Friday, October 15, 2021

True Skyrim Immersion Killer, Overmodding

In the back of my mind, I knew constantly blinging out my Skyrim for ultimate immersion was the very thing that was destroying it.  Join me for a humorous look on why constant modding is dangerous for your immersion health. I've contracted a serious case of immersion dysfunction no alchemist in Skyrim can heal.


Will my immersion will go to Sovngard when it dies?

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Building an AMD 5950X System

 For my husband's workshop, I was finally able to build them a new PC with my old 1080ti now that I have my precious 3080ti.  They use mostly CAD which is CPU driven and a great application of the Ryzen 5950X. I thought they might want to wait for the next gen Threadrippers but as they are limping by with an aging Alienware Aurora, the 16 cores of the 5950X is a huge upgrade for them. (And as building an AMD system was in my bucket list, I was so happy to build one.)

 
Originally we had a plan to buy a prebuild with a RTX 3090 and then swap GPUs- a really sweet gesture from my husband to make a bereft wife happy. Thankfully EVGA Elite Program saved us from having to suffer the vagaries of the system integrators. 

For the mobo, I went with a x570 Gigabyte Aorus Pro, one level better than the Aorus Elite for better VRM components. It's not Gigabyte's upper tier or god tier but still places respectably on the A-tier of LinusTech's list.  

Although PCs supposedly have the most future upgradeability, the motherboard and CPU tend to be the biggest limiting factor.  This CPU/mobo combo will never know the joys of  DDR5. Since there are no DDR5 compatible CPU/Mobos out in the market right now, one has to accept the sobering reality of being locked out of one of the biggest RAM upgrades to come.   

(I myself am waiting for a DDR5 compatible mobo before I upgrade my i9-9900K even if there is no "practical" reason I need to upgrade my CPU. I'm definitely locked out of newer features like resizable bars even with my 3080ti which doesn't quite matter yet. None of the games I'm running are burning out the GPU just yet.)

Despite the recommendation from AMD to use water cooling, the world's best air cooler(Noctua DH-15) still does a fantastic job keeping the 5950X under 76C at full load. The Noctua is a robust workhorse beloved my many a happy air coolers including myself.  The 5950X for all it's 16 cores only has a TDP of 105 watts, not much more than my 8 core i9-9900K at 95 watts.  Intel has really fallen behind.
 
Retirement home for my 1080ti

They were lucky that Noctua now provides a less conspicuous all black model instead of the hideous flesh and bark colored fans nobody likes.  

As the case hadn't arrived yet, I loaded up the motherboard so I could still do all the open air tests. At first, I had forgotten all about the power button. I had to use a screwdriver to jump spark it.  Yes that is an otherwise useless laptop cooler being used as a mobo bench.

One thing I didn't like about AMD cpus is that they stingily provide only one average temperature, unlike Intel who provides a temp per core. They've got them in there,  just not available for the end user.  Now I can't be obsessive about my thermal pasting job and make sure cores are about same temps.  If there's anything I learned about top end PC builds, power delivery and cooling where you should spend the bucks.

I got them a massive full tower that could double as a rabbit hutch. Actually the Phantek Enthoo 719 is pretty deluxe and would be the case of my dreams.  The reason I got them something so big is more due to cooling flexibility. This has to run inside an extremely dusty metal shop where tiny metal shavings are common. We would have to put special filter paper over all holes. The larger case allowed us to get away with one intake and one exhaust fan.

The case was designed to fit a baker's dozen worth of HDD drives or an entire extra ITX board.


Keep metal dust out!

Now the new PC is away working in full commission, I don't get a chance to futz with it in the same way I do my workstation. I just put in standard XMP at 3600MHz and sent it away without trying any other OC options.

I am itching to build another system. For the hobbyist, building a custom system is so much fun. It's been called adult Legos but the enjoyment comes from not only building but of course the operation and endless configuration, overclocking, custom fan curves, under volting. I recently put in a continuous monitoring system so I can analyze the historical data, a story for another time. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Upgrading to a 3080ti, finally

I've been patiently waiting 2 years to upgrade after refusing the lackluster 2080ti upgrade.  After 10 months of grumbling, entering Newegg shuffles and exhausting vendor sites, I finally held my very own EVGA 3080ti FTW Ultra in my tingling paws. In the rarest of GPU purchase phenomena these days, I actually had a 23% discount to buy MSRP. I won 20% coupon spinning the prize wheel for becoming an EVGA Elite member.  At the time, I thought it was some one week promo for peripherals for an RGB mouse or PSU, not a $300 discount on almost the GPU of my dreams.  I paid around $1200 for the MSRP of $1399 excluding 9.25% CA tax. 

All year, I've been debating the wisdom of paying so much for a GPU. Compared to the 3080 MSRP for $800, this factory overclocked 3080ti $1399 is a terrible deal yielding barely 10% in gaming performance for 75+%  cost. But that 3080 $800 MSRP is tots imaginary and I was entirely grateful for overpay a moderate amount to a legitimate vendor.  I said to myself, "What a steal!" as this model had been reselling for ~$2500 on ebay and Amazon.  Also EVGA has something no other AIB partner has - a golden 10 year extended warranty for $60 so I'm going to use this card way past where it dies a natural death.

How did I even get one? 2 weeks ago the morning of the 3080ti launch, I woke up at 5:45am and pushed F5 hundreds of times for 2 hours on the overloaded EVGA site.   And despite the grumpy grumps on reddit who said we would have to wait in the queue until winter, here it is.

All morning I giggled like a school girl giddy with excitement that the thing I desired most all year actually was in my paws.   The LED is set to display 3 zone thermals for GPU, memory and power with blue being the safe idle temp under 50C. If you recognize the flesh colored sandwich, you will know I value functionality over vanity. Noctua forever!



What is the biggest buzzkill for a new GPU owner? The honeymoon didn't last but first let's cover the good.

The raw compute power is more than adequate for my gaming. 4K Witcher with Ultra everything settings looks amazing. I guess I could have played those settings on the 1080ti at 30-45fps. I was trotting around in the Blood and Wine DLC and the floriferous scenery and excessive grass really does me right. Of course I turned on Hair Physics to see that grey ponytail bounce.



The Bad, Thermals...

 I knew prior to purchase the 30 series ran hotter than any GPUs prior with the GDDR6 particularly prone to overheating.  But actually seeing parts of the card go above 90C even if it's within spec made me uncomfortable.  At first I was trying various other configuration means with under volting and more aggressive fan curves.  Even more worrying was heat dissipation for all surrounding components.  The RAM, SSD, HDDs surrounding the card definitely ran 5-10C hotter.

