Wednesday, January 30, 2019

DIY Custom Gaming Rig: Part II Building

The night before, I made myself  a detailed step by step plan on how I would iteratively install and test the components.  I went to bed overexcited and a tad slightly apprehensive about applying thermal paste.

Once all the components rolled in from Amazon, I cleared off the dining room table for starting the build. Unboxing raw components definitely had a excitement I haven't felt with fully formed consumer electronics like a PS4 Pro. When did RAM get so big and beefy? After years of laptops, it's fun to handle a motherboard again. I was impressed with how much was crammed into this MSI z390 motherboard except for the dragon decal is completely gratuitous and did not add to any badassness. The i9-9900K was smaller and thinner than a triscuit.  Hooking up sockets and power cables was intuitive. The most fun part was popping in the DRAM and seating the core i9-9900K in the LGA1151 socket.   

Everything from Amazon had arrived with 1 day shipping except the higher grade Kryonaut Thermal Grease which wasn't due to arrive a day later.  My plan was to use the included Noctua thermal paste, do testing and then repaste with Kryonaut the second day if temps were not satisfactory. 

I had watched many a youtube video with the mesmerizing application of grey goop with my favorite being from Gamers Nexus which reassured me that technique did not matter that much as long as you didn't squirt an obnoxious amount.  I really really wished I had watched JayZTwoCents video on how to build a PC the wrong way before I did this. Even to his surprise, doing all the wrong things like just smearing on gobs of thermal paste with his finger, separating the cooling sink and reattaching actually did not affect the resulting temps that much. I was totally OC (not overclock, obsessive/compulsive) about a great many things that did not matter in the end and was tripped up by things that I didn't expect.

Before I could power on the system, I had to install the CPU fan. The absolute worst(THE WORST) part was installing the Noctua fans which took a ridiculous 5 pasting attempts mainly due to the high standoffs. The whole process of reinstalling involved having to unscrew the mounting frame to unseat the cpu which caused the backplate to fall off, popping off the cpu, cleaning cpu and the heat sink, re installing the backplate which required flipping case on it's side and re mounting frame, seating the cpu, squeezing out some thermal paste, pressing down the heat sink. Also you had to hook and unhook the two fans if you had done a full install. It took half a box of coffee filters with isopropyl alcohol to scrub out a wasted $10 worth of thermal paste.

Day 1: A fully functioning PC with  Noctua NT-H1 Thermal Paste, Horizontal fan placement

Attempt 1: I followed the Noctua instructions to the letter and put a small 3mm pea of the included Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste as instructed. I press down but I have this weird feeling it's too little. I pop it open to see an uneven oval. (It's entirely possible that it would have covered everything once it was screwed down....)

Attempt 2: I clean everything up, follow the steps again with a more erm generous helping of thermal paste. However the second screw will not catch at all to the standoff.  My husband who conveniently came home for lunch exerts his large hands over the mobo. He asks me to cleanup everything and so he can test the fit and debug without the thermal compound. He keeps asking me if I didn't seat the CPU right and so it's sitting higher. I keep insisting it's impossible- this LGA socket is idiot proof.
Cleaned up this cold plate 4 times,
 3 times too many.

    • Attempt 3:  I clean everything up again and show him how to pop in the CPU in the socket. My husband thinks the provided Noctua standoffs are too tall and the screws will not catch even with what he considers reasonable pressure. Since he's a precision machinist by training and he knows a lot about screwing in things, I take his word. We try the other shorter standoffs included for the AMD chip. (According to web board chatter, you have to use an unnatural "sketchy" amount of pressure. It's kind of scary to press down that hard because you don't want to crack the motherboard.  Since I have Spongebob Squarepants hands, I was happy to be able to use this shorter stand.)  My husband squeezes out the very last of the thermal paste but there's really not enough left in the tube but we screw everything in. The Kryonaut is not coming until the next day and I wanted to do benchmarks anyway to see the impact of too little paste.  Thermals are not great but in acceptable  range. Also I also did a horizontal fan placement like a hamburger parallel to the GPU to see if I can work out a different airflow as this fan was so unwieldy, it didn't quite fit blades hitting against the mobo 24 pin power cable.
But by mid-afternoon, I had a running computer that had Fallout 4 VR running on it smoother than I ever had seen it.

