One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward

I thought I was getting better.

Two days ago, I took this screenshot feeling relatively good about everything in general, wanting to share a burgeoning optimism that maybe quarterly class balance updates would be decent for overall game functioning.

newdervish

After all, I had around three months to giggle about getting into Viper’s gear before the crowd demand sent Black Diamond prices soaring sky-high, and then play a Burnzerker – a build that I would probably not have ever gotten around to on my own, but really tickled the pyromaniac-loving part of me that loves any class that throws around fire, fire and MORE FIRE.

The Burnzerker nerf was expected, and I was pleasantly mollified to see that it wasn’t knee-jerk cut down into absolute uselessness, but more or less on par with most other normal condition classes/builds. (Minus the present bug where two burnzerker fields are ineffective, thus don’t bring more than one, until it gets fixed, eventually.)

Of course, we still have two annoying player subsets to contend with – those who won’t accept anything but the current most OP builds – that crown has gone to a certain specific necromancer/reaper build using minions and epidemic apparently (not sure, I haven’t looked into it yet); and those who are blatantly ignorant and jump to conclusions based on hearsay without any actual attempts at measurement or objectivity.

The latter are a pet peeve, as arguing with an idiot tends to wind up with descending to their level and them beating you with experience at being a stubborn ignoramus.

So I usually don’t try, beyond a calm factual statement or two, and then let the facts speak for themselves. (Brought a burnzerker to VG, red either still died before blue and green, or exactly on time – so either blue/green group is incompetent and/or the condi output is acceptable. Not OP anymore, but acceptable.)

Another funny side story about those who think they know everything: I was on my way to my last Lunar New Year firecracker for the daily.

As my charr bullrushed past one or two people standing around, random bystander guy spoke up and said, “You have to glide to this firecracker. FYI.”

I have no idea if he was addressing me (since I did bump the pillar/pedestal on my way to said firecracker) or if he was talking to the other player standing nearby, but eh, what if that player didn’t own Heart of Thorns? Was he SOL?

Without missing a beat (since I was really truly on my usual route to the firecracker anyway), I ran right past, jumped up the side of the glass dome, ran along the roof and then promptly fell down through a gap in the roof onto the pedestal where the firecracker was.

Sans glider.

Random bystander quickly shut up and decided that now would be a good time to walk/run away.

I might be revealing my deeply flawed human nature here, but I couldn’t stop chortling to myself for some time after that.

But I digress.

The screenshot above is my new *cough*dervish*cough*

Okay, it’s really just the thief Elite spec Daredevil with a staff skin.

But it captures the scythe wielding part of the GW1 dervish decently well, even if the avatar changing utility skills have more or less wound up with the revenant.

Again, without the meta in dramatic upheaval every three months, I find that it would be quite unlikely that I would have gotten around to this build.

Mostly, I was looking for a secondary replacement class for the burnzerker, so that if a particular raid already had way too many might stacking PS warriors or revenants, I could at least offer a current ‘common knowledge’ ‘OP’ class/build. (When in Rome and all that, you know, why fight it?)

It also took out what was probably a month’s worth of materials hoarding and savings by the time I finished decking him out with the appropriate runes/sigils, Ascended weapons, trinkets, and about three pieces of Ascended armor.

As personally painful as it was to dip into the treasure hoard, I have to admit that a certain amount of forced spending and need for materials is good for stimulating the economy. Also, it acts like another kind of hardcore tax beyond expensive food/wrench consumables.

I was excited enough by the feel of playing and learning a new build/playstyle to go out and kill a bunch of core Tyria stuff, adding up toward core Tyria mastery, as well as start formulating specific HoT plans for improvement/progress.

One goal was the Ascended Bo, which I found cheapest to just go ahead with the collection. That made me partake in one round of Auric Basin and one round of Dragon Stand in order to get the last bits of stuff I needed.

I idly also laid in plans to score some HoT mastery points, since way too many repeated raid failures had already capped me in xp for the HoT mastery tracks. I just need about 12 more mastery points I haven’t gotten around to earning.

Unfortunately, the last two days have put me into a bit of a foul mood yet again.

I idly made a reply comment in a Reddit thread rant that described how many problems the player was facing while trying to enjoy/play through a HoT meta event.

At the time, it was just a bit of a speculative thought I had, an idle remark on the many levels of abstraction that the guy’s story had become about, that his narrative had become more “struggling with the game, as game” rather than an immersed narrative about the world as obstacle.

