Archive for August, 2012


And no sooner did I post that last bit than my spankin’ new OS blue-screened and died with a fried motherboard. It could be a PSU issue (I hope not or the replacement mo-bo will fry, too), or it could be just the motherboard. I’m tending toward the latter explanation as I’d been experiencing occasional black-screen graphics glitches of a second or two for a few days. Since the cards are in SLI, if only one was having problems, I’d expect to get weird frame rate problems and it’s highly unlikely that both would be having simultaneous problems. That leaves me with motherboard and/or CPU as the culprit (that and the fact that I can’t even get BIOS to show) and my general rule for the past 15 years or so has been “replace one, replace both”.

While that little issue is getting resolved, I will be offline. Not sure whether being offline is worse than Skyrim withdrawal, but both suck balls. In the meantime, it’s bang-for-the-buck time again. RAM is cheap, but a good MoBo/CPU combo that will deliver on the horsepower (and support SLI) without breaking the bank is a high priority.

I finally decided that I could not put it off any longer and upgraded my OS to Win7 64-bit. I’m still iffy on the Win8 upgrade in October. Y’all know the rule: never adopt a Microsoft OS until SP1 is released. The question is whether the $40 upgrade (maybe free upgrade since I went with Win7 first) is worth the hassle. It shouldn’t be as painful as the Vista to Win7 upgrade, but still… New OS with the usual bunch of post-release bugs and glitches, uncertain compatibility with the applications (games) that I’m currently using… It bears serious consideration and I’m leaning toward “not” mainly for that reason.

For those who were unaware, upgrading from a 32-bit OS to a 64-bit OS means that you get access to heaps more memory, but can’t keep your programs, so everything must be reinstalled. You do get to keep your data files, provided you back them up to something that won’t get messed with during the upgrade (non-system partition or external disk, for example), but apps (and drivers) must be reinstalled. Shouldn’t be an issue with a Win8 upgrade, but compatibility still bothers me.

The only hiccup that I hit was that Win7 rearranged my drive letters and I didn’t catch it until after I started reinstalling my applications. Oh well… A bit of a pain, but not an insurmountable obstacle. Except for the HDD data transfer rate (which is kind of tied to the cheap drives I installed a year or two ago), my system performance is now significantly better. If the “Windows Experience” index is any kind of an indicator, I jumped from 5.9 to 7.9 just with the OS upgrade. Well, 7.9, not counting the crappy SATA data transfer rate. That’s still at 5.9 and there isn’t much I can do about it without springing for new drives..

Skyrim now runs like a champion. Since I haven’t purchased Dawnguard, I’m not hitting any of the new issues and I’m not likely to hit them anytime soon as vampires are waaaaaay down on my wishlist. By which time the major bugs will (hopefully) have been ironed out. In the meantime, it looks like it’s time to redownload some of my games. I decided that a drive full of games that I wasn’t currently playing was probably not the best way to do things, but I did make backups of all of my non-Steam purchases. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those are the games I’m not playing. Go figure. On that note, it’s back to the bit-mines.

Now that I’ve ironed out all of the system bugs that I could, here’s my mod list:

Having made it from Helgen to Riverwood already,  the darker Realistic Lighting is a bit of a problem at the start of the game since you don’t have access to Light spells, the Night Eye spell or to torches (there is a mod that makes wall sconces lootable, but I didn’t think to install it at the time). I’ll live with it for now and see how it goes. It really does improve the atmosphere of the game, though. I’ll need to rethink a lot of my playstyle, and I do not believe that anyone has solved the problem of lighting affecting your visual detection ability, but not NPCs. They say that they’re working on it, though.

{UPDATE}I ditched the Arrowsmith mod in favor of the Lost Art of the Blacksmith mod by Impulseve (http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/1020). In rethinking things, I believe I can also add Val’s Crafting Meltdown back in without much conflict since it affects smelters and tanning racks rather than forges, grindstones and workbenches. We’ll give it a shot and see how it goes.

