Archive for the ‘Hints and Tips’ Category

My memory being what it is, this is mostly a “what the hell was I doing and why was I doing it?” kind of post so that I won’t have to reinvent the wheel the next time I need to do this.

Hjorn, my last character in Skyrim, has done all of the major stuff, is sitting at about Level 67, and feels the need to retire from active adventuring. Contemplating the lint in his navel is not his style, but decimating the ranks of the Thalmor and Dawnguard (he cured his vampirism, but the memo apparently has not made it down to the rank-and-file) is getting pretty old. So I’m firing up New Vegas again for a while. Somewhere in the intervening time, my game got borked pretty good and wouldn’t even launch.

While I could fire up FNVEdit and figure out which missing master was actually missing and run through the whole troubleshooting process, I decided to just do a completely fresh download and reinstall. But since I likely won’t remember precisely what I did, the order in which I did it or why I did it, I’m writing it down for future reference.

What follows is a step-by-step. By the end of it all, New Vegas was running like a champ, looked pretty damned good, and had a mess of new things that I hadn’t done before. Except for the first few things (I marked them with bold exclamation marks), which are pretty much required for a stable game, this isn’t even a “recommended” mod list. Most of it is just stuff that I hadn’t used before, but which looked interesting enough to give it a go.

1. !!!! Cleared out everything in the [\Fallout New Vegas] and in the [\My Games\FalloutNV] folders. Saved a backup copy of Fallout.ini and FalloutPrefs.ini for reference (just changed the file extension to .bkup or somesuch). Downloaded and installed the game and DLCs through Steam. Launched to the main menu to make sure everything was running OK, let it detect my hardware, and generate fresh .ini files. I think my graphics card is newer than my last saved game.

2. !!!! Downloaded and installed the latest beta release of NVSE ( and the 4GB patch (link is farther down the page at NVSE). Launched game to insure both were working. I’m normally a bit leery of alphas and betas of these kinds of things, but NVSE is pretty mature by this point in time.

3. !!!! Grabbed the latest version of FNVEdit ( and cleaned the DLCs.

4. !!!! Ran BOSS, only to find out that Gun Runner’s Arsenal also needed to be cleaned, too. Like I said, “memory being what it is…”

5. Downloaded DarNified UI NV ( and added file with NMM. Edited both Fallout.ini and FalloutPrefs.ini t0 include changes to the [Fonts] section (forum instructions were not real clear on which .ini). Launched the game to make sure it was working properly.

6. Downloaded and installed Mod Configuration Menu ( with NMM.

7. Downloaded and installed the Weapon Mod Menu ( with NMM.

8. Downloaded and installed NMC’s Texture Packs (Large) ( with NMM. Probably overkill since my monitor is only 1440×900 and differences between Large and Medium are likely unnoticeable, but my card can handle it, so why worry?

9. Downloaded and installed the Type 3 body and armor replacer ( The Beware of Girl mod ( also uses Type 3 and, I think, is a little nicer, but only install the armors from the first mod if using the second mod. Also Type 3 armor and clothing fixes for the various DLCs:

10. Downloaded and installed Cipscis’ Save Manager (CASM) and turned off all of the autosave functions in the gameplay options. CASM for New Vegas comes in two flavors: MCM and non-MCM. Went with MCM version ( The MCM implementation is by Gribbelshnibit8, but is otherwise Cipscis’ original.

11. Downloaded and installed Yukichigai’s Unofficial Patch ( Used Mission Mojave on previous play-throughs with little problem. Tried this one instead just for a different approach to the unofficial patch issue.

12. Tried downloading and installing New Vegas Anti-Crash ( It’s an exception-handler in .dll form that goes into the NVSE plugins folder, but the anti-virus had screaming hissy fits when I tried to launch the game and quarantined it. Rather than fight about it, I’ll live without.

13. Downloaded and installed New Vegas Enhanced Content (NVEC) ( Installer is a self-extracting executable, so should not be downloaded with NMM in spite of the button on the mod’s files page.

14. aMidianBorn’s Book of Flesh and Book of Steel (

15. Someguy series ( Required for a few other mods from the same author:

16. Tales from the Burning Sands (

17. New Vegas Interiors Project (

18. Pip-Boy Readius ( Thought about the Pip-Boy 2500 that Gopher is using in his current “Let’s Play,” but decided to give this one a whirl instead. Makes the Pimpboy 3000 fix for female characters a bit useless, but that fix is also part of YUP, so a second reason not to include it.

