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(Re)installing Morrowind, Pt. 2

Continued from Part 1.

All right, now that we have the unmodded game working, it’s time to set up a few graphical improvements. At the very least, we need to fix our screen resolution. I highly recommend doing this early on, as it may influence your later decisions over which texture upgrades to use.

Before I go any further, I want to make mention of the Morrowind Graphics and Sound Overhaul. I am not going to use it, because the purpose of this guide is to help you understand what all these individual components are, and what they do, and also because I’m not fond of some of the specific choices utilized by the Overhaul and there are some annoyances involved in customizing it to your liking. Still, it is an excellent compilation with a very good installer, and I plan on writing more about it in the future (especially some of the troubleshooting I went through trying to get it set up). For now, though, we’re going to mod Morrowind a piece at a time until we have it how we want it.

Now would be a good time to back up your Morrowind folder. Just copy it somewhere so if you make a horrible mess of your installation (or if you decide to use the Overhaul after all), you can just start again from a clean, functioning version of the game. I make backups frequently, with different names such as “Morrowind – Clean Install” or “Morrowind – Step x done” (according to the steps outlined in this blog) and I even include a text file of what exactly I’ve done to them if I feel I’ll be confused later. I wish it hadn’t taken me 12 years to learn how to do this, but that’s why I’m writing this for you, isn’t it?

So! What are we going to do today? I am going to introduce you to the Morrowind Graphics Extender. MGE is a program that can improve Morrowind’s graphics in a number of ways, from simply allowing you to play the game in any resolution, to increasing your view distance via its Distant Land feature, to more advanced enhancements like shaders (basically, lighting effects) and depth of field (like in photography, things get out of focus as they get farther away). These options can add an almost unbelievable amount of realism to Morrowind, but depending on your computer, this may cause the game to slow down to an unplayable crawl. Later on we’ll dig into the more advanced settings of MGE, but for now we are going to use it only for some very basic changes that will help us get the game up and running.

There are two versions of MGE available at the above link: MGE 3.8.0, and the newer, rewritten MGE XE. I used MGE 3.8.0 for many years, but I’ve recently converted to XE, and I’ve seen improvements in both quality and performance. I highly recommend using XE, but I’ll walk you through both to the best of my ability. Try MGE XE first. If it works for you, you can skip the MGE 3.8.0 part, but reading all of the below may help you better understand what we are doing and why.

MGE XE

Download and install DirectX 9.0c June 2010 from here. Download MGE XE and install it in your Morrowind folder (not Data Files— it has to be in the same folder as Morrowind.exe). Open up MGEXEgui.exe (run as admin), and you’ll see a ton of options. Don’t overdo it right now; all we are going to do is set your resolution and your field of view, and set up Distant Land. Later on, I’ll give a much more detailed explanation and you can come back and tweak everything to your liking.

1. Click the Graphics tab if you’re not on it.
2. In the section on the top labeled “Display,” enter your screen resolution and aspect ratio (as of MGE XE 0.9.10, the aspect ratio is automatically calculated).
3. In the section below labeled “Renderer,” click “Auto FOV” (refers to the width of horizontal degrees you can see).
4. Click the Distant Land tab.
5. Check the box in the upper left corner, “Use Distant Land.”
6. Click the button to the right that says “Distant Land Generator Wizard.”
7. Click “Use Current Load Order” and then click Continue. Wait a bit for this to complete.
8. Continue through the rest of the Distant Land wizard and for now just leave everything at default.
9. Exit MGEXEgui.exe (it shouldn’t be open while Morrowind is running; it’s just the settings. MGE XE itself starts and exits along with Morrowind) and check out your freshly updated game.

If everything is working, you’re good to go! If not, you might try troubleshooting or downgrading to MGE 3.8.0. Also if you’re using Steam, Evolve, or any other game tracker with an overlay, make sure all those overlays are turned off!

MGE 3.8.0

Available here (release version) and here (including the latest beta version).

Full documentation is available here (in the .zip file) and detailed installation instructions here. If you have trouble with any of my instructions, those official links may help you solve your problem.

MGE requires some software on your computer in order to run. This includes Microsoft .NET 2.0 (the oldest available for download is 3.5 but that works too) which you can get here. You also need DirectX 9.0c from here. Last, you need Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable, the 2005 version if you’re using an official release of MGE or the 2008 version if you’re using an MGE beta. I recommend installing both Visual C++ packages in case you decide to change to a different version of MGE, so install this one (2005) and then this one (2008). It is perfectly fine to have them both on your computer; just make sure you install the older one first.

MGE comes as a compressed archive, not an installer. After you’ve installed the prerequisites, open the archive and drag everything into your Morrowind folder. MGE will run by itself when you run Morrowind, but to configure it, you will open MGEgui.exe. Open it now (you are running as admin, right?) and click the “Global graphics” tab at the top. Click “Change screen resolution” at the bottom to choose your resolution.

The main menu, stretched to widescreen.

The main menu, stretched to widescreen.

Unlike MGE XE, MGE 3.8.0 doesn’t have a FOV option, so if you’re using a widescreen resolution, there will be some distortion (which we will fix momentarily). Basically, everything is stretched horizontally to accommodate the wider aspect ratio. Mr. Testdunmer doesn’t look so bad, but once you get to the edges of the screen you’ll see a difference. That guard in particular looks like he ate every pot roast in the Empire.

In order to fix this, we need to use an additional program called the Morrowind FPS Optimizer. This program includes several options for further tweaking Morrowind (which we will get into later), but for now we are just going to use it to set the field of view. Install the FPS Optimizer into your Morrowind folder, run it (as admin), uncheck “Novice Mode,” and click on the tab called “Misc/2.” Near the bottom you will see the FOV and resolution settings; enter them here, choosing the same resolution you entered into MGE. As for FOV, 95-100 degrees seems to work well for widescreen monitors, but you can also calculate it here (for this calculator, Morrowind’s old aspect ratio is 4:3 and old FOV is 75).

Now everyone has regained their proper proportions. This does emphasize that Dunmer are some pretty gangly bastards, though.

One final thing you should do with this initial use of MGE is set up the screenshot key (this step is not required for MGE XE). Morrowind has its own screenshot function, but MGE 3.8.0 overrides it. You will have to set up a macro in MGE. From what used to be the MGE wiki:

1. Open MGEgui.exe.
2. Click on the Input tab.
3. Click on Launch Macro Editor.
4. In the Macro Editor, click on the key you want to use. Obviously this should be a key that isn’t already used in the game. Also, don’t choose the PrintScreen key (doing so will work, but Morrowind will display an irritating error message every time you take a screenshot).
5. At the bottom left of the Macro Editor, open the upper drop-down menu labeled Macro type and select “Function”.
6. Open the lower drop-down menu labeled Function and select “Take screenshot”.
7. Click “Save”. The key you selected should now be displayed in green.
8. Close MGEgui, start Morrowind, and see if the feature works. Sreenshots will be saved with the name “MGE screenshot” (plus a number) in the Morrowind directory.
Note: You can select the screen shot format in the Render State tab.

Like it says, don’t use Print Screen since this will cause the “Screenshot not enabled blahblah” message to pop up, and if you’re taking a lot of screenshots quickly, that message box will be visible in the subsequent ones.

Don’t worry about things like Distant Land at this time. Remember all we’re trying to do is get everything to the right resolution and aspect ratio. Which, I have to say, is a LOT easier if you’re using MGE XE.

Continue to Part 3, in which we patch the .exe to fix issues that addons can’t touch.

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