Day 2:  Kryonaut Arrives, Vertical fan placement, HDD Install

I guess all those Grizzly Kryonaut commercials on Gamers Nexus and Linus Tech Tips must have worked subconsciously into my brain as I didn't think twice about that.  I won't use liquid metal because it's too nerve wracking and after having cleaned the cpu and cold plate 4 times, I realize the stuff gets everywhere even when you think you are being super careful.
Prettier without them flesh colored fans.

Attempt 4: I open up the heat sink and yesterday's last squeeze was definitely was not enough. I clean it up again and apply the Kryonaut with the included tiny paddle but it's too thick and sticky and clumps up all the wrong places making me worry I'm just whipping in more air pockets in an effort to spread it.  I decide to start over and use the X method instead. 

Attempt 5: I unscrew the mounting bars one last time, unseat the i9 one last time, clean both surfaces not as obsessively as yesterday, reinstall the backplate, and mounting frame one last time, totally forgot I want to use an X, and just plop down a fat dollop of Kryonaut goodness. I just screw everything in, do a benchmark and see pretty good thermals(10+F decrease from yesterday) and call it a day.  I now hate and love this Noctua fan since it's quiet and performs admirably.

Day 3 Fan Readjustment Causes Ugly Cable Syndrome  

I had put the fans to left of each tower as placement to the right would causing the blade to run into the motherboard power cable. The old configuration wasn't optimum having the back case fan be back to back with a Noctua fan. I shifted the fans to the right over the memory slots which forced me to pull out the power cable over the top of the stylish blue cable bar. NZXT has gotten some flack over the cable bar being too high and just 2 centimeters lower would have solved all my problems and now my cabling job looks subpar and prevents me from posting on Instagram.  But the thermals are cooler than ever (idle and under load) and so performance over looks wins out. (Also I was not going to unhooking and rehook these fans yet again- the fins are sharp and fingers were all cut up.)
FINAL fan positioning forcing power cable in front of bar
But now I can finally close up the machine, do a closed case thermal test to compare against the open case test.  The machine can now graduate  from the dining table to it's rolling cart into the living room. 

The RGB configuration is for temps, not for aesthetic purposes although it's a pretty night show completely hiding those flesh colored Noctua fans.

Upgrading BIOS, Resetting CMOS

On the first day when I installed the GPU, I changed the graphics card setting to PEG and hence going BIOS would just end up as a black screen. I could have debugged this on the first day but decided to do all the VR software install since everything else was working. 

Now it was time to start overclocking which meant I had to reset the CMOS which required moving the GPU out of the PCIe slot since a fresh MSI BIOS will not boot with the GTX 1080ti in the slot. 
I also wanted to flash the latest BIOS . Since MSI doesn't ship with a jumper cable, I had to use a flathead screwdriver to short the CMOS which didn't make me feel comfortable but was fine.  

I could service everything vertical on the cart but I didn't feel comfortable handling my heavy 1080ti hanging off the slot(I have the dread GPU sag of less than a cm) and ended up lugging the case back out on the floor.  But now I know intimately the layout of my rig and got familiar with the MSI BIOS. It just needed another graphics setting.

Monday, January 28, 2019

DIY Custom Gaming Rig: Part I Specs

Friends, it was finally time to build my very own! I've always bought laptops making DIY unpractical but now due to my increasing (ahem) compute needs, I was ready to commit to a stationary beast of a PC tower. My Alienware 17 R4 laptop which had served me so well for 2.5 years was now limping along due to an aging CPU i7-6820HK even though it had plenty of GPU power of a GTX 1080ti with an external GPU chassis.