Some on reddit had replaced the air cooler with an AIO cooler and had recommended me the same. One fellow said he saw 10C improvement if that. But the solution was far simpler and easier.

I opened up the front of my case and vacuumed up the dust bunnies and temps were magically under control with the GPU under 72C but the memory max higher at 82C and hotspot being 77C when running 3DMark tests. My games normally don't run that hot and I could clamp down power to 80%, run even yet cooler and see no game performance difference since my 4K monitor could do no more than 60Hz. 

The Disappointing

My  main impetus to upgrade was to be able to upgrade my OG Vive to a nextgen headset.   The 3080ti definitely alleviated some performance problems for Fallout VR. But heavily modded Bethesda games can be CPU bound that you cannot pay your way out of with a beefy GPU. I was still suffering the same low rates in heavy NPC areas(Goodneighbor, Riften), at least I was doing it in higher resolution. 200% SS definitely is clearer and better looking than 150%. 

I put Alyx on ultra(from high) and didn't notice a significant visual improvement. Valve has done an extraordinary job making Alyx look amazing even with the 1080ti. Same with RDR2 that they have managed this game to look good at almost any setting. 4K ultra didn't necessarily look that amazing to my previous settings. But when I first played RDR2 on a PS4, I was constantly amazed at how good it looked even back then at fake 4K.

Trying out RTX

Cyberpunk 2077 - RTX looked incredibly realistic but it doesn't make me want to play this game anymore. I don't think I would have enjoyed this game any more or less with RTX.  It takes more than shiny reflections to make me love a game.

I only have 3 games in my library that support RTX (Control, Metro Exodus, CP2077) and the added benefit of RTX doesn't make me want to play them any more or less. 

End Thoughts

After pining away for a new GPU since last September, I am on the fence. I am some days giddy with joy being able to play ultra 4K. Other days I think to myself this is just a GPU. Why was I so hot and bothered for so long...

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Humble Choice November 2020: A Steal just for Yakuza Kiwami II and Darkersiders III

I've completely revamped my Steam sale spending habits and now I tend to buy ultra cheap bundles. I had a special 6 month discount with Humble bundles where I would get 12 games for $6 every month as part of the Humble Choice. 

Every month there is a chorus of disgruntled moans at the Humble Choice reveal but November really banged out a winner.   Most redditors and reviewers threw rocks and broken glass at last month's bundle and while I salvaged some enjoyment out of the October bundle from Sunless Skies, it's indeed a happy occasion to see games you are excited about playing. Here's a rundown after sampling most of the titles.


Yakuza Kiwami 2 - one of the best narratives in the Yakuza series

Yakuza Kiwami 2-  I love Yakuza 0 and was more than happy to have Kiwami 2 which is considered to tell the best narrative of the series.   With 10 entries in the mainline series,  it's tricky to know where to poke your head in as one can easily get lost in the vast hierarchy of the Tojo Clan and rival Omi Alliance.  Yakuza 0 the prequel is often recommended and is where I first laid my eyes on a grown man in a diaper.  Every Yakuza game is designed to be played as a Yakuza virgin's first with the backstory summarized for you so you could start here. 

Almost every Yakuza game shares some essential ingredients of Japanese wackiness, obligatory sexually weird kinkiness like grown men in diapers, side missions with a heart of gold, mini-games galore, karaoke bars, intimate restaurants, convenience stores, sprinkled over a dense city map of Kamurocho interweaved with the conflicts of the Tojo Clan which needs straightening out from the straight faced Dragon of Dojima, Kiryu Kazama. This entry also includes Majima's tale of going legit building a construction company.

Kiwami 1 &2 are currently on Xbox Gamepass. Yakuza 0 often goes on sale for $5.


Darksiders 3 - flawed but totally fun hack n slash

In an unabashedly video gamey of video game plots,  you play as the one and only purpled haired stiletto heeled horsewoman of the apocalypse.  You are tasked with hunting down and exterminating the seven sins with your blade whip and a nut bashing costume if there ever was one. Fury is definitely more aggro than her brothers, War, Death and the delicate Strife.
Total feels of Saturday morning cartoons...

The best positive review comes from Skillup on youtube who explains how reviewers trashed Darksiders 3 due to steep triple AAA $60 price tag without the polish and content.  While he acknowledges the problems, esp. with the camera, he undeniably had some unadulterated fun.  That's the core- this game is about having fun even if it's shallow like the  simple pleasure of munching on a sugary bowl of cereal watching Saturday morning cartoons.  The steep discount should let D3 be forgiven.  Don't expect God of War.  D3's tale is morally uncomplicated and it's no sin that this game is an enjoyable wrapper for "boss" fights of the seven deadly sins.

The cringey campy dialog will grow on you. "Death- you are anti-life." Visuals are  decidedly last gen, I've seen multiple skyrim ebony armor mods that had better smithing than Fury's chunky getup. And that camera will really fight you tooth and nail where you can't even see the enemy while fighting, just strands of purple hair.  

Little Misfortune - a twisted and dark-humored point and click

Little Misfortune is a short game(~ 3 hours) with an engaging dark narrative about a little girl named Misfortune trying her very best in a grim world. A dark voice inside her head pushes her towards a game of pursuing 'eternal happiness' which she wants more than anything for her sad "juice" addicted mother.  The story takes more than a few wild imaginative turns best left spoiler free.

I'm of two minds. The excellent voice acting and compelling story line makes this an interesting game but not necessarily a good game. The main game mechanic is walking and selecting decisions abetted by a few light puzzles and dexterity mini-games. But you will play for the story and to see if you can indeed obtain 'eternal happiness' for little Misfortune.

Crying Suns - sci fi tactical pixel art rogue-lite with rich story

Crying Suns -  This tactical rogue-lite oozes atmosphere through it's stellar pixel art and moody sound track. As a cloned admiral resurrected to command a ship to make contact with the Empire, player traverses a procedurally generated node graph of star clusters filled with an diverse array of random events beyond just enemy encounters and resource scavenging on ship wrecks and on the planet surface. Game states there are 300 events and perhaps you will undoubtedly encounter a lot of repeats in subsequent runs. However as a casual player sampling Crying Suns, the events felt fresh even if most are sci fi tropes.

Even though I'm not much for tactics games like FTL but this rock/paper/scissors (drone/fighter/frigate) combat over a hex grid actually won me over. Crying Suns has a more cinematic feels than FTL drawing you in with the main storyline about a fallen Empire. The optional dialog is very heavy on the lore exposition but when a colonist tells you of "sex slaves and baby makers", you might want to read through more dialog.

