Art by Angelica Alzona
You just got a new PC game! Hoo buddy, you are excited. You've been looking forward to this one for years. You load it up and ... oh, hell.
Something's off. Your frame-rate is bucking wildly. The mouse input is all wrong. The introductory sequence hangs for a second or two every time someone talks. When you move the camera, there's some sort of horrifying stuttering.
This piece originally appeared December 2016.
You go into the options menu and make the usual tweaks. Turn off MSAA. Turn down shadow quality. Turn down reflections. Turn off any feature with a weird name and Nvidia branding. None of it does much to help. This game simply does not run well on your PC.
Here's what you do next.
1. See just how egregiously wrong "auto-detect settings" is.
Hey, this game comes with an option to auto-detect optimal settings! Maybe that will make it run decently. You auto-detect your settings and, hmm.
You couldn't get a steady frame-rate with MSAA turned on, but now it's set to MSAA x8… and the shadows have been bumped up to something called "Nvidia GCSS RealWorldLyfe," which you've never even heard of. The resolution is now supersampling to 4K and then back to your display's native resolution. The game has turned on something called "remote quad-sampling" that sends your display signal to a server farm in Alameda, where it is re-processed and sent back to your monitor.
Your game is now running at around 11fps. Cool job, auto-detect.
2. Visit gaming forums and bitterly read about people who are having no problems.
Every big new game gets PC performance threads on forums like NeoGAF and Reddit.
If your game isn't running well, visit those threads and skim them until you find people who claim they're having no problems. These posts are easy to find, because they're always some variation of:
I don't get what everyone here is complaining about. Running the game at max settings on a GTX 770, solid 60fps. No dips.
Stare at those posts. Embrace the hate you feel in your heart. Those people don't know what they're talking about. They must be lying. They're clearly bad people. Or maybe they have problems with their eyes. Maybe you should pity them.
3. Obsess over benchmarks.
A bunch of PC gaming publications will have run benchmarks for the game. Track down as many of these as you can find. Each one has a collection of FPS results stacked like green candy bars. Somewhere in their midst is a bar that has the name of your graphics card on it.
No matter how close your PC is to the specs listed in a given publication's benchmark, you will not be able to run the game nearly as well as their benchmark suggests. This person at TechTimesPro is averaging 80fps with your card! This person at MegaBitz is getting 75fps. You're getting, like, 32fps at best. Clearly this is your fault.
Spend at least an hour poring over these benchmarks, wondering what your deficiency is. Maybe there's some setting you've yet to adjust? Or maybe… oh god. Maybe this game is CPU Bound.
4. Attempt to determine if the game is "CPU Bound."
As you visit gaming forums, you will find many people discussing whether or not the game's performance is CPU Bound. You haven't upgraded your CPU in a couple years, since you assumed that your graphics card was more important. After reading a few forum threads about CPU usage, you will no longer be so sure.
Some people will maintain that the CPU is in fact the most important thing in this new game's performance equation. Others will say that is not the case. You will read these conflicting viewpoints and start to feel vaguely sad about your CPU. Maybe you should buy a better CPU?
5. Think about upgrading your entire PC.
Or what if your PC is just bad? Like, fundamentally. You have a really expensive graphics card and a fast CPU. But what if it's a more general, all-encompassing badness? Some vague combination of clogged data tubes and uh, plugs, that makes it hard for your computer to process data as fast as it should?
What if you ripped out the motherboard and started over? Or maybe the problem is your PC case? What if you bought an entirely new case and started fresh? What if you moved to a new apartment? In a new state? What if you changed your name, then reinstalled Windows under that name?
6. Lie in bed staring at the ceiling, thinking about overclocking.
What if you overclocked your graphics card? Or what if you overclocked it more? What if you overclocked your CPU? What if you bought a new CPU and a new graphics card and you overclocked them both?
Your new apartment will probably have better ventilation and improved power outlets. Surely that will help with overclocking.
7. Do not think about how much time you've already spent on this.
In the three days since the game came out, you've spent six solid hours troubleshooting PC performance. It is imperative that you do not dwell on this fact.
Do not, for instance, consider the other ways you could've spent that time. You could've been reconnecting with friends you've fallen out of touch with. You could've been experimenting with an exciting dinner recipe. You could've been playing any of the dozen other games you have that already run great on your PC. You could've been napping.
Don't think about any of that. Getting this game to work is the most important thing in your life. You will find a solution, and it will all have been worth it.
8. Briefly consider getting the console version.
As you open Riva Tuner Statistics Server to re-adjust the FPS cap for the fifth time, pause and consider the console version. So the game runs at 30fps on consoles. Maybe it's still a better experience? At the very least, you won't have to worry about adjusting any more graphics settings.
Wind yourself up about this just long enough that you begin to genuinely consider refunding the game on Steam and getting it on a console instead.
Consider how long it will take your console to download the game, and how playing the console version would have you constantly wondering if you jumped ship too early. Realise what a defeat it would be to abandon the PC version.
It's only been a few days! What if they fix it? Surely you can wait a little longer.
Abandon all thought of the console version. Turn back to your PC with newfound determination. You will make this game work if it kills you.
9. Make a good-faith effort to relax and enjoy the damn game.
Deep breath. You've been waiting months to play this game. It has some performance issues, sure, but so what? Look at all the people who say they have been having a good time with it!
Turn off the FPS counter in the corner of your screen. Stop constantly spinning the camera in search of hitching. Maybe once you get past the first chapter, things will even out. Maybe you'll stop noticing the problems after a while.
Maybe your entire experience won't be tainted by the gnawing sense that you're ruining things for yourself by playing an incomplete version of an otherwise great game, that the incredible surprises and epic setpieces you've waited years to experience will be irrevocably marred by annoying technical issues.
Maybe ... shit.
10. Give up and wait for a patch.
Stop playing. Check the publisher's Twitter feed to see if they have said anything about a patch. Check the game's subreddit to see if anyone's talking about a patch. Google "[game name] patch" and see if there's any news about a patch.
There won't be, but keep searching. Eventually you will find a forum thread full of people complaining about how there still isn't any word on a patch. Find some thin comfort reading that.
Eventually, you will play this game. Someday.