{UPDATE 2}The darker nights with Realistic Lighting were just too much for my eyeballs. I’m trying not to fast-travel and found myself doing the “run a bit, cast Candlelight, run a bit more, cast Candlelight, run a bit more, cast Candlelight,…” routine. Alteration is improving nicely, but my eyeballs are bleeding from the strain. So I ended up turning on the darkening in dungeons only. I’m sorely disappointed with Bethesda on the day/night cycle. In a far northern climate, we should be seeing very long periods of twilight and it’s not really happening, in spite of the mod, so I’ll have to go with the lighter nights and settle for darker interiors.

Having done all of the preparation, hardware checking, .ini tweaking and whatnot that I could think of, I started off with Episode 1 of Gopher’s “Skyrim Mod Sanctuary” series. His is not the only series of vids spotlighting Skyrim mods. There are many, many others, each with a slightly different approach and each with slightly different tastes regarding what constitutes a good mod. There are, for example:

Gopher’s tastes in mods are more similar to mine, so my emphasis on his series is more of a reflection of that similarity than any disagreements with the others. We do not see eye-to-eye on a few things. For example, I am not a big fan of mods that add cinematic visual effects, so where he finds the addition of lens flare effects to sun glare to be really cool, it doesn’t do a thing for me and I’d just as soon do without.

With that in mind, it occurred to me that mods fall into a few major categories. There are mods and add-ins that were released before the Creation Kit and those that were released afterward. There are also mods that started off as great ideas and then were abandoned/neglected (hey, modders have lives, contrary to popular belief), mods whose functions were incorporated into official patches, mods that have grown beyond their original functionality into other areas of the game, and so forth. Keeping this in mind, the first 14 or 15 of Gopher’s vids deal with pre-CK mods, so here’s a quick rundown of the episode in which they were featured and their current status:

