Fixing “Display Driver has Stopped Responding”

File this one under just sharing, because it was frustratingly annoying until I got it working.

I currently have an MSI GT 660Ti Power Edition card, and in certain games (and I haven’t determined the commonality between them yet) I was sometimes crashing, with the message “Display driver has stopped responding and has recovered” displayed in a balloon popup on the Windows desktop.

Some games don’t do this at all, and others do it very predictably (like within 5 minutes of launching the game 100% of the time).

Driver updates (the obvious first step) don’t seem to help, so after poking around on the web, I found a combination of tweaks that have eliminated this problem for me – though it doesn’t seem like any one of the did the job individually.

First, there is the Microsoft recommended registry fix : (http://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2665946). Essentially, this involves adding a DWORD (32-bit) or QWORD (64-bit) registry value called “TdrDelay” with a value of 8 to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\GraphicsDrivers. This is supposed to let windows wait longer before deciding that the graphics driver has crashed and taking action  to get you back to a functional state.

Second, I found several references to using MSI Afterburner to underclock you graphics card by 50-70 MHz (on the Core Clock slider). I dropped mine right around 50.

Finally, in the nVidia control panel (accessible from the Windows Control Panel) expand “3D Settings” and select “Manage 3D Settings”. On the Global tab, I selected “Prefer maximum performance” for “Power Management Mode”.

When I set these three items in combination (though I’m not sure the first one (the registry hack) has a real impact) I can play games like The Talos Principal for hours without a problem – it is one of the 5-minutes max games without these changes.

Not sure exactly what is going on here (my PSU is more than  up to the job of running my video card, which is the most commonly stated culprit) but can only speculate that something weird happens if the card tries to enter some sort of energy-friendly mode based on something the game is doing.

 

Cool Kickstarter Projects – Underworld Ascendant

There was a time, back in the day, when I couldn’t get enough Ultima. Sadly, Ultima IX fairly well put a dent in the magic of the series. I did, though, play all of the original Ultima games when they were released, including a pair of very early forays into the realm of 3D games called Ultima Underwold : The Stygian Abyss, and Ultima Underworld II : Labyrinth of Worlds.

For the time, the technology in the Underworld games was pretty amazing, considering we didn’t have 3D accelerators yet, and everything was done in software. The first two games are available from GoG as a bundle, though modern players may find aspects of the game’s interface and engine frustrating. As cool as they were back then, the list of game engine features in Ultima Underworld are the kind of things that developers don’t even have to think about these days because they are built into all of the graphics cards already.

The original Ultima Underworld

The original Ultima Underworld

Fast forward 22 years, and many members of the original team that produced Ultima Underworld (first as Blue Sky Studios, and later Looking Glass – Yes, the same Looking Glass that did the first two Thief games and the System Shock series) have launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the franchise as Underworld Ascendant.

As you can imagine, the technology has improved pretty drastically since 1992, and OtherSide Entertainment is putting together what looks to be a fitting return to the Stygian Abyss.

A screen grab from the Kickstarter video of an early prototype of Underworld Ascendant

A screen grab from the Kickstarter video of an early prototype of Underworld Ascendant

The Kickstarter campaign lists several interesting technologies that could make for a great game if the team manages to pull them off. For one thing, they are implementing what they call an Improvisation Engine, which moves away from developer-scripted storytelling and builds a custom story around the player and the choices and actions they take in the game.

Stretch goals include an “Underworld Builder Toolkit”, and the addition of Co-Op multiplayer.

The revival of old RPG franchises on Kickstarter is becoming something of a trend, with Shadowrun, Wasteland, Torment, and now Ultima Underworld (and soon the Bard’s Tale!) all getting the Kickstarter treatment. In my opinion, this is a great thing. These were the games I grew up with, and returning to these worlds has been, and I hope will continue to be, great fun.

Head on over to the Kickstarter page and back the project! As of this writing there are still a couple hundred $20 slots left that get you the game when it is released (estimated to be November of 2016).

Taskbar Thumbnail Size Trick

If you only have one monitor and are playing a game with a tendency to lock up, it can be a pain to get it closed properly. For me, games like this end up covering up everything on the screen except the task bar, so while I can run Task Manager, I can’t see it, so closing the crashed game becomes a problem.

