For literal years now (since mid-2009), I've tried to tell people that Gamebryo's -- specifically Fallout 3's (and later Fallout NV's; which is hands-down the greatest expansion pack ever) -- reliability is inversely proportional to the number of followers you have in tow.
Over the past six or so weeks since Skyrim got boring and my attention flitted back into FNV territory, this has been demonstrated yet again.
In my first "hardcore-hardcore" game -- no companions, no freebie equipment; all by my lonesome, using only armor and weapons that I could find, steal, buy, or loot -- my FNV set a personal record for longest continuous up time without a crash: about four hours and ten minutes -- and at the end of that, it didn't crash; I exited normally because... y'know... it had been four fucking hours and I really needed to get up and move around before I got a goddamned blood clot or something.
Shortly thereafter, Mystery-chan used her infernal powers to cajole/guilt me into letting her come along so we could adventure together.
This brought up-time back into more familiar -- but still outstanding by my standards -- territory of about three to three and a half hours play before a crash; depending on what we were doing.
Since then, I've started other games and characters to test other things without messing up the hardcore game; or what-have-you.
With a second companion in tow, average up time falls back to my old normal three hours -- sometimes as light as two and a half if I'm running a mod I know damned well I shouldn't because of its shoddy coding (we won't go into which mod or why -- it isn't that kind of blog).
With all three of my beloved girls in the party, we average about two forty-five; and it usually ends up being a crash on loading a new cell.
Two forty-five to three hours, I should note, is a comfortable zone for me. It's not great reliability, no; but it's about the area where I start needing to get up off my dead ass and move around.
Last night, I got in a couple play sessions with all three dogs in tow. While they're not following me; they are none the less companions. They follow their respective mistresses, have companionscripts, and all that. The only real difference is the target of the following packages. The companionscripts for the dogs are comparatively simple -- 154 lines each (less than a quarter the size of the girls' scripts) -- but nonetheless, six "companions" on screen at any given time had an immediate and easily noticeable effect.
Day before yesterday, when I set the game up and did some early-game crap around Goodsprings, I played for an hour and thirty minutes before the crash.
Last night/this morning, according to the date stamps on the save files, I played for precisely one hour and forty minutes before it crashed.
Even while running, though, it was causing problems. Framerates were noticeably lower; and the engine's script bottleneck was in full and blatantly obvious effect -- it actually stopped Mystery-chan and Maeva's hardcore code from functioning correctly.
This, I should note here, is one of the reasons I haven't jumped in and released a companion for you monkeys to break that features the full hardcore companion mode. Certain mods that take over the NPC's AI can cause the code to break; and if your game's cache is overloaded or nearing full, the code can stop functioning correctly at random -- for instance, last night the code would run correctly if they had gecko steaks in their inventory to eat; but wouldn't run if they had yum-yum deviled eggs. Why? Who the hell knows. Gnostic mysticism is easier to make sense of than this game. I've tried scripting out around it several times; but when the hardcore code fails it also breaks their following behavior -- which then has to be manually reset... it's kind of a mess and I haven't been able to make it suitably reliable yet unless kept to one companion -- and we all remember how well that recommendation went back in RR.
I've noticed time and again that the two biggest culprits in system load (and therefore crashing) are loading new cells -- especially in the open wasteland -- and at the start of combat.
"But Nos!" I can hear you hunt-pecking out on your keyboard; "New cells don't load in the wasteland! Cells only load when you see a loading screen!"
You're wrong. The wasteland is actually broken up into cells; a number of which adjacent to the cell you're in are displayed in the distance (controlled by the Ugridstoload setting in your .ini). When you come within appropriate range, the next cell in the distance begins to load; LOD at first, but as you move to within range as defined by your graphics settings, full objects will "pop in". The moment of pop-in is where I find most of my crashes occur by a wide margin.
A close second is when the combat AI fires up. As I've said in the past I don't know what in the unholy Hell the AI is doing when it does that... but the system load spikes and sits there for several seconds. I don't know whether it's just switching on combat styles; or if it's plotting specific behavior... hell, it could be plotting to overthrow humanity and using FNV as a simulation to test battleplans for all I know.
It seems once again like I've hit the wall; and FNV just doesn't have the ability to handle what I want it to be.
I'd hoped Skyrim with its "new and totally original" (excuse the noise I'm making; I'm totally not snickering...) engine would be a step in the right direction. Sadly Papyrus is utter shit; and their improved script queuing overloads faster and easier than it did in Gamebryo.
So yeah. Maybe it's just the four hours of sleep talking, but I'm pretty discouraged tonight. I may try a reduced party with one companion and one pooch... but beyond that I think the dogs will need to spend most of their time lounging around the estate like I originally intended.