Intro Looking at the stickies in this forum, they all relate to specific games (or consoles!) This FAQ/Guide is intended to answer/resolve some of the more frequently asked questions/issues which I see pop up in this forum from time to time. It is not intended to be an exhaustive explanation of all the issues mentioned, but merely as a pointer to give people ideas as to where they can start looking. It's also written primarily for Windows XP as I am holding fire on Vista until I get more RAM. General Advice First of all, it is assumed that users will undertake the following steps in order to ensure their games have the best chance of running correctly. These steps are explained in far more depth elsewhere, for example you may wish to refer to the General Hardware or Graphics Card sections of this forum for more info: Patches Make sure your games are running the latest version. The best place to look for these is on the developer or publisher website, although most major games will have patches mirrored elsewhere over time (see the links section below). Many modern titles also have auto-update functions. Don't assume that just because a game has only just gone on sale that no patch will available yet! Likewise, just because you haven't experienced any issues yourself, doesn't mean to say that it isn't worth installing a patch. Often these will increase performance, add more options or features, or fix bugs you haven't yet encountered. Drivers Another important factor is to keep your drivers up to date. These include: Directx: http://www.microsoft.com/directx Graphics card: Nvidia: http://www.nvidia.co.uk/page/drivers.html ATI: http://ati.amd.com/support/driver.html Motherboard chipset: Nforce: http://www.nvidia.co.uk/page/drivers.html Intel: http://www.intel.com/support/index.htm?iid=engHPage+nav1_support VIA: http://www.viaarena.com/default.aspx?PageID=420&OSID=1&CatID=1070 Soundcard: Creative: http://uk.europe.creative.com/support/downloads/ Onboard sound: Motherboard manufacturer is often the best place to look Custom resolutions Many gamers are now using monitors running non-standard resolutions, often in widescreen aspect ratios. A common issue is the desired resolution not being available within the menu of a given game. Here are some general workarounds, followed by some specific advice for some of the more popular games: Configs Some games will store the resolution in a config file of some description, often with a .cfg or .ini (especially for older titles) extension. Have a hunt about for any likely variables, a good tactic can be to simply do a search for one dimension of your last selected setting in the game. So, if the res is currently 1280x960, do a search for the string "960" in both the install directory and also any other places it stores game files (typically subdirs of My Documents). Then modify the setting to suit, assuming it's clearly the resolution being set! Example: The ra2.ini file from Red Alert 2 stores resolution info in the [Video] section. Registry Some games store game settings in the registry. Try doing a regedit search (if you don't know how to do this, it's probably not something you should be messing with!) for the game or developer name. Skip through until you find a registry folder with a batch of configuration settings (typically install path and stuff like that) - you may get lucky and find the resolution stored here. Hacks Visit http://widescreengamingforum.com and do a search on your game - there may be a hack available to enable your desired resolution Quake3/Doom3 engine games (e.g. Quake4, Prey, CoD, JK2, EF2 etc) Q3/D3 engine games can use ANY resolution defined in your graphics driver - all you need to do is set r_customwidth and r_customheight to the relevant values, and then set r_mode to -1 to enable it. You should find these variables in the main .cfg file. Battlefield series (BF1942, BF:V, BF2, BF2142) Add the following command line parameters to your game shortcut: "+szx X +szy Y" where X and Y are your desired width/height. Common problems My framerate is mostly OK, but occasionally it really slows down a lot and/or hitches! This is often symptomatic of a lack of memory. Check your Peak Commit Charge in taskmanager->Performance after playing the game. If this exceeds your physical memory, then you have a problem. There are three solutions to this: 1) Buy more memory. As a rough guide I recommend 1.5gig for WinXP and 2gig for Vista. Be sure to consult the forums first though before choosing your upgrade, to avoid any potential compatibility or performance issues! 2) Reduce your memory usage during gameplay. As a general rule, this involves closing all running programs, clearing out resident programs from taskbar/systray. Things like MSN/Browser/Email/ICQ/IRC/FTP/P2P/Anti-Virus/Firewall/Monitoring tools etc. Then there may be services or startup processes you can disable using services.msc / msconfig - check elsewhere in the forum for guides on how to do this. 3) Lower game settings which have a profound effect on memory usage. Far and away the most important here is the Texture setting. In modern games such as FEAR and BF2, the difference in RAM usage between 'Medium' and 'Max/High' textures can be as much as 300meg! Even if you have a 512meg+ video card, your system still needs a lot of physical memory to handle these textures. Other settings include number of sound channels and decals, although I have found the savings to be much smaller there. I get really long load times compared to other people, and it takes an age to display the desktop after quitting a game! See above - very likely down to a lack of RAM. My game frequently crashes to desktop, locks up, bluescreens or resets my machine! First of all, ensure you have all the latest patches and drivers as described above. If the problem persists, it may be down to excessive overclocking. Even if your system is prime/3dmark