Here is a nifty trick to work around that issue: Change the size of the thumbnails you get in Windows 7 and Windows 8 when you put your mouse over an application in the taskbar. Normally these thumbnails are really small, but they are live representations of what is happening in the app/window, so they are usable if they are a bit larger.

Fire up Regedit and go to:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Taskband

Create a new 32-bit DWord here called “MinThumbSizePX” and set the value to whatever you like… I used 400. Log out and log back in, and you will now get resized thumbnails when mousing over taskbar items.

If you run Task Manager while a crashed game is taking up the screen (CTRL-ALT-DEL, select task manager) you can put your mouse over the taskbar and see the Task Manager window in the thumbnail. Arrow down to the crashed task and hit “Alt-E” to end the task.

Oblivion Modding and Steam – Fixing with Powershell

This is just a quick note, as I spent WAY too long trying to figure out why pretty much any of the Oblivion mods I was trying to install that were supposed to override textures weren’t working. I had the ArchiveInvalidationInvalidated mod installed, and nothing I tried worked.

As it turns out, the Steam install of Oblivion does weird things with the dates of the BSA files that are part of the retail package and DLCs. This causes the mod files to appear older than the BSA files, so they don’t load.

So, time for a quick PowerShell fix. Open PowerShell and go to your Oblivion data folder:

cd \Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps\Common\Oblivion\Data

and run the following command:

dir *.bsa | % { $_.CreationTime = '1/1/2006 10:05'; $_.LastWriteTime = '1/1/2006 10:05' }

This will set the creation and last update time for all of your BSA to 2006, which should be well old enough for the mod files to take precedence.

 

Powershell Match 3 Game

I was playing around in Powershell over the Christmas weekend, and put together a simple “Match 3” style game utilizing the same RawUI style techniques I used in my Powershell Snake Game.

A version of a "match-3" style game written using RawUI in Powershell.

A version of a “match-3” style game written using RawUI in Powershell.

Why a PowerShell Match 3 game? Why not! 🙂 Actually, I was watching a youtube video series on creating a match 3 game with Unity, and the essentials of the way matches are checked for are similar to what is shown in this series.

Being Unity, however, the game in that series relies on the Unity physics engine and collision detection to move pieces around and determine what pieces are next to each other. Obviously, we don’t have a physics engine in Powershell!

The game features a hilight you can move around with the W, A, S, and D keys, using the arrow keys to indicate you want to swap pieces in that direction. Pieces fade when matched, and the falling of pieces above them is animated. New pieces will appear in the empty spots at the top of a column.

The one thing it doesn’t do right now is verify that there are matches on the board that are available to make. I’m considering adding this, but I’m already pushing the performance limits as it is, and checking the board for possible matches can be pretty intensive 🙂

Download the Powershell Match 3 Script

The script is available via the button above. Try it out, and let me know what you think, or any improvements you come up with!

Two columns of matched pieces (white and magenta) are fading out

Two columns of matched pieces (white and magenta) are fading out

 

 

D6xD6 RPG

d6xd6rpgBack in July, I posted about an active Kickstarter project by game designer Lester Smith called d6xd6 CORE RPG. The “expected delivery” date on the Kickstarter was December 2014, and on Monday night, Lester delivered on the base version of the game.

Kickstarter backers were sent a link containing a 66-page PDF file of the game rules and the four included sample settings. One of the cool things about d6xd6 RPG (which has since dropped “CORE” from the name) is that it was designed to be easily adaptable to any type of genre and settings.

The full rules for the game are available on the d6xd6.com website, minus the formatting of the PDF book, so go check it out.

I’ve backed several Kickstarter projects, and I’ve got to say that Lester’s was one of the most communicative I’ve been involved in. Every few days there was a new update on progress, and the game is pretty much on schedule (there is an “extended” version of the game still in the works that includes a pile of additional settings based on, and written by, a wide range of authors including Douglas Niles, Andrea K. Höst, and many others.)

I’m looking forward to running this game for a few folks in the near future, as the rules are simple enough to be a good introduction to table-top RPGs.

Steam Holiday Auction

Steam launched a new type of event yesterday called the “Steam Holiday Auction”. This event allowed users the opportunity to convert some of the junk laying around in their inventory to gems, which could then be bid on 100 copies of 2000 games and software items.

