Monday, November 25, 2013

Never Miss a Battlefield Moment With Nvidia ShadowPlay

For those that are not familiar, ShabowPlay is a program that is bundled with GeForce experience - the download for this is available on the Nvidia website. This program is compatible with Nvidia GeForce 6 and 7 series desktop video cards. 

Depending on the specified settings, the program automatically saves the specified time of gameplay in a temporary location, and the user can hit a key combination to save the video to the hard drive. I do not see any loss in performance when this software is running in the background. I am using an EVGA GeForce GTX 780 ACX.

For someone like me, who does not continuously record gameplay, but would like to keep a video archive of gameplay moments (Battlefield moments in particular), this program is a blessing. I will now be using DxTory & VirtualDub when I want to record a full round instead. 

I use Windows Movie Maker to edit the MP4 files generated by ShadowPlay. I typically need less than a minute of gameplay archived, so editing hardly takes any time, because it usually only involves cutting out segments. 

Windows Movie Maker is ideal for editing clips from ShadowPlay
I was briefly contemplating switching over to ATI for my next upgrade (whenever that happens), but at the moment, they don't have something equivalent to offer, and its a deal breaker for me. ShadowPlay ensures that no Battlefield moment will ever go unrecorded.

Its also especially helpful when trying to capture bugs for Battlefield 4. Here are some clips I recorded using ShadowPlay:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Battlefield 4 Launch Fiasco

The launch of Battlefield 4 was very disappointing. It felt as if those who pre ordered the game were paying to beta test it. It was such a broken mess at times, that I find it hard to believe they released it in such a state. Problems in the beta are present in the release version. Makes me wonder what the beta accomplished.  

To an extent I understand the server side problems which were taken care of as quickly as they possibly could, but some issues with the base game are hard to justify.

After their PC patch, things seemed to have gotten worse. Apart from the usual problems with the game (crashing to the desktop at random), they managed to introduce a new bug in the patch which could cause the screen to blur every time the commander deployed an EMP. So not only does EA/DICE make customer feel silly for pre ordering the game, the game now causes eye strain.

The battlefield twitter and Facebook feed is full of advertisements ranging from merchandise to review scores, apart from a few employees at DICE who have taken the time to respond to messages (my sincere thanks to them). One wonders why they didn't publicly acknowledge the problems and apologize, instead of carrying on with the shameless promotion and self congratulatory posts.

I wonder what game these "journalists" were reviewing...

After the terrible launch, instead of reaching out to the customers, EA took the classy route and advertised hoodies.

Understandably, customers were not pleased. 
This launch has validated the cynicism towards the gaming industry in general. If they were in tune with the community, they would know that the community doesn't care about when the game launched or if it beat Call of Duty at sales figures. They care about having a playable game.

I am sure this is hard for an executive to comprehend, because for them, its all about sales figures. They throw around buzz words like "seamless reality", "immersion", and best of all, "levelolution" without knowing the first thing about gaming. Publishers do not care about the what they are selling, as long as they are selling many of it, and will say anything to reach their goal - even lie to the public. Case in point, Patrick Bach's interview with Jack Frags about how the game features "improved netcode" and how people will notice the difference because its better. In reality, it was far worse than Battlefield 3.

So here is the bottomline, I will not pre order the next Battlefield game (rest assured that there will be another BF game. The series has gotten too big to not have many sequels), or an EA product. I blame myself for not waiting to see how the game turns out. They have given me no incentive to support their product (No, battlepacks aren't incentives - a working game is.)

I hope someone at EA who is in a position to change things will read this, and hopefully put out better games. Its unlikely, but no harm in trying. I also hope that we all will remember this when the next Battlefield game is announced.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Battlefield 4 - EA Origin Pre-Order Fiasco & Amazon to the Rescue

I have done two things wrong here:

1. Pre-ordering a game
2. Pre-ordering on Origin

I believe pre-ordering a game is not a smart thing to do these days. However, I am making an exception for Battlefield 4. In retrospect, I should have known better than this. I've had similar problems with Mass Effect 3 when purchasing on Origin. 

I will try to never make these mistakes again. So here is what happened:

September 16, 2013 - First pre-order

Pre-ordered the Battlefield 4 Digital Deluxe edition on Origin website, not the Origin client. Everything went fine, the game showed up in the Game Library. 

