Suggest first reading: The installation section below!
Installation and Configuration
Launch "setup.exe" (if using a DVD) or right-click Skyrim in Steam and select install. STEP recommends installing Skyrim to an SSD if available, preferably separate from the drive with the Operating System. Also, avoid installing Steam and Skyrim in the "Program Files" or "Program Files (x86)" folders as Windows User Account Control can cause issues with Skyrim. After the installation is finished, Skyrim is installed and ready to play by launching from Steam; however, there are more configuration options that will enhance the user experience (read on)
Since User Account Control can prevent some tools from working correctly, it is recommended to edit the security settings of your skyrim directory to give Users full control. To do this:
- Find your skyrim directory (normally located in
C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps\common\).
- Right-click the skyrim folder and select Properties.
- Go to the Security tab and click Edit...
- Highlight Users (
<username>\Users) in the top panel.
- In the bottom panel, under the Allow column for Full Control, check the checkbox and click Apply.
- Click OK and OK and you're done.
Before anything else is done, it is good practice to create a "Vanilla backup" of this baseline installation. Steam's backup tool is not the most efficient way to backup the clean Skyrim installation. Instead, use 7-Zip or other compression software to compress the following directories, which may be quickly extracted to the same or analogous locations in the event that a fresh installation is desired:
%USERPROFILE%\My Documents\My Games\Skyrim
Reverting to the Vanilla Baseline
During the modding experience it is handy to know how to re-establish a clean Skyrim installation to avoid having to use Steam to un-install and re-install from scratch, as this is very inefficient and takes an unnecessarily long time. If an archived backup was not created (see previous section) there is still a much simpler way to achieve the same effect without waiting for Steam. This process is discussed in Reverting Skyrim to a Pristine (Vanilla) Installation.
The Skyrim configuration files (INIs) are stored under
%USERPROFILE%\Documents\My Games\Skyrim\. Modifying these files can greatly improve the Skyrim experience and represents an important section of the STEP guide.
%USERPROFILE%\Documents\My Games\Skyrim\Saves holds all of Skyrim's savegame files. A more advanced tutorial on INI settings for both AMD and Nvidia users can be found in the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Tweak Guide.
Additional Skyrim-profile resources are located in
%LOCALAPPDATA%\Skyrim and include "DLCList.txt", "plugins.txt", and "SteamModList.txt" as well as "loadorder.txt" if using a mod manager. These files keep track of all mod plugins (i.e. ESPs), whether they are active or not and the order they are to be loaded in when Skyrim is launched.
NOTE:Skyrim's Downloadable Content (DLC) consists of added game content: Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn, and three (free) High Resolution Texture Packs (HRDLC) in the form of three BSA files. This guide offers advice on how to optimize the HRDLC.
- This section refers to (functional) VRAM. Each GPU accesses its own dedicated VRAM. In order for GPU's in a multi-GPU system to work in sync, they need to have access to exactly the same resources at exactly the same time. This means that for multi-gpu configurations (whether several different cards or multiple chips on a single card) all VRAM memory must be mirrored. Adding up the total VRAM and dividing by the number of GPU's gives the average dedicated VRAM. For more detail see the Hardware Guide.
A number of issues exist with the HRDLC:
- Redundant textures
- Erroneous textures
- Unoptimized texture resolution
- Unoptimized texture compression
- Alternative performance/quality texture options
- Automated elimination of redundancies (using batch files)
- Unofficial High Resolution Patch (UHRP) (see Box 1)
Choose the following option that best suits your VRAM limitations
- VRAM less than 1GB: skip the HRDLC and use one of the HRDLC Optimized options, according the Performance STEP instructions.
- VRAM 1GB but less than 1.5GB - Baseline: use one of the HRDLC Optimized options (e.g., a hybrid option using the HRDLC), according to the Baseline STEP instructions.
- VRAM 1.5GB and over: skip HRDLC Optimized and load the full official HRDLC, according to the Baseline (if VRAM<2Gb) or Extreme STEP instructions.
This does not explicitly cover options for the STEP Mods, which also have a significant effect on performance and quality. This topic is discussed in more detail in the STEP Guide and, to delve deeper into optimization, the DDSopt "QuickStart guide" provides a summary and some intial recommendations and the DDSopt guide section on Optimizing the STEP Mods provides further detail and examples.
You now posses the knowledge and system recommended to follow STEP and reap the best possible results! Continue reading for more auxiliary information regarding mods.
Skyrim mods must all be installed to the Skyrim data directory. If you have followed recommendations it will be somewhere like this
D:\Games\Steam\Steamapps\common\skyrim\Data. All .bsa and .esp and .esm files reside here. Directories corresponding to each .bsa name can be created and files inside them will override files inside of the .bsa, so any texture files in
<skyrim>\Data\textures will overwrite textures of the same name in textures.bsa for example. Always save your game before installing a mod, you will need to revert to it if you want to uninstall the mod at a later date. Quote from Skyrim Best Practices on BethBlog
- "When you play Skyrim with a mod, in most cases, the new data for the mod will be written into any new saved games you create. For example, if you play Skyrim with Mod X and create a save, the next time you load that save, the game will expect Mod X to also be loaded. If you no longer want to play Skyrim with Mod X, it is best to unload Mod X (by unchecking the plugin under Data Files in your Skyrim launcher) and loading a save that does not require Mod X, usually an older save or a backed up save."