Truth be told, my laptop is perfectly adequate for all titles except for Fallout 4 VR- a game so poorly optimized that it needs a 8 core CPU released years after the original game to run full graphics. Right now I have to peg to 45 fps, reduce AA and supersampling, reduce load distances and shadows, turn off dynamic grass, turn off interior lighting and face lighting, turn off rain and radiation storms and dozens of performance mods to run stable. It hurts my eyeballs when I play and my vision is my one deteriorating resource.  It's not quite potato mode but this was not a game I could currently give friends a VR tour even though it was the only game that contained my very own structural creations. And of course I could not even think of upgrading to a next generation VR headsets without a beefier machine.

When you go all custom, you have all the freedom in the world which translates into making dozens of micro-decisions over hundreds of competing items then cross checking for compatibility.  It literally broke my PC brain for the day, totally crashed h-ster.exe.

Final Specs

After painstaking review, I went with the following components. I've put down detailed decision making process below in case it may be of use to anyone else.  It doesn't mean I recommend these components but you may be interested in the why and how I chose them. (I've put amazon links not to sell anything since I am not part of  an affiliate program but just as convenience to myself.)

General Decision Factors

FUTURE PROOFING- By virtue of building a desktop,  I could continuously swap out parts for probably a decade. I wanted head space to grow and base components like the motherboard had to be upgradeable with ample DIMM slots and PCIe support for SLI. I don't run multiple GPU configuration now because current VR games sadly do not take advantage of SLI. However it could be supported in the future so I was careful to choose a mobo with at least twin SLI support.

I want sufficiently high quality components without burning cash like an idiot.  At the high end, you get diminishing returns at an exponential cost. I could buy faster 4000Ghz DDR4($409) instead of 3200Ghz($130 on sale) but I do plan to overclock a scootch which is probably the optimum performance gain I will see in game. For $60 more on the 4400Ghz, you can get an entire i7-9700! Since my sweet husband is financing this build, I find myself being more budget minded than I usually am.  However I did dump a hundo more on the overpriced i9-9900K because.... because reasons. This PC is for making sure I have a high VR quality gaming experience for me and my friends for years to come.

RELIABILITY- Building a custom rig, I am on my own to troubleshoot individual components to send to the manufacturer so I went with brands that appeared to be the most reliable. With next generation components, it's hard to tell what is reliable since reviewers do such short-term performance tests. I had to parse through reviews and reddit threads looking for prevalence of problems.

AESTHETICS- I am not a fan of RGB, gold, or diamond encrusted RAM- way too flashy.  However this giant box was going to be a major part of the living room visible from the dining room and kitchen so I had to go with something that I would like looking at while eating breakfast everyday.  

CPU i9-9900k vs i7-9700k

Given Intel has stagnated and resorted to pulling hyperthreading out of the i7-9700K(a feature most core i7 had for years) to differentiate the i9-9900k,  the i9-9900K touted "the fastest gaming computer in the world" might be the last Intel chip I buy.   I'm not ready to go the Ryzen way just yet, AMD gives you overall less options with regards to motherboards and components.  

The gaming benchmarks indicate the 9th gen i9-9900k performs only a few whiskers faster(if that) than i7-9700k for $100+ more and probably I would not notice a difference in game. Yes, everybody knows i9-9900k is poor value for money but still i7-9700K is 8 core 8 threads while i9-9900K is 8 core 16 threads and that hyperthreading will totally come in handy with my future ahem video processing plans!  (In my mind, this is nothing compared to macbook upcharge.)

