Wellll – we haven’t had one of these for a while, have we? I was hoping to be showing lots of lovely screenshots from the Iberia dlc – the much awaited addition to the game that was postponed last year. SCS have delivered and it’s excellent! However, this post is less about the game and more about the mechanics of owning a pc for gaming purposes, although much of what I’m writing will apply to normal computing activities too. There are a couple of villians that will get a mention but they should be viewed as villians who were acting with the best of intentions and just messed up 😉

Back in 2020, Microsoft updated my machine to Windows 10 v2004 – That update immediately rendered my computer unusable for just about anything with audio-visual stuttering. I wrote about it and expressed my anger in this post. The problem has persisted since then and at the end of April I once again rolled back to version 1909 from v20H2 – that’s 6 rollbacks and reports of what I’d done to try to resolve the problem sent each time. It felt like those of us that were affected (badly affected) were being thrown to the wolves. Others whose pc’s appeared to be working fine couldn’t grasp what we were complaining about. Tech advisors often suggested that we hadn’t done enough to update our pc’s to the latest drivers. It suffices to say that short of a full motherboard bios reload, I’d done the bloody lot in triplicate!

The threat of my pc being made unusable has been hanging over me for the last 8 months. At the end of May my most recent no-update grace period came to an end. I was dreading the enforced update happening again but it didn’t – instead of the ‘update and restart’ or ‘update and shutdown’ options that usually appear in the menu for closing down the pc, this time the options allowed shutting down or restarting without invoking the prepared update. It seemed that Microsoft had accepted that they couldn’t fix the issue and were adopting a compromise approach for those who found the update made their pc unusable. I chose to stay on v1909 because that at least worked and allowed me to game and post. I had a nagging feeling that it wouldn’t be the end of it, but it was good to be sailing on realitively calm seas for a while.

Wednesday last week, I had my 2nd Covid jab. I came home and did a quick delivery in ETS2 before deciding that I needed to take a lie down. I closed the game and shut down the pc in quick succession.

Next morning (Thursday) and feeling much better after a good nights sleep I decided to fire up ETS2 to do a couple of deliveries and make some progress towards some outstanding achievements – something I’ve been working on for a few months now. Imagine my horror when I found that my main profile had disappeared – all that effort lost! I tried a number of options to try to get it back but none worked. At this point many players would rage quit and probably never play the game again. That’s not in my nature – After a couple of strong cups of tea to accompany strong words about peoples ancestry, I decided to start a new profile. This profile, being post the Iberia release, would allow me to grow my company from scratch in the manner that I originally envisaged it. An opportunity bought from adversity. I thought I’d possibly caused this by shutting down the pc too soon after closing the game.

I hit the roads hard that Thursday afternoon, doing lots of hire jobs to build my bank balance ready to buy my first truck and trailer. I don’t need to tell you that I’ve been here before, only last time it was of my own choosing! This time is different though because I will be migrating almost all of my fleet from that lost profile into the new one and perpetuating their records so that I still know exactly how far I have driven in each truck. You see, as I have joked before, in the absense of Budgies, these have become my pets and companions.

I drove many Kilometres over the weekend – enough to buy my first curtainside trailer and, with a €100k loan, a truck to haul it. I had narrowed down my choices to 4 vehicles and in the end chose Azyet, my DAF XF105 4×2. In the old profile she sported a metallic gold paint scheme as she was considered non-core fleet. But, now she’s taking point for the company, she has to wear corporate colours. So, she’s had a repaint…

…other than that she’s the exact same truck with a zero’ed odometer 🙂 The others will follow as I grow the company 🙂

It turns out that rather than precipitating the situation, I was a victim of a bug in the Steam Cloud that corrupted my profile. SCS are currently suggesting that players should turn off the save to cloud option. Must try harder on the teacher’s report for Steam this week 😉

So I bought Azyet on Monday and completed her first shakedown run. Then I settled down to watch the Scotland vs Czech Republic football match. I was intermittently coming out of full screen and tweeting to fellow truckers. Suddenly I was greeted with a blue microsoft screen – basically an ‘Update Now’ instruction which, although it had buttons like ‘remind me later’, was not taking no for an answer – my mouse was disabled 😦 The only option was to tap the restart button on the pc and wait for an interminable length of time as Windows 10 20H2 was once more loaded onto my computer.

I have been dreading this happening. After the initial update completed I made sure that I installed the numerous security and bug fix updates and then I tried streaming a tv program from Amazon. Within a few minutes I was experiencing buzzing audio and frame drops – clearly the issue was still there 😦 I had a few ideas that I wanted to try based on suggestions in numerous posts from other people suffering the same issue on the microsoft community website. That took about an hour and made no difference. One of these that always amuses me is the ‘Disable your DVD/CD player’ – I don’t think there are many gaming computers that have those installed these days! So that was one I couldn’t try.