19. Missing Ammo Recpies ( and Ammo Ingredients as Loot (

20. Roleplayers Alternative Start ( with Tutorial Killer ( Arthmoor’s “Live Another Life” for Skyrim kind of spoiled me.

21. Novac Public Library (

22. Identity Crisis Part 1 ( and Part 2 (

23. Underwater Home ( and Extended Sorters for Underwater Home ( Jagarsfeld mod for Skyrim kind of spoiled me in this regard.

24. !!!! Ran BOSS to sort mods. Some needed to be manually placed as they are still not on the masterlist.txt from the BOSS team.

25. !!!! Generated a merged patch with FNVEdit and made it the last item in my load order with NMM. Only item of interest was that vanilla followers are apparently level-capped at 40. Either hadn’t noticed that before or forgot it (memory being what it is).

Ran through the Goodsprings part of the game. The Tutorial Killer mod couldn’t kill the pop-up for the Lockpicking tutorial at the schoolhouse, but everything else seems to be working well. One of the mods adds a grindstone near the workbench and reloading bench by Chet’s store, but it doesn’t recognize the pre-order Broad Machete as being a blade. Go figure. One of the other mods makes junk cars and trucks in to containers of minor junk items. Victor didn’t spawn in Goodsprings. I’m guessing that’s the Alternate Start mod and he’ll turn up in Novac when I get there.

I’m debating on adding an ENB into the mix, but am much more interested in something that will remove the hazy look of the Mojave. I live in a desert and that kind of haze is only present in the far distance (almost all of the time) or during the windy season. For the rest of the year it’s clear as a bell. Decided to run with Project Reality ( since I had already used Nevada Skies in several prior games. That seems to have taken care of the haze issue, but I added Dynavision 3 ( as I recall it having some rather granular color filters.

The game is solid as a rock after several continuous hours of play, so I’m pretty sure that I’m ready to go lay waste to the wasteland (which strikes me as being somewhat like polluting a sewer, but there you go).

Old news for anyone who hangs around the Elder Scrolls forums, but it appears that those pesky CTDs (crash to desktop) and ILSs (Infinite Loading Screens) are a thing of the past for PC users. Console gamers are stuck with the 1.9 patch in all of its glory.

The short version is that a gamer named Sheson figured out that the cause of most of these problems can be traced back to the way that Skyrim allocates memory for the game to use. The initial allocation of 256MB was supposed to overflow to a second allocation of 256MB. It did that most of the time, but as soon as the first block was completely filled, crash-bang-boom. Sheson’s solution was to allocate additional memory to both stacks, but primarily to the first. *Poof!* Problems go away.

Players have tested this fix in a variety of ways, most notably by spawning hordes of memory-intensive NPCs, cranking up their uGridstoLoad and anything else that almost always guarantees a short gaming session. Almost everyone is reporting vastly improved stability, although cranking up uGrids still has its own set of persistent problems, mainly in the form of scripts that trigger when a cell is loaded. Higher uGrids means earlier loading so stuff that is supposed to happen when you get there, starts happening much earlier, but that’s a different issue.

This fix has been incorporated into the latest build of SKSE (SKyrim Script Extender). The alpha build of v.1.7 has been out for a couple of weeks (I installed it on Jan 29) and can be downloaded from This is still an alpha build, so there might be other issues lurking in the shadows, but the benefits of the memory patch far exceed the perils of added scripting capabilities.

To turn on the memory patch capabilities, users will need to create an skse.ini file as follows:

  1. install SKSE according to the installation instructions
  2. create SKSE.ini in Skyrim\Data\SKSE (New –> Text Document and rename it to SKSE.ini)
  3. add the following lines to the .ini and save it



  4. Run your game

The first line is supposed to clear out any orphaned scripts that might exist in your saved game, so is recommended rather than required. I don’t remove anything except texture mods in the middle of a game and have not suffered from those problems, but it’s not harming anything to have it.

The [Memory] section is required and the values are the minimum recommended. The 768MB is 512MB for the initial heap plus the 256 for the secondary heap. I have not played around with higher values, even though I have plenty of RAM to spare, so can only attest to the fact that those values have worked well for me. Your mileage may vary if you want to use other values.