DRAM DDR4  3Ghz+ 

When did choosing DRAM become so complicated?  Memory is something I upgraded regularly for 25+ years and I don't remember having to think this hard.  I guess there has been never such a good time to be alive with so many RAM options.
  • Capacity: 16GB.  I've been using 16GB on my alienware all this time without exceeding 12GB. With Amazon Prime next day shipping, no need to pre buy too much memory until you need it since prices will be dropping all 2019. 
  • Speed: 3200MHz DDR4 is the sweet spot of gaming performance to value at the time of purchase as the Corsair Vengeance LPX was on super sale ($130 from $219).
  • Overclocking- probably you couldn't push RAM that hard b/c the vendor would bin it for higher speed category (3333Mhz,3466Mhz)
  • Brand:  Was going to get whatever top brand was cheapest, most likely a Corsair or G.Skill
  • aesthetics: No RGB although I regret my decision. I should have used the RGB to display DRAM temperatures.
I went with  Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 DRAM 3200MHz  ($131, now even dropping further to $122).

I also relied on gaming DRAM benchmarks to figure out the performance to cost ratio.

GPU GTX 1080ti vs RTX 2080ti

Right now, with a CPU throttle, I barely break 70% usage on my 1080ti.  Given I don't play and won't play games where real time ray tracing would matter,  I don't need to shell out $1400+(with CA tax) more to upgrade for possibly ~30% boost. At that price, I should expect at least 66% improvement, no?  (You can read my very detailed post here on the 1080ti selection.)

Like many, I was truly underwhelmed with Nvidia's RTX launch- IMHO they focussed on the wrong things and let AMD beat them first to a 7nm GPU.  You know Nvidia couldn't sell ray tracing when Jensen Huang kept blathering on about "it just works"-  an infamous quote for which Todd Howard is lampooned regularly. DLSS(deep learning super sampling) is even worse and totally useless for most of the games out there- who's gonna pay to have in their game crunched through hyper expensive NVIDIA's DGX SaturnV supercomputing cluster to build a learning model for subpar results.  Games I play- heavily modded dynamic games, older titles, and indy games- will never have RTX's DLSS.  DLSS is misleading since it's upscaling 1080p for performance gain. Jensen Huang should play Red Dead Redemption 2 on PS4 Pro at 4k just to what performance magic is.

Motherboard Selection Agony

Selecting my mobo was probably my hardest decision of the entire exercise.

My basic requirements:
  • Features
    • form factor- ATX. I briefly fantasized about an eATX going dual socket but came to my senses once I chose the i9-9900k 
    • chipset: latest z390
    • SLI support (2x)
    • Reasonably powerful VRM- no doubled up phases like Asus
    • integrated WIFI
    • at least 2 m.2 slots, as many SATA ports as possible
    • RAM- 4 slot dual channel good enough
    • integrated graphics support- this wasn't originally on my list as I blithely thought all mobos supported this until I ran into one that didn't.
    • PCIe armor, i.e. fortified steel PCIe slots- these here GPUs are heavy and GPU sag on a horizontal mount is a real thing, I'm down by less than centimeter right now.
  • Reliability
  • price- The thought of spending $500 on a mobo seems wrong some how and I was shooting for midrange ~$250. 
  • pretty good overclocking performance (it didn't have to be the best given all my other requirements)

Z390 Motherboard Selection: MSI vs Gigabyte vs Asrock

For z390 boards, you pretty much have MSI, Gigabyte, Asrock. Asus had a controversy over the "fake" doubled up phases on their VRM and since Hardware Unboxed showed it being significantly hotter than the rest of the z390 boards,  Asus ROG XI Maximus Hero was not in the running.

I had planned to get one from the much touted Gigabyte Aorus line but there were so many bad Newegg reviews and a reddit thread complaining of mobo woes. The last thing you want is a temperamental motherboard. Same with ASRock Z390 Taichi Ultimate which had much better specs(3 m.2s) than my MSI selection but had some nasty Newegg reviews.  Let's just say at the time of selection, MSI while middle of the pack in terms of performance and features but had the most benign least scary complaints - 15/15 all 5 stars on NewEgg.

MSI has multiple z390 models for each of their MPG and higher end MEG line.  I had planned to get an MSI Z390 MEG ACE but in looking at the IO panel, I noticed it had no Integrated Graphics support! What if your GPU dies or won't work with your BIOS without extra configuration.