At the last knockings I went back to the Update & Security screen and found there was now an ‘Optional Update’ available. What the hell – I’ll download that, I thought. Some minutes later and another restart, I was ready to go back to my Streaming TV. Surprise, surprise – no stutters, buzzes or frame drops. I watched three episodes of NCIS without a hitch! It was late and I was tired by that time so games testing had to wait until Tuesday morning. When I fired up ETS2 on Tuesday, I’m pleased to report that I was able to drive my trucks without any issues and this seems to be the fix that we’ve been waiting for nearly a year to happen.

I subsequently checked up what was in the release – among a number of minor bug fixes and some new feature updates there was a fix for a memory leak – a bloody memory leak! That’s exactly the sort of issue that would cause the problems I and many others were experiencing. It was never about out of date drivers as some of the ‘associate technicians’ would like us to believe. And that’s why their suggested fixes didn’t work.

To Microsoft dev’s credit they did eventually find the problem and I know, from experience on far simpler code than Windows 10, that memory leaks are one of the hardest things to track down. But, having found the fix, to issue it in an ‘Optional Update’ package? That’s just perverse!

But that wasn’t the end of Tuesday’s surprises – Euro Truck Sim had an update too and when I opened the game, my lost profile was back! And that’s left me with a dilema…. 😉

That’s what I think I have been going in for the last 3 weeks – which may explain my lack of blog posts. I could blame Microsoft at this point and they are certainly complicit in my absense. But that would be harsh as there are other players involved too. But Microsoft kicked it off, so lets start there…

Back in late September my gaming pc told me that there was a new ‘Important’ Windows update and I needed to restart to install it. We get Windows 10 updates regularly and, to be fair, most of them are non-events. They bring minor improvements or changes that have no visible impact on me at all. This one, however, was different.

In less than 20 minutes it turned my working pc into a total wreck. But, it did it very subtly – everything seemed to be working ok in the first few minutes. Then I started experiencing frame stutters while driving my truck… that grew to frame and audio. I tried watching streaming video – distracting dropouts. Then I found the mouse cursor staggering across the screen and the task bar moving up and down in jagged movements rather than scrolling smoothly.

When these things happen you initially panic… for a few seconds… then your past experience as a programmer kicks in. You start working through the many possible causes and checking on the internet for other people’s possible fixes for the issue you are experiencing. The message I got from doing the latter is that Windows 10 2004 update is a total can of worms – I’d like to call it something else but that would result in my blog becoming an ‘adults only’ experience.

So – first port of call after listening to the encyclopedia of issues with the 2004 update (yes, you could fill an encyclopedia with all the issues) – was to check and update my graphics card drivers. I do that regularly anyway but I still found one new update to load. I’ve loaded 2 more graphics card updates in the last 2 weeks too while seeking a fix for my issues – not that this has fixed anything.

I’ve tried a number of settings changes recommended to end stuttering. None of them achieved more than delaying the inevitable return to stuttering at a level that makes games unplayable and videos unwatchable. Back to square one – or should that be a squared circle? I’ve checked the well-being of my CPU and Graphics Card – neither is stressed and both have plenty of spare capacity.

I decided to rollback the update – back to version 1903. Immediately, there are no issues – everything is working fine. I’ve tried updating to 2004 three times now and each time I have worked through a planned course of action to resolve the issue but nothing seems to work.

Part of the problem is that asking Windows to confirm that the drivers for a particular sub-system on a pc are up to date is likely to result in a ‘latest drivers installed’ response when that may not be the case. I have a suspicion that the issue is relating to the RealTek sound chip drivers as these could certainly cause stuttering audio. However, finding the correct driver on the RealTek site is difficult – the translation from Chinese isn’t very clear. There is also a very serious risk that any ‘drivers’ downloaded from the internet may prove to be malware – so extreme caution is advised.

Is it all a negative experience? No – I found that a setting for my graphics card had been changed and restoring the factory default settings fixed a minor framedrop issue I’d been experiencing in Farming Simulator. I’m guessing that the person who built the pc may have changed it for test purposes and not restored it before shipping. I’ve also learned that turning off the shader cache on the graphics card can improve performance if you have a good CPU to handle processing.

I’m back on Windows 10 v1903 for now because that works. I’ve disabled Windows updates to prevent the level of disruption that I experienced happening until I’m ready to take it on again – a situation that can’t be a permanent solution as Microsoft will stop supporting some things and modify others so that they only work with the latest version of Windows. I’m currently testing games using the NVidia RTX2070’s audio output as an alternative to the RealTek. So far that has worked well and I’ve noticed that a minor sound glitch that I used to experience occasionally isn’t happening – it was rare, so a lot more testing is needed – suggesting that the problem is related to the audio software.