Gopher put out a new Skyrim Mod Sanctuary showing the problem, the patch and the effects. It’s well worth watching.

Memory Patch


I don’t recommend dumping any alpha onto an existing game (I’m a bit less leery of betas), which is what I did. But I have had zero problems since installing (60+ hours of gameplay). I had one CTD a few minutes after installing, but absolutely no crashes, freezes or any other oddities in the two weeks since. I usually like to point out that anecdotal evidence barely rises to the level of “persuasive”, much less “conclusive”, but this seems pretty solid from the sheer volume of anecdotal evidence on the same effect.

My normal practice in Skyrim is to start a character, play until I either decide to start another one or until I finish whatever it was that I set out to do and then delete the saves and start fresh. I developed this routine because I found that archiving a character to pick up again later was problematic when it came to mods. Which ones did I use with which characters? Or better yet, since I frequently add to those which I used at the beginning of a character, which mods were installed with a particular save? I’ve got a fairly standard base list (the unofficial patches, SkyUI, Better Sorting, JaySuS, retextures and the like), but that doesn’t account for the stuff that I might use with a particular character (Staff of Magnus fixes for a Mage character or a Companions overhaul for a werewolf/warrior type, for example).

I know that Wrye Bash can and does keep track of that kind of thing, but it’s not a tool that I use. There was some of that functionality with Oblivion’s mod managers, but it’s not there in NMM (a tool that I do like). So the simplest path was to just delete saves and start over rather than archive and pick up again later. Yet another reason why I detest that stupid cart ride and trip to the headsman. When you’ve seen it 20 or 30 times, it’s no longer entertaining.

And then a user named Mardoxx over that the Bethsoft forums pointed out that the active plug-in info is stored in the .ess, which can be viewed with Notepad (or Notepad++). Just search the file for .esm and you’ll find them all lumped together. The only downside I can see to this is that you need to know which .esm/.esp files go with which mods. Fortunately, most mod authors are pretty good about naming them as something resembling the mod’s name. For the rest, well, you pays your money, you takes your chances.

While waiting for the “Dragonborn” DLC to hit my hard drive in a couple of weeks, I decided to go fiddle around with Oblivion for a while. I managed to pick up the whole shooting match (Oblivion plus Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine and all of the official DLCs) for a bit more than $10 sometime during the holidays. This saved me the hassle of having to mess with my retail version of Oblivion (plus patch), my digital versions of the two big DLCs and my backup copies of the official DLCs. And who knows? Maybe that retail version with its very own cellophane-wrapped Septim will fetch something on eBay one of these days.  At any rate, I have resolved to install and play for a bit.

Because I never really bothered with modding Oblivion other than the official DLCs and a UI mod, step one was to bring in some of the utilities that I never messed with at the time. I am going to assume that you are using a mod manager of some sort. If you are not, then you are (a) much braver than I am and/or (b) a glutton for punishment.

Oblivion Mod Manager (OBMM) can be downloaded from the Oblivion Nexus, but I find the Nexus Mod Manager to be a bit more flexible as it works with several games. One caution, though. As of v.0.40, I’ve found that NMMs handling of OMOD installation is hinky, at least as far as Oblivion Unofficial Patch mods are concerned. You might be better served by using OBMM until those issues get resolved.

My primary goal with all of this is to get a clean base upon which I can build. Except for lock-up/crash on exit, Oblivion and its official DLCs have been pretty stable for me. The exiting problem can hopefully be fixed with an OBSE plugin called “Fast Exit”. I’m still testing this with my installation, but it looks promising.