Because of the dialog, the crew feels much more like individual human beings than the crew on FTL. There is a free Steam demo you can try. I'm not sure I would have gone out of my way to buy it but as a Humble Choice inclusion, I'm happy to play this title. 

Darkwood - unique creepy survival horror out of Poland

Darkwood is an unforgiving top-down survival horror game designed for only serious masochists.  The player is vaguely trying to escape the "Woods" set in 1980's Poland in a plague ridden apocalypse where trees, mutants, and supernatural powers have gotten out of control.   Nothing is explicitly explained and left to environmental story telling for you to piece together. I'm always amazed when pixel art horror titles can generate such a deep sense of terror and dread.  Night time will have you clenching your orifices in a way you haven't. 

I've found controls are rather finicky and weapons are designed for a more realistic clunkiness and often I would just run for it panting and gasping because the weapon degradation was not worth the fight.   The stamina meter drain is brutal, it's the fastest depleting thing I've ever used in gaming.  But this is a title that one plays in dark stormy days of winter.
Other Worthwhile Reviews:

Rover Mechanic Simulator - mind numbing tasks in a Mars garage

Rover Mechanic Simulator - Yes it's theoretically possible that being a Martian mechanic disassembling and fixing broken rovers is mildly more interesting than being your garden variety earthbound mechanic in Car Mechanic Simulator.  However why does repairing worn bearings on Mars and on earth feel so same, taking off screws and cover plates except you get to 3d print needed parts instead of hitting up your suppliers. The strength of this title is that you do get to handle mars rovers based on real world NASA rovers like Curiosity.  
Do you see how many screws each wheel requires?

Unfortunately the gameplay is clicking and more clicking on rather dull mechanics, shuffling back and forth between the various stations. There is a gamer out there who loves chilling with such low stimulation sim games listening to playlist or podcasts.  Me, I wants to take these rovers for a sweet remote controlled ride once I've fixed them but you are pretty much a prisoner in this hermetically sealed one room garage.

Imperator:Rome - worst of the grand strategy Paradox fillers

Imperator:Rome Deluxe Edition - you know a Paradox game isn't much without the many DLCs so Humble does us the courtesy of giving us the deluxe edition.  However,  Imperator:Rome is one of their worst entries in the grand strategy genre and was panned widely on release for lack of depth and content.  Subsequent updates have only further alienated the player base judging by drop off in players and continuing increase in negative reviews. Personally, I think if you have to spend precious life time and energy on a Paradox game, Crusader Kings III is where it's at.

Youropa - doughboy gravity platformer

You are a rather soft dumpy humanoid creature with the special ability to defy gravity and walk on walls with suction cups for feet, like a doughboy Etherborn. Youropa, or a cartoony version of Paris has been torn apart and floated in the skies and you have to solve puzzles to (whatelse) restore order.   Despite all the positive reviews for this platformer, the plodding motions of the game play did not appeal to me. Most likely because I was replaying Ori and the Will of Wisps yesterday where I was chaining moves flying about so the heavy plodding movements of the You character fell flat on me.  

Given the abundant existence of absolutely stellar platformers like Ori or Hollow Knight, it's hard for second tier puzzle platformers to compete for your time and attention. And it's the case here that I'd rather spend my precious gaming hours exploring more of Hallownest.    

Tsioque - princess point and click

Did you ever want to role play a little princess escaping the evil wizard who's taken power while her mother Queen is away? No, me neither. I guess Little Misfortune was enough to fill the point and click quota for this month as I wasn't compelled to play any more than the first few scenes.

Smile for Me - yet/not another wacky indie point and click

You are a voluntary(?) resident at a happiness habitat trying to bring happiness to your fellow depressed patients.  The habitat has some sinister undertones with every day starting with a live action puppet VHS video of Dr. Habitat cramming positivity down your throat and enforced night curfew. The game uses some novel mechanics for shaking the screen for shaking your head to respond to NPCs.  This title is a matter of personal taste and this title didn't grab me by the lapels in the way Little Misfortune did.   

Dregs: Darksburg, Townsmen

  • Townsmen, a ported mobile building sim, need I say more.  I'd rather play Stronghold HD or finally take a crack at Tropico 6 if I ever got in the mood for a building sim.
  • Darksburg- coop roguelite, no friends to play with, don't want to play with randos neither 

Conclusion: Last Thoughts

I'd be pleased even if all I got was just Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Darksiders 3 but we got more. Crying Sun, Darkwood,  and Little Misfortune were interesting worthwhile additions.  The rest unfortunately will languish on my bundle leftovers pile never to be touched again.  Crying Suns was my unexpected hidden gem that found myself wanting to play late at night.

I'm still digesting Humble Choice chunks from the last 3 months. I started playing Sunless Skies from the reviled October bundle which really gripped my imagination. Just one good game is enough for me to make Humble worthwhile at my current $10 deal and this month was a boon.




Thursday, August 27, 2020

SkyrimVR Modding Discipline and Hygiene

 In my early days, I would carelessly and indiscriminately add large batches of mods fobbed off someone's list without knowing exactly what they did and what the implications were going forward.  One thing I didn't realize is that SkyrimVR is an LTR which means any modding sins will pop up sooner or later and give you days of debugging headaches or at worst force you to start a new playthrough.

For each mod I add, I try to figure out the impact if any on the following problem areas:

  • Performance
  • Save file bloat including scripts, object counts
  • Compatibility/Future Compatibility
  • Creation Engine Limits

    • Reference Handle Cap (see reddit post), this is the one that makes me the most paranoid
    • Mod 255 Plugin limit
    • Animation Limit 
Unless they are simple no-plugin texture mods which can be added or removed anytime, I try really hard to stick to the following practices to ward off future problems.  Also I want to keep it relatively simple, I don't want to futz around with merging mods or use wyre bash.  More time you spend piddling around modding, the less game time you give yourself.


Practice #1 Add only a few new mods per play session

Mod greed is a natural thing. Just a little mod restraint can prevent debugging headaches. Previously I thought it would be a "nice" surprise to organically find the mod change sometime later.  Instead I ended up with a few nasty surprises that got baked too far into my saves.   You want to find and isolate problems early as possible.

Now I never install a mod unless I am going to immediately check it out. I.e. I don't install a new follower/NPC mod unless I find them and vet them on that session.  I also have a probation period for the more complex overhaul mods and I will revert hours of play if needed.