  • Part 1 – Nexus Mod Manager – still out there, new functionalities added, still supported, and pretty much “must have” if you want to mod the game.
  • Part 2 – Thanks for the Memory – not horribly useful. He first showcase is the 4GB launcher and a mod to allow key remapping, both of which have been incorporated into one of the later patches. To be fair, he has updated the vid to reflect this, however the Large Address Aware functionality isn’t horribly helpful to those of us running on 32-bit OSs since Windows will NOT let you have access to all of your RAM. 3.1GB is going to be pretty much the limit unless you upgrade to a 64-bit OS and meet a few motherboard/chipset requirements.
  • Part 3 – Performance – again, not horribly useful. The Simple Borderless Window mod is still out there, but isn’t terribly helpful from a performance standpoint on my rig. It has not been updated since late March, so may have problems with current patches.
  • Part 4 – Shades of Skyrim – the Skyrim Enhanced Shaders mod is still out there and still being supported (http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/822). This one is very much a matter of personal taste. There are lots of other mods doing essentially the same thing. I didn’t care for it much because of the performance hit, but might change that opinion once I do some (more) upgrading of my rig in the future. The FXAA Post Process Injector is no longer available, although I liked it and used it extensively after its release.
  • Part 5 – Dragon Armor – both mods are still available. Be careful with them as they might (will probably) conflict with other crafting mods.
  • Part 6 – Face of War – A couple of the mods do not appear to be available anymore, probably because they were incorporated into Xenius’ Character Enhancement pack. This pack has not been updated since mid-March. Val’s Crafting Meltdown is still available. I’ve used it since its release and have found it incredibly useful, if a bit overpowered with regard to advancing your Smithing skill. I’m currently using a couple of other crafting mods, but will likely go back to it after I’ve had my fun (yeah, I’m a bit of a slut puppy when it comes to mod loyalty). The Weapon Retexture Project is still up, but has not been updated since mid-February.
  • Part 7 – Sky UI (Skyrim User Interface) – SKSE and SkyUI are still very much alive, very much being supported and (in my opinion, at least) very much “must have” mods, especially SKSE since so many other mods rely on it.
  • Part 8 – Night Walker – Nightingale Prime is no longer available, which majorly bums me out as there aren’t any other really good retextures of the Nightingale armor. There are lots of other retextures out there, but they’re way too flashy and colorful for what is supposed to be sneaky armor. The Night-Eye Illusion Spell mod is still up. The author never resolved the problem of its use having no impact on your Illusion skill, so has not been updated since mid-December 2011. I might recommend, instead, the Night-Eye Overhaul mod by BigFuzzyBear (http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/16615) as being more in line with what the first mod had in mind.
  • Part 9 – Acceleration Layer – unavailable. The TESV Acceleration Layer removed a CPU bottleneck, apparently the result of an unoptimized compile of the game’s executable. To borrow from a post on the Bethesda forums, “Unplayability built into the PS3 version? Check. PC users got their kludgy interface and crapified code? Check. Are we pretty sure that everyone will have something to bitch about? Alright, folks, we’re going gold." This problem was addressed in an earlier patch (1.4 or so), so TESVAL doesn’t serve a useful purpose anymore. To give appropriate credit to its author, I used it from the time of its release and had zero issues. If I hadn’t been paying attention to my existing mods when I reinstalled Skyrim, I’d have probably just dropped it back into the game without thinking about it. This was the mod that made me go back and check the rest of Gopher’s spotlights.
  • Part 10 – Script Dragon, SkyBoost & More – Some yes, some no. A Quality World Map with Roads is still up. I’ve been using it since release and absolutely love it. Categorized Favorites Menu is also still up, still supported, and among my “must have” mods. Once you use it, you’ll wonder how you ever played without it. Extra Hotkeys is up, but I opted for More Hotkeys Please, which is spotlighted in a post-CK episode. SkyBoost and Script Dragon have not been updated since the 1.4 patch, so will not work with a currently-patched game. SkyBoost took a different approach than TESVAL to the CPU bottleneck problem, so would be irrelevant now, anyway. Script Dragon fulfilled pretty much the same function as SKSE, but was not widely adopted in the modding community.
  • Part 11 – Darkness Rises – the Realistic Water Textures mod is no longer being supported by the original author, but its functionality has been incorporated into the W.A.T.E.R. mod (http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/13268). Realistic Lighting without Post Processing is no longer up. It has been picked up as part of Realistic Lighting with Customization (http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/7654) and included in Superb ENB-RL mod(http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/11318), both of which are up and supported.
  • Part 12 – I, Assassin – all four mods are still up and supported. I’ve been using JaySuS since its release and absolutely love it. The Arrowsmith mod conflicts a bit with other crafting mods, so you’ll need to choose which mod you want to use, but it’s well worth using. The others are now in my load order, but I can’t report on them since I’m busy writing instead of playing. Bad me.
  • Part 13 – It’s a Kind of Magic – all of the mods are still up.
    • I’ve been using Balanced Magic since release, but haven’t used its full capabilities since I have not been playing mage characters recently. It has not been updated since mid-December, but I can’t see any reason why it would need updating since it does exactly what it set out to do.
    • Mage-Friendly Dragon Priest Masks was last updated at the end of December. Again, as it did what it set out to do, I can’t think of any reason why it would need to be updated.
    • Warmer Magic Lights was last updated in early January. Getting to the file from the Downloads button was a major problem. It appears that this is due to a problem with the Nexus, but it’s downloadable with NMM if you can’t get the Files page to load. You can only get the optional files from the Files page, though.
    • Staff of Magnus Improved and Staff of Magnus Absorb are still pretty much the original mods. Since both of them were mods aimed at one specific fix, there hasn’t been a need for any updates.
    • Deadly Spell Impacts is a retex and was last updated in May.
    • Midas Magic has not been updated since February, so I suspect that the author has done all that he wanted to do.
  • Part 14 – A Wonderful World – all mods still up and being supported. I would not recommend the 2K Textures unless you are on a 64-bit system and have at least 4GB of RAM available for Skyrim. For the LITE versions, I’ve only been able to get the interior textures to work on my 32-bit system. Exteriors are too big of a strain. I’m going to try a bit more tweaking, but suspect that hi-res eye-candy will mostly have to wait on a system upgrade.
  • Part 15 – Deadly Dragons and PISE – PISE is now being supported under a new mod series called ASIS (http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/18436) by the same author, but I believe you’ll need the last version of PISE. Deadly Dragons is still up and being supported.