So, the plan going forward is to locate a good set of drivers for the RealTek chip. Continue testing to narrow down the cause before re-updating to build 2004. If the issue continues then I have already planned a full strip out of code from the pc and start from scratch for Christmas when my Son will be home from Uni – two heads are always better than one! If we can’t resolve it then it maybe time to bite the bullet and walk away from Windows 10 – I haven’t ruled out moving to Linux even though that would mean no longer playing a couple of my favourite games.

I’m annoyed with Microsoft for pushing out this Windows 10 update at a time when they were clearly aware that there were many issues. Doubly so because so many of us rely on our computers to keep us sane and maintain contact with the wider world while locked down by the pandemic. Insensitive at best 😦 Did I say my criticism was harsh? Maybe it wasn’t!

I decided to break the bank and buy Microsoft’s Sea of Thieves. It’s a game that I liked the idea of when it was first advertised. However, like a number of people, I was put off by initial reviews claiming a lack of content. In the two or so years that the game has been out, a lot of content upgrades have been released and I now feel it’s time for me to pull on an eye-patch and shout Aaargh! Jim Lad 🙂

One of the first things to understand about this game is that it is a player vs player sandbox with a lot of ai things thrown in too. It is also intended that you should play with friends and each vessel is designed to be crewed by multiple players. However, it can be played as a single player game – which is what I’m currently doing. The general advice found on the internet is – if you’re thinking of playing solo… Don’t… If you must, sail the Sloop. However, I’ve seen lots of videos of solo players enjoying themselves in this game and they finally swung the decision for me to join in.

There’s a steep learning curve from a muscle memory/controls point of view. Some of the keyboard controls feel very odd to me coming into the game from The Hunter COTW, for example, and I’m having some serious adaptation issues currently. However, it will come with practise. You start out somewhere off the map and get basic guidance from a long dead Sea Captain by doing the Maiden Voyage. The emphasis is on the basic. It’s clear that the developers, Rare, along with Microsoft, want you to find your own way in the game including learning how to employ the tools that you’ve been given. After the short tutorial which really teaches little, you are sent on your way through the portal to the main map…

From this point onwards you’re on your own – although there are lots of fan made tutorial videos out there on YouTube. One key thing that comes across in a lot of those videos is the need for the right mindset. This is PvP and if you can’t handle getting killed by other human players then this probably isn’t the game for you. One interesting thing about the PvP side of this game is the weapons – Rare have decided that they will be same for everyone regardless of how many ranks you’ve risen up the tree – a cutlass, for example, will always deal the same amount of damage for any mode of attack the player employs. Any upgrades you buy are purely cosmetic. So the only way to gain an advantage (without hacking the game) is to grow a skillset that allows you to out perform your opponent either in combat or in running away! Even diplomacy can be a good skill to learn in this game as friendly collaboration can be a good way forward for some of the challenges – although treachery should always be expected. These are aspects of the game that I will have to learn over time.

The irony is, I’ve been killed 4 times since I started and I’ve yet to meet another player. The ai and the weather conditions provide a good amount of challenge for the new player – there is so much to learn and some of what you thought you learned from any video tutorials on YouTube can prove to be a false guide. I’ve been suckered in by a crafty skeleton captain – encouraged to come close so he could blow us both up with a powder keg 😉 And I’ve been defeated by another one because I couldn’t get the right weapon sorted out – I find there is a bit of lag in the things you do in the game, at least compared to what I’m used to in other games I play. I’ve had a skeleton ship surface next to me – the advice was ignore them and they’ll probably go away – they didn’t 😉 These are all things that I’ll handle better with experience.

One final experience I had today was a real challenge. After digging up a treasure chest on one island as part of a mission, I was working out where I needed to go to next when the sky grew dark and the rain started falling. I quickly realised that my sloop was taking on water, so I started bailing. However, I could hear the ship’s bell ringing intermittently too. Moving up to the top deck I found we were swing around helplessly as the wheel moved of its own accord. I realised I was going to have to get the ship under way to get some measure of control so I raised the anchor and unfurled the sail. With the compass spinning uncontrollably, I spent the next 15 minutes trying to hold a course out of the storm whilst avoiding rocks and taking short spells at bailing out the ever incoming water. Finally I got clear and the feeling of elation at having survived the storm was palpable. There is definitely much more to this game than a PvP sandbox 🙂

While the graphics have a cartoonish element they are, none the less, quite beautiful and if the game gives you a moment of pause to enjoy your surroundings you should do so……However, I’m left wondering how best to post about this game in the future as it’s rare to have moments of calm with the need to look after your vessel. I suspect it will become a game best reported using video captures, especially as the developers haven’t provided an in-game camera! Hopefuly I’ll be back with another report in the not too distant future. In the meantime, don’t overdo the grog me hearties! 🙂