I did notice that my credit card account was only showing a temporary transaction from EA for $1. I didn't care at that point because the game was showing on my account. 

October 01, 2013 - Exclusive beta

No problems accessing the beta. I got it on time, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

October 24, 2013 - Charged $419 for my pre-order

I was looking at my credit card statement, and I realized that there was still a $1 pending transaction from EA. This seemed suspicious to me because when I pre-ordered a copy for my wife, there was a $69.99 transaction. I decided to check my Origin order history, and much to my surprise, the price of the pre-order was showing as $419.94. 

I immediately sent a note to Battlefield and Origin on twitter, and they replied back very shortly, which was nice to see. 

I contacted a Game Adviser at EA, and that gentleman told me that I will be given a refund. I asked him if I will be able to preload the game, and I was assured that I will be able to preload the game on October 26, 2013. 

I don't blame the gentleman for telling me that I would be able to pre-load the game. He is a tech support person who is not responsible for the Origin order processing system. I do blame the management, they should have known that customers are going to face these issues, and informed the tech support to handle it better, than to give a canned response. 

October 26, 2013 - No pre-load option for Battlefield 4

I suspected I wouldn't get an option to pre-load, judging from the lack of a transaction on my credit card, and I was right. My wife was able to pre-load the game. 

Off I went to tech support, and again, it has been a frustrating experience. Here is the transcript:

Chat Transcript
info: Your approximate wait time is 0 minute.
info: You are now ready to chat with Akshay.
Akshay: Thanks for contacting EA Customer Experience, my name is Akshay. How may I assist you today?
Akshay: Hello
you: Why am I not able to pre load Battlefield 4. I know my wife is able to do so. 
you: I am not able to preload. Could you tell me why?
Akshay: Okay
Akshay: You do not need to worry, I will do my best to address your concern.
you: Thanks
Akshay: May I know your email id please ?
you: *********
Akshay: Okay
Akshay: Thanks for the information
Akshay: For the verification could you please tell me the answer of your *** ?
you: *******
Akshay: Excellent
Akshay: Thank you for your co-operation in verifying the account
you: Sure
Akshay: Do you mind holding for a minute while I come up with something useful for you?
you: Sure
Akshay: I'll be glad to help you inform you.
you: Thanks. Any idea why I am not able to pre load?
Akshay: Pre-load means that, starting at the listed time, you'll be able to go ahead and download your game early, but won't be able to play until the stated release time.
you: I get that. 
you: I am just not able to preload. I am not talking about playing. 
you: What I am trying to say is, I don't have the option to preload at all. 
Akshay: Okay no problem
Akshay: You'll be able to pre-load Battlefield 4 at least 24 hours before the game's release in your region. Some players may be able to pre-load earlier than others depending on when the game is set to release per region.
you: My wife is she able to preload while I am not?
Akshay: Okay
you: Origin made a post on Facebook that anyone in North America can preload
Akshay: Okay
you: Sir, if you are not able to help me, kindly get me in touch with someone who can. 
Akshay: The preload that your wife was preloading will also get struck .
you: What??
you: OK...I know about that link. I've seen it. What I am asking is, why am I not able to preload, when Origin posted that the preload is available in North America. 
you: If you do not have an answer, that is fine. Please transfer this to someone who can help me. 
Akshay: Could you please give me few moments while I verify that for you.
you: Ok. 
Akshay: Thanks for being on hold.
you: Sure
Akshay: I'll provide some troubleshooting to you.
Akshay: I hope it will fix it for you.
you: Sure
you: You dont seem very confident
you: Please dont ask me restart origin or my computer. I've done both
Akshay: Actually it has worked for many players.
you: Sure
Akshay: We will try to manually uninstall Origin Client.
you: Ok
Akshay: Please follow this link :
Akshay: You can uninstall it manually by following the instructions on that link.
you: Ok let me do that
Akshay: Sure, please take your time my friend.
you: Ok, I manually uninstalled Origin
you: Do you want me to reinstall?
Akshay: Exactly. You can please re-install it to your system.
you: Ok I am doing that now
Akshay: Alright,please take your time.
you: Yeah, nothing. Its still not showing the Preload option.
you: Listen, do you think you can transfer this issue to someone else? 
Akshay: Origin Clear Cache might fix this issue. So I request you to please give it a try.
you: OK, very well
you: Nope. nothing. 
you: Still the same. 
Akshay: May I know if you and  your wife are using the same ISP ?
you: Yes. We are both on the same ISP, we are in North America, and neither she nor I are using proxies. 
Akshay: No worries.
Akshay: Please let me check your order again.
you: thank you
Akshay: Alright, I've checked that your order is fine. There is nothing wrong with it.
you: Excellent. 
you: Still doesn't explain why I cannot preload though
Akshay: I really apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.
you: Oh not at all. Its not your fault. I just want to talk to someone who can actually tell me what is going on
Akshay: It seems to be a technical problem that has occurred due to large number of customers using the pre-load.
you: OK, thanks. 