Once the Creation Kit was released, the consistency of the mod files became much better, so the abandonment of a mod project would be more likely the result of the modder achieving what they set out to do, getting a real life (it happens), or something other than hitting a wall with game files that they didn’t have the tools to work with. It’s also the point where anyone who wanted to make a mod would pretty much have the ability to do so. This is also the point at which a lot of poorer quality mods started hitting the Nexus and players really do need someone to preview and tell them “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here for this mod stinketh”.

With all of that in mind, I’ve loaded up my mods and have the game running pretty much as well as it will. I’ve got one more tweak to play with in the hope of getting some of those exterior hi-res textures to work and then I’m playing Skyrim.

{Edit}The tweak was to keep my existing “High” settings, add the 2K Texture Packs back in, but scale back three individual settings in Skyrim.ini:

  • uGridsToLoad from 7 to 5 (it must be an odd number, but gets hinky past 7 except on very high-end rigs)
  • uExterior Cell Buffer from 64 to 36 (the formula is (uGridsToLoad + 1)^2)
  • uInterior Cell Buffer from 32 to 18 (the formula is (uExterior Cell Buffer/2))

The idea was to keep it from loading in so many cells with the hig-res textures. It worked better than I had hoped, but was ultimately a fail. Your mileage may vary, though, so it’s worth trying. Starting a new game, I was able to get from Helgen to Riverwood without pushing memory usage very much over 1GB, but it put a noticeable hit on my frame rate and it finally tanked in Gerdur’s house. Oh well, no hi-res eye-candy for me. Bummer. I’ll put the settings back and run with vanilla textures. {/Edit}

After returning from the depths of my RAM checking, I can’t find anything wrong with it. Every test that I run, whether in Windows, DOS, or even Linux comes back clean. The only thing left untested are my hard drives and they’re less than a year old, I keep them scrupulously defragged and optimized (well, my game drive, anyway) and they’re not causing problems for any other applications, so I’m doubtful that they are the culprit(s). But, in the name of SCIENCE! (still got the Big Mountain thing going) and for the sake of completeness, I cleaned ‘em up and defragged/optimized all of them. So here we go with my specs:

  • Quad-core processor at 3.4GHz and 4GB RAM (that will probably change in a couple of months)
  • Two GTX 550 Ti video cards (SLI enabled in the nVidia control panel)
  • Windows Vista (on C:\), completely patched and up-to-date
  • Skyrim (on D:\ – a separate physical drive, not a logical partition), removed all mods, cleanly uninstalled the game, everything remaining deleted from the \skyrim directory, redownloaded, reinstalled, repatched, and with a fresh copy of SKSE. If that doesn’t bring me back to a completely vanilla game, I don’t know what will.

With that setup, and in theory, I should be able to run everything at High with decent frame rates, so that’s the option I took from the Launcher. I already had a profile set up in the nVidia control panel, based on GeForce.com’s recommended tweaks, so I left that alone.

Starting from the default .ini settings for “High” and running around in Whiterun, I stayed as close to 60FPS as makes no difference. When standing at the top of the steps of Dragonsreach and looking at the tree, my frame rate drops to around 47FPS during the day and a bit above 50FPS at night. So with those numbers as my starting point, I added the .ini tweaks recommended by Geforce.com.

I found one additional suggestion that made a perverse sort of sense regarding VSync: turn it off in the game and force it on with the nVidia control panel. In other words, control it at a software layer that’s lower than the game. It seemed a reasonable enough suggestion, so I went with it. To do this, open Skyrim.ini (Documents\My Games\Skyrim\) and add iPresentInterval=0 at the end of the [Display] section.