Practice #2 Compare Performance Against Last Known Baseline and non Modded Baselines

In VR, a gamer's tolerance can vary but I can get sick or worse lose immersion around 60fps.  First is capturing your baseline without mods and then understanding where the bottlenecks can occur and what your fallback solutions are. For me, I know it's the CPU not GPU that is problematic. (For GPU, I can always take out 4K/8K textures and reduce SS. But still I keep an eye out for GPU/VRAM usage always wanting to be around 80% or less)

I have an i9-9900K that is barely being used so it's not lack of processing power but creaky creation engine limitations when CPU frames take too long. The CPU frame needs to take less than 11ms(for 90fps) and on a completely clean vanilla game, my CPU frames take ~4ms.  Let's just say mod greed on my part took it to ~14ms but I'm back to 6-7ms.

The first thing I do after installing mods is to check current fps and make sure I leave headroom gpu, vram/cpu still left for future.  Using fpsviewer, I will do a performance test by traveling to known performance problem areas of Riften, Whiterun, and open cities like Falkreath.  

One of the tricky problems with modding Skyrim is that it's not always one specific sandbag. Sometimes there is death by a thousand paper cuts and also unexpected interactions between unrelated mods.

For instance, this isn't 100% confirmed but I've read on reddit that Footprints and Wet and Cold can be problematic when you have a large number of extra NPCs which very likely added to my cpu frame slowdown.  My new load order still includes all the NPC mods but doesn't include Footprints/Wet and Cold and I don't have performance problems so I will be leaving them out for the future.  I love having more NPCs than footprints.

Practice #3 Monitor Save File, Check Unreferenced Scripts and Objects, Counts

At the end of a playthrough, I check the save file size compared to the previous mod load order, then open up the file in fallrim tools and check

  1. Existence of unreferenced scripts and objects. If they exist, I will delete them and the rerun the game on the clean save. Sometimes I'm lazy and will do this the first thing the next play session.
    • Birds of Skyrim really left a lot of junk scripts around so I uninstalled. 
  2. Script/object counts compared to previous
    • Placeable Statics added an ungodly number of scripts almost for every container. But I was really OCD about removing clutter around my Hearthfire homes and the mod outlined steps for uninstalling...

Practice #4 Research Mod Deinstallability/Compatibility/Future Compatibility

First is knowing how permanent a mod choice is going to be and whether or not a mod can be truly deinstalled. Even with mod cleaning with fallrim tools, some mods cannot be successfully purged. When there is no mention of deinstalling on the mod page,  it probably is not a clean removal.  I thought Sounds of Skyrim was going to be something easily taken out but I get random CTDs without it even with fallrim cleaning. If a mod is going to be in your loadlist forever, you tend to be pickier.

Most mods that have been around have a fleshed out compatibility section and I try do a thorough cross check and look at the bug list. But I am most careful with overhaul mods which can crimp your future modding options.   

Sometimes you will be only be able to do 1 of something. I tried 3 different College of Winterhold overhauls and chose the Magical College of Winterhold b/c it made it you know, more magical. But you can't know the future, last year Obscure's College of Winterhold got released.  I didn't like some of Obscure's changes(some of the shiny lamps were not lore friendly and stuck out like a sore thumb) so I didn't have to take action.

Practice #5 Play Large Quest Mods on a Separate Vortex Profile and Save. 

I fork off a separate profile in Vortex and play in separate saves for large quest mods like Beyond Skyrim: Bruma, Vigilant, Carved Brink, Project AHO.  They have really fantastic armors that would have been great to have in my regular play but I am extremely paranoid about such mods adding a great number of object records which in the long term can increase instability.  It's not any one of these mods but rather having dozens of them that is the problem. This reddit discussion really opened my eyes and I used the xedit script to count references.

The only two big quest mods I do keep in my main load list are

  • Legacy of the Dragonborn (I will not be starting over for 5.0) - Not only because LotD gives your  hoarding purpose but I loved having Dev Aveza docked in Solitude
  • Clockwork - the house is too amazing and I worked to hard to get it...

Still here, treat yourself to my mod video.




Monday, August 3, 2020

Creed:Rise to Glory - Getting Whupped by Mr. T

Given the reduced options to exercise this year, I finally got Creed:Rise to Glory on sale for $6.  I do not have pugilist tendencies IRL but I enjoyed brawling the orc chief in SkyrimVR so much that I wanted to give proper VR boxing a go.  Creed is by design meant more as a cinematic experience and less of a simulator like Thrill of the Fight. There is a full career mode where you play as Adonis Creed to win the championship but I first opted for Freeplay mode.  



I chose to challenge Mr. T in a dark alley instead of a proper boxing ring. The first thing you notice is that Mr. T has a consistent shine all over his body like a glazed donut. The cartoony arcade style of young Mr.T(Lawrence Tureaud)'s expressions spontaneously made me smack talk him so hard.  Mr. T is for turd.

VR boxing I'm sure is a mild shadow of the real thing but sure gets your adrenaline flowing. I was totally unprepared for the intensity and my whole body ached even after one measly fight. Still the feel of victory when you take Lawrence down- incomparable. 

I pity the fool...

Verdict-  Excellent intense workout. Totally worth the $5.99 sales price. I loved the cheesy over the top cinematics and being pumped up with the music from the original Rocky movies. (Check isthereanydeal to see if there is a sale going on. )


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Gris

Gris along with Journey and Abzu, is one of the most beatiful titles in gaming.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Wacky Microcosm of Yakuza 0

One of the wackiest action titles available to us lucky gamers.


Strictly Storymode Analysis: https://youtu.be/Z1V8amIdeRI

Yakuza 0 is the prequel and origin story for the entire Yakuza series from Sega which makes it a perfect place to start.   This game hands you some of zaniest ridiculous moments of pure fun that's jellyrolled into a dark melodrama about the criminal underworld.  Watch my video to see things that you won't see in any other "Western" game.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Joy of Exploration in Abzû

(Video for those who'd rather watch than read...)

I've been loving a visually spectacular game all week called Abzû.   Abzû is unlike most games out there as it's more of an underwater sensory experience than a traditional game.  The most gamelike aspects are a few undemanding puzzle elements.

 You play as a silent nameless polygonal diver of infinite energy piecing together the mysteries of an ancient civilization. There is a story that guides you along a linear path but you can just vibe out on the mesmerizing graphics and soundtrack of this game.


Abzû is not meant to be a realistic diving simulator, but out of any game I've played, Abzû evokes the delicious sense of awe, wonder, discovery I had when snorkeling.  The stylized visuals grants Abzû an dreamy fantastical quality.  The movement of the fish and schooling behavior is highly exaggerated and choreographed in a way consistent with the stylized artistry of the game.