First disable a mod in the launcher (if it has an esp) and then delete all files associated with the mod. Fairly easy to uninstall mods that include just a bsa and/or esp just delete them, mods that contain media or graphics are hard to keep track of manually and can be very difficult to uninstall without the aid of a mod manager. Now, load the savegame you made before installing the mod.
If many mods have been installed it is often easier to delete the Skyrim directory and restore from your vanilla backup. If you have no vanilla backup just delete all the non *.bsa files and directories from Skyrim/data and then run verify integrity from Steam. This will download any corrupt or missing files and reinstall them for you although there is no guarantee that you removed all the offending files.
Note that optimally mods should only be installed before you start playing Skyrim and not removed or upgraded until you have completed the game. Savegames will become corrupt if mods are removed or updated, this corruption will build up over time and can be viewed/logged by running Skyrim with debugging turned on. There are several methods of creating savegames that mitigate the danger but none to remove it. To make a more reliable (but not clean) savegame, go inside an unoccupied house, open the console (type ~) and type pcb and enter, exit the console (~), and save from the menu (not a quicksave).
The Troubleshooting Guide includes a comprehensive method for Installing and Uninstalling mods while mitigating the danger of creating corrupted savegames. This is a lot of work for a little benefit so its best to do very few large upgrades instead of many small ones.
After completing a full installation of STEP is a perfect time to create a fully configured and modded backup of your installation: It is not recommended to use Steam to backup Skyrim as it will often fail to properly restore as well as often autoupdating to the latest version of skyrim. Use 7zip or other archiver and compress the Skyrim directory and save to a storage disk (not your ssd). Additionally, you should use 7zip and save into
%USERPROFILE%\My Documents\My Games\Skyrim.
Mod Filetypes and Directories
BSA stands for Bethesda Softworks Archive, this is a custom archive format (like a ZIP file) that contains other files and directories. Skyrim BSA files are different from previous versions and require new tools in order to pack and unpack them without introducing corruption, BSAopt works very well. The default Skyrim BSA's are: Animations, Interface, Meshes, Misc, Shaders, Sounds, Textures, Voices, VoicesExtra, and Update. DLC's and mods made with the official creation kit also often include BSA's, these files will override the default bsa's.
ESM and ESP are mod files and are acronyms for Elder Scrolls Master and Plugin, they are used to directly modify the Skyrim world and gameplay. ESMs are master files and are used to create completely new areas of the world or types of things in it. ESP files are always dependant on an ESM (usually Skyrim.esm) and modify items, creatures, or places already in it.
INI files contain configuration data and the ones in your Skyrim directory are simply the defaults used to rebuild missing or corrupted files into
%USERPROFILE%\My Documents\My Games\Skyrim.
|File Extension||File Type||Skyrim Directory||Description|
|bsa||Bethesda Softworks Archive||data||This holds all of the main files used in the game and DLC, also be used by mods on Steam Workshop|
|esm||Elder Scrolls Master||data||This contains the master gamesettings, used when creating completely new objects or areas|
|esp||Elder Scrolls Plugin||data||This contains modified gamesettings, based on a master usually just Skyrim.esm|
|ess||Elder Scrolls Savegame||mygames-saves||The savegame file contains all gameworld and character data|
|txt||text||meshes-animationdata,interface,mygames-skyrim||Contains technical data that controls animations, interface, and graphics support|
|ini||text||mygames-skyrim,skyrim||contains configuration settings for the game engine|
|dds||texture||textures||Texture maps (graphics) for 3D models in the game|
|nif||3D model||meshes||The wire mesh model for all objects in the game|
|hkx||Havock Animation||meshes-animations||all movement in the game is controlled by these files|
|png||graphics||textures-books||used exclusively for graphics inside books|
|swf||flash||interface||the Graphic User Interface is created using these files|
|pex||compiled papyrus||scripts||These control all object and character behavior in the game|
|wav||audio||sound||All ambient sounds and sound effects|
|fuz||audio||sound-voices||All voice dialogue|
|xwm||audio||music||All songs and music|
|lod||texture||lodsettings||Graphics used for very distant objects|
|strings||unknown||strings||localization of text|
|dlstrings||unknown||strings||localization of text|
|ilstrings||unknown||strings||localization of text|
|fxp||unknown||shadersfx||controls all graphics shaders|
|gid||unknown||grass||used to dynamically generate grass|
There are several special directories in
<skyrim>\Data. These directories may not be created by default; however, when they are, they function in a special way. These include: Grass, Interface, Lodsettings, Meshes, Music, Scripts, Shadersfx, Sound, Strings, and Textures. Correctly named and formatted files placed in these directories (termed "Loose files") will override files inside the default Skyrim BSA's as well as DLC's and other mods distributed as bsa's.
