Special K at its core is a framework that allows various adjustments and tweaks to be applied to a multitude of supported games. In general the tool attempts to find a generic approach to solving common issues and enabling unique features for its users.
The framework traces its origin back to 2015 and attempts to fix and improve the state of Batman: Arkham Knight, Fallout 4, and Tales of Zestiria. Over the years Special K have introduced a number of improvements and fixes for both less known games as well as extremely popular ones, and are often most known for its work on titles such as the Tales of series of games between 2015 and 2017, NieR: Automata in 2017, or Monster Hunter: World in 2018.
In 2018 the framework innovated a general-purpose method of “retrofitting” HDR support for existing Direct3D 11-based SDR games in Windows, a feature that has since continued to evolve and in 2020 was updated to support most D3D11 and D3D12 based games compatible with flip model presentation, including some emulators such as Dolphin and PCSX2.
Special K has a varied and diverse featureset with these being some of its major features:
- Custom frame limiter that can improve the frame pacing and alleviate stutters in many games.
- HDR retrofit support in DirectX 11/12 and OpenGL games.
- Enhanced borderless window mode in DirectX 11 games through the use of flip model presentation.
- Texture cache for DirectX 11 games to minimize the impact to rendering by the act of streaming textures.
- Texture modding in DirectX 11 games.
- Game-specific features, tweaks, or bug fixes in a few select games (e.g. NieR: Automata).
- Various Steam enhancements such as custom achievement popups or screenshot capture on achievement unlocks.
- Force a custom display mode in games.
Special K can also manipulate games in many various minor ways such as locking the cursor to the game window, disabling gamepad input, disabling specific shaders (DX11 only), and much more.
That’s quite challenging to answer as people use it for all sorts of different reasons. Ultimately they have a need that Special K is capable of fulfilling.
Here is but a few of the more common use cases for Special K:
- Retrofit adjustable HDR output in DirectX 11/12 and OpenGL games lacking native support, or even replace the native HDR mode with Special K’s adjustable one
- Tear-free no-sync (Latent Sync)
- Force different window modes, styles, positions, or even to always stay on top
- Force modern flip model presentation in window modes, achieving the lowest latency and highest performance possible, and even enabling screen tearing in window modes
- Use a temporary resolution while playing a game, or otherwise force/limit the resolution exposed to the game
- Cap the frame rate and ensure one of the best frame pacing available
- Use Nvidia Reflex in unsupported games
- Cache textures in VRAM (DirectX 11 only) to minimize I/O bottlenecks
- Mod textures in games (DirectX 9 and 11 only)
- Force custom swapchain settings, potentially minimizing stutters or achieving lower latency
- Capture SDR or HDR screenshots seemlessly, or even without the in-game HUD (DirectX 11 only)
- Hardware and FPS monitoring
- Change volume of specific audio channels, such as muting a broken channel entirely in buggy games
- Load/inject external DLLs such as ReShade or other third-party injection tools
- Enhance Steam achievements with a custom popup with more details, audio unlock effect, and screenshot capture on unlock
- Prevent the game from muting/pausing/minimizing when becoming unfocused
Ultimately people use it for whatever of its toolkit is useful to them. It’s not as if it’s a single-solution/focus tool, so what it is used for comes down to the user.
- Many use it for its top-tier FPS limiter and perfect frame pacing,
- Other for its low-latency borderless mode.
- A few because it allow their siblings/kids to play a game using a controller on one display while they’re using the mouse and keyboard in apps on another display,
- Quite many for the adjustable HDR retrofit it provides; sometimes beating out native modes of games even?!
- And there’s some that just uses Special K to get actual usable in-game overlays for Steam/Epic/Ubisoft during HDR gameplay as those otherwise are miscolored…
- For the few annoyed at high input latency in singleplayer games, the ability to force Nvidia Reflex in games that otherwise does not support it can be a dealbreaker.
- Some communities uses it for texture modding in DirectX 11 games such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
- Occasionally someone uses it to fix a broken channel volume in a game,
- Or maybe just for preventing a game from muting/pausing/minimizing when switching to another application.
- We occasionally get a few that uses it to force exclusive fullscreen mode (a mode we don’t really consider during development any longer), though luckily even more to force a modern borderless window instead (which is functionally identical anyway).
- Apparently there’s a few that just prefers using the desktop frontend/launcher application to launch games because it’s faster than the original clients, and have a huge game cover to boot as well? Huh, TIL.
- The audio and screenshot on Steam achievement unlocks are a fan favorite — we’re as surprised as you that Steam doesn’t have these functionality natively built-in yet.
So people use it for various reasons, and even though one of the features we consider the main ones might not be of interest to all, there is probably some feature or another in the toolkit that a user might end up appreciating and make use of.
What approach you use to inject Special K into a game depends mostly on your own preference and whether that is compatible with the game or not. Try your preferred approach based on your needs, and if that does not work try the alternate method.
||Global (system-wide) (recommended)
||+ Easier installation and setup
+ Generally better compatibility
+ Supports delayed injecting into already running games
+ No additional files needed in game folder as a central
folder is used for all configuration and logs
|+ Automatic injection on game launch
+ No reliance on the SKIF app
+ Easy to use a specific version of SK per game
||- Game must be launched from the SKIF app
||- Requires some extra steps setting up
- Might have lower compatibility with some games
This is a challenge to answer — in parts because of how Special K’s development sees it jump from game to game on the constant road forward. While a specific game might’ve been fully supported by Special K in the past, a change introduced in a later version as a result of another game might’ve broken that support. That said, new features and changes eventually tend to reach some form of general stability after some 6 months of development or so, at which point most of the glaring issues have been ironed out.
In general the following applies:
- Check the List of games compatible with Special K over on PCGamingWiki to see if a specific version is confirmed working for the title.
- Test the latest version of Special K.
- If you aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty, test older versions of Special K as well.
Not by itself, however Special K can be combined with dgVoodoo 2 to convert the DirectX 9 game into DirectX 11, which might just allow Special K to retrofit HDR into it.
See Enable HDR Retrofit for DirectX 9 games for more information.
- Visual C++ 2015-2022 Redistributables (both 32-bit and 64-bit)
|System memory (RAM)
|Hard disk drive (HDD)
|Video card (GPU)
||DirectX 9 compatible
||DirectX 11 compatible