stable, that does NOT mean that certain games may not uncover problems. Try running at stock speeds and see if this fixes things. Failing that, it could be down to overheating, especially if it only happens after you have been playing for quite a while. Try cleaning out your cpu/gfx fans, and improve the airflow inside your case. Unstable memory is another common cause of games CTD in my experience. Try running memtest86 to check that you don't have any problems in that department. Bluescreens can sometimes give you some insight as to what is causing the issue - disable automatic restarts by going to system properties/advanced/startup and recovery. Take a note of the error and do some googling As well as signs of an unstable machine, spontaneous reboots can also be pointing the finger at a suspect PSU. If you are running a high end cpu, gfx card and a bunch of hard drives, maybe that generic unit you got with your old Packard Bell can't hack it. And while that '550W' Q-Tec may have saved you some pennies, but it certainly hasn't saved your rapidly receeding hairline. ATI users may ironically find that disabling VPU recover fixes some issues. I'm getting really bad lag when playing online - it sucks! There can be many causes of lag, but here are some things to think about: -Bear in mind that with gaming becoming global, it's entirely possible the server you have chosen may be in another country. This can sometimes mean you get high latency. In general it's a good idea to try a few different servers, including some in the UK to make sure it's a problem at your end. -See what the connection to the server is like from outside of the game, to rule out in-game settings. e.g. ping the IP from a command prompt. -Don't do any downloads/uploads on your connection. Even on fast, 8mbit+ download connections a relatively slow or capped download can still cause gaming packets to be delayed unless some form of traffic shaping/QoS is used. If using a shared connection, make sure no other users are using it at the time. -Check what your connection speed is set at in the game. Setting it too low can cause problems due to not being able to send/receive enough data from the server, whereas setting it too high can cause you to get flooded. Important settings are often called "rate", "cl_maxpackets" or similar, but do some research for the game concerned. I'm trying to play online, but I can't connect to any servers and/or they all have 999 ping! Assuming your connection is working fine otherwise, this may be down to ports required by the game being blocked. Check the game manual/docs and google to see which ports you need to forward/open up on your router/firewall. My game is running REALLY slow/fast. Framerate isn't an issue, it's like someone pressed the >> button! This can occur in some games when using a system with multiple cores, whether that be a genuine dual-cpu system, a dual-core cpu or even a Hyperthreaded P4. A good start is to download a processor driver (www.intel.co.uk / http://www.amd.com/gb-uk/Processors/TechnicalResources/0,,30_182_871_13118,00.html ). If this doesn't help, you may need to set the affinity to a single cpu(core). You can do this by right-clicking the process in taskmanager. If this fixes it, as a long term solution you may like to set up a batch file to automatically set the affinity whenever you run the game - see here: http://www.informit.com/articles/article.asp?p=465310&seqNum=2&rl=1 My fps are OK, but my mouse still feels really laggy? WTF? There are three main causes of a laggy mouse: 1) You have enabled 'mouse smoothing' or similar within the game. Such features average out mouse movements, making them feel smoother, but adding to the latency (sometimes by as much as a frame) 2) Your mouse sampling rate is too low. For PS2, this should be set to 200hz (default is ~40hz in win98, and 60hz in win2k/xp iirc). USB defaults to 125hz which is OK in general, but there are utilities available to set it to 250, 500 or even 1000hz - e.g. http://files.filefront.com/usbmrs11exe/;4509114;;/fileinfo.html 3) You have VSync enabled and/or set Max D3D frames to render ahead (a setting in nvidia gfx drivers) to higher than 0. Generally speaking I would advise against using vsync unless absolutely necessary (e.g. you get bad tearing), since it can also cause your framerate to drop by more than it would otherwise in cases where you can't get stable FPS. Triplebuffering can help, but it's still sub-optimal. My sound is really crackly/skippy in games! Assuming you have the latest drivers for your soundcard/chip, this problem can sometimes be resolved by turning down the hardware acceleration slider in the Sound tab of dxdiag (start->run->dxdiag). Addtionally on some older onboard sound chipsets, such as the Nforce2 Soundstorm, crackling can develop after say 20mins of gameplay. The cause of this is often an overheating southbridge on your motherboard, which can be resolved by adding a fan. Performance Framerate/Benchmarking Quite often people want to know what kind of performance we are getting from a game - maybe to compare with other users, or to see what effect changing some of the settings have. Some games have a built in framerate counter (often accessible via the console), but not all. A useful tool to use here is FRAPS (http://www.fraps.com/download.php). This lets you have an overlaid framerate counter, and it works with pretty much all games. It also has a screenshot and movie capture facility, although I would recommend that you disable the hotkeys for these features unless you plan on using them - it can slow your game down considerably if you accidently press them! For example F9 is video capture by default, yet many games use that for QuickLoad. Additionally quite a few games will have a built in benchmarking or 'timedemo' feature - do a google to check this out. These are useful because they run through a