From there, I also went with tweaks from the Skyrim Enthusiast Tweak Guide (http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/1387) that had not already been done earlier. I scaled back a little from a few of the Ultra settings, but made most of the adjustments he recommended.

The net result, and my new benchmark for anything I add later, is that the daytime frame rate while looking down at the tree dropped to a consistent 30-33FPS, but everything else stayed at or near 60FPS. There is just something about that tree area that puts a massive hit on performance. I ran around outside Whiterun for a while and got 58-60FPS in exterior locations until a group of wandering bandits played smackdown on my little Level 1 character. Since I’m dipping a bit below 60 FPS (the max for my monitor), my best guess is that I’m running pretty close to the maximum settings the rest of my hardware will support.

Let’s go add some mods. I’m going to follow along with Gopher’s series, but need to keep in mind that he started it right after the game came out and the Creation Kit wasn’t released until almost three months later. Consequently, many of those mods will probably be a bit outdated by now. For example, many of the features of Headbomb’s Better Sorting mod were incorporated into SkyUI, so having both would likely be redundant by this point (in spite of my having used both from the outset). So let’s get the browser open and head off to the Nexus. Lock’n’Load.

After finishing my latest jaunt into the Mojave, and being very impressed with Gopher’s vids on modding FONV, I thought that perhaps returning to Skyrim might be in order. Since I’m not planning on taking on Dawnguard until it seriously goes on sale or something, I’m mainly interested in the eye-candy and gameplay enhancements.

If anyone would like to take a gander at Gopher’s “Skyrim Mod Sanctuary” series (he’s currently up to about #40 or so), go here for the full list.

My first concern was the HiRes Texture Pack that Bethesda released a few months ago. Although I met the system requirements if two 500MB graphics cards in SLI equaled one 1GB graphics card, I finally broke down and just bought a 1GB card (GeForce GTX 550 Ti). Actually, I bought two, but the second one had to wait on a new PSU (went from 600W to 850W to accommodate the load of the second card).

The game still locked up and died before I could get a saved game loaded, so I started investigating memory. Everything I read on the Bethesda forums assured me that Skyrim was now Large Address Aware (it can use more than 2GB of RAM). I started wondering just how much memory Skyrim was using, so I downloaded Elys’ MemInfo mod (http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/2006) to check things out. If my graphics cards were capable of handling the load and my CPU/RAM was capable of handling the load, and my drives were capable of handling the load, then the sucky frame rate had to come from somewhere. My first line of investigation had to be RAM usage.

I also wanted to start from a relatively clean slate, so I uninstalled all of my mods except:

Most of these are mods are relatively old and were aimed at a few gameplay features lacking in the vanilla release rather than improving appearance, so I’m pretty sure that any performance hit is minimal and I also know that they’re stable. In light of my new cards, I’m going to make a few tweaks from the Skyrim Enthusiast’s Tweak Guide (http://skyrim.nexusmods.com/mods/1387). The basic premise is that more powerful graphics processing, running at fairly cheesy resolution (my monitor will only support up to 1440×900 at 60Hz) ought to give me more oomph at that cheesy resolution.

My benchmarking location is at the top of the steps in front of Dragonsreach, looking at the tree:

2012-08-15_00001

At this location with only those installed mods, I take the biggest FPS hit (remember, my monitor caps me at 60FPS).

Just to be sure of cleanliness, I deleted both the Skyrim.ini and SkyrimPrefs.ini files from my save folder. The game will generate new ones based on Skyrim_default.ini, which is located in the same folder with TESV.exe. I also got rid of all of my saved games and will endure that stupid cart ride at the beginning of the game for the sake of SCIENCE! (oops! Obviously spent too much time at Big Mountain over the past few days). So, my goal is to get from Helgen to Dragonsreach, save the game, then start tweaking and checking at the area that has the biggest performance hit. One item of note is that daytime FPS is about 4-5 FPS lower than night. I’m not sure why other than draw distances and shaders.

