box" is selected for the testing profiles.
  5. Click close to return to the main program window.

You can now switch between profiles at will from the Profile drop-down box located above the the left pane. Mods activated will be profile specific; meaning mods active (checked) in your STEP:Core profile will not be active when you switch to your Vanilla profile.

External Testing Procedures

External testing is where all testing starts. Use the following steps as a guide to testing any mod externally before moving on to testing them in-game. Each step should be completed and notes taken from each before in-game testing occurs.

Step 1 - Opening Post/Workflow

Read the mod's topic opening post (OP).

Here, an outline of what needs to be tested for the particular mod can be found. Make note of this and use it when in-game testing begins. If nothing is outlined in the OP, take steps to establish an outline for testing. This outline should include what options should be tested, how to test, steps to take to make the mod compatible with other mods in STEP, etc.

Step 2 - Nexus Page

Read the Nexus Page in its entirety

Read the mod's Nexus page description completely, as well as, the changelog (if provided). Make note of any special installation/uninstall instructions, any known issues with the mod or mod compatibility issues, and of any potential conflicts with the DLCs and/or other STEP mods. The changelog can often provide a sense of where the author is taking the mod and what might be expected from a mod and its author in the future. Add relevant information to the mod topic OP.

Step 3 - Mod's Comments

Read the Nexus comments

A complete read is not necessary; however, try to develop a sense of user satisfaction and a list of possible bugs to attempt to confirm or deny (bugs can also be listed in the page's Bug tab when provided). This is also a good way to find out how active the author is with the mod. No replies from the author in a long period of time usually indicates they have been absent or may no longer be actively supporting the mod.

Step 4 - Documentation

Examine the documentation included with the mod

Read the Readme and any other documentation which comes with the mod. Note any lack of clarity, installation/uninstall directions, and general completeness. If the mod does not include documentation, please make note of this as well for the final review and mod page creation.

Step 5 - Validation

Validate the archive package, naming scheme, and directory structure using your mod manager or 7zip.

Observe if the downloaded mod package is properly structured and configured for installation or not. Mod Organizer can also use BAIN type installations; however, FOMODs are preferred which use XML. You can validate the FOMOD XML using an online validation tool. W3Schools has an always up-to-date XML Validator.

Step 6 - DDSopt

Use DDSopt to determine quality of texture compression for texture mods, when needed.

The DDSopt Guide can help; however, basic knowledge of texture compression and familiarity with DDSopt will be required.

Step 7 - TES5Edit

Inspect the mod in TES5Edit to determine quality of edits of any plugin files and the scope of mod

Note any issues of the mod not carrying over changes from the DLCs and/or from the Unofficial Patches. Also note any conflicts with mods already in STEP. Knowledge of TES5Edit and conflict resolution will be required for this step. Add relevant information to the mod topic OP.

Step 8 - Installation/Uninstall

  • Validate the installation procedure listed on the Nexus page.
  • Validate the uninstallation procedure listed on the Nexus page.

Step 9 - Inspection

  1. Inspect in MO
    Using Mod Organizer, take note of any conflicts that appear against vanilla Skyrim files and other STEP mods. Users should be familiar how to do this in MO. MO provides the option to extract BSAs during installation of the mod; however, with recent innovations in MO this is no longer necessary. Extracting BSAs should only be done when the need arises for conflict resolution.
  2. Run LOOT
    Unless the mod is new on the scene, LOOT will recognize it and provide some valuable information about the mod such as if the mod is clean or dirty, requires other mods, etc. Include this information, if any, in reviews.

Step 10 - STEP Mandate

After reviewing the mod and before in-game testing occurs, the final step is to pit the mod against the STEP Mandate. To do this, review what STEP:Core and STEP:Extended are and are not about. Ensure the mod does not fall into the "...not about" sections. If it does, no more testing is required. Review and post your findings why the mod doesn't fit the STEP Mandate. If the mod passes this step, continue on to testing the mod in-game.

In Game Testing Procedures

This section is the most important and will detail the steps required for testing a mod in a consistent way so it can be recommended (or not recommended) for STEP. It will be as simple and streamlined as possible, however, with the complexity, breadth, and depth of mods for Skyrim, this Guide will never be able to cover all mod testing scenarios. It should provide the most common of scenarios, but when the scenario isn't covered best judgment must be used.

A Note About Screen & Video Captures

When screenshots or videos are needed for comparisons, provide them from in-game sources. Do not use "studio" applications to provide shots and/or video. In-game lighting conditions and rendering can change the appearance of many textures compared to studio applications. Therefore, it is very important to capture these comparisons from within Skyrim itself.