pre-recorded section of the game as fast as possible, and quote some stats back. The most important number to look for is the Minimum (if available). Also bear in mind that the actual minimum framerate you experience in game will in all likelihood be far lower than that quoted by the benchmark, due to additional drain on resources (AI, input etc) and it rarely portraying the worst case scenario. There is a lot of debate over what is a 'good' framerate. But as a rough guide from my personal experience, I would say that under around 45fps starts to feel pretty jerky, 75fps is fairly smooth and over 100fps is lovely. Certainly in fast paced games like FPS, and especially in multiplayer, I would say that dropping under 30fps can be a very serious problem. Whereas in strategy or RPG games, the benefits from over say 50 or 60fps are minimal and you may get more enjoyment from those type of games by cranking up the settings. The game runs all slow and jerky! Some modern games are very demanding, and just because your shiny new monitor can display 2048x1536, it doesn't mean that your gfx card will be capable of rendering it that quickly in all games. Try lowering your resolution, turning down detail settings etc. In my experience the following settings in particular can cause slowdown and you may see a significant performance increase by lowering the setting: -Shadows -HDR lighting (looks great in places but can be VERY slow) -Anti-Aliasing; when using high resolution this can really hammer FPS on slower cards -Dynamic lighting; depends on the game but this can slow things down greatly -Motion Blur It's probably also worth running some 3dmark benches to compare how your system fares against similar specced rigs - thus ruling out an overall problem. Refresh Rates A common problem some people seem to have is that their games aren't running at the optimal refresh rate for that resolution. For Nvidia users, the solution is pretty simple. After running coolbits2, in the 'classic' control panel view, there is the option to override all your refresh rates. Simply enable the override and set it to the required level for each resolution you use. Owners of other brands of graphics card may find the ReForce utility of use: http://www.pagehosting.co.uk/rf/ There is a way you can calculate the Maxmimum refresh rate for a given resolution, as long as you know the Horiztonal frequency (kHz) rating of your monitor. The formula is: Max refresh rate = Horizontal frequency/1.1/screen height So, if you have a monitor with a 96khz horizontal frequency, in 1024x768 the maximum refresh rate will be 96000/1.1/768 = ~113hz If you exceed this value by more than few hz, it is likely that your image will become very distorted and may not even display at all (prompting the 'frequency out of range' message). It's always worth installing a monitor driver to let windows know what it can handle in any case. I want to build/upgrade a gaming PC - what should I look for? The best place to ask this question will usually be in the General Hardware forum, together with an approximate budget and current specs if applicable. However as a general rule, the GPU makes by far the biggest difference to gaming performance and it is not somewhere you should be stingy. Currently a good level to aim for is Radeon x1950pro or above. Obviously you need to pair this with a decent cpu, but any P4>3ghz, A64>2ghz or C2D system should be OK in general. As far as memory goes, 1gig is the minimum required; however as explained earlier there are clear benefits from more and anyone buying a new system would be well advised to go for 2gig RAM. Faster memory is obviously better, but don't break the bank just so you can run faster timings, if it means you have to get a worse graphics card. A system paired with a 8800GTS and 2gig cheap RAM will blow a x1950xt rig with 2gig of the posh stuff out of the water when it comes to gaming. Useful links The following are websites I find useful. For the download sites, I have deliberately only listed ones which give direct access to the files, without needing to log in or any of that despicable nonsense. www.gamerankings.com - A good 'hub' site which links reviews to thousands of games, both old and new, along with their ratings. From here you can access many respected review sites such as IGN and Gamespot. www.firingsquad.com - A wonderful mix of hardware and gaming news, reviews and editorials. Definitely worth checking out if you want a gamers perspective on hardware. www.anandtech.com - for the more technically minded, this is one of the most respected hardware review sites in the industry www.gamefaqs.com - comprehensive database of walkthroughs/guides for games http://gamefiles.blueyonder.co.uk/blueyondergames/ - a huge, fast archive of gaming files. Not always bang up to date but the demo and movies folders are always worth checking out. Also available in ftp:// format ftp://ftp.multiplay.co.uk/pub/games/ - another fast UK FTP for demos ftp://ftp.games.skynet.be/spool1/games/ - great mirror of some other, slower FTPs such as EA. When you want to grab their latest demo, get it here at 100x the speed. www.gamershell.com - nice site for grabbing the latest demos/trailers/patches etc. Has a good range of fast mirrors. www.filefront.com - similar to the above www.esreality.com - for the more hardcore, online gamer, this site covers the competitive side of gaming http://uk.gamespot.com/forums/show_msgs.php?topic_id=24525221 - A list of promising PC games due in 2007, categorised by genre, complete with screenshot and brief description. Very good list, but dialup users beware! www.challenge-tv.com - great depository for game demos (replays), especially for Quakeworld and Promode. http://amo.net/NT/02-21-01FPS.html - an excellent article explaining the 'need' for framerates 60fps (and more!). Be sure to read the follow-up article linked at the bottom too.