  1. BOSS (Better Oblivion Sorting Software) has become an indispensible tool for Skyrim and I regret not using it with New Vegas. My little pea-brain didn’t even consider it for Fallout 3, although BOSS works with it and Morrowind, too. The first thing it identified was the ton of dirty edits in the official DLCs, so off to the cleaners they went.
  2. TES4Edit  checks for conflicts within and between mods. Although it has its own mod page at the Oblivion Nexus, the same program will work for Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, Skyrim, and Oblivion. The only thing that needs to be done is to rename the executable. So I made a copy of my TES5Edit folder, renamed the executable to TES4Edit and went to work:
    1. Launch TES4Edit
    2. Deselect all of the DLCs (you can right-click and choose “Select None”), and reselect the one you want to clean. Click “OK” and let it load.
    3. Right-click on the mod and select “Apply Filter for Cleaning” (might take a bit, depending on how many records need to processed)
    4. Right-click the mod again and select “Remove ‘Identical to Master’ records”. If you’re in the Construction Set and make a change to something, save your work, then go back and change it back to its original setting, the Construction Set sees that as a change to the master file (Oblivion.esm in this case) and includes it as part of the mod. This cleans out all of those junk records. Most mods might have a couple of these “dirty edits”, but some of the official DLCs have a hundred or more of them.
    5. Right-click the mod again and select “Undelete and Disable References”. If you place an object into a mod with the Construction Set and then disable it, rather than delete it, the object still loads. This removes those kinds of objects and references.
    6. Close TES4Edit. If any changes were made to the mod by the cleaning process, you’ll be offered the opportunity to save the mod. TES4Edit defaults to making a backup copy of the uncleaned mod and it’s stored in the \Oblivion\Data\TES4Edit Backups folder. Click OK to save the changes.
    7. Repeat steps 1-6 for each DLC (Shivering Isles was clean as a whistle at the time of installation; the rest were not).
    8. Paranoia on my part – archive all of them. If you ever need to redownload/reinstall, you can simply extract that archive back into your \Data folder and overwrite the dirty DLCs with the clean ones.
  3. Run BOSS again. Hopefully everything is showing clean and ready to go.
  4. OBSE (Oblivion Script Extender) is exactly that – a scripting extender that lets mod authors do things that the Creation Kit won’t let you do. Because my Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine were digital distributions from Direct2Drive, I wasn’t sure whether OBSE would work, so I never bothered using it. FOSE (Fallout Script Extender) definitely didn’t work because of my distribution’s encryption, so New Vegas was the first game were I got to use it and it was one of the reasons why I went back and bought Oblivion and Fallout 3 from Steam. Installation is dirt simple (there is a ReadMe in the .zip, so this is for those who can’t be bothered to read the ReadMe):
    1. If your copy of Oblivion is retail (box with the Oblivion DVD):
      1. Copy obse_1_2_416.dll, obse_editor_1_2.dll, and obse_loader.exe to your Oblivion directory.
      2. Run Oblivion by running obse_loader.exe from the Oblivion directory or by making a shortcut that points to obse_loader.exe.
    2. If your copy of Oblivion is from Steam:
      1. Copy obse_1_2_416.dll, obse_editor_1_2.dll, and obse_steam_loader.dll to your Oblivion directory.
      2. Ensure you have enabled the Steam community in-game, or OBSE will fail to load. Go to Steam –> Settings -> In-Game and check the box marked "Enable Steam Community In-Game".
      3. Launch Oblivion via Steam or by running Oblivion.exe. OBSE will automatically be run along with Oblivion when launched.
  5. Install “Fast Exit” or something similar, especially if you’re on Vista/Win7. The author mentions a couple of other mods that try to accomplish the same thing, so one of the three should work for you.
  6. Launch Oblivion and let it do the hardware detection. Most players using current hardware can set the game to “High” or “Ultra High” with little worry about over-taxing the hardware. But if you’re concerned, let it go with what the game thinks is correct. You can tweak those settings later. You are not yet ready to play, but you do need to generate the .ini files for the game. These are stored in your My Documents folder, usually in “\My Games\Oblivion”. We are most concerned with oblivion.ini, but can deal with all of them in the same way.
    1. Open oblivion.ini in Notepad or some other plain text editor (do not open with a word processor).
    2. Save the file as something else. I usually just tack “original” on the end of the file extension, but anything other than “oblivion.ini” will do the job as long as you know what you’re looking at. The original file is not changed; you’re just making a backup copy of the original settings.
    3. repeat for any other .ini files where you might want to keep a backup of the original settings.
  7. DarnifiedUI. From the outset, Oblivion’s user interface sucked. Clunky, difficult to maneuver, not enough room to see what you needed to see, you name it. It did not rise (or fall) to the level of suckiness of the Mass Effect 3 ending, but calling it “less than ideal” would be paying it a massive compliment. Fortunately, the modding community stepped up to the plate and DarN’s user interface has worked best for me.  It doesn’t require OBSE, either, so if you’re hesistant on that issue, don’t be.