I ended up with the sensible if not boring MSI z390 Gamer pro Carbon AC (MSI, spec) after going through this exhaustive 20 page review-,1.html with special attention to the overclocking page.) Every board has it's strengths and weaknesses but I ultimately chose perceived reliability.

Power Supply

I had 3 decisions forks:
  • wattage - Unlike RAM, choosing wattage is somewhat Goldilocks situation where more is not better since you can pay up the wazoo in electricity bills.  However I wanted to reserve head room for adding more power hungry components like a second GPU. The Corsair HX1250 watt was on sale for $129 as the 850 watt version and I almost got too greedy until I computed the PG&E bill.  There is a sweet spot of peak efficiency and so I wanted to be at 60%.  You can compute your wattage on-line with and mine came to 506 watts with 1 gpu (756 watts for 2gpu) so I went with a 850 watt. 
  • features - fully modular, over voltage protection, under voltage protection (but these come with most high end PSUs nowadays)
  • brand - Kind of a no brainer for me and just went with a trusty Corsair with the 10 year warranty.  I could have easily gone with the EVGA Supernova, but my brain had been sandblasted by mobo decision making.
  • model - Corsair has multiple lines, CSX/RMX/HX/AX based on efficiency 80 plus certification levels and few features. HX (Gold, fully modular,OVP,UVP) was good enough for me. I didn't see paying $50 extra for a few percentage points gain for the top AX line when I would be only running 50-70% anyway. 

Air Cooling vs Liquid Cooling

After much agonizing, I decided to stick with tried and true air cooling cuz a water cooling system will eventually break your heart.  Custom loops are not for me- too much maintenance and high high chance of leakage (see all the youtube water cooling proponents/experts JazZ2cents and bitwit crying over unexpected leaks.) Even with the all-in-one AIO units, certain small percentage leak- ample evidence on youtube and reviews. Unfortunately there is no 100% leak proof system, someone somewhere will have water sprayed all of their system through no fault of their own and that's not going to be me. Since I'm am only overclocking moderately for gaming boost, I could not see a worthwhile payoff in liquid cooling besides possibly saving space but my case is a cavern.

In the air cooling space, there is only one undisputed king- the Noctua NH-15. Noctua performs just as well if not better as some AIO Liquid Cooling solutions.  It's quieter, and gives you a 6 year warranty.   Too good to be true?

Yes, there is one catch, actually 2 (no actually 3). You have carefully curated the LED aesthetics of your case and now you have insert this weird prosthetic flesh colored thing with brown fans- obviously designed by a synth.

There is also a second catch. This thing is huuuge dominating the motherboard but I looked up compatibility charts and decided that skin colored fan frame would not deter me.

2/1/2019 Update- Due to it's bulky size and design, the fan install was the most painful part of my build. (See Part II)  Yes I could technically fit this fan on the MSI board but it forced me to pull out the power cable in front on the blue cable bar messing up the clean look. But the weird prosthetic double fans already ruined any hope of a pretty case. But all is forgiven since it keeps the CPU cool.

Case: NZXT H700 vs Phantek Evolve X

There is a dizzying selection of tower cases all with their nifty design innovations balancing airflow and sound.  Here's what I thought I was looking for in order of importance although I'm not going to lie. Phantek Evolve X is the superior case but it just didn't come in a snappy blue like the NZXT...
  • Size - Mid-tower because I'd have to get rid of the wood stove to make space for a full tower. For those using laptops, a mid-tower is a cavern. You could probably raise 4 rabbits in it.
  • Modularity and Accessibility
    • easy side panel, top panel, PSU access
  • Cooling - It didn't have to be the absolute coolest, just balanced and not a known heat trap.
  • Cable Management
  • Aesthetics
    • Not too zany with 1 glass side panel
After working with the NZXT H700 Case, I'm moderately satisfied. I'd buy it again because well,  the color of sea and sky, what's there not to love.  The blue highlight matches so well my personality since  I just don't like boring sleek grey(anthracite grey...)/black/silver tones so prevalent in all gadgetry now aways. Sadly the iconic blue cable bar is bent just too high so the motherboard 24pin cable bends very awkward underneath.