I was sort of thinking of the same issue that Warhammer had, with their all encompassing Tome of Knowledge, and PvE leveling that wound up staring at the quest UI going “OK, I need X more organs from Y mobs” and mostly out-of-world game-meta related thinking that made the obvious focus manipulating game mechanics and rules, rather than actually enjoying the world as presented.

It blew up on me rather surprisingly, garnering some 200+ upvotes.

It made me think about how many people are out there, feeling a bit like me, feeling a bit like some of the old guard like that_shaman and other familiar Reddit names expressing a certain malaise or discontent.

And then I read new guard comments in the GW2 reddit, who LOVE raids and think they’re awesome, except that they’re also constantly whining that dungeons have been gutted, fractals have devolved into Swamp of the Mists (apparently, I haven’t bothered to set foot in there for some time) and that they’ve already cleared the raid wing on reset day and have nothing else to do and are now bored and going off to play another game, while waiting for more stuff to do.

And here I am, -struggling- to find enough groups every goddamn week to even get a guaranteed vale guardian kill, having to push aside my dinner time so that I might even get into a raid group that might or might not kill VG…

… and I just get angry. And bitter.

(To add salt to the wound, apparently TTS training raids are now off the calendar, diminishing yet another avenue for raid groups, and it’s back to waiting for an invite into the next experiment, a specific TTS raid guild, to see if that works any better. Strung along, yet again.)

And then I read a post like Azuriel’s, wherein he Gets/Doesn’t Get GW2.

All I want to do is bang my forehead against a flat surface really really hard.

No offense taken from Azuriel’s honest reactions, by the way, I think he’s a great representative of the subset who give GW2 a shot, just can’t find any impetus to level up further and then start posting on Reddit asking, “is that all there is? how do I level fast? map completion is boring, how do I like this game? unosweiter.”

But I can’t help but scream, in a rather enraged fashion, that Heart of Thorns threw in all the fucking endgame for people like this – who need a reason to keep leveling (masteries), who want a PvE endgame to look forward to (raids / collection grind)…

… and apparently they’re not even making it to level 80!

They can’t get past the open exploration aspect of leveling, so they quit before hitting 80.

Meanwhile, those that liked the open exploration aspect, now face the bait-and-switch achievement endgame, just like -every other fucking MMO- out there.

WHO THE FUCK IS ANET CATERING TO ANY MORE?

They try to reach the hardcore raiders, and the hardcore raiders are throwing it back in their faces by locusting the content and diminishing it to triviality.

In the process, they’re infuriating the casuals and those in the middle.

The PvPers are twitching ever since the PvP league ended and they’re forced to mix with the hoi polloi in unranked.

Meanwhile, they’re scrambling to apply CPR to the most neglected portion, WvW, because that’s a post-expansion priority now.

Everyone else is just going to have to wait their turn.

#grumpy

Furthermore, I hear news from Trion’s end that they’re revamping payment models and my second-favorite “MMO-like” Trove is going to start charging real money for classes, no two ways around this.

This makes me grumpier.

Mind you, since I started early, I’ve already reaped most of the benefits and unlocked every class but the Gunslinger (which still reputedly needs help to be brought back up to par) so it’s not exactly going to impact me considerably except moving forward, if I ever desire a new class introduced.

But I just don’t know if I can bring myself to play games that don’t feel fair, payment model or level playing field-wise.

So Trove may be a write off too.

Maybe it’s time to relook at Path of Exile or Minecraft again…

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Says It All, Really

In case anyone is wondering why I dislike on principle games that heavily stress vertical progressing stats-on-gear-make-performance-better gameplay: A Rant Over At The Grumpy Elf’s – You’d Be A Good Player, If You Had Some Gear.

Of course, it is conceivable that part of the dislike stems from the excessive and almost hostile competitive-focus of that particular game too.

A game that promotes the mentality of “if this player has more stats, it helps everyone and has no detrimental effect on your personal rewards gained” can nullify the instinctive dislike a little, though it’ll still grate when one realizes another player is only doing better because they have more numbers on their gear.

GW2: I Think… Downscaling is Borked

I’m just a little bit upset.

I am mildly disturbed to the point of not being able to go to bed at 11.50pm on a Friday night and decided to stay up until 1.30am doing a quick experiment, collecting more data and then writing this blog post.

It started out well enough at around 9pm when I settled down to fill in the blanks on my spreadsheet to observe how downscaling on a level 80 had changed from then to now.