A Docs directory is useful for storing all documentation, if you are using bash to install it will automatically rename all readme's to "modname" readme.txt and place them there. Additional directories named SKSE and ASI hold Script Extender plugins and Script Dragon Plugins respectively.
These are the Unofficial, unsupported or only partially supported, often very powerful alternatives and additions to Bethesda's base modding system. Several of these alternative mods directly affect the binary code in the tesv.exe making them dependent on a specific version to work, so every time Skyrim updates you will need to wait for updates for these as well (they are listed as injectors). Many Skyrim mods rely on the use of the injectors, particularly SKSE.
SKSE (Skyrim Script Extender)
SKSE is an external program that exposes console commands and the internal scripting language (Papyrus) to modders.
- Install by extracting into the
- (optional) SKSE can be configured using
<skyrim>\Data\SKSE\skse.ini, which must be created manually. Add the following as desired:
- Highly Recommended: this will fix and/or prevent script-based save-game bloat ...
- Highly Recommended: this will enable the memory fix (Sheson's memory patch) which provides a more stable game. To use this parameter you must be using SKSE 1.7.0 Alpha or above ...
[Memory] DefaultHeapInitialAllocMB=768 ScrapHeapSizeMB=256
- To pick the size of dynamically built tint textures (default is 256) ...
[Display] iTintTextureResolution=512 ; other values could be 1024 2048 4096
- To write a minidump to
%USERPROFILE%\My Documents\My Games\Skyrim\SKSE\Minidumpswhen the game crashes ...
- Forced container categorization ...
Script Dragon is another external program that puts the full power of C++ into the modders hands.
- Install by extracting the 7z file to your desktop, then copy and paste the dinput8.dll and scriptdragon.dll into your Skyrim directory (alongside tesv.exe).
- Create a new directory called ASI in
<skyrim>\Dataasiis where all scriptdragon plugins must to installed to) and copy the default asi and ini files there if you like.
SkyProc a JAVA library that aids in dynamically processing massive amounts of information and getting it into Skyrim using a similar process to CBash, although the types of data are complimentary. The process results in a patch that must be loaded after the bashed patch.
- It is able to import mods and give easy access to the records inside. Programmers can then make any changes they wish, and export a working Skyrim patch that is customized to every user's load order. For many mods, this will help reduce, or completely eliminate conflicts.
CBash a component of Wrye Bash that merges many different conflicting mods into one. The end result is a bashed patch that combines the records of many esp's. It must be loaded after all included esp's (generally last is best excepting skyproc patches).
ENB Series is an extremely powerful post-processor that adds many graphical effects to Skyrim at the cost of some fps.
- Follow the ENB Guide in order to install this.
FXAA is an efficient post-processor that adds several graphical effects to Skyrim with little or no fps cost.
- Install by extracting the 7z file to your desktop, then copy and paste the d3d9.dll, fxaa_tool.exe, shader.fx and the injFX_shaders directory into your Skyrim directory (alongside tesv.exe).
SMAA is an efficient post-processor that anti aliases graphics with little or no fps cost (much better than the included AA in Skyrim and much less taxing on your system than running AA from your Graphics Driver, although you can do that as well if you have an uber card). This is highly recommended in just about all cases to install, as it is a definite improvement over the normal anti aliasing in-game.
- Install by extracting the 7z file to your desktop, then copy and paste the files into your Skyrim directory (alongside tesv.exe).
- Very powerful conflict viewer and cleaner, and mod editor. TES5Edit experimental version 3.0.30 was released June 3, 2013. Currently, only Skyrim 1.9 is supported so be sure you update before using this utility which can be used to clean ITMs and UDRs from mods, manually create patches, and even merge esp files. Documentation for this tool can be found here and in the FNV Training Manual.
- The Official Bethesda Tool used to build the world of Skyrim.
In Steam click View, tools, select Creation Kit, right click and select install game. If you have any addon DLC the corresponding DLC BSA name(s) need to be added to the SkyrimEditor.ini file in the Skyrim directory as discussed in Q7 here
The mods below are either not in active development or very new and not well tested.
- Merge and compare mods, beta version is out that doesn't include mod merge yet, not actively being developed during the past year but development might eventually become more active again.
- a very powerful save game viewer and editor capable of viewing details of save games and also doing some editing that no other save game editor can. No further development is planned. Use with great caution, as mentioned in the description page.
- An extremely powerful editor only partially ported to Skyrim, features a powerful search and replace. It has, however, not been updated in over a year.
- A full featured NPC editor; not sure this is compatible with Skyrim 1.8, needs testing.
- Just a viewer in alpha at the moment, eventually editing and cleaning features will be available.
- A full featured automated mod patcher, has much more planned functionality than the Wyre Bash patcher. It does not seem that it is being worked on actively at the moment.