FRAPS is an excellent program for both screen and video captures in-game as well as capturing FPS data; however, feel free to use the preferred program for captures. The paid version of FRAPS provides more functionality and is recommended. PNG is the preferred format for screen captures due to its accuracy in capturing correct colors, saturation, tints, etc. JPEG is not recommended because some of the image's originality can be lost; however, it can be used if PNG isn't an option. Do not use GIF format for screen captures!

For video captures, AVI, MKV, and MP4 file formats (containers) are best. FRAPS will capture videos in the AVI format. Using one of these three formats or a higher quality one for capturing video is very important for proper captures in high definition. If you can set the codec for captures, use H.264 as the first choice and MPEG-4 as a second choice. Video for true HD should be captured in 1080p, not 1080i. Audio for video captures, if it can be set, should be no less than a 48khz sample rate and no less than a 128kbps bit rate (96khz sample/384kbps bit rate is recommended for true HD audio). Use this information for encoding edited videos for compares as well. Adobe Premiere Elements is excellent for this, but rather expensive.

When uploading captures for posting compares on the STEP forums, please use a 3rd party service to host your captures. Do not store your captures on the STEP wiki! Imgur and Postimage have proven to be an excellent free image hosting site for uploading screen captures to. Please use the inline image functions on the forums to post your compares. For posting video captures, please use YouTube. Other services have proven themselves annoying for members to use; most requiring an account to view the videos. YouTube videos can also be included right in the post using the video clip button in the formatting bar on the forum. As long as you've followed the recommendations above for video captures and encoding, your YouTube videos will be in proper HD.

Quick tip: Unless you're running at a monitor resolution of 1920x1080 or higher and capturing at that resolution, do not encode your videos in 1080p. The result will be blurry due to upscaling. If you're below 1920x1080, 1600x900 for example, encode your videos in 720p.

In-Game Mod Assessment

Pretesting Setup

Enable the testing profile
Testing for STEP should be done on a STEP:Extended profile in Mod Organizer.

Testing Locations

  • Testing Hall (great for gathering needed items, but not great for screenshots or video due to lighting)
  • Riften
  • Whiterun
  • Riverwood
  • Windhelm
  • Mod Specific Location

The locations above will provide the majority of textures and lighting scenarios in the game.

Testing Step 1 - The Vanilla Experience

It's important to be familiar with how the original content works whether it be a texture, a quest, a game mechanic, etc. Therefore, if the tester is not familiar with the mod changes being tested, they are required to experience the original content first. This is also necessary for texture comparisons which must have a vanilla shot for reference. To do this,

  1. Launch Skyrim and load the vanilla profile created previously.
  2. Fast travel or COC to the area closest to the mod's in-game location or find an good example of the content.
  3. Play the game for a period of time or make a save for compares. Assess the mod. Have any issues appeared? Is it working as intended? Does it look as intended? Does the mod fit in with the Skyrim ambiance/environment?
  4. Close Skyrim.
  5. Review your findings for the next step.

Testing Step 2 - Experience the Mod

  1. Relaunch Mod Organizer and select the STEP:Extended profile.
  2. Activate the mod being tested.
  3. Relaunch Skyrim and load the vanilla save again for game changing mods or the save for compares.
  4. Allow the mods to initialize.
  5. Play the game for a period of time assessing the mod again in the same manner as the vanilla test was done above, or take your shot for the compare. Is it working as intended? Does it look as intended? Does the mod fit in with the Skyrim ambiance/environment? Are there any issues?
  6. Save the game (new save) and reload it. Have any issues appeared?
  7. Close Skyrim.
  8. Review your findings.

Final Step - Review

  1. Gather your findings from all testing sources including the external testing.
  2. Summarize the findings into a review and post this review on the mod's topic on the Forum. Things to include are, but not limited to:
  • Issues with file structure and installation
  • Conflicts with vanilla or STEP content (and solutions, if any)
  • Whether the mod met or fell below expectations
  • Any in-game issues
  • Personal assessment of whether mod should or should not be included in STEP
Info-Logo.png      Notice:Be mindful to remain objective. Do not write anything that will reflect upon the mod's author in a personal manner. Only review the craftsmanship, reliability, operation, etc of the mod itself. We're assessing mods for STEP inclusion, not judging authors and their skills!

Denied Mods (optional)

At times there will be mods which do not make it pass evaluations for reasons other than Mandate violations or being less preferred over another mod. For these mods, consider contacting the mod's author with the findings so that they may improve their mod or potentially provide solutions which will work for STEP. This is optional. Some mod authors will appreciate the contact; however, others will not so use best judgement.