Component Vendor: Amazon vs Newegg

The only reason I went with Amazon is that due to Prime, I ordered everything on Saturday and had it shipped by Monday noon. I booted up my new machine by 5pm Monday.  Take that Digital Storm.

Weirdly, I put everything into Newegg since it appeared they had cheaper prices than Amazon. Amazon must do some tracking because when I kept going back and forth, Amazon's price had normalized to be identical to Newegg prices in my cart. However be aware that while Newegg has a price match guarantee, Amazon does NOT.

How Much Money Did I Save DIY?

I had planned to buy a build from OriginPC or Digital Storm but still use my original GTX 1080ti. OriginPC appears not to let you purchase a system without a GPU at least on-line but Digital Storm does. Plus DS is out of Fremont so I could go pick it up reducing any shipping mishaps. I had spec'ed out their $2700+ Velox when I noticed that they had a crazy long processing date "Ship Within 20-25 Business Days ".  A month or more!!! Yelp reviews confirmed such long dates and worse if you tried to cancel the order, they would charge you a 5% fee even though they hadn't started building. Combined with unacceptable wait times and an exorbitant integrator's upcharge ($2500 for a desktop without a GPU!), I realized I could easily build my own exactly how I want it for much much cheaper.

From Digital Storm, Velox $2,512.00
Chassis Model: Digital Storm Velox 
Processor: Intel Core i9-9900K  
System Memory: 16GB DDR4 3000MHz Corsair Vengeance RGB Pro (RGB Light Bar)  
Power Supply: 850W Corsair RM850x (Fully Modular)   
Storage Set 1: 1x SSD M.2 (512GB Samsung 970 PRO) 
Storage Set 2: 1x Storage (2TB Seagate / Toshiba)
Extreme Cooling: H20: Stage 2: Corsair H100i PRO - 240mm Liquid CPU Cooler  

The Amazon purchase came under $1700 with better components (faster ram, better PSU) but I need to do a full spreadsheet analysis but nobody's got the time right now. Benchmarks to run. Tuning and overclocking to get on.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Fallout 4 VR- Wasteland Architecture Part II - Spectacle Island

By land mass, Spectacle Island is the largest buildable settlement in Fallout giving the player a lot of flexibility to experiment with more sizeable structures.  The real life Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor was named so for the early natural shape of two vaguely round land masses connected by a thin strip. After decades of trash dumping and a final massive dump from the Big Dig, it looks more like a small "b" or a "9" or worse. Since Fallout 4 history diverges in 1950, the game Spectacle Island is shaped like an amoeba.

Unlike Graygarden, I used this island as more of a blank slate since there wasn't any natively interesting structures preexisting on the island. I used my favorite cleanup mod to get rid of unscrappable garbage piles, Clean and Simple.  

Super mutants, raiders, and complaining settlers can harsh your mellow and I wanted to build a quiet seaside getaway to decompress from all the wasteland violence.  This happily has become my remote outdoor base where I do most of my crafting outdoors without being harassed by NPCs- enemy or otherwise.  Since I am cooped up at home inside a VR headset, I want to spend as much of the game time in the virtual outdoors- radiation be damned.   The first problem was unexpected- after fighting off the waves of oversized mirelurks, I walked around the island looking for possible build sites. The ocean/wind sound was so deafening I could not continue without a sound reduction mod.
For the main living areas, I wanted to connect railcars together and it's the fantastic Custom Concrete Walls with Window Glass mod that really tied this together. I had originally used SOE institute glass assets which didn't match as well.  The island has an uneven topology so concrete base support was used for some token amount of visual anchoring although the game engine lets you have floating detached structures. Fallout severely limits where you can snap/place items preventing me from putting supports exactly where I wanted. I also didn't want to risk corrupting my save with some potentially unstable mods so the support base is the few places the engine would let me snap.

