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. )