Sunday, July 8, 2012

Vacationing in Skyrim

So... you may have noticed (or not) that I randomly went dark before actually finishing my series of posts on the greatest FNV mod you'll never get to play (never miss an opportunity to twist that knife, Kiddies!).

To the considerable chagrin of several people, I didn't die. After nine odd weeks of heavy modding, I was just burning out on FNV something fierce.

About a month or five weeks ago I decided to pick Skyrim back up. I got to play it for all of about a week on 1.5, which worked beautifully... before Bethsoft "upgraded" to 1.6 (and Steam helpfully auto-updated it despite being told not to); which is a steaming pile of shit, and just goes to prove the notion many of us have that their patch team either hate our guts, or are the most incompetent bunch of fucks to ever be employed in the software field. How they managed to break something that was already fixed is beyond me... but hey! We have mounted combat now! Sometimes, sorta, with most races; for people who ride horses in the game. I don't, so it's a total waste to me; but I'm sure some mid-level manager considers it an accomplishment. Personally, I'd rather have a construction set that worked worth half a shit... but that may just be me.

Since upgrading to 1.6, though... the game experience went to hell. I've lost five sets of saves now to corruption (average save-game life is about ten to fifteen hours' play time). Framerates dropped from an uninspiring but playable 20 - 25 to five to ten; and there was about a twenty percent chance of BSoD on every cell change.

I've since begun a purge on my data folder. Dropped from over fifty mods to thirty-five; and aggressively removed anything and everything not actively required to run my game with the mods I kept. The big kicker seems to have been scripts; which are a clusterfuck in Skyrim. Rather than being contained inside the esps as in previous games, scripts are now separate objects that sit in their own folder. Between the mods that "improve" scripts they shouldn't, and the ones that are just plain badly written; that script folder seems to be the lion's share of my issues. I've cleaned out what I could; but since most people don't care enough to tag their custom content to make it easier to identify which plugin it belongs to... I've got to now go through each archive in my downloads folder, and check each one for scripts -- then delete any scripts not found to be contained within said archives.

My initial purge included removal of Deadlier Dragons and Jaysus Swords. With just those two gone, FPS have returned to over 20 and last night I managed over eighty minutes of play before the game hit an infinite loading bug on fast travel and had to be manually killed via Windows task manager. Which sounds bad... but is an immense improvement over five minutes of stuttering followed by a BSoD or hard lock. I'm hoping when I work up the giveafuck level required to finish the purge, it'll return things to the three-hours-at-a-time play I used to have. Not holding my breath; as 1.6 seems to be a horribly buggy patch... but anything will be an improvement over last week.

Heard an interesting note on Skyrim performance several days ago, too. The theory was professed that shadows in the game are so problematic for framerates and reliability in general because to make it console-friendly, Beth hard-coded the engine to run all shadows through the CPU, rather than GPU. So not only do shadow-heavy areas tend to cause CPU clogging, but when you hit an area with more shadows active than your CPU can render all by its lonesome, it just says fuck it and refuses to try. Sadly, the refusal to try does not end in shadows simply not being rendered -- it tends to result in more sinister things and then profane yelling from my direction.

Not something I have the resources to run down and verify; but it certainly fits the symptoms my PC has been experiencing since day one trying to run the game -- and would also explain why my craptastic little eMachine here will handle other higher-drain games with aplomb; but crashes and burns with regularity where Skyrim is involved even at low settings. Rather a hope-killer if true; since combined with its piss-poor multi-core and large RAM support, that means you effectively cannot upgrade a computer enough to provide good, stable performance with the game.

After finding out about the shadows, I hit on an idea. Disable them. I don't mean through that hand-holding kiddie-shit launcher and its sliders that may or may not actually do anything; I went into the ini files and disabled all shadows -- set all distances to zero, all radii to zero.

And... it worked. FPS through the roof; no more stutter; load times were fast, and no crashing. Well, at least during my limited play-test session -- crashing would probably have resumed eventually; it seems to mostly be a matter of when the game fills up my cache, so no shadows should equal slower filling.

Sliiiight down side that it also killed most lights. Not quite sure which setting labeled 'shadow' affects dynamic lights... so I reverted the ini files to backups (see? this is why we always make backups before editing ini files...) until I have time to go through setting by setting and see which caused the issue. Considering that even with the mods purged, the engine itself still has Beth's trademark memory leak... checking all those settings one by one will take awhile.

But since I know none of you come here for my pseudo-philosophical prattle, have some screenshot posts...


  1. "...that means you effectively cannot upgrade a computer enough to provide good, stable performance with the game."

    Yep. Sure sounds like Bethesda to me.

    I haven't done any .ini editing of Skyrim yet ('cuz I just haven't gotten back around to playing it) but this sounds promising and I'm definitely gonna give it a try...

    ...after I re-install my entire OS to try to fix whatever is borking most of my polygon-based games since I restored my last drive backup and driver updates don't seem to fix. Probably should wait until I get a whole new HD to go to all that trouble...

    ...and people wonder why I play Doom so much...

  2. Well, ini edit MKII didn't go so well. Played for twenty minutes at mid-framerate before a CTD without error in front of the Whiterun Stables.

    Not a good outcome, but far from the worst. Wish this damned game made more sense than throwing chicken entrails at the wall...

    Anyway, I've never liked system restores or drive backups. Never seem to work quite right. That's why my "backups" are the data itself; and I just re-copy it after reinstalling the programs normally.

    If it's doing it to all games, though, I'd look at DirectX first. If that didn't fix it, an uninstall and reinstall of the video drivers would be my next guess. Failing that, I find profanity and threatening the computer with a shotgun has about the same rate of success as the solutions posted to most forums turned up by Google searches.

    1. Unfortunately, I've gone through the entire gamut that I could think of: DirectX, PhysX, Radeon Drivers... even stuff that wouldn't make any sense like C++ and NetFramework. After some sleep I might try them again and then shoot you some screenshots if nothing helps; maybe seeing what's going on will reveal something else I've overlooked.

    2. Just so folks know, I did figure out what my issue was and it was indeed the AMD/RADEON driver. My recommendation to anyone reading this is to keep all your downloaded updates since you never know when they're gonna pull a Bethesda and break everything that was working just fine.

      When I'm able to type from my usual computer again, you can expect to see a post on my blog about the whole affair.

  3. The longer I hold off on getting Skyrim, the happier I am that I have done so. That said, I am sorry to hear that you are having the issues you are Nos.

    After having played FO3 and FNV so much in the last little while, and encountering a game stopping issue while trying to do the fight at Hoover Dam, I decided to try something different: Mass Effect. If nothing else, it was wonderful to play a game again that did not once crash on me during the whole play through :)

    1. Mass Effect?

      The Aurora 2 engine coupled with Hamburger Helper's writings? No thanks. I'll take the horrific and random bugs from Gamebryo MKII. At least those can theoretically be fixed.

      Dragon Age was bad enough, but swapping their Diablo-esque combat model into a game involving guns is just beyond bad.

    2. Lol! Each to their own I guess :)