Capturing Texture Comparison Sets

When testing mesh/texture based mods, comparison screen shots should to be taken and posted for the community. These shots are not for the staff to use for evaluation, but rather for the community's benefit and our reference. These shots need to include Vanilla content, current STEP content, and the content of the mod being tested. To capture screen shots that work best for these comparisons, best practices are outlined below. This outline will allow the shots to be of the exact same screen in each shot with the only difference being the texture replacements.

  1. Active Immersive HUD, if not already, for all MO profiles used in the testing, including the vanilla profile. This will hide the HUD so you don't have to do it manually in the console.
  2. Load the vanilla profile and vanilla save file. The mod being tested should not be active until step 11 below.
  3. While in-game, locate the vanilla texture(s) that need to be captured. Explore until the texture(s) are found or fast travel or COC to the texture's location, if known.
  4. Once the texture is found, line the shot up in the frame. Pay attention to lighting and angles to make sure the shot will be good for compares.
  5. Ensure there is nothing which will interfere in the shot such as an NPC walking into the frame.
  6. Save the game with a new save.
  7. Load the save and Do NOT touch that mouse!
  8. Once the game reloads, make sure there is no text on the screen and Immersive HUD has hidden the HUD elements. When all is good, press the screen capture key for the program being used to capture. (This is F10 in FRAPS by default)
  9. Now exit Skyrim.
  10. Switch to the STEP:Extended profile.
  11. Repeat steps 7-9 above for the STEP shots.
  12. Now in the current MO profile (Extended), active the mod being tested and ensure it is overwriting the desired assets.
  13. Repeat steps 7-9 to capture the shots from the mod being tested.

If completed correctly, a set of three compares should exist: a vanilla texture shot, a STEP texture shot, and a shot from the mod being tested. These can be used to post comparison shots on the forum threads. Simply repeat this process for all textures that require a comparison set for any given mod. When only one texture is being tested, it is nice to provide several compares from various angles/locations/lighting situations for a more complete comparison set.

Save Game Archives

Below are saved game archives that are meant to be used for mod testing purposes only. Using these saves to "skip" ahead in the game is not recommended. All locations have been unlocked for the saves as well. Game setup for saves include:

  • Skyrim version: 1.9.32.08
  • SKSE version: 1.6.16 rel 44
  • DLC/Mods
  • Dawnguard
  • Hearthfire
  • Dragonborn
  • Unofficial Skyrim Patch
  • Unofficial Dawnguard Patch
  • Unofficial Hearthfire Patch
  • Unofficial Dragonborn Patch
  • Unofficial High Resolution Patch

Note: HRDLC was present in saves; however, they were used as loose files so they have no effect on the save files.

Vanilla Saves

Tester Nord - Game Start
This save is based off a default Nord (male) character which has no customization. Character is at level 1, has no perks assigned, is located just outside the Helgen Keep cavern exit and has all map locations unlocked. This save will be helpful for texture mod compares and testing as you'll quickly be able to switch to different locations around Tamriel.

Tester Nord - Archive
This is a collection of saves based on the above save; however, with character advancements. Character has perks assigned and has completed incremental parts of the storyline (depending on the save loaded). As such, expect to find the character with a range of armor, inventory, and weapons all depending on which save is loaded. These archives will be most helpful when needing to test at a certain point or quest in the game as you'll be able to pick a save that is the closest to the point at which testing is required. This archive will be updated until it encompassed a completed game.

Tools, Hints, and Utilities

Helpful Console Commands

Below is a list of helpful console commands to use while testing. Use these to expedite the testing while in-game.

To open the in-game console press the [ ~ ] (tilde) key which is normally located just below the ESC key on a standard keyboard. Press it again to close the console.

Toggles

tmm 1
This will toggle all map markers on; thus allowing you to fast travel to any location quickly. Enter 0 in place of 1, to reset to default.
tgm
Toggles God Mode on/off making you invincible. Health, magicka and stamina will not run out either with enabled.
tcl
Toggles collisions on/off. Don't use while falling or you may crash to desktop.
tfc
Toggles Free Camera Mode on/off so you can fly around the environment. 'tfc 1' will pause the camera.
tm
Toggles menus on/off. Useful when taking screenshots. Immersive HUD can be used to achieve this without having to use the console.
tai
Toggles Artificial Intelligence so characters will not react to the player.
tcai
Toggle Combat Artificial Intelligence so NPCs will not attack the player.