Hall before Guest Bedroom
Most of the sides of box cars are closed off with concrete framed windows so Dogmeat wouldn't fall off.  Even if he is immortal and survives the fall, sometimes he would get stuck in circles underneath the deck and you would see a pair of twitchy ears clipping through- a total immersion killer.

The railcars are connected and placed so each window would have the most pleasing views of itself and the surrounding island. Since there is so much land here, I could have gone nuts and added dozens of railcars for a giant maze complex but it didn't feel right after about 7 railcars and I pared it back as it felt too gratuitous and unwieldy.

VR Bedtime
I keep most of the interior relatively minimal with most of it is empty except an small armory, lab, bed room, and a guest room- a huge departure from my hoarding Skyrim days.  Most of Fallout 4 exteriors and interiors are so piled with junk that one really needs visual relief in game.  My bedroom has a sleeping bag, chair, suitcase, and a doggie bed. I use the camping mod so I sleep in various places in the Commonwealth but I like to return to this home at the end of my play session.

Hung with Immersive Toilet Paper
I originally put the bathroom inside but it's impossible to get privacy in such a transparent structure and I didn't want to cover up anything.  I ended up placing the waste facilities just underneath the bedroom. Why do I even need to add a bathroom in this virtual world? Friend, if you need to ask- the answer is all about raising immersion levels.  Just look at the immersive toilet paper flipped the correct way. I don't actually use it in game and it's out of the way enough that followers will not avail themselves so it's here purely for visual immersion.  (Yes I am aware of "needs" mods but I'm not that kind of player.)  I will have to put in a magazine rack once I have enough collected.

Chemistry Workshop with Best Wasteland Views

This was the perfect corner for a chemistry station as it's visible from a window in the front entrance hall so you know you have to turn left and not get lost in the maze.  All other crafting- weapons/ammo/food is outside surrounding the original unscrappable workshop.  

Some practical Spectacle Island tips:
  • You don't need Preston Garvey/Minuteman to take over this island, just fight off waves and waves of Mirelurks and restore power to the island.
  • Custom Concrete Walls with Window Glass mod does require the Wasteland Workshop which I bought for pancake Fallout 4 and copied over into the VR folder.  

Monday, January 14, 2019

Fallout 4 VR- Wasteland Architecture Part I - Graygarden

The magic of moddable Bethesda open world games lies in the power to repurpose the base game to suit the player that diverges entirely with the main intended gameplay.   I slogged through enough of the Fallout settlement building of pitiful shanty towns to see that kind of grind was not for me. Why waste precious game time looting spatulas off ghouls for that 1 unit of steel and rubber when you can just have infinite build materials at the click of a console command.  Plus there just isn't enough Nuka Cola bottles in all of the Commonwealth to build the kind of structures I wanted.

Fallout 4 didn't have to be just a pseudo FPS/RPG.  When I saw the beauty of the fractured freeway of Graygarden, I realized Fallout 4 VR is a very unique VR construction simulator albeit sited in a nuclear wasteland.  I need not limit myself to lore friendly structures and I could go all out and build whatever a modded system would let me.  However the post apocalyptic wasteland of Fallout contains aesthetically compelling sites of broken infrastructure that I didn't want to cover over but highlight it in all it's ruined glory.

With Graygarden, I felt compelled not to use any mods to artificially clean up or restore the location.   I relied heavily on Settlement Object Expansion Pack using Institute glass assets.   Using glass floors allowed a safe navigable structure (slipping is not a thing in the Creation Engine) and still reveal the these lovingly modeled splintered rebars and dangling bits of concrete beneath. It would have been a high crime against immersion to cover these up.