So Item #1: High Resolution Texture Pack DLC from Bethesda. System Requirements:

  • Quad-Core processor (check – mine is a Phenom II 965 at 3.4GHz – a bit dated, but solid)
  • 4GB System RAM (check – actually have 6 [long story], but because my OS is 32-bit, it only uses 4)
  • DirectX 9c compatible graphics card (check – got two of ‘em, actually)
  • GeForce GTX 260 or better (check – GTX 550’s)

Result? At “Low” settings, I got a fairly consistent 30-35FPS all of the way from Helgen, through Riverwood to Whiterun and Dragonsreach. At my benchmark point, I was pegging 33FPS. The best I got was in Riverwood interiors, where I inched above 40. At “Medium” settings, the game just crashes, as it does at “High” and I’m not even going to attempt “Ultra”. The short version is that the packs put too big of a hit on my performance to keep. I’ll stuff them away in storage somewhere and haul them out again when I do a MoBo/CPU/RAM upgrade in a few months and switch to a 64-bit OS.

Without the HiRes Texture Packs, I get about 40FPS at my benchmark point at night on “Low” settings. On “Medium” settings, I actually gained 10FPS. I have no idea why, but I can’t ignore a counter that fluctuates between 49 and 51 FPS on Medium and 38-41FPS on “Low”. It’s counter-intuitive, but there it is. On “High” settings, I lost 4 to 5 FPS and hovered around 45FPS. Memory usage remained fairly constant at 650 to 750MB, regardless of Low/Medium/High. The texture packs wouldn’t use less than 1GB of RAM, except at “Low” settings, so I’m pretty much convinced that I have a RAM problem of some kind.

At this point I’m not sure that I have the patience or the wherewithal to track down that problem, but I’m going to give it a shot. And on that note, I’ll be offline whilst I go digging around in the inner recesses of my RAM. Peace out!

A bit less than a year ago, I commented that I was not going to review the Lonesome Road DLC for Fallout: New Vegas under the idea that if I can’t say anything nice, then I wouldn’t say anything at all. I think I will stick to that idea, especially since it has been almost a year since its release. But (there’s always a “but…” isn’t there?) it’s kind of hard to talk about a new play-through without talking about the DLC that you’re playing through. So, for whatever it’s worth, here is my report on my Lonesome Road play-through. And, because it has been almost a year since the release of the last DLC, I’m not going to worry about whether anything that I have to say will spoil it for anyone.

I started my play-through several days ago with the boatload of mods I talked about in an earlier post. Except for “New Vegas Bounties”, I did not add any quest mods to the game. For the most part, everything was cosmetic, although the addition of several perks by Project Nevada, additional weapon mods and things like that might qualify as a bit more than cosmetic.

I followed the main quest from Goodsprings, through Primm and Nipton (bypassing Novac aside from a bit of trading and couple of hands of Caravan), to the Khans in Boulder City and then to the Strip so I could check out the Lucky 38 mod. I picked up ED-E and Veronica along the way, did a few quests for the NCR for caps and experience, and launched into the DLCs as soon as I felt I was ready.

If memory serves, Dead Money was recommended for Level 20 and above. I started it at Level 14 or 15. I’m still less than thrilled with the almost complete reliance on saved games to get through the Vault area of the Sierra Madre. You know: save, go left, blow up, reload, go right, blow up, reload, go straight and maybe make it to another safe point, or maybe blow up since you were supposed to go straight and then left – detonating collars was an interesting idea, but suffered from sucky implementation in this area. Worked pretty well in the rest of it, though. Barter was a bit tedious, but since these guys haven’t got the news about caps, it’s understandable.  A bit frustrating at times, but understandable. I left everyone alive at the end (Christine, Dean, God [failed the Speech check] and Elijah), absconded with all 37 gold bars and had quite the merry time of it. It’s still the second-best DLC of the bunch.