Abzu winds you through diverse waterscapes from lush kelp forests, pastel reefs of plate coral, architectural ruins to the deep abyss.  I joyfully swam among giant schools of fish, orcas, dolphins, squids, whales, sharks, and every other kind of water creature you can think of.   If you use a controller, the diver will swim about with fluidity and expressiveness, it made me feel all giddy zipping around.  Even though this game is about 3 hours long, I played for an hour over 4 days because I didn't want to eat my cake all in one go. Instead of rushing through, I swam around each nook and cranny looking for starfish and urchins.

The sheer joy of Abzu is exploration and there is a lovely simplicity in the game design that makes leisurely exploration possible.  Wildlife is not trying to kill you. You don't need oxygen, don't need to collect resources or constantly look at your inventory.   There is a mild hazard zone in the latter part of the story.  You just noodle around and from time to time you activate portals.  With Abzu, I felt genuine anticipation and excitement going from one space to another as you never knew what wondrous sight would dazzle you next.

I would recommend this game to pretty much anyone who has eyeballs.  Abzu is thrilling and calming at the same time.  Abzu is such a feast for the eyes and I am so grateful such creativity exists in game form.




The word Abzû is based on the Sumerian words ab for ocean and zu "to know" translated to "Ocean of Wisdom".

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Preparing for No Man's Sky VR

In anticipation of the summer's BEYOND update to No Man's Sky which adds VR support, I started playing the pancake version mostly at night as a way to unwind from the day's chaos. There's a relaxing simplicity to hopping on your spaceship, choosing a star on the map and warping into a different star system. I'm not forced to be part of some morally complex space opera but just a hapless casual tourist.  I don't think I had this much fun exploring, jetpacking,  ripping around in a pilgrim(an exocraft motor bike) in a space game in a long while.  I played in creative mode to avoid the grind altogether just hopping from planet to planet, looking for a good home planet to build a base on.


I had low low expectations due to the flubbed launch from Hello Games few years ago and I was immediately struck by what an incredible achievement this is for such a small indie shop with 20 humans working on NMS. Youtuber SkillUp dinged this game for not having memorable curated world spaces but this is not what NMS is about.  Everything - planets, plants, animals, spaceships are all procedurally generated and can at minimum produce some truly interesting combinations to be enjoyed as a casual space tourist.  Some planets are so outright bizarre- a toxic desert planet with jumping mushrooms was quite a head trip. I had the chance to fight pirates in order to gain a freighter but it seems too much responsibility for now as I just like planet hopping without worries.

One of my favorite planets was built completely out of hexagons. It becomes a tricky mini game to maneuver around in a 4 wheeler. I could rip around in my motorbike but where's the challenge in that. Actually I've started feeling like I am trampling fragile ecosystems when I go on a wheeled rampage and there were a few times where I just abandoned my wheels for walking and erstwhile jet-packing.

The night cycle on the hexagon planet was surprisingly exquisite, I cannot wait to visit these places in VR and NMS is currently the only VR game I am anticipating in 2019. I've only thus far nibbled off a tiny bit off the NMS galaxy not touching combat mechanic or base building and am so excited something more meaty is coming to VR.





Thursday, March 21, 2019

Stadia is Not "THE" Future of Gaming

Thoughts on Google Stadia From a Game Loving Cloud Compute Guy

As I slogged through the marketing grandstanding of Google’s Stadia GDC live stream, I grumbled and cursed many a times while making my tender lamb stew. I love gaming and I love cloud computing, so why should Stadia- an “innovative” new service capable of running and streaming GPU intensive games from Google’s cloud servers directly onto any device of my choice cause me such consternation? We have grand declarations periodically that “X is the future of gaming” with X being VR, mobile, on-line multiplayer, and most recently and pitifully ray tracing. No one took Jensen Huang too seriously and ray tracing is definitely not the holy grail of gaming. VR is still struggling and single player most definitely wasn’t killed off by on-line shooters.

If there is one thing that the brief and glorious history of video gaming taught us is that gaming is endlessly diverging not converging. Stadia has to compete ferociously for it’s life to coexist in a rich heterogeneous ecosystem that includes consoles, PCs, modding, on-line shooters, all those grindy MMOs, grindy mobile games, VR/AR games, other competing streaming services, retro games, emulated games and more. The vast swathes of humankind’s gaming catalog will never be running on Stadia servers. Streaming is not going to drive locally running games to extinction just as chromebook did not kill the PC which instead highlighted limitations of network only applications.

As a VR/RPG/modding gaming enthusiast who has spent significant time wrangling on Google’s Cloud Platform GCP as well as on Amazon’s AWS and lastly on Azure, I thought I should put more meat on my instinctual skepticism about Stadia and pure cloud based streaming models in general. While I agree with the usual howls of network latency killing gameplay from first hand experience, Stadia has many more challenges to overcome in generating enough of worthwhile content given the hurdles of porting. Also against common agreement, I also don’t believe it’s a complete given that Google has the cloud part in the bag as there are challenges to implement cloud gaming efficiently in managing beefy GPU hardware capacity that is less scalable in 4K unless gamers play predominantly in lower resolutions. How can Google make the pricing attractive and profitable for a potentially laggy and subpar gaming experience that isn’t geared towards serious gamers?

When Google staked a very public claim in streaming with the GDC announcement, I’m sure Microsoft/Sony/Nvidia/Valve people must have had a gut check- irritation and fear in different measures but gladdened Google only bloviated with grand statements backed up only with a lackluster demo. The Stadia demo of Assassin’s Creed soaring above the landscape was cleverly picked which hides any lagginess instead of a first person shooter demo. Moving the game between devices was old hat for those that have already seen Blade’s Shadow demos a year ago. For those not in the know, Shadow is a cloud streaming service that provides a cloud instance with a dedicated GPU running Microsoft Windows- a glorified remote desktop of sorts that you can move around in different devices. I’m sure all the Shadow engineers blanched the most at the web giant’s power move. I have to confess my initial hate on streaming stems from my negative experience last year with Shadow-mainly due to my subpar laggy internet service.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that latency is not an issue. Any gaming platform’s strength is in massive adoption. What will make the masses with fast internet and ready cash flock to Stadia? The driving forces for adoption have historically been gaming content/experience and cost and I don’t see it working out in Google’s favor in either front.

Discomforting Loss of Gamer Control in a Streaming Model

Even before talking about content or cost, streaming represents a disturbing trade of convenience over control. Many gamers on YouTube and reddit loathe and fear streaming as a way corporations grab control. Google aims to control how you play and when you play and serious gamers are right to be weary of the dark sides to this trade. This streaming service may appeal to uninvested casual gamers who want a way to pass the time, but for serious gamers that tend to spend hundreds of hours in single player games, giving up such control is terrifying as the game is more than a game but a player’s private world especially if it’s been modded.