Player Commands

player.additem formID ###
Adds the item to the player's inventory. Replace 'formID' with the item code of the item. Codes can be found here. Replace the '###' with the number of items to add. For example, to add gold: player.additem f 200 (this adds 200 gold to the player's inventory.) Tip: leading zeroes can be dropped in the item code.
player.addspell formID
Adds a specified spell to the player's spell list. Spell codes can be found here.

Other Commands

coc locationName
Transports the player to a specified location. Replace the locationName with the name of the location. A list of location names can be found here and here.
coc qasmoke
Transports the player to the developer testing hall.
unlock
Unlocks the targeted object (doors, chests, etc). To target an item/object click on it while the console is open.
Kill
Kills a targeted enemy.
killall
Kill all non-essential NPCs within the player's vicinity.
Resurrect
Resurrects a dead target.
set timescale to ##
Changes the timescale of the game. 20 is the default setting. Setting this below 10 can cause issues.


In Game Tools

Several in-game tools will be specified here. These tools will for the most part be mods that are particularly useful when it comes to mod testing.


Elys MemInfo is a SKSE plugin that is very useful for displaying in game resource usage. Currently it is able to show RAM, Pagefile, Virtual Manager, Handles, and VRAM use and utilization by Skyrim. This is most useful when testing mods that affect graphics, such as texture mods, FXAA Injectors, ENB presets, and lighting and shadow tweaks and mods. For example, when testing out texture omptimizer, such as DDSOpt, it is possible to see how much VRAM use has decreased in certain areas. If you are hitting your graphic cards VRAM limit, it is useful to know that the optimizations have lowered VRAM use. Since Elys MemInfo displays this information in game, there is no need to minimize the game to bring up alternative resource use tools such as GPUZ or the Task Manager. (Requires SKSE)


Alternative Start - Live Another Life is an extremely useful in game testing mod. As explained before, mod testing is best done by starting a new game. One of the issues with testing out one, or many, mods quickly when starting out a new game, is the requirement by Skyrim to watch and play the opening sequence of the game. This mod allows mod testers to simply skip the rather long introduction sequence. For reducing the time required for testing mods, Live Another Life is an invaluable addition. It is also a safe and clean mod, and will not break any quest lines.


No Boring Sleep Wait Menu allows the tester to wait up to 31 days quickly and easily, which is not possible using the vanilla waiting system. Skyrim requires a 31 day in-game wait time before as many cells as possible can be reset. Cell resets are useful when mod testing for several reasons. A cell may be badly generated, or you wish to install a mod without starting a new game for testing. In both cases a cell reset will potentially generate a proper cell, and the new mod may be integrated properly, especially if the mod affects spawns.


ScenicCarriages transforms the non-moving Skyrim carriages to a fully functional carriage ride. This mod is great for bench testing performance within the game. It will allow you to provide more accurate results than if you tried to bench and re-bench by simply walking/running. Simply pay the carriage driver to go from Whiterun to Riften, climb in the back of the carriage, hit your benchmark hot key (FRAPS) and you're off. For best results when using this for benchmarking, use the default settings and don't move the mouse to look around. The ride from Whiterun to Riften will take around 15 minutes and provides a wide range of textures during the benchmark.

External Tools

This page contains a list of programs that will be recommended for use during the testing procedure.

Generic Programs

GPU-Z is an amazing lightweight program that offers a plethora of information regarding any type of gpu you have, as well as allowing logging and graphing of gpu related processes such as vram load, temperature, clock speeds, and far more. This will be the main tool for testing graphic related mods, as its logging ability is very useful here.

Nvidia Inspector (NI), is a program that allows for in depth gpu information of Nvidia graphics cards. It allows for very fine profile tuning for skyrim, as well as monitors for a range of process such as gpu temperature and vram use.

FRAPS is an excellent program for capturing both screenshots and video. It's as easy as pressing your Hotkey while in-game. FRAPS is also great at capturing FPS data for performance testing. Both free and paid versions are available; however, if you're serious about Mod Testing and plan on capturing a lot of shots or videos then the paid version, which opens up new (and better) file formats for screenshots and better options overall, is well worth the cost.

FRAPS Bench Viewer is a free tool that graphs out your FRAPS logs from your benchmarks (FPS data) in easy to read visual graphs. This makes it very easy to spot performance issues.

NVIDIA Tools

NVIDIA Texture Tools for Photoshop - allows you to open, edit, save DDS files in Adobe Photoshop. Will also generate mip maps and normal maps and cube map formatting. DDSopt tends to be the best for creating mip maps though.

Skyrim Focused Programs