The problem was not solved, and wasted my time talking to tech support. I checked my credit card account, and I didn't see the $1 pending transaction anymore. This seemed like a good thing at the time. I thought the order was finally going to be processed.

I then started playing some Battlefield 3, and while I was customizing my jet, I noticed that I didn't have EMC Jammer anymore. I knew I used this before when I received my vehicles unlock as a part of the pre-order for the Digital Deluxe edition, so it was strange that battlelog was showing some of the items in the progression were yet to be unlocked. I thought this might be a glitch in Battlelog. 

October 27 - Pre-order gone

I logged into Origin thinking the preload might be available, and what did I see? No Battlefield 4 in my library. It was gone. I looked at the order history, and here is what I found: the disappearing vehicle unlocks made sense. EA/Origin/Battlelog decided to cancel the pre-order for me. 

I was extremely frustrated, and I went to the customer support again, even though they have not been helpful at all so far, and only wasted my time. I did not mean to be rude, but after so many problems just to place an order, I lost my patience, Here is the transcript: 

Chat Transcript
info: Your approximate wait time is 0 minute.
info: You are now ready to chat with Marinel.
Marinel: Thanks for contacting EA Customer Experience, my name is Marinel. How may I assist you today?
you: I pre ordered BF4 in September, and now the game is gone from my library, and in my order history there is a refund for $0.00 which I never asked for
you: Could you tell me what happened. 
Marinel: I'm sorry to hear that your having issues with your Origin purchase, Unfortunately your chat was connected on the wrong queue. Let me go ahead and connect you to our Origin team so they can better assist you, please stay on the line as I connect your chat session. Thank you!
you: Sure
info: Please wait while we get this chat session where it needs to go.
info: You are now ready to chat with Ujjwal.
Ujjwal: Thanks for contacting EA Customer Experience, my name is Ujjwal. How may I assist you today?
you: I pre ordered BF4 in September, and now the game is gone from my library, and in my order history there is a refund for $0.00 which I never asked for
you: I want to know what is going on here. Ever since I pre ordered the game I have been having trouble with it
Ujjwal: OK
Ujjwal: Please tell me your order number.
you: Its int he screenshot
Ujjwal: Alright
you: Click on the screenshot link please
Ujjwal: OK
Ujjwal: Let me check
Ujjwal: Have you attached it with case number 10305790 ?>
you: I have no idea what you are talking about. 
you: Here is my problem - I pre ordered BF4. And now the game is gone from my library. Can you help me or not? If not, direct me to someone who can
you: Check this link -
Ujjwal: I am sorry the link is not opening on my end
you: Well dont worry about it. 
Ujjwal: Please send me the picture of it.
you: Oh my god. 
you: How in the world am I going to send you a picture man? I sent you a link, what more do you want?
you: Please transfer me to someone else. 
you: Right now. 
Ujjwal: I know but due to privacy it is not opening
Ujjwal: I will give you a link
you: Ok, fine. Transfer me please. 
Ujjwal: To demonstrate to attach the screenshot.
you: What?
you: Are you going to transfer me or not? You got 30 seconds before I close this
Ujjwal: OK
Ujjwal: Let me dio this
Ujjwal: For you
Ujjwal: *do
you: Hello anyone there?
Ujjwal: If you want I can give you phone support.
you: We are done here. 
info: Your chat transcript will be sent to **** at the end of your chat session.