That, then, was merely an exercise in being a little obsessive for the explorer fun of it, because really, what else have I got to do besides run around the new Lion’s Arch, shooting karka hatchlings, and then going back to my usual routines?

downscale-compare

I finished filling in the blanks from my screenshots and data and settled in to take a look at how my level 80 warrior had changed from before.

Now, this had been a banner warrior going deep into Tactics to pick up quick breathing at the expense of the more meta precision traitline, so it was not a surprise to see that I had gained a little Power, lost a bunch of Vitality, and gained quite a ton more Precision as a result of losing stats on traitlines and gaining stats on zerker gear.

Nothing shocking. Nothing upsetting. All kinda expected, and it’ll be interesting to see how my other more meta-faithful warrior alt changed too.

However, since this was the warrior I was using to collect downscaling stats on, I looked at that next.

After chasing up various mathematical alleys, I decided that trying to figure out any exact downscaling formulae was going to be tough, especially when I forgot to check or record down any -base stats- at those levels.

So it was pretty much just going to be very crude direct number comparison instead.

I gained a bit damage-wise with the new 80, since I no longer had to give up any stats on traitlines for the utilities I wanted. My crit chance went up by 10%, and crit damage by 8% or so.

This somewhat affected downscaling at lvl 70, as toughness and precision at the new 70 was still more or less better than my old not-so-dps-optimal 70. However, Power took a hit even here, dropping below the previous state.

By lvl 60, the Power stat does reveal that it’s been a little chopped off at the knees, 1391 as compared to the 1546 of before. The other stats are ehh… around the same-ish to slightly worse.

By lvl 50, everything’s taken a hit in effectiveness as compared with pre-patch, and it doesn’t get -any- better as you go lower and lower.

Power’s dropped precipitously and alarmingly, and let us not even speak of critical chance. It is near non-existent.

Now, one may argue that this makes sense. We want to bring the downscaled lvl 80 to lowbie equivalency, right? And lowbies don’t get multiple fancy stats on their gear, like precision and ferocity. Nevermind that builds that rely on high critical chance get a little shafted, it’s for a good cause, you know?

So I decided to check the stats on my lowbies to see if the level 80 had been made equivalent.

And what I saw really freaked me out.

I had a bunch of spare lowbies masquerading as storages, a thief, an engineer, a guardian, the works. Most of them are exactly level 20, thanks to the Experience Scroll veterans get, so I settled on that level to compare.

Many of them had 360-420ish Power, as compared with the new downscaled 80’s 225 Power.

HANG ON, THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT.

Ok, I know I am guilty of twinking out my lowbies hard. I put on even level 20 gear on them. I stack on minor runes of +10 power for 60 total power, give them a sigil of bloodlust (which got nerfed, thanks), I make shiny +Power jewellery for them. So maybe it’s just my twinking making shit unbalanced, right?

(It’s at this point where I realize I can’t go to sleep until I resolve this niggling issue…)

… so lying in bed, I come up with the fairest test I can think of. (That I can perform, given the resource limits that I have.)

Maybe the classes differ, so I am going to take the spare character slot I have, create a new warrior, use up one of my many Experience Scrolls to zap it to level 20, and I am going to buy gear like a noob off the TP, and then check not only just Power stats, but do a quick dps experiment.

nearnekkid20

This is a near nekkid new level 20. Still in the tutorial gear with nearly no Power on any of it, one hero’s band (+2 Power), and one iron ring (~11 Power iirc) that was a level up reward. She has 178 Power as compared with the downscaled level 80 at 225 Power, 8% crit chance as compared with 21.33% crit chance, 151% crit damage versus 174.7% crit damage. Okaaay.

noobtp

I go to the TP. I am simulating a newbie, more or less, so here’s what I do. I buy my level 20 armor, all six slots. I pick the one with Power, obviously. I buy weapons the same way.

I -don’t- buy any trinkets or jewellery whatsoever, because they are too expensive anyway, so I have lost a bunch of potential Power stats there already.

I -don’t- put any minor runes or sigils on my gear, because I am a newbie, remember? I don’t understand any of this stuff. I just wear the default thing. It is the same stuff that can drop (which is why it is 2-3 silver as compared with the cutthroat crafted version.)

normalnewbie

Do note that my ‘normal’ newbie has 266 Power. The downscaled level 80 has 225 Power.

Ok, she has a crit chance of 8% and crit damage of 151%. He has a crit chance of 21.33% and 174.7% crit damage.