SteamHolidayAuction

When the auction initially kicked off late last week, there was apparently a bug that allowed for gems to be duplicated, causing initial bids to quickly climb to millions of gems. The whole system disappeared, and gems were wiped. Any gems users had created themselves were returned to their inventory, and any gem purchases were reversed.

The bugs were patched, and the whole system was rolled out again, allowing users to bid on a wide range of games. While the auction is still going on, I’m now out of gems, I did manage to win auctions for Fantasy Grounds and Talisman: Prologue. Considering I spent less than $3.00 on some profile backgrounds to turn into gems (I got them when they were $0.03 for the 100 gem backgrounds) that’s about $46.00 of gameage for $3.00. Not bad!

The e-mail that gets sent to you when you win an auction is titled “Steam Pre-Sale Holiday Auction”, so if there were any doubts that there is a Steam Holiday Sale coming up shortly (not sure why there would be), that should put those to rest 🙂

If I’m lucky, the Fantasy Grounds Ultimate Upgrade will be on sale next week, making my auction pickup an even better deal.

Skyrim Mods – Part 3 – People and Critters

This segment of my Skyrim Mods list is pretty far overdue! Sorry about that. Here I’ll talk about some of the mods I use that modify the  inhabitants of the province, including a couple of very well done companion mods and a whole bunch of enemies for you to fight.

ApachiiSkyHair

This mod adds over 100 new hairstyles to Skyrim. With styles for both male and female characters available. While the new styles are available for you for your own character (editable via the racemenu mod below) their main purpose here is to be used by the NPC addon plugins in this section.

A tiny handful of the available hairstyles. Check the "files" page of the nexus site for a full image.

A tiny handful of the available hairstyles. Check the “files” page of the nexus site for a full image.

This image doesn’t come close to showing all of the various hairstyles the mod provides, all of which are available for your character as well as mod authors to use for their own creations.

XCE – Xenius Character Enhancement

This is actually a compilation of a number of character enhancing mods by a modder named Xenius. Primarially this mod smooths out and enhances the appearance of character faces, though there are a couple of other changes as well. Many of these changes might not stand out, but taken together they offer a bit of enhanced realism to Skyrim’s characters.

Extensible Follower Framework

The Extensible Follower Framework is a wide-ranging overhaul of the behavior of followers in Skyrim. Everything from allowing you to recruit additional followers (up to 100) to providing a new menu to issue follower commands that doesn’t rely on dialog with the follower.

Your followers can collect alchemy ingredients for you, ride their own horses, and you can set their fighting style to favor magic, archery, toe-to-toe combat and the like.

Follower Commentary Overhaul

Some of the mods below add custom-built followers to the game, but there are a lot of built-in NPCs that can be recruited as followers. While a handful have some voiced lines, many of them don’t say a while log. Follower Commentary Overhaul (FCO) changes this. Each NPC in Skyrim is assigned a voice set from a pool of voices that were included in the game. Followers are limited to a small selection of lines from these voice sets, and FCO removes this limitation. The result is followers that inject commentary from a range of about 1000 additional dialog lines are opened up for your followers.

Convenient Horses

I find vanilla Skyrim’s horses to be more trouble than they are worth. You can’t fight from horseback, they tend to get in the way, you have to dismount to do just about anything. Convenient Horses fixes these problems and more. In addition to mounted combat (for you and your followers), the mod adds new horse armor and equipment, the ability to call and mount your horse immediately, the ability to talk to NPCs, collect loot, and harvesst while mounted.

Diverse Guards Skyrim

This mod expands the range of NPC types that can appear as guards. It adds female guards to the holds that are, by default, populated only with male guards, and varies the faces assigned to guards in the name of variety.

Run for Your Lives

Out of the box, when a dragon shows up, any NPCs in the area will charge headlong into combat – and to their doom. This mod sends non-guard type NPCs scattering and seeking shelter indoors when a dragon attacks, providing a bit more realism to the NPCs reactions to enormous, legendary beasts showing up and laying waste to the area.