“Netflix of Games” is a readily consumable analogy but trivializes the gap between streaming static content and a video game while disrespecting the dynamic interactive complexity of gaming as a fundamentally different medium. Phil Harrison, head of Stadia, touts the film/music analogy as a way to wave off those weary of giving up ownership but note the biggest blaring difference- the significant majority of films/music have been fully digitized and are largely available in subscription services or for an extra fee. Most games that require hefty GPU horsepower are too complex to automatically convert and 99.99% of the existing work will certainly NOT be converted to this Google platform. From what little Stadia unveiled, it excludes too much and provides too little currently to become a major force in gaming.

Stadia Pricing Based on Existing Cloud Pricing
Current cloud costs of an instance with hefty GPUs are expensive. Since Google filled out an hour without any mention of the pricing model and have kept coyly mum in interviews, we only have our guesses on how they might monetize the key costs- hardware (CPU/GPU/Disk) vs game title. In looking at existing cloud pricing models, obvious possibilities include metered usage and/or a subscription service with neither precluding the other along with game licensing and micro transaction costs.

Projecting Stadia Pricing Based on Existing Cloud Pricing

Current cloud costs of an instance with hefty GPUs are expensive. Since Google filled out an hour without any mention of the pricing model and have kept coyly mum in interviews, we only have our guesses on how they might monetize the key costs- hardware (CPU/GPU/Disk) vs game title.  In looking at existing cloud pricing models, obvious possibilities include metered usage and/or a subscription service with neither precluding the other along with game licensing and micro transaction costs.

These beefy specs don't come cheap. Also no mention of disk...
Standard cloud services generally provide metered billing(per second) for the underlying compute resources with either additional metered cost for software license such as Microsoft Windows or allow the user to bring their own licenses. Looking at existing GCP cloud pricing for a single GPU, the closest spec to Stadia would be the NVidia Tesla P100 with 16GB HBM currently at $1.46 per hour not counting storage costs. This cost is expensive even by cloud standards since high end GPUs are expensive though Google would have squeezed a much better deal out of AMD providing the GPUs. Even $1 an hour would be much too steep for a casual gamer and underlying costs are probably too expensive to provide a free to play model. Shadow currently has a subscription model for $34.95/month which I think is too much of an outlay for the casual gamer but most likely a profit loss if the gamer plays too much. Metered usage opens more wallets than a monthly subscription. Any giant creating this type of gaming platform has to be ready to lose billions for years on end and you have to wonder how long Google is willing to persevere with full commitment given their history of starving projects and unceremoniously ditching failures. Gaming is not a part of the Google DNA. If I had to bet, I would bet more on xCloud succeeding than Stadia. You have to give credit to Microsoft's continued perseverance to gaming despite stumbles- the first Xbox was 17 years ago- 2001.

How would Google manage hardware capacity and demand efficiently?  Unlike other general use cloud platform where vendors have more wiggle room in slightly over-provisioning to accommodate more users, gaming is a demanding process Since the Vega 56 has 10.7 TFLOPS similar to a GTX1080ti, even with gpu virtualization, 4K gaming can eat a lot of the single GPU so they have to hope for more users wanting lower resolution gaming.  Stadia's predominant usage is driven by a live human clicking behind an instance which has to be of close geographical proximity to the user to reduce latency at concentrated peak hours.  You can't move users to a different region without risking worsening latency. If launching Stadia is as easy and casual as clicking a button on youtube to play a game, how well can Google predict peak demand and grow the data center.  It takes time to add new machines- in the meanwhile users lose confidence being locked out when paying for a premium service. Google will have to carefully limit users to prevent a stampede, but what will they do with spare capacity if the masses don't come?

What will Google do with the spare capacity in off hours(working/sleeping)? Run their own machine learning algorithms for world domination? By gods, is Stadia one of Google's evil plan to have more machine learning capacity.  They will probably run ML processes that crunch your gaming habits to see what ads to serve you.  Even if Stadia loses money, Google still would have scraped a lot of data they couldn't get any other way. Google could also sell off Stadia's spare capacity for AI processing just as Google's cloud service sells spare capacity with preemptible instances which get used for short-lived batch processing?


Input response time is not the only performance concern.  Startup and load even locally can take 10+ seconds to a minute depending on game content and disk media.  On Google's cloud,  I can vouch for how fast base Linux instances can be spun up (5-10 seconds) but launching game executable from scratch requiring gigabytes to be read may take significantly longer on the cloud than locally depending on implementation. Verily Google could have pre-warmed instances for the most popular games to speed startup but most GPU heavy titles dynamically load gigabytes of texture maps and worlds depending on gamer location. An important takeaway for those that have not used a cloud service, one pays through the nose for faster disk access on the cloud which is always slower than local versions of the same type.

 The bane of my big data cloud existence was expensive limited slow storage even in SSD across all vendors though GCP was better than Azure for persistent disk.  Disk access is capped by throughput and number of IOPS or reads and writes per second based on disk size.  In GCP, you would need 1TB to get 500MB/sec at a hurtful $170/month and with dozens of servers- storage costs were a constant bugbear we had to manage.  Granted for Stadia, Google would segregate stateful game data and avoid long term storage for an instance of the base game to bring down storage costs but  how would they manage disk performance running predominantly IO hungry games.    The reason cloud vendors can get away with shared SSDs is that not every tenant on a server is banging on the disk with equal ferocity.  But modern triple AAA game can easily be 50GB-100GB with gigabytes of texture maps and worlds being loaded dynamically but perhaps Google is banking on the fact disk usage spikes are intermittent.

Compelling Gaming Content and Experience

In the varied ways a games can hook users, the best examples of the genre strive to be genuinely engaging and worthy of your time (Witcher 3, Kingdom Come Delivernace, too many titles to list!!!). But the rise of mobile gaming unleashed a rapacious insidious trend of employing psychological manipulations such as intermittent rewards to bleed drops of money out of you. To the detriment of the gaming genre, it’s easier and more lucrative to create Candy Crush than labor 7 years for Read Dead Redemption II. Mobile games can adopt a free to play model to lure casual players but clearly the Stadia hardware is much too expensive to allow users free entry even if the game license is free. Stadia would have to go down partially the harder route of compelling content. Stadia has started their own studio but can they hit one out of the park? Creating a hit game is not something you can just throw money at. Ask Microsoft. And Amazon.