After finishing Dead Money, I ran through Honest Hearts. Zion is still as gorgeous as it was the first time through. Keith Szarabajka continues to amaze me with how well he voiced Joshua Graham (and, yes, I kept expecting to hear “Assuming control” in the middle of a few shoot-outs). Of all of the DLCs, I think Honest Hearts had the best writing. The writers taking some of the basic Latter-Day Saint beliefs, boiling them down to something understandable, extrapolating them into a post-apocalyptic world and then putting those beliefs into believable opposition with themselves was marvelously well done. Send those folks a six-pack or three. They earned it.

Once back in the Mojave, I immediately launched into Lonesome Road. To be up-front about a few things, the DLC does not play exceptionally well with the Nevada Skies mod. It doesn’t play badly, but the lighting is off. Nighttime brightness isn’t much dimmer than daytime (unlike the Mojave and Zion, which are close to pitch dark). Interiors are both brighter and darker than I would expect. Along about 7pm or 8pm, game time, it’s like someone shuts off the lights. No gradual darkening; just “click” and the lighting suddenly changes. Nevada Skies is a marvelously well done mod, but it just doesn’t work as I would have liked in the Divide.

There are two things about the DLC that I find particularly off-putting. The first is all of the philosophical mumbo-jumbo that Ulysses spouts at various points. I understand the point that he’s trying to make, but his way of reaching it is so far out there that he might as well be pulling it out of his ass. If Honest Hearts had the best writing of the DLCs, Lonesome Road has some of the worst. I’m not going to fault Roger Cross for it. I’m sure that he delivered exactly what was scripted and delivered it according to the sound director’s wants. But he doesn’t quite manage to make a Thanksgiving dinner out of the turkey that was handed to him. His delivery is credible, but credibility only goes so far.

The other off-putting thing is probably my own damned fault. Rather than focus on Ulysses and ED-E’s upgrades, I made it a point to search for journal entries, holotapes, RALPHIE posters and the rest of that nonsense. What should have been a couple of hours of straightforward run-and-gun turned into a couple of days of searching, backtracking, and searching some more. I guess this was the developers’ way of keeping you in the Divide longer than the story required. Serves me right, but shame on them for doing it in the first place. Bad devs. No Cheetos for you.

That leaves me with Old World Blues. I’m currently Level 33, which might be a bit high for the DLC (recommended level is 15-20), but I’ll handicap myself somehow. Or maybe not. OWB is frankly just plain fun in a cheesy sort of way. The writing is hokey (intentionally so), the voicing is so over-the-top melodramatic as to be comical (also intended, unless I miss my guess), but it’s the best of the four, so I saved it for last. Off to the Big Empty I go.

An early start this morning took me through a monthly Microsoft ritual: problem-reporting. Somewhere back around Windows 2000 or so, Microsoft decided to start gathering data on things that crashed and burned. Ostensibly, the data was to be used to figure out why and fix those problems. I assume this is true, although I have nothing other than Microsoft’s word on it. Initially, this was done through a little pop-up that came after something crashed. So Windows 2000 asked to gather and send data when something from Microsoft crashed and you could either decide to send or not send that information. Windows XP let you send reports when non-Windows applications crashed and you occasionally got a “click here for more info” link with their best guess as to why. Vista (and I assume Windows 7) instituted a monthly problem reporting system in addition and we’ve all probably seen the “Windows is checking for a solution” box after a crash.

The funny (or dismal) part about all of it is that in a dozen years or so, I’ve only got one workable solution out of Microsoft. At one point about ten or twelve years ago, Windows came back and said something like, “This problem looks a lot like bad memory. Here’s a link to a little RAM-checking utility that might help.” As it turned out, one of my DRAM sticks wasn’t firing on all cylinders, so I replaced it and that particular series of crashes went away.

For the remainder of those years, Microsoft has collected a helluvalot of data from me on crashes and hasn’t provided anything useful. My favorite solution was to install patches that I had already installed. Their version checking utility is about as useless as teats on a boar hog. Doubly so on Steam and GFWL games which force patches downstream either automatically (Steam) or by not letting you play until you patch (GFWL).

