Why Skyrim Didn’t Play Nice With The PS3

Why Skyrim Didn’t Play Nice With The PS3

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was a wonderful game on the PC and a fine game on the Xbox 360. On the PlayStation 3, however, it had issues for some players. Lag issues. Horrible, game-killing lag issues. Issues that made some Sony console owners shout that the game shouldn’t be Game of the Year.

What went wrong? And why have the game’s developers at Bethesda struggled to fix it?

At the DICE Summit in Las Vegas last week, Bethesda’s chief game designer, Todd Howard, explained:

“We did a ton more testing this time around, so the game is definitely our most solid release regardless of platform,” Howard told me, building on what we had discussed prior to the game’s release regarding the extra steps Bethesda was taking to squash the bugs common to the team’s open-ended games.

“The way our dynamic stuff and our scripting works, it’s obvious it gets in situations where it taxes the PS3. And we felt we had a lot of it under control. But for certain users it literally depends on how they play the game, varied over a hundred hours and literally what spells they use. Did they go in this building? [And so on.]”

One popular theory was that the lag on PS3 was due to a gamer’s large save files.

“No it’s not,” Howard said. “That’s the common misconception. It’s literally the things you’ve done in what order and what’s running. Some of the things are literally what spells do you have hot-keyed? Because, as you switch to them, they handle memory differently.”

Howard said his developers knew that the PS3 was going to run into a “bad memory situation” and tried to tweak their code to prevent it from happening. He believes only “a small percentage” of gamers would run into this issues, but it was enough for Bethesda to want to fix things post-release.

“The 1.2 patch [released in November] took care of a lot of it,” he said.

Problem solved? Gamers all relieved and in the clear? Not after that 1.2 patch. “There were clearly people that weren’t,” he said. “We didn’t know why. So they sent us their saved games.” Gamers submitted save files throughout December and Bethesda pored over them, trying to find the situations that screwed up the PlayStation 3’s memory usage.

On the day Howard and I spoke, patch 1.4 was coming out, and Howard was hopeful that the work done using those save files would straighten the game out for more PS3 users. But he was also realistic about securing all the memory problems. The new patch, he told me, “takes care of those we have seen that are bad. So we’re very confident a lot more people are going to be in a very good situation, but we’re not … ” He paused.

“Now that we’ve been through this, we’re not naïve enough to say, ‘We have seen everything,’ because we have to assume we haven’t. There are still going to be some people who have to come back to us and say, ‘Ok, my situation is this.’ [Our response is:] ‘OK, send us your saved game.’ We literally need to look at what you have running. We tried doing it through email. We need to open the saved game comes up and look at it. Wr’ve got one guy who has seven dragons on the other side of the world, and a siege about to happen in this city and another 20 quests running. And, OK, this is what the game is trying to do and it’s having a hard time running that.”

They’re working on it PS3, gamers. They thought they had it licked. Expect things to improve, one step at a time.


  • I think the lag might have been fixed, it’s just the MASSIVE GAME-BREAKING GLITCHES in the game that prevent you from progressing forward. :/

    • I unfortunately got the near-zero framerate glitch in a rather large Dwemer/Falmer ruin, fortunately I was able to navigate it (at 1 frame every 2-3 secs) and once I got through that one room it returned to normal and I was able to kill all the aggro’d Falmer that were chasing me.

      The only other glitch I’ve had (apart from hilarious and harmless physics glitches) was where I needed a Briar Heart for a quest but when I got the quest I already had a heart in my inventory. The quest didn’t recognise it, nor did it recognise any others I picked up. I also couldn’t drop/eat/use any of them. :/

      • The two big ones I had were the Peace Council Glitch where if you sign up with the Stormcloaks earlier in the game, one of the people supposed to be at the council simply isn’t there. Requires a restart.

        The other involves Farkus not leaving you alone, the companion, and talking to you every 5 seconds, preventing you from fast travelling/completing missions etc.

        • My wife got the Farkas glitch, and since she was married to Farkas he not only harassed her constantly, he also drew his sword(!) and followed her around the house all while calling her “dear”.

          She fixed it by telling him she wanted to live at his house for awhile, then asking him to move back to her house. When he came back he was normal.

  • Yeah I think the large save game slowdown bug is fixed, but the framerate can still drop to the low 20’s.The consoles are really struggling these day’s my pc which is by no means state of the art pretty much stays at 60 fps.

    • One popular theory was that the lag on PS3 was due to a gamer’s large save files.

      “No it’s not,” Howard said. “That’s the common misconception.”

      • The real problem that seems to effectmost people though has been the constant freezing. Same things happen in fallout 3 and new vegas also but yet has never occured in any other ps3 I have played. So something is not right with bethesda quality control if the same issues keep occurring time and time again.

    • No, Cymelion, dumbing it down has nothing to do with with anything. It is how the game is made.

      To say a console is not capable of the same experience offered by a PC is a oxymoron. A good game is independent of the platform it is run on.

      If it stinks on a PC, it will stink on a console and vice versa.