The joy of architecting in the game world is that even though glass ramps are a dangerous slip hazard no one would build in the real world, they work wonderfully in game. Not only do they provide unique views below, these institute glass ceiling assets are wide enough that Dogmeat and other followers do not get stuck or fall off as they do on regular ladders which I had originally before I found the SOE mod.   I was never so completely engaged in VR as I did building out Graygarden and I was able to power through a year end 40 hour real life fast.  Puzzling out how to structure the stairways to the 8 storied top deck was crazy fun as you had to  dynamically building an ascending path.  I fell to my death a few times losing an hour of work when I accidentally selected and moved the item I was standing on which has turned me into an obsessive compulsive saver- but also a heavily modded Workshop wheel CTDs a lot, a lot. 

My initial plan was to build as many flat level platforms as possible for settlement building for Sim Settlements. However after building everything out, I realized I didn't want to clutter this space with repetitive immersion breaking NPC settlers. I got enough of them back in Sanctuary Hills and Taffington Boathouse. So I maintain Graygarden as a robot colony true to it's historic origins and plan to make the decks into a museum.
Adding to my immersion, I kept getting hit with heavy radiation storms during construction and trusty Codsworth kept warning me "Radiation Mum".  I could have just flipped the weather to clear but it was fun to build under adverse conditions popping all the Rad-X and Radaway I had stockpiled.  The top deck displays some custom power armor and larger weaponry but most importantly I have a vertibird helipad for the Immersive Travel mod which I use for flying to Spectacle Island.  I went a little overboard with decorative statues on top.

I also added a triple relay of elevators to get to the vertibird without having to ascend via the glass ramps. Sadly I wasted a few hours trying to fix the Bethesda floating elevator button bug trying 2 separate mods. It didn't fix it so I don't use the elevator much.

(You will have to take my solemn word that these photos do not do justice to the fun of exploring the actual site in VR. I had originally planned to make a video walkthrough of the site but I realize that my head bobs uncontrollably and since I move through teleportation, a video would be a most unpleasant jiggly experience for the viewer.)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Enjoying Fishing in RDR2

Fishing is a beautifully relaxing activity in the oft violent world of Arthur Morgan.  I love how Arthur mumbles to himself while fishing- and this is when I identify with him most.  I don't like straight up fishing games as much as fishing in character in an open world.  I am the kind of player happy never to finish the main quest just to putter around in the game world with a fishing rod. I only made progress just to unlock the rod and the fishing boat in Chapter 3.

Before you can fish properly, evil Rockstar locks this activity behind a barricade of Chapter 2 missions where your Arthur is forced to undergo all manner of unpleasant violent gang work.  I was so frustrated that Abigail's "Fisher of Men" quest would not appear that at one point I just shot a muskie with a pistol which works well as does a bow and arrow. Due to the water, the reticle will not turn red and auto-aim appears not to work but if you want Arthur to enjoy some grilled fish before the unlock, shooting fish is not a bad way to go.

My husband instead opted to off a fisherman for their rod. The first few times the fishing rod disappeared as the hapless body fell into water.  You have to stealth assassinate a fisherman preferably close to the shore otherwise the fisherman will unequip the fishing rod with a gun. However getting a fishing rod will not unlock any of the bait from the general store and hence you can only fish with bread and cheese until you unlock "Fisher of Men" which lets you unlock "Fisher of Fish" for the special lures.

  One time I was mauled almost to death by a grizzly while trying to get to a salmon fishing spot. By the time I made it to the water, Arthurs back was bloody with slash marks but he went on gently mumbling and fishing as if nothing ever happened.

The game mechanic and strategy for reeling in all fish appear to be the same- controlling the line with L when the fish is struggling, fast reeling when not. You can easily see where fish are bubbling on the surface and there isn't a huge challenge.  I've never screamed so much in game trying to reel in a big one as I did with this 19 pound channel catfish. Unfortunately RDR2 does not keep track of largest fish caught, only how many so one must take a proper snapshot as proof.

Returning caught fish back to the water gives you 1 good guy point making it a great activity to boost your reputation as perch are just jumping in shallow areas.

I whip out my fishing rod everywhere near a body of water. Try fishing in the polluted waters in Annesburg right outside the train station, you will be surprised Rockstar has added little details.