    The mod can be had as an OMOD file, which will work with OBMM, but it probably will not work for you with the Nexus Mod Manager. It has always kicked a script error for me, so I will assume that if you use NMM, you will need to install it manually. Rather than repeat what is easily accessible elsewhere, you can find the manual installation instructions here. Do not forget to edit the fonts in your oblivion.ini or everything could come to naught.
    While you can outright overwrite the initial settings in the .ini file, I find that it is better to insert new values on a new line below the original and to comment out the original. Most (maybe “all”) applications will ignore any line in an .ini file that begins with a semicolon ( ; ), so inserting a semicolon at the beginning of the original line is a good way of reminding yourself of what you changed. That way, if you need to revert to an earlier setting, you know what it was.

  8. Turn on multi-core support. When Oblivion was first released, I was running a single-core processor (AMD Athlon, I think – it’s been a while), so none of these changes were necessary. While Oblivion’s support for multiple processor cores is tepid at best, it’s better to at least let the game know that they are available. Some players have reported performance gains while others have said there were none. Almost everything I have seen on the subject says that these changes at least make the game more stable on multi-core systems, though. All of these go into your oblivion.ini file:


    Again, I’d comment out the original line with a semicolon so that you can revert back to the original values if you need to.

  9. More .ini tweaks. These are just things that I like. Feel free to use them or not.
    1. SIntroSequence – make it blank to skip all of the intro junk without hitting <ESC>
    2. SMainMenuMovieIntro – make it blank to go directly to the main menu
    3. There are lots of performance related tweaks out there. Read through them and use the ones you like. Don’t forget that putting a semicolon in front of the original line will make it easier to see what you changed and revert back if you don’t like it.
      1. UESP Wiki:
      2. TweakGuides for Oblivion:
      3. TESIV:Positive –
  10. Unofficial Patches – as much as I love Bethesda games, they are invariably a bit on the buggy side. Since Morrowind, Bethesda has encouraged the fan community to mod their games, so the modding community has stepped up to the plate with unofficial fixes for the things that Bethesda never got around to fixing. I don’t care which Bethesda game you’re currently playing, if you are on a PC and have not installed the unofficial patch for that game, you’re crippling your game play. None of these installed well with NMM 0.40, so if you’re using NMM, use the “download manually” link rather than the “Download with Manager” button. You’ll get a .7z archive that you can save somewhere and then point NMM to that file to install it.
    1. Unofficial Oblivion Patch – use this regardless of which DLCs you may or may not have, but only if you’re patched to the latest version of the game. Stick it first in your load order (right after oblivion.esm).
    2. Unofficial Shivering Isles Patch – same as UOP. Stick it right after DLCShiveringIsles.esp, but after UOP.
    3. Unofficial Official Mods Patch – includes Knights of the Nine and the other DLCs (like Horse Armor – ahem). Put it the various bits and pieces right after the official .esps that the modify. So you’d put DLCHorseArmor – Unofficial Patch.esp right after DLCHorseArmor.esp, for example.
  11. Knights of the Nine – if you have this DLC (most PC players probably do), I recommend deactivating it at the beginning of the game. I have two reasons for wanting to do this.
    1. The Anvil chapel is going to be nuked as part of the DLC. While the spells, blessings and whatnot are available from other sources, the NPCs with the dialogues that will point you to a particular Master trainer will also get nuked over the course of the quest line. You could probably find this trainer through blind luck (it’s not THAT hard) or by resorting to an outside resource like the UESP Wiki. But getting to it through normal gameplay seems much better. This is just a matter of personal taste, though.
    2. You can complete a pilgrimage to the altars of the Nine Divines that gives you a handy little power in the vanilla game. Although KotN leaves that power alone if you already have it, you cannot get it once KotN is installed and active. I prefer to complete the pilgrimage fairly early in the game to get that power and then activate KotN. Again, it’s a matter of personal taste.
    3. There is a “Knights – Unofficial Patch.esp”, which you’d place right after Knights.esp, but leave both of them unchecked for now.
  12. Run BOSS again – everything should still be kosher, but it never hurts to check.
  13. Run TES4Edit again. Leave all of the official and unofficial stuff selected and let them load. When they are finished, right-click any of the .esps. From the new menu, select “Other” and then “Create Merged Patch”. Name the patch as something you’ll recognize and click “OK”. If all has gone well, this patch will have nothing in it but a file header. If this is the case, then close TES4Edit without saving anything and you’re set. If this is not the case, then there are conflicts between the unofficial patches that need to be resolved before going any farther. Perhaps you grabbed an OMOD version when you should have grabbed the .7z version for NMM or perhaps your load order is just out of whack, but do not do anything else until those conflicts are resolved. Shoving new mods onto an unstable game is just asking for trouble.
  14. Now you’re ready to launch and play for a bit. You’re welcome to play for as long as you want, but the aim of this step is to make sure that your installation is stable. Go run through the Tutorial dungeon and scamper around the countryside. You’re looking for any big exclamation points (which would indicate missing meshes) or weird purple colors (which would indicate missing textures).