    • Nah it works great on xbox. They just suck at coding for the PS3. I guess Sony should dumb down the PS4 so Bethesda can program for it.

  • Even the Xbox version has major issues. My fiancée has 4-5 quests that she’s unable to finish. One of the quests, she has to kill a bandit leader, the leader is lying on the ground dead with the arrow pointing down at his corpse.

  • Rather than tweak the code, why didn’t they just build a specific version of the Engine for the PS3? The PS3 uses a cell processor so it has a very different architecture to the 360 (Tri-Core PowerPC) and PC (64bit x86).

    Having read about programming the Cell BE chip, one almost has to expertise in distributed computing. Call the cores are linked by a dual ring bus of which other IO controllers such as the memory controller are attached.

    • I was just about to make that comment.

      From what I’ve read of Game Engine Architecture (written by a lead programmer from Naughty Dog), while the XBox360 has an architecture that allows it to work efficiently with a PC-centric engine, the PS3’s use of tons of tiny Specialised Processing Units means that an engine basically has to be built from the ground up with that architecture in mind to work well on the PS3.

      Which means, if you’re developing for console, and you don’t have the budget or power to build a PS3-specific engine, you’re almost always better off just using a licensed engine like Unreal,

      • The same can also be said for the 360 – as I said, it is a PowerPC architecture so it still has a few but significant differences to the PC architecture.

        Consoles also have different and even special purpose buses which may require special coding so they can be used to their best.

        A lot of people think that as the 360 is by Microsoft, it is x86, but the only console that was ever x86 was the original XBox. The favourite processor for consoles is PowerPC. Before that, it was Motorola 68k chips.

        • but the only console that was ever x86 was the original XBox, not true the FM Towns Marty by fujitsu had a 486 cpu.

          • According to Wikipedia, it had a 386SX, not a 486.

            But I will stand corrected as it is still a x86 chip.

            Truth be told, I always though an FM Towns was a PC until seeing the Marty just now.

      • They dont want to use a new engine though thats the problem. It costs them money to design a new better engine and they dont want to invest the time and money into that. They would rather use pre-existing tech thats cheaper for them and something their already familiar with because its easier. Similiar to what activision do with call of duty regardless that both skyrim and cod make millions if not billions. Publisher creed.

  • Skyrim is still a sad thing for me. I got it on PS3, and smashed about 50+ hours in the first week, absolutely loved it. Then my game got to a point where I could play it lag-free for 30-60 minutes, and then it’d slow down to the point it was unplayable. I stopped playing it in disgust, and traded it in 2 weeks later.

    I had a similar experience with Fallout New Vegas too, the game was so bug ridden it was just plain insulting. (I realise that was Obsidian, not Bethesda, but it’s just proving a point) I actually took a few days off work just to play it, got the CE and all. Being a major Fallout fan from the first game on PC back in the late nineties, I was CRAZY excited. I remember swearing like a trooper after about three hours and 10+ game freezes later. Finished it as quick as I could, and got rid of it. Left a permanent stain on one of my all time favorite IP’s as well.

    Makes me wonder, using both of these games as an exmaple, how they got released in such a state. These issues were pretty much across the board for consumers. Did anyone actually play the games in QA/testing before release? They must have. Which makes me think they decided to release it anyway, likely with the intention of fixing it with patches. Us consumers will just have to deal with it until then. That’s what makes me so angry.

  • Howard said his developers knew that the PS3 was going to run into a “bad memory situation” and tried to tweak their code to prevent it from happening.
    He believes only “a small percentage” of gamers would run into this issues.

    How do people get away with releasing a product in that situation…
    Inb4 “That’s business and how the world works so let’s just shut up and let them do it” -.-

  • Been playing for a couple of months now it seems. The latest patch for ps3 did actually make the ‘loading into a town ‘ lag go away, and I now can smoothly walk and run without the game lagging on me, so that is a big improvement.

    (minor spoiler)
    The battle for Whiterun (you all know it was going to happen) when choosing the Stormcloaks, went smooth as silk for me but even after the patch the missions in between getting to the final town battles:
    OMG WTF LAG x100! I nearly rage quit every single time I went to battle in the shittiest castle which is many times smaller than a whole town and it’s inhabitants. I am talking of moving for 3 seconds, waiting 10 seconds, moving for 3 seconds, waiting 20 seconds because some dude cast a spell. etc. Etc.

    The in between battles would probably take a novice or average gamer
    about 4 to 5 mins to complete if not quicker. One little castle took me fricking 20 mins to complete because just drawing your sword had to be an ordeal that takes 20 seconds at least.

    Funny enough you’d think the battle for most towns are far more intense with more characters spawning and in game problem solving like lowering a bridge or destroying walls. ….Not a single lagged frame in those.

    So what’s going on there?

  • Loving it at the moment and running out of quests 🙁
    It is all fixed up and doesn’t do a hop-skip-and-a-jump any more.
    Only regret is not spending more time thinking about my perk distribution…

    • Aaaahhh, but TvZ, you forgot to mention that you can’t complete the Thieves guild quests because you sold your stupid armour and it can’t be bought anywhere and there is nothing you can do about it.