At this point, I decided to buy the game for a discount on Amazon, and I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to be charged by Origin for the last pre order. I went to the tech support again, and this time it was less frustrating: 

Chat Transcript
info: Your approximate wait time is 0 minute.
info: You are now ready to chat with Alejandro.
Alejandro: Thanks for contacting EA Customer Experience, my name is Alejandro Jr.. How may I assist you today?
you: I purchased Battlefield 4, now its gone from my game library
you: Also I noticed that in the order history, there has been a refund issued for $0
Alejandro: I see. I am very sorry to hear that. Let me see what I can do for you. Can I have your full name and the email address associated to your account please?
you: ***
you: ***
Alejandro: Thank you ***. Can I please have the answer to your security question ***?
you: ***
Alejandro: Thank you please wait while I check on the account.
you: Sure
Alejandro: Thank you for waiting. I have checked on your order and unfortunately the pre order was cancelled due to the authorization on the card failing. There can be a number of reasons for this type of error to occur such as changes on the information on the card. For now since the order was cancelled you can go ahead and reorder the game.
you: Man, that is so weird. I don't know what is going here. First I was charged $419 for the game, and now the pre order was canceled
you: Should I even bother with buying this on origin anymore? 
Alejandro: I am very sorry to hear that you are having problems with your battlefield 4 order. As of this time our team are working hard on fixing this issue and we ask for you continued patience while we improve our services.
you: Are you sure I wont get charged twice for this if I pre order now again?
Alejandro: Yes the order has been cancelled already so you will not be charged twice.
you: Ok, thanks
info: Your chat transcript will be sent to *** at the end of your chat session.

With that confirmation, I went over to Amazon. 

I bought the game, and I got a $5 credit, and I was able to start my pre-load - all within 10 minutes. 

Moral of the story - don't pre-order games, and if a pre-order must be placed, don't use Origin. At the time of this writing, it has a lot of issues. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (PC) - My Thoughts

When they announce a new Call of Duty game - I am optimistic. Maybe this time around things will be different; maybe its not, all flash and no substance; maybe they don't treat gamers like puppets; maybe the gameplay will justify the hype and just maybe the game is going to be good.

Then I play the game - and disappointment ensues. Within the first couple of missions, I know exactly how the entire game is going to play out - pretty much as badly as the previous ones. This serves to reinforce the point - just because the marketing people managed to get a lot of TV coverage for a game, it does not make the game any good. It just means the marketing people are doing one hell of job, while the developers are rehashing the old formula to death.

The visuals are not good, the story is incoherent for the most part, poor level design, invisible walls everywhere, linear gameplay - the list goes on. I did not care for the Strike Force missions. They were boring, and after playing for 10 minutes, I realized there is no fun to be had, and considering they were optional, I skipped past them. The game informed that in a strike force missions that I never played, some world changing event happened. I will take its word for it. I thought to myself, would playing these missions somehow make me enjoy the single player more? Would the linear levels bother me any less? Would it make the invisible walls go away? I know the answer is no, for all the above. 

Exactly who would turn off their computer while a game is saving?
If ever there is a course on game design, I think the Call of Duty games should be used as an example on how not to design levels. Its crazy how backwards the design is. I've played games in late 90s and early 2000 which had more freedom and better level design than this. Return to Castle Wolfenstein, No One Lives Forever, Half Life, the first Call of Duty were all excellent examples of creating a linear game without the kind of mindless restrictions that the new call of duty games have.

It seems to me that the only reason for this kind of level design is to ensure that the developers don't have to spend time thinking about what the player might do. They don't have to account for player action, when all actions except the ones that are strictly developer approved are removed, including deviating from the pre determined path by just a few steps. How this has not caused an outrage, I will not know.

My word, the game manages to look uglier than Modern Warfare. 
Perhaps the trick is to cater to a generation of audience that do not know any better. For them, invisible walls, unskippable cut scenes, game taking control of player action every 5 minutes, quick time events, 4 hour long single player campaign which pretty much plays itself are the norm. This is unfortunate, because there is no money to be made in making a game that is intelligent, well thought-out, and allows players the freedom to explore, and try different styles of gameplay. Crysis did this, and while it received rave reviews, PC gamers shunned it somewhat. Crytek made more money by giving players less in the follow up games. They called it a choreographed sandbox - which is a fancy term for linear levels. 