    If you don’t see anything along those lines and your game doesn’t lock up or crash within a couple or three hours, you’re probably ready to move on.

The first place that I intend to visit is the Oblivion Nexus. There are other mod site out there, but the Nexus is pretty much one-stop shopping. Once I’ve had a chance to eyeball, ponder and test, then I’ll start organizing my mod list. Keep in mind that Oblivion has a hard limit of 255 mods. My first considerations are going to be texture packs and lighting mods, but we’ll see what else crops up along the way.

Have fun with your installation and we’ll be back once I’ve got some stuff to work with.

I reinstalled Fallout 3 a while back and ran into a “Gotcha!” that prevented the installation from completing. For what it’s worth, here’s the situation and my solution. All I can claim is that it worked on my rig. Your mileage may vary, depending on where you got your game/DLC and in what format.

I purchased Fallout 3 as a digitally distributed version from Direct2Drive (now GameFly). I also purchased all of the DLC as digital distributions, though they are much less of a problem than the game itself. After all of the DLC had been released, I purchased the GOTY edition on optical media, so I’ve got it both ways. I did not purchase from Steam, so Steam users will likely not run into this issue.

Fallout 3 requires Games for Windows Live and it’s installed as part of the basic game installation. However, like Fallout 3, it has gone through a few updates since. The problem is that the 1.7 patch wants an updated version of GFWL or the install will fail. And since the last DLC wants the 1.7 patch, you can’t install it, either.

I used the digitally distributed version of the game rather than messing with no-CD cracks. This might be an issue on the GOTY version, but it’s not likely.

  1. Install Fallout 3
  2. Go get and install the current version of GFWL
  3. Get and install the 1.7 patch (unnecessary if you have the GOTY edition)
  4. Install the DLC

The DLC, if you have them individually, will want to install somewhere other than the game folder. Normally these go into some obscure folder buried deep inside your user profile folders. To find them, just do an advanced search for all .esm files, but makes sure the “hidden files and folders” option is checked. Once found, they can be moved elsewhere for convenience. Each DLC has a couple of .bsa files and an .esm. Broken Steel also has a .bik or two in addition to those.

I prefer to stick the DLC files inside of my Fallout 3\Data folder, but be aware that if you do this you will not be able to get any achievements on GFWL. Since I don’t particularly care about those, moving the DLC to the Data folder was a no-brainer. Just to be safe, make a backup copy of those files (drop ‘em in a .zip or .rar or something) and put them on an external media of some kind so that the next time you need to install, they’ll be accessible.

The school year has begun, which presented a couple of technical issues that drove me batty (not that I wasn’t already mostly there). Prior to upgrading to Win7, I made backups of my data files. Note the plural. I had two problems to resolve, so two backups were required. I needed to migrate my normal data files from my Vista installation to Win7, so I used Microsoft’s Transfer utility to take care of that. It worked very much as advertised – easy peasy.

The second problem was consolidating the school-related data files that I had generated over the summer (powerpoints, handouts, maps, and that kind of thing) with the existing data files on my school laptop (an old Lenovo clunker that runs XP). In order to accomplish this, I copied my school data folders onto an external drive, copied them back onto my laptop, and deleted the folders from my desktop. The idea was that, once consolidated, I’d run a backup of my laptop and restore that backup onto my desktop. This would cut down on the time needed to run the Transfer utility (I’ve got about 30GB of school related stuff that I’ve accumulated over the years) and produce a fairly well synchronized copy of those folders on both the laptop and the desktop. Easier said than done.