  • O yeah, and only glitch I experienced was quests resetting themselves,
    like the Shrine of Boethia one. I really wanted to end that.
    Also, I gave 2 flawless Sapphires to Madesi at the start of the game,
    all of a sudden his quest popped up again but when you go to him he doesn’t want them (no dialogue option).

    And Mjoll the lioness just won’t fricking DIE!!!!!

  • No matter how hard it is to code for, it is never Sony’s fault that games come out as sub-standard, it is always the developers “not trying hard enough”, “not being good enough” or “too lazy”.


    I guess these guys don’t know anything about coding either…

    In a market that relies on multi-platform releases, at least MS had the foresight to create the high level XNA development libraries to run across both their console and the PC; whereas Sony left it to their arrogance to say “we will build it anyway we want and they will come”. That only really works when you have a massive install base, which they have lost.

  • “He believes only “a small percentage” of gamers would run into this issues, but it was enough for Bethesda to want to fix things post-release.”

    Yeah, 100% is a small percentage, isn’t it Todd? And fixing things post-release? It’s been 4 fucking months. Any other developer that was as lazy as Bethesda have been would be no more.

    Bethesda, do PS3 owners a favour, and never make a game for it again. Skyrim was an absolute mess and is still broken after 4 months. I wouldn’t be surprised if 90% of people who own the PS3 version have gotten rid of it because of how unplayable it is.

    Inb4 fanboys try and justify it “becuz itz bethsda :)” or say “it has alot of stuf in it therfor itz ok :)”

    • You know, He is technically correct.
      only a very small percentage of people would run into the issue.

      The rest would walk ve…..r….y.. …jer….kily… throug….h…. ….it.

  • The uproar about GOTY was not so much the lag thing or how broken so much of Skyrim is, but more that Dark Souls is straight-up a better game and deserved it more yet only made it onto about half the GOTY lists.

  • The thing that made me stop playing this game were the load times between rooms, houses, shops etc. Basically every tiny thing you did required a loading screen and not a quick one either.

  • Whats the excuse for similiar issues with fallout 3 and New vegas. If a game is not able to work correctly then it should not be released on that system.

  • I still don’t understand why people think this game is so great, it’s not, it’s just Fallout 3 repacked, which was just Oblivion repacked. They’re all the same game, they have so little improvement and so many bugs and problems, and the biggest problem of all? The combat, the actual game, it plain sucks. Go get Dark Souls, sure, there’s still a little issue with the framerate in blightown, but that game is more or less bug free, the combat is perfected, and the entire experience is magnitudes better than skyrim.

    • Not that I’m saying this is what I think, but someone could say that Dark Souls is just Demon’s Souls repacked… 😛

      Bethesda’s style of RPG isn’t your bag. That’s cool.
      But brushing them all off as “repacked” versions of their predecessors is kinda silly.

      • While I don’t fully disagree in some fanboy rage attack, one could also argue that some of the changes to Dark Souls were actually fairly game changing, in a game focused on combat even slight changes to dodging, targetting, spell mechanics can be huge. Whereas arguably, the biggest Skyrim changes were aesthetic in nature.

        Thaaat said, I’m of the mind that what people like most about skyrim is exploring (The writing is extremely mediocre, and the gameplay is a generation behind), so really aesthetic changes might be the most important thing for an ES game, and I don’t mean that offensively, some of those locales were really enticing.

  • well clearly what happened with the alpha and beta testing was that the testers systematically, as a linear as possible, played through the quests.

    Instead as Bethsada states the error occurs when you basically have a zillion quests running, especially those with large pieces i.e. dragons and such, whilst on top of that running memory intensive quick select items.

    The bigger question is how to alter the review/testing process so as to pickup on these problems.

  • I knew there would be immediate problems for the PS3 version, so I waited and purchased the game when the 1.4 Patch Beta was announced. Before the patch the game is a real mess, It crashed in the character creation menu, it crashed entering building, and I even experienced a bit of lag.

    After the patch, no problems, apart from shoddy game design (having to stand on a specific spot), being ragdolled behind an invisible wall, etc.

    The biggest problem of the game is the frequent load times; the next game better be one giant streaming world.

  • Lag is mostly fixed for me since latest update/patch. Shame it took so long but this game is great so was worth the wait.

  • I’ve heard the most negative things about Skyrim on 360 – yet to get the game, overloaded with titles from all of 2011 and well, Summer. But a lot of mates that never speak ill of 360 regret getting buying that version.

  • I’ve actually got it on PC and on Ps3, and admittedly I play it 9 times out of 10 on the PC… but I had the Ps3 version for probably 2 or 3 weeks before I got it for PC and I never ran into the crippling lag problems. Though from the sound of it that’s probably due to my playstyle not being as ‘ADHD’ as some others obviously are. Having a ton of huge event-quests active at once does seem like it’d cause a lot of instability.

    I gotta say though, I was really surprised by the whole “it depends on what spells you have hotkeyed too” thing… It seems crazy that something like that would have such an affect on memory usage that it’d be worth mentioning at all. :-/

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