This month’s batch? 335 crashes. Some were related to installing new nVidia drivers. This issue is one where I know the cause of the problem. Completely removing old graphics drivers is like pulling teeth – very painful and it involves a lot of screaming. Eventually I got them out, got the new drivers in and that problem went away.

There was also a series of crashes for Fallout: New Vegas (see my previous post about the boatload of new mods I installed) and I have very strong suspicions on those since the process involved a lot of tweaking and checking to see if anything crashed. When (not “if”) it did, retweak and recheck and eventually it becomes semi-stable. I still expect FONV to crash crashing periodically, but I’ve managed to reduce the frequency to once per few hours. Microsoft’s response? “Windows has found no solutions. Check again later.” Until next month, then.

It frankly doesn’t take much to send me back into the game archives. This summer has been a particularly dry one, both in terms of the weather and in terms of gaming. Nothing horribly exciting has been released. I was kind of looking forward to the release of Baldur’s Gate, which had a “Summer” release window, but September 18th only qualifies as summer in terms of solstices and equinoxes. Dawnguard for PC finally released, but vampires aren’t my thing (got my fill of them in Daggerfall), so that barely even blipped on the radar. That left only the archives.

I started a new run-through of Fallout: New Vegas after watching a very good series of YouTube vids by Gopher. Surprisingly enough, aside from a few dinky mods and the official DLCs, I never really added much to New Vegas. I had a few minor gripes about the vanilla game, but all in all, it kept me pretty well occupied for close to 700 hours (despite being completely unimpressed with “Lonesome Road”) without feeling the need to bring in much from the modding community.

I stumbled across Gopher’s series and realized that I had been missing out on a lot, so added a several new mods into my game. I already had NVSE, DarN’s UI, New Vegas Bounties, and a couple of minor character retex/reskin mods, but that was about the extent of it. Considering the number of mods I added to Fallout and Oblivion, the paucity of installed mods for New Vegas is a testament to how well the developers did with the vanilla game. The paucity of my Skyrim mods is more of a testament to the suckiness of my current hardware, though. Being six or seven series behind the current-gen nVidia graphics cards means I run Skyrim at reasonable framerates only by playing straight vanilla at moderate to low settings.

Anyway, Gopher convinced me that I was missing out on a lot, so off to the Nexus I went, spent a lot of time downloading, installing, reordering, tweaking and was finally off and running. I added several of the mods he showcased (I ran with Poco Bueno rather than Ojo Bueno for performance reasons) and started a new game with a new character and was completely blown away by how great the game looks/feels now.

I was completely unable to install any of Gopher’s Advanced Recon mods (link goes to the Stealth Armor mod, but the page has links to the rest) due to the NMM throwing out security exceptions left and right. I suspect that this is something related to my system rather than to the mods themselves. I might also caution that I got the same security exception when installing Project Nevada. It apparently needs to be activated BEFORE DarN’s UI is activated. Beyond that, most of the mods Gopher talks about installed quickly and painlessly. One fly in the ointment (more of an annoyance than a problem) was the Lucky 38 Suite Reloaded mod by Kospy. The mod is a bit overboard, but I couldn’t pass up the ability to have the suite sort my stuff. The issue is that Project Nevada’s sorting capabilities haven’t been picked up by many of the other mods, so quite a bit of manual sorting has to be done for a lot of add-ins (including GRA and the pre-order packs). Aside from that, the mods Gopher talks about install and run cleanly with only minor issues and none that affect the game itself.

If anyone doesn’t already have New Vegas, all of the major digital distributors (Steam, GameStop, and GameFly [Origin doesn’t distribute it]) are charging $30 for the vanilla game, the four DLCs and a couple of the equipment add-ons (Gun Runner’s Arsenal and Courier’s Stash). Considering that I forked out more than three times that for the same content, it’s not a bad deal for a two-year-old game. So enough of the whys and wherefors. The siren-song of the Mojave (especially with all of the new eye-candy) is well nigh irresistable. Perhaps a few posts on my progress will be warranted, but only time will tell.