Only recently I understood the reason 91+ million Sony PS4s blot this earth. I had been a PC gamer most of my life and had no desire to downgrade my 4K GTX 1080ti gaming experience with a measly console. But Red Dead Redemption II only available on console made me finally capitulate and shell out $500 for a PS4 Pro with fake 4k which I grudgingly bought over an XBox One X which had superior hardware. All the console games I wanted to play(God of War, Spiderman, Horizon Zero Dawn, Persona 5) were Sony exclusives- a winning trend Sony is not going to give up. Although the hardware by the sound of the fans struggled mightily on my PS4 Pro, I was utterly shocked at the superior graphics of RDRII pushed out with a mere 4.2 teraflops, only a third of my GTX 1080ti. The breathtaking scenery Rockstar created by black magic exceeded cinema. I don’t think I’ll be consigning this PS4 Pro to the dustbin any time soon as such a rich library still awaits to be played. Existing consoles are such a formidable competitor to streaming, even Sony have to compete with themselves to convert their own existing user base to new services. Stadia would have to provide something better and different.


Double Rainbow of Red Dead

Google only announced Doom Eternal, Tomb Raider, and a handful of other titles as a confirmed launch title besides Assassin’s Creed Odyssey- a roster not strong enough to open the wallets of the masses. Doom historically has had low specs that you can play on an aging potato PC. Since Doom is not an exclusive deal, unless Stadia has an attractive value proposition where it’s significantly cheaper to try than buy, I’m not sure all the Youtube integration and next gen features would be enough. Splitting distribution this way risks cannibalizing publisher profits, it’s a huge gamble on Bethesda’s part that more people that would not have bought a copy will play. I could see that it’s good for the gamer if Stadia becomes an easy/cheap way to try games before you buy. Given the current trend of buggy first releases of AAA titles, publishers will probably try to circumvent any disadvantage. If Fallout 76/Anthem had debuted on Stadia in their wildly buggy states without an upfront license, undoubtedly publishers would have lost revenue.

There is a steep cost to the game developer to bring a game to Stadia who are already too stretched. Beyond the major obvious difference of creating an executable that runs on Linux with Vulkan, running games efficiently on Stadia is more than a matter of running the same game executable you can run locally vs in their data center. Even if Unity and Unreal Engine will “support” Stadia deployment, it’s probably nominal alpha(buggy) support initially but the bulk of GPU heavy games are built on custom engines.

On the positive side, I’m thrilled with Google’s choice of Linux/Vulkan. Even if Stadia becomes one more tombstone in the cluttered Google graveyard, Linux gaming got an unimaginable boost. The current list of Vulkan supported Linux games is … well I rolled through that stunted list multiple times in the last few years without being enticed once. The second positive silver lining- Google spends some of their search engine billions on furthering gaming. Google being exceedingly late to a crowded field is predictably is looking to disrupt the gaming industry with a completely different cloud streaming paradigm integrated with a broadcasting platform. Shouldn’t we welcome innovation and competition which in the end is good for the end gamer? Or will this be wasted divided effort on developers that release on Stadia and other platforms. If Doom sucks, the web trolls will come out and blame time wasted on Stadia.

But a greater harm to gaming would be that if streaming as the predominant model would impact the type of games that get made. Mobile platforms already generate enough insidious free to play microtransaction laden Skinner boxes, but at least their attempts are obvious. If Google and publishers have complete control and knowledge of all your gaming inputs along with all Google has already stored about you, they could with greater subtlety inject their attempts at squeezing cash out of you in and out of game.

Final Thoughts on the Future of Gaming

I am heartily convinced console, PC and many other forms gaming won’t be supplanted by streaming any time soon if ever. Inadequate internet infrastructure and data caps are not the only obvious drag on streaming adoption. Even with 5G and fiber, network latency is a factor that won’t go away for VR where latency=nausea and in competitive games where latency=loser. How can a single new untested platform dominate the future of gaming when the massive existing and growing catalog of fantastic superior games are available elsewhere? Just as evil people routinely predict the demise of single player games, it is a hot steaming pile of cloud conceit that streaming is “THE” future of gaming. History has favored divergence and not convergence and what kind of poor diminished world would we gamers live in if we were reduced to streaming as our play mechanism.

Friday, February 1, 2019

My Adventures in Performance Tuning Fallout 4 VR

TLDR;- FO4VR still takes serious tuning to make it playable even in 2019 even for a beefy rig. FO4VR is a CPU intensive game and sadly it was upgrading to an i9-9900K that made the biggest difference. But tweaking and modding can bring FO4VR to an "acceptable" state of play. 
When I first started playing Fallout 4 VR on my Alienware R4 17 with an external GTX 1080ti,  the stuttering and blurriness was so atrocious, plays would give me severe eyestrain then headaches.  I've invested a significant amount of time trying to bring FO4VR to the level of my heavily modded SkyrimVR visuals but I gave up and tried frantically to stabilize with acceptable graphics.  After I had given up everything(shadows,interior lights,particle effects,grass) to run a decent stable game, I realized I couldn't do any serious settlement building which was a big part of my enjoyment.  So I finally capitulated and built me a new gaming rig.  However I decided to chronicle my performance tuning in detail as I still needed all the fixes even for my beefy rig to load up on 4k textures and to mod further.

The bad performance in this game is a death by a thousand cuts and there is no magic bullet- even an i9-9900K/GTX 1080ti requires compromises and tuning. I still won't run lush tree and grass/ hair physics mods since my reprojection rate can run as high as 30% in my growing settlements. My nightly/weekend tuning exercise fell under 5 categories:
  • Performance Mods- Probably Lights Remover made the most noticeable difference.
  • Fallout 4 VR config/ini - TAA tweaking, lowering shadow quality, particle effect, turning off grass, etc
  • SteamVR Configuration- Supersampling and reprojection options. Before my hardware upgrade, I ended up running "Always On" interleaved projection with  Motion Smoothing to reduce stutters.
  • Existing Hardware Configuration such as overclocking GPU/CPU/DRAM, GPU power options
  • Hardware Upgrades- unfortunately the most expensive yet the most effective
Also the performance problems vary in nature- low fps, stuttering, high load times,  slow and unstable workshop menu. I've put more details below this summary diagram.  Even though my husband thinks this diagram is overkill, I use this diagram to reason more systematically about my tuning. The green to red color scheme indicates performance impact positive to negative:
  • green- improved performance significantly 
  • light green - moderately improved
  • white- setting at neutral (could crank up)
  • yellow - nibbles away at performance
  • orange- degrades performances significantly, but I use the settings to improve immersion
  • red- kills performance and hence avoiding them for the present
  • blue- not sure if it worked as a FPS boost was not seen


Performance Tuning Tools- FPSvr

A good performance tool can more objectively show the impact of your changes and I highly highly recommend FPSvr. Only for 4 bucks you get a GPU/CPU breakdown for each session that can show you where you bottlenecks are. (It's sad that SteamVR fps tool is so unusable.)  You can check  the FPS rates and CPU/GPU usage in-game by tilting up your controller, and at the end of the game session stats are automatically saved to analyze through the included FPSvr Viewer.  Having historical baselines for comparison is huge when you are piling on mods at every play.