Bellyaches New Dragon Species

If you’ve played Skyrim for a while, you might think you have seen all of the different types of dragons out there. Not so if you install Bellyaches New Dragon Species. This mod adds 13 new dragon species to the game (without disrupting the existing dragon types) and scatters 50 instances of these dragons throughout the province. The dragon’s are on par with the difficulty of Skyrim’s normal dragons, though you may find that you run into them a bit earlier than you might be ready to take some of them on.

Dragons, Dragons, and more Dragons.

Dragons, Dragons, and more Dragons.

High Level Enemies

This mod adds hundreds of new enemy varieties to the game, starting at level 10. There are several “revisions” of these enemies as their level’s increase, and the highest tier of enemies scale with you as your Dragonborn increases in level.

This has the effect of keeping the game challenging as you increase in power without overwhelming you with too-strong enemies early on.

The mod supports the base game, Dawnguard, Dragonborn, and the Falskaar mod.

Skyrim Immersive Creatures

This fairly large compilation mod adds 3800 creature types to the game. Some are variations on existing creatures, while others are all new. The mod adds boss mob encounters, custom loot, and new spells that are used by the new enemies and can be learned by the player.

The mod contains 100 random events that can occur throughout the province, as well as patrols from the various Skyrim factions (and conflicts between those patrols as appropriate).

RaceMenu

The RaceMenu plugin replaces the default Skyrim character customization system, allowing you to tweak your character to your heart’s content.

 

Hope you like sliders!

Hope you like sliders!

To activate the menu, bring up the console in Skyrim (hit the Tilde (~) key) and type “showracemenu”. Proceed to waste the next hour or so fiddling with sliders to get your character just right.

Cerwiden

There are lots of mods on the Nexus that add followers for you to pick up. Some of them are nice, others lackluster. One of my favorites is called “Cerwiden – SMART Healer – AI Configurable Companion”. I’m just going to call it Cerwiden.

A VERY talkative caster companion

A VERY talkative caster companion

Cerwiden (or Ceri for short) is will buff, heal, and cure you and your other followers. She has tons of fully voiced dialog and will often expound on life as a cleric of Lord Donblus. She also has a questline that she is interested in achieving. When it comes to companion mods, it is hard to beat Cerwiden.

Vilja in Skyrim

Competing for the top spot in companion mods is Vilja in Skyrim. Though I didn’t play it in Oblivion, this mod is a descendant of a similar mod in the fourth Elder Scrolls game. According to the “lore” of the mod, the Vilja you met in Oblivion was the current Vilja’s grandmother.

Like Cerwiden, Vilja is fully voiced and has a set of quests she wants to pursue. She is quite talkative, and especially likes to banter with Lydia as you travel about Skyrim. Vilja dreams of being a great bard, and will sing songs for you and read you a selection of books if you find them and give them to her.

I have both Cerwiden and Vilja installed in my current playthrough, though I haven’t picked either of them up yet (I’m not that far into the game… I got distracted by Wasteland 2!)

 

5E Character Sheet v1.1 Update

We have now had the opportunity to get in a couple of sessions of 5th Edition, and based on those sessions, I have made a few updates to my 5th Edition D&D character sheet, bringing the version number to 1.1. Here are the changes:

  • Rearranged the top-most information box (with class, level, etc) to provide a spot for the archetype your character chooses at 3rd Level
  • Added an area for Inspiration by shrinking the Max Hitpoints field
  • Collapsed the Magical Items table (back page) to a smaller size
  • Added an Attunable Items table (back page) with descriptive text about attunement

This won’t be the final version, of course – especially since the DMG isn’t even out yet! 🙂

The sheet can be found on the RPG Resources page or downloaded directly via this button:

Download D&D 5E Character Sheet

New Section, and D&D 5E Character Sheet PDF

I have a new page in the navigation menu  at the top of the site for RPG-Related resources, and the first of those resources is now available for download.

I have just finished putting together the first version of my own D&D 5E character sheet. This sheet, based loosely on the official Fifth Edition sheet from WoTC, includes a focus on spellcasting, including a paper-clip based spell tracking system borrowed from the original character sheets for the Deadlands RPG.

5E Character Sheet ThumbnailOur 5th Edition game actually starts this weekend, so I will probably end up making a few changes after we get rolling and see how the sheets work out. I’m also open to suggestions from anyone using the sheets as well!

 

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