First off, Microsoft removed support for its old NTBACKUP utility from Vista (I have a whole other rant on that topic from about a year and a half ago). But it threw a bone to the masses in the form of a separate restore utility for Vista. The only oddball thing was that you had to go into the Control Panel and turn on support for Removable Storage Management before the utility would work (Removable Storage Management it turned off by default in Vista). But, in its infinite wisdom, it completely removed Removable Storage Management from Win7, so the utility won’t work, leaving Win7 users flapping in the breeze.

Fast forward a couple of years and Microsoft throws another bone to the masses in the form of an NTBACKUP restore utility that would actually work with Win7. Well, sort of. Finding the blasted thing was the first hurdle (I think the good folks at Redmond spent way too much time reading “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”). The second hurdle, once found, was downloading it. Microsoft neglects to tell anyone that you have to use Internet Explorer to download stuff from them. Then, we find out that the restore utility was for the 32-bit version of Win7, necessitating even more hunting for the 64-bit version (including a few pop-up messages about how this update doesn’t apply to my system). Eventually, though, everything gets installed (correctly, I hope).

The big hitch, for those who are used to NTBACKUP, is that this is not a normal utility, so you won’t find it among your Programs. Instead, you must use the utility to open the backup file. From there, it will look and behave like the NTBACKUP that we have all come to know and love.

To save the headache for anyone who need to mess with this, here are the links. Remember, you must use Internet Explorer to get them since the Genuine Windows runs as a browser plug-in. For Vista users, you must also turn on Removable Storage Management (Control Panel –> Programs –> Turn Windows Features On or Off –> check the box for Removable Storage Management and let it go do its thing). Win7 users only need to install it.

Also for Win7 users, Microsoft strongly recommends removing the utility from your system after you are done restoring whatever backups you might need to mess with. They made no such recommendation for Vista users, but the impression that I’m getting is that Microsoft doesn’t want to mess with NTBACKUP any more, so either find another backup utility or live with Microsoft’s Backup and Restore Center. My recommendation is to find another backup utility since the current utility is deeply flawed unless all you want to backup is data files.

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.

After downloading and installing the game with GameStop’s client, I checked to makes sure that it launched OK and then went on to playing Origins. When it was time to fire up DA2 for real, I initially had no problems. The game played well with no major technical issues. It turned out that there had been a patch released that GameStop never told me about, but that has been my experience across the board with their games – they sell you the earliest stable version they can and leave later patching up to you. An hour or so into the game, I decided to call it quits for the evening, saved and went on my merry way. The trouble started when I tried to load my saved game.

It turns out that although I bought the plain-jane Dragon Age 2, GameStop delivered the Signature Edition, without the appropriate product keys. The only difference in the versions is that the Signature Edition came with two DLCs. In their infinite wisdom, BioWare decreed that all DLCs must be associated with a player’s account. The way that they decided to enforce this is that the game will not let you load a save created with DLCs that are not tied to your BioWare account. I understand the reasoning behind this approach and more or less agree with it. People do need to pay for stuff, after all.

So, it looks like there are three solutions to the problem. First, someone can cough up the product keys for the two DLCs that are not currently tied to my account, a major win for me since I didn’t pay for them to begin with, but it’s a solution. Second, I can purchase the DLCs with my existing BioWare points and, since they’re already installed, I don’t have to hassle with downloading them. The only problem with this is that the Signature Edition Rewards is not available for purchase, although the other DLC is, so it’s half of a solution. Third, I can just remove both DLCs. The problem with this option is that DA2 didn’t come with the capability to mod, so no mod installer was included. No mod installer means no mod uninstaller, so I’m going to need a bit of help with this. Off to tech support I go.

I described the problem to EA’s tech support in a chat session and offered two acceptable solutions. Either tell me where to get the product keys so that I can associate the DLCs with my BioWare account or tell me how to remove the DLCs. I was good either way. The tech support guy told me that I needed to repair my installation and had me looking high and low for an executable that didn’t come with GameStop’s version of the game. He demanded a remote desktop session, which I eventually allowed him to have, where he found that the executable he wanted wasn’t anywhere on my system (which I had already told him). Then he demanded that I uninstall the game, redownload it with Origin’s client, and then get back with them. Figuring that an uninstall and fresh download couldn’t hurt (aside from the several hours that it takes to pull the game through a DSL connection), I uninstalled, deleted the folders, redownloaded and reinstalled from GameStop. The same two DLCs were there causing the same problem.