Click me to see this fantastic tool for VR session breakdown.

If you click to enlarge, you can see the breakdown of GPU/CPU frame times and usage. I used this to see that the CPU was no longer a bottleneck and the current Intel Turbo Boost (~4.6GHz -~4.9GHz) was more than ample for this game and I didn't need to bother overclocking just yet. In my old rig, couldn't play without overclocking my i7-6820HK.

Yes you can see from the sessions table on the left that I played an unhealthy amount of  FO4VR this week except this wasn't exactly playing- I was performance testing all over the Commonwealth on my new gaming rig obsessively looking at the in-game FPS monitor and checking the newly installed 4K textures.  

In addition, I also use GPU-Z and HWInfo  to monitor usage and temps to see if I can eke out more from the hardware.

Performance Mods

I installed all the standard recommended performance mods but it was only the Lights Remover that I saw a noticeable difference. Admittedly I did not have as much discipline in my early testing without FPSvr and was relying on SteamVR in-game fpsviewer.
    Insignificant Objects Remover, FAR, OVT on their own did not fix my initial stuttering problem. However I leave them.
Mods that I couldn't yet see an improvement:
  • Load Accelerator - I really really wanted this mod to work. I still have slow load times(15-30 seconds) on my beefy rig and m.2 Nvme SSD.  Performance stats show CPU/GPU are just hanging out not working much during this time. Curse you Bethesda- you still found a way to defeat me.  I am giving up on this at the present since I spend the time looking at my FPSvr stats and resting my eyes.  
  • Boston FPS Fix - this curiously increased my FPS in Boston areas and I don't know if I have a conflicting mod that undid this mod's changes or the weather changed.  I need to spend more time retesting.

Increasing Workshop Menu Performance

When you mod in thousands of items to your workshop menu, you are going to start seeing the workshop menu load slower and slower.  There is a fix for pancake involving F4SE which sadly will not work in VR.  Surprisingly turning off the rotation animation in your Fallout4Custom.ini does provide a performance boost and prevented my games from crashing every 10 minutes to about 60. 
[Interface] fWorkshopRotateSpeed=0.00 ;(Default: 1.00) fWorkshopRepeatTime=0.15 ;(Default: 0.25)
I found the solution from this handy reddit thread:
https://www.reddit.com/r/fo4/comments/4panl5/psa_you_can_stop_items_from_rotating_in_the/

Moderating Mod Usage and Avoiding Performance Killers

As soon as I get my build stable, the first thing I do is slap on more mods.  I am greedy when it comes to mods and I know "some" of my performance/stability issues stem from my mod addiction. (The terrible initial performance, blurriness and stuttering was ALL Bethesda since I had it before modding!).  Mods are what I love about Fallout and this habit requires a lot of restraint.

I can not NOT have 4K texture mods so I make a tradeoff and pare everything else down.  I try not use any mods that turn off or mess with precombined meshes no matter how hard I want to get rid of garbage in my settlements. See these explanations from: 
Then there are cases where my own gameplay rather than the mod degrades performance. For instance Sim Settlements is an excellent mod is not a performance killer in itself.  However it does make growing your settlement so easy that I tend to create larger settlements than I normally would if I had to micromanage it all by myself.  Fallout 4 settlement building in general is a performance killer and you can see many youtubers (Oxhorn) talk about how frame rates drop below 30 in their heaviest settlements. That's bearable in the pancake version but totally a no go in VR.

Unfortunately this poorly optimized game may force you to change your gaming behavior. I don't build settlements in a heavy areas like Hangman's Alley or Jamaica Plains and prefer those situated in decent performing areas.

Fallout 4 INI Tweaks, TAA etc.

Tuning TAA-  I tried turning TAA off, using FXAA. FXAA just hurt my eyes and decided I must have TAA. You have to tradeoff between sharpness and sparkling edges vs blurriness- sharper it is more sparkly it gets. Shine like a diamond, shine like a diamond in the sky~~~ My current TAA settings are for 2.0X SS:
fTAAPostSharpen=0.75
fTAASharpen=1.0000
fTAAHighFreq=0.8000
fTAALowFreq=0.5000
fTAAPostOverlay=0.75
I used lower 0.675 for  fTAASharpen/fTAAPostOverlay when I used to run at 1.5X SS.  I adjust shadow settings, ambient occlusion all in-game.

SteamVR Configuration, SS etc.

Managing Reprojection

With my old rig(i7-6820HK/1080ti), pegging at 45 fps with the  "Always On" interleaved projection Application setting was THE only way to reduce stuttering by reducing overall load on the CPU which would run below 80% and have headroom. If I ran without it (with just motion smoothing/ asynchronous projection), as soon as I went into a heavy area like Boston or Sanctuary Hills, CPU would run up to 100% and stuttering would ensue. Yes combat of any kind esp. heavy shootouts suck with interleaved projection but it beats getting a headache. But now even with the i9-9900K, I have motion smoothing on and reprojection rates still range from 5% to 30% depending on how fast I whip around and which area I am in. 

Supersampling 

I manage super sampling strictly from SteamVR Application Menu. I run at SSx200% and I'm surprised how much clearer everything is- esp. when reading text in game.  I know this is the knob I can crank down for more performance if I need to but I am loath to give this up. Supersampling taxes the CPU and GPU both. I could only manage about 1.5x with a i7-6820HK for CPU load but I still used to get the stuttering problem at 1xSS.

Performance Goals and Tradeoffs

In PC gaming, the more you tune and tinker, the less time you leave for gaming. Unfortunately FO4VR is like an old Alfa Romeo.  It is not a game you can simply pay higher components to buy yourself out of performance problems due to the creaking engine and modding.  I still have slow loading times and workshop/settlement problems that are barely utilizing the underlying hardware. Sadly with FO4VR, I find myself  trading off game enjoyment with with fixing performance problems. There's how much time you will spend to get things better and there's also what you have to sacrifice in order to get there.

You might just be trying hard to stabilize your FO4VR and reduce stuttering trying anything possible.  Once you get your system stable and depending on your system's capabilities,  you might have choices on what to cut instead of having to cut as much as possible. In the old rig, I cut out everything- no grass, low shadows, no interior light, no face light, no particle effects, and peg to 45fps which wasn't great during shootouts but this let me start building. But when I heard from some youtubers that they can only play their big settlements  20-30fps, I realized settlement building was a ticking time bomb to unplayability for VR. That's when I bit the bullet to build a new system.