Does that actually make a difference?

In lieu of calculating damage done (because I haven’t looked at those formulas yet), I do a test.

I go to the Wendon waypoint at Brisban Wildlands. The level 80 downscales to 20 in that area. My level 20 is an exact level 20. There are level 19 Jungle Boar there.

I get the exact same utilities, Balanced Stance, For Great Justice, Banner of Strength, minus an elite, because it so happens that I get enough Hero Points by leveling to 20 to unlock those. I have no traitlines on the lowbie, because those unlock at lvl 21. Do the extra traitlines on my level 80 give him an edge, necessitating his stats dropping to under a lowbie’s?

lowbie-notwink

I kill a bunch of boar with the level 20.

Yes, the words are very small, so let me summarize:

  • Cyclone Axe (~80 damage)
  • Chop (~165-170 damage, critting for 210-250)
  • Double Chop (~149-163 damage, critting for 229-259)
  • Triple Chop (~145-149 damage on the first two strikes, 324-334 on the last strike, critting for 469-540 damage on the last strike.)
  • Boar hits me for 70-77 damage each direct attack, more or less, and healing signet pulses away for 32 healing.

80downscaled

I swap over to the level 80 and do the same thing.

  • Cyclone Axe (~64-69 damage, critting for 98-119)
  • Chop (~112-145 damage, critting for 171-245)
  • Double Chop (~104-129 damage, critting for 168-257)
  • Triple Chop (~104-129 on the first two strikes, 235-286 on the last strike, critting for 188-233 on the first two strikes, and didn’t manage to crit on the last strike during my test)
  • Boar hits me for 82-89 damage each direct attack, and healing signet still pulses away for 32 healing.

The boar’s bleeds was a constant 32 in both cases (makes sense, since armor doesn’t affect conditions), and the level 80 had a trait that had a chance of applying a bleed on a critical (which did 28-40 damage.)

I dunno… but it SURE SEEMS TO ME like the level 20 is doing more damage than my downscaled level 80. I kill the same boars in less hits on the lowbie than it takes the level 80 to finish off his.

It’s an untwinked lowbie, even!

Guess what happens if I put on the minor runes (each giving +10 Power for a total of 60 power) and the minor sigil of bloodlust (which I didn’t even bother to max out.) I did not even put on any trinkets, so this can go even higher.

lowbie-moretwink

Cyclone Axe 97, Chop 170-214, Double Chop 198-214, Triple Chop 192-226 & 412-485 (not a crit.)

I think someone has really gotten carried away with the downscaling if my level 80 is not even equivalent to a level 20 in a level 20 area!

I will leave others to debate if this is a good thing – maybe level 80s should face a sort of ‘hard mode’ as compared with new lowbies? (Never mind that optimizers would probably just try to make lowbie alts if those are the most optimal?)

Maybe this will make the self-styled “elitist” (but not truly elitist) level 80s in dungeons welcome lowbie noobs more when they are statistically better than downscaled 80s, nevermind that they lack knowledge of the mechanics and experienced 80s tend to know what is going on?

Me, I still can’t get over the knee-jerk emotional outrage of being unequivalent in this manner just quite yet. It is just TOO WEIRD. It doesn’t make any logical sense. (Laying it all out in the blog post -is- helping though. I can probably go to sleep after this.)

I do hope and suspect there will be adjustments to the scaling as time goes on, and hopefully in a better direction, but eesh, that’s a very steep downscale curve to get used to, as compared to before, and I have no more words for this beyond “….”

GW2: Echoes of the Past One Week In

Whoa...most colorful rabbit hole ever...

charrnobbing

One week in, it’s hard to know what to say about the latest Echoes of the Past update.

Is it good? Yeah.

The storytellers have learned that a great many GW2 players are highly nostalgic and greatly fond of the old lore, and have shoveled it in, in spades.

Speaking of digging implements, there was a slight bug/miscalculation, but benefiting the players this time, of just how cooperative players can be when induced with ‘everyone gets more free loot’ rewards.

I didn’t quite get to partake of the crazy chest farm as much as I’d like, before it got fixed, but I did find the time to stay long enough one night to get 95 champion bags or so, and got two Bonetti’s Rapiers out of it, one of which I kept for my own collection, the other I sold on the TP for 23 gold.

Good enough for me. With my kind of crappy earning power, that’s a pretty significant bonus in my book.

The rest of the time has been spent getting around to finishing up Dragon’s Reach Part 2 achievements, along with the recent Echoes of the Past ones.

