Some game designers thoughtfully include performance checks and on-screen Frames-Per-Second (FPS) readouts for players to analyze, while others don’t. How can you get consistent performance checks and FPS readings regardless? Read on as we show a reader how to get the benchmarks he craves (along with easy screenshots and in-game movie recording to boot).
Dear How-To Geek,
I love tweaking games for performance and getting the best possible FPS I can. One thing I’ve found really helpful are the on-screen readouts you can get in some games (like when you pull up the debug screen via F3 in Minecraft). Unfortunately, I’ve also found that a lot of games don’t include any sort of debug/on-screen tool (like Skyrim) which means I’m left kind of guessing, based on whether or not the motion on the screen is smooth or juddery, around where my FPS rate is. Given how big the modding community is for Skyrim and how easy it is to tax the heck out of your system with mods, I’d really like to be able to check my FPS while I play and see if my newest addition of super-ultra-realistic-mega-grass, or whatever, is what’s tanking my sytem.
Is there anyway to add in FPS and/or other benchmarks to a game that didn’t ship with them?
Skyrim you say? An excellent game choice, if we do say so ourselves. One, in fact, we happen to have on hand so we can use your inquiry as an excuse to fire it up and show you how to get the feedback you want.
First, let’s highlight what we’re not going to do. There’s no way to add benchmarking or FPS readouts into a game using a native mechanism, or more accurately, no way to to do so without engaging in a massive and specific-to-each-game overhaul of the code that will consume more time than actually playing and enjoying the game. Unless you want your favorite game to be renamed “Impossibly Frustrating Code Debugger” this is a no go.
Instead, what we want is a user-friendly tool that will monitor system performance and video rendering to give us the benchmarks and frame rate readout we want. There are a lot of general benchmarking tools out there that will give you a readout when you’re done gaming (like max GPU/CPU load, memory utilization, etc.) but there are few tools that give you the kind of in-game feedback you’re after.
Fortunately for you, there’s a fantastic and free tool that provides, to the letter, what you’re after: FRAPS. FRAPS is an easy to use Windows application that effectively inserts itself between your game and your hardware so it can monitor what’s going on while you’re playing. The free version offers on-screen FPS monitor, saved benchmark data, screenshots (only in BMP format), and screen recording (limited to 30 seconds with a watermark). The paid version ($37), unlocks multiple formats in the screenshot tool and removes the limitations on the screen recording tool. If you get into recording your game sessions the paid version is worth it, but for the purpose you describe (monitoring performance) the free version is just fine. Let’s download it, install it, and take a tour.
After installing FRAPS, you’ll see the above window on first run. Here you can toggle basic startup settings like starting it with Windows and, if you have an LCD-screen keyboard like the Logitech G15, you can even tell FRAPS to display the FPS readout on your keyboard instead of on-screen.
The second configuration tab, 99 FPS, is the one of most interest to you. Here you can enable benchmarks and on-screen FPS readouts. We recommend assigning the benchmark keys to keyboard keys not mapped to any in-game or global-system functionality.
Although you may not be using FRAPS for video recording, here are all the settings you’ll find in the Movies tab. If you have a sudden urge to start recording your game plays for a YouTube audience, you’ll find the this section particularly interesting.
The final configuration tab is for the Screenshots tool. As you mentioned, you’re a Skyrim fan which, we have to assume, means you’re a big fan of the absurdly scenic and picturesque landscapes and interiors the game offers. Those kind of painting-like views just beg to be screenshotted and turned into a wallpaper or the like. Here you can set a screenshot folder, a capture key (the default is PrtSc but we changed ours to End to rest next to the PgUp, PgDn keys we used in the FPS section and to avoid conflicting with the PrtSc button that may or may not be already mapped in some games).
Go ahead and use a single directory (like /Game Screenshots/) for your saved screenshots as FRAPS appends all data it creates (screenshots, benchmarks, etc.) with the name of the game executable. All simcity.exe images or benchmarks, for example, would be in
simcity [time stamp].[extension] format.
Now that we’ve toured the settings and configured them, let’s take a look at how the tool works while we’re gaming. First, a very important note. You must run FRAPS as an Administrator or it won’t work. If you just installed it, you had to enable administrative rights to do so and it should work fine. If you’ve closed the app and restarted it, however, you need to right click on the shortcut or executable and run as Administrator. If you don’t elevate your privileges, none of the tools in FRAPS will work.
Now, let’s fire up a game that we know has on-screen debugging so we can compare what the game’s native FPS readout says to what FRAPS says. Minecraft, as you mentioned, has this functionality so Minecraft (because we have it installed already) it is!
Here we are in Minecraft after pressing our FRAPS on-screen FPS hot key. The little yellow 58 in the upper left corner is the FPS indicator. As you move around in the game you’ll see the FPS fluctuate as new game elements load or in-game events are rendered (as a side note, if you want to watch it really fluctuate in Minecraft, build a massive mountain of TNT blocks and set them off).
Let’s see how the FRAPS FPS readout compares to the native FPS readout. We’ll zoom in on that section because the debug output layered under the FRAPS readout is a little hard to read:
Perfect. Our readouts match. Of course, matching while idle is pretty easy but we also tested the FPS readout matching while setting off a huge pile of TNT blocks in a cave to see how the readouts compared. It actually looks like FRAPS updates slightly faster (around half a second or so) than the native readout. Clearly it’s doing the job.
Now, what about in games that have no native FPS readout? Let’s take a look at Skyrim:
Traipsing around the wilderness on a midnight hunt, we’re getting a respectable 49 FPS, as indicated by the readout in the upper left corner. When you’re done testing things and want to get immersed back into the game, just tap the hot key and turn the readout off.
And there you have it. Not only did we add FPS readouts into games that don’t have a native FPS tool, we also added in extended benchmarks to games (like Minecraft) that do have an on-screen FPS readout but no persistent FPS recording. Happy modding!
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