Archive for the ‘Troubleshooting’ Category


After all of that running around, downloading, testing and installing mods. it turns out that New Vegas still feels a bit old. Maybe not “old” per se, but “tired” in that even with the perks and mods, it still has that “been there, done that” kind of feel to it. I strongly suspect that close to 1000 hours of playing time goes a long way toward explaining that. After playing up 11 or 12 levels (haven’t really touched the main quest or the DLCs), I decided to fire up Mass Effect. This was largely because of the conversation between Gopher and StarduskLP over on YouTube.

Gopher and StarDuskLP (a couple of weeks ago)

Somewhere in their 90-minute conversation, both Gopher and Stardusk reminded the audience that Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 were awesome games. Neither seemed particularly fond of Mass Effect 3, although for different reasons. Stardusk’s reasons were more or les in line with mine, while Gopher’s seemed a bit more forgiving, but still disappointed with the final release. In any event, it seemed worthwhile to go fire up Mass Effect, especially since I didn’t need to worry over-much about DLCs (there were only two). That turned out to be a misplaced assumption, but still…

My immediate problem was that after downloading and installing Mass Effect, it absolutely refused to launch. I tried two solutions, one of which worked, but I’m not sure which one because of other issues:

Solution #1: run the game as an administrator (even if your user account already has administrator privileges). Maneuver to the Mass Effect binaries folder in your Steam installation(Steam\steamapps\common\Mass Effect\Binaries) and right-click the MassEffect.exe. From the context menu either select “Run as administrator” or “Send to –> Desktop (create shortcut)” and run that shortcut as an administrator. You can do much the same with the MassEffectLauncher.exe in the Mass Effect folder, but the “Play” button was a dead end. The launcher would let me into the configuration utility to set graphics options, though.

Solution #2: in the same binaries folder, copy the PhysXCore.dll file to “C:\Program Files (x86)\NVIDIA Corporation\PhysX\Engine\v2.7.2\” (I needed to create the v2.7.2 folder, which required elevated privileges).

One of those worked, but again, I’m not sure which one since I was messing with DLC-related issues at the same time. My last saved game was made with both “Bring Down the Sky” and “Pinnacle Station” installed, but neither of those DLCs came with the newly downloaded game. For “Pinnacle Station,” I fired up my Origin client, downloaded it and ran the installer. The installer gets install path information from the registry, so you absolutely must make sure that the game is running properly before trying to install the DLC.

“Bring Down the Sky” was a freebie DLC for PC-version purchasers, but does not come with the Steam version of the game. Steam users will need to download it separately. The link provided by BioWare in their support forums is for all languages (English, Spanish, French, Italian and German) and it did not ask me for a product key, so I assume that this will be true for other users, too: http://lvlt.bioware.cdn.ea.com/bioware/u/f/eagames/bioware/masseffect/dlc/MassEffect_BDtS_EFIGS.exe

With that taken care of, I was able to get back into the game. I’m pretty much decided that it’s about time for a Renegade playthrough, but we’ll see how that goes.

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
    1. http://www.xbox.com/en-US/live/pc/downloadclient
  3. Get and install the 1.7 patch (unnecessary if you have the GOTY edition)
    1. http://fallout.bethsoft.com/eng/downloads/updates.php
  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.

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.

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!