If this is going to be the trend, then I am not excited for the next generation of games. If they are not trying anything different than the cut scene-checkpoint-QTE-cut scene-checkpoint tedium, what good are the shiny new visuals? Something as basic as quick save, console tweaks which were taken for granted years ago are now considered features when they are supported - which is not very often. This makes even less sense because gamers complain about absolutely everything - sometimes about games they haven't played and never will.

So how is it that these games still exist? I don't know, but after playing this game - which was released in 2012 - it just made me sad at the current state of gaming. At this point, I am willing to bet that Call of Duty: Ghosts will not be any different. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

EVGA GeForce GTX780 ACX Cooler Overview

I purchased the new EVGA GeForce GTX 780 with ACX cooler on June 5, 2013 for $659.99 + 3.99 shipping on NewEgg. Buying these high end cards on launch is a tricky deal. They are in stock for about 10 minutes before they are sold out. Of all the cards I have seen on NewEgg at the time, this one was the best in terms of factory overclocked settings. Even the awesome looking Gigabyte model had lower clock speeds.

The card is roughly the same size as the GeForce GTX680SC. It should fit in almost any mid sized case.

Side by side comparison of EVGA GeForce GTX780 with ACX Cooler & EVGA GeForce GTX680SC

It runs cooler than 680 and makes less noise. Those who have used the 680 would know that they hardly make any noise, I had to listen for it to even notice it. I was happy that the 780 performs even better.

Performance wise, the average frame rates are higher, the leap isn't all that big from a GeForce 680. Guild Wars 2. The frame rate certainly dips below 60 on ultra in Lion's Arch. Those who don't play Guild Wars 2, Lion's Arch is a hub where every player from level 1 to 80 would gather for something or the other. Its a highly populated area and there is always something or the other going on. Check out this video of Lion's Arch on ultra settings.

I was pretty impressed with the performance of the card in Battlefield 3. Here is a video of Battlefield 3 in ultra.

Temperatures are lower on the 780, and that probably has a lot to do with the better cooling system on this card. I would absolutely recommend buying this instead of any reference model. Higher clock speeds, and better cooling system is definitely worth the extra $10. Quick note about the power connectors - 780 uses 1x6pin + 1x8pin PCI-express power connectors. This version of the card is bundled with the 8 pin power connector.

Should 680 Owners Upgrade?

Folks like me who like to own the latest GPU just as long as there are performance gains, probably already purchased the card. Those who are on the fence about it, should hold off. At the moment there is no reason to upgrade. Considering that the card is pretty expensive, there are no games at the moment that are taking full advantage of the GPU.

Of course, if a monitor upgrade is involved from 1080 to 1440, then an upgrade makes sense in order to play at the highest settings.

In my opinion, the 680 has plenty of life left in it. So I would hesitate to recommend an upgrade at the moment.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 Compatibility with older BIOS

I have a Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H motheboard, which was running with a stock BIOS, which was last updated on 3/12/2013. When I first installed the card, it would go to the BIOS screen and just sit there for a good minute. The LED debug code would show code 62 (Installation of the PCH runtime services). After about a minute, I would then be able to load windows. However, if I connected my other monitor, CD drive, data drive (non SSD drive) or if I hit Delete or End, the debug LED code would show one of the following:

  • AD (Issue Ready To Boot event for OS Boot)
  • AE (Boot to Legacy OS)
  • AB (Wait user command in BIOS Setup)

Once it reaches this point, it would just not do anything. I was under the impression that there was something wrong with the card itself, and I was quite disappointed.

My wife then had suggested that I should upgrade the BIOS. I looked up my BIOS date and version, and I realized it was quite old. I figured I should at least give it a shot.

I removed the 780, installed my 680, ran through the BIOS upgrade windows utility, and shut down my machine. Then I installed the 780 again and started the machine. This time around, I was through to the windows login screen in about a few seconds.

I was relieved to know that a BIOS upgrade was what was needed and there was nothing wrong with the card.

So my suggestion, first find out the version of the BIOS that is currently installed. This can be done through Windows. Having done this, find out if this version of BIOS is the latest, and if it is not, upgrade it before installing the GPU.

More GPU pictures below.