So I contacted GameStop’s tech support and offered them the same two solutions: give me product keys or tell me how to remove the DLCs. GameStop’s tech support operates off of email, rather than chat, so I was stuck in a holding pattern until they got back with me. In the meantime, I started poking around in the game’s files and managed to locate the two DLCs in the \addins folder. With nothing to lose by trying, I stuck them into a .zip folder and moved them elsewhere. Whereupon the game worked, saved games loaded and I was off and running. After a few rounds of email from GameStop, their description of the cause of the problem was “glitches due to server maintenance”. In common parlance, that means, “we have no idea why, either, but it sounds technical enough that you’ll shut up and go away.”

In an oversimplified offshoot of Werner Heisenberg’s work, I believe I have found some relief from the ending of Mass Effect 3, at least on the PC – console gamers are on their own for this one.

For the non-nerds out there, the Uncertainty Principle essentially says that out of two attributes ascribed to a particle (position and velocity, for example), the more precisely you measure one, the more uncertain the other becomes. In simpler terms (necessary for my simplistic brain), you can either know where a particle is or you can know how fast it is moving, but you cannot precisely know both at the same time. Until the moment of measurement, the particle exists merely as a probability wave function. In short, it theoretically exists everywhere at the same time. Measurement causes the wavefunction to collapse to a single value.

Somewhat tied to that idea was a thought experiment proposed by Edwin Shroedinger in the mid-1930s. Given a sealed container containing a cat, a Geiger counter-activated mechanism, a vial of poison gas and a quantity of radioactive material with a 50-50 probability of an atom decaying in one hour’s time, if the Geiger counter detects the decay of an atom, the mechanism breaks the vial and the cat dies. If it does not decay, then the mechanism does not activate and the cat lives. But until an outside observer checks at the end of the hour, the cat is both alive and not-alive. In Heisenberg’s terms, the lack of an observer prevents the collapse of the probability wavefunction.

So how might all of this apply to Mass Effect 3’s ending? The answer lies in the autosave feature. Just at the point where Shepard must choose one of three paths, the game autosaves (I don’t know why, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth). Until Shepard commits to one of those paths, all choices are equally probable, so all outcomes potentially exist simultaneously. That’s ALL outcomes – the three provided by BioWare, plus any others you might imagine. Upon committing to one choice, though, the probability of the others existing effectively drop to zero and they cease to exist while the chosen path achieves certainty and becomes the “reality”, if there is such a thing in a video game.

Where the autosave fits in with the whole picture is a simple copy-paste operation. At the moment when the three paths open, quit the game. Copy that autosave somewhere. It will not count as completing the game (no NewGamePlus save, sorry), but at that point, any outcome you can imagine is as probable as any other outcome. Unless you’re bound and determined to pick up more achievements or gain levels or something with that particular Shepard, nothing requires you to collapse the wavefunction. So whatever outcome you want is the outcome you can have since they are all equally probable at that point in time.

Yeah, it’s philosophical pablum dressed up in scientific garb, but it’s better than what actually shows up on the screen since you haven’t bought in to BioWare’s version of reality. For my part, I’ve dutifully copied off my autosave, Mass Effect 3 sits idle on my hard drive, and I am not participating in any of the multiplayer stuff. In my head, at least, Shepard and Garrus sit on a beach somewhere with glasses of something topped by colorful paper parasols. Occasionally, the thought of testing a seashell in honor or Mordin Solus crops up, but the future of the galaxy is now someone else’s problem.

I put up a new page called, “Dead is Dead – Skyrim” so anyone interested in following my misadventures on the slippery slope to an early grave can do so. I’m not hiding spoilers and am trying to be pretty clear on my strategies and reasoning. Anyone who does not wish to be spoiled in a major way should probably steer clear.

(UPDATE 04/09/2012: What sounded like a good idea at the time turned out to be a turkey in retrospect, so the pages have been deleted)