It sort of reminds me of playing the original Guild Wars in a way – plenty of things to do, but in your own time, without having to worry that it’ll be gone for good.

The mechanics used in the instances and the new zone have been rather refreshing, and pretty creative. I like the direction, though I do think some of the feedback and signposting can be a little more obvious now and then.

For instance, I ran around attempting the Facet of Darkness achievement more than 3 times, because I plain underestimated the size of the vortex explosion’s effect. I was indulging my tanky instincts, letting the facet walk over close to the vortex before triggering it, and it just wasn’t covering the distance fast enough to kill itself in 15 seconds, leaving me somewhat perplexed.

A bunch of friends who are a lot more open to reading Dulfy than I am, essentially called me an idiot over party chat and said to read Dulfy and AoE all the things. Like with a guardian’s biggest cone attack ever, the lootstick staff.

Sure enough, even with the facet pretty durned far away to my eyes, I just went and lootsticked all the things like blowing up volatile blossoms in TA, and voila, it fell over and achievement done.

Huh.

I guess the size of the boon-stealing AoE white circle had sort of conditioned me into thinking the explosion radius was also going to be around that size. Little did I know it was actually a LOT bigger than that.

A more visible explosion indicating said radius might have helped me read that mechanic better, fer instance.

These are just small nitpicks, though. By and large, much of it seems fairly well designed, with step-wise tutorial mobs of a sort that build up to the final boss.

vines

Playing in the Silverwastes has been moderately fun.

I’m actually keen to play the zone properly, in an organized fashion, but so far I’ve been pretty disappointed at the times I’ve been logging in. Organization has been lacking so far.

Players haven’t really been distributing themselves well to each fort, nor do they seem very inclined or motivated to cooperate or coordinate.

The supply bulls are pretty important to run, but usually only a few to zero heroes will take on the task of escorting them over.

And to make matters even more depressing, even if said sacrificial heroes actually bring the bulls and upgrading the fort’s defences, many of the players hanging by the forts staunchly ignore the fact that they can use siege to help the defence, preferring to autoattack and then promptly fall down and require a rez when something (a terragriff, a wolf, a troll, whatever) charges them.

How hard is it to figure out tactics vs Mordrem mobs?

Terragriff charges – dodge sideways.

Wolf pounces and does nasty damage flanking – face wolf all the time,  have mitigation like blinds, blocks, evades, invulnerables, etc.

Troll throws insect swarms – keep moving, dodge aoes, and if you get the target over your head indicating you’re now the aggro target, guess what, you can actually bring the insect swarms to the troll so that they attack the troll.

I mean, the only thing one may have an excuse on is versus husks, which are high toughness and mostly vulnerable to condition damage, which understandably, one may not have appropriate gear to do so.

Anyway, the playerbase seems too distracted by the prospect of bandit chests or hunting the elusive legendaries to attempt the zone properly for now.

I’m more or less content to wait until things develop to the point where more people are compelled to seek organization.

As I mentioned in a Reddit thread a while back, I can’t help but think that the three straight lanes on the west side of the map, and the glimpse of the strange plant-like thing (not going into more specifics to avoid spoilers) in the Living Story episode, suggests that there may very well be a phase 2 to this zone later on, unlocking in a similar fashion to Dry Top.

If there turns out to be a big raid-like boss (and unique desirable rewards) at the end of this fort defence and breach attack of five champion bosses, well, then -maybe- some groups will eventually be inclined to get together in a map, divide themselves properly to the various forts, dedicate groups of supply escorters, and so on. -That- would be fun to participate in.

In the meantime, I am just gonna waffle around like everyone else, randomly picking a fort (probably an easy one, like amber, where nearly everyone congregates), doing the events there – maybe deigning to bring a bull every now and then so that I can tag more events, and so I can get away from the masses at the fort and indulge my solo preferences – jump into the breach, defeat one boss, and then grin wryly and chuckle as one of the Terragriffs fail to get killed, or the Husk doesn’t die because no condi, or some fort was left bereft of people and so no one went in, or whatever.

Whatever, indeed. It all builds up token rewards anyway.

I think it’s just a matter of time.

Nope, I’ve Got No Issues With “Comfortable”

You see, I just spent 18 hours of the last Saturday, literally every waking moment not devoted to food or personal hygiene, seated in front of a computer…

… not having ANY fun at all.

Because the darned thing was malfunctioning, and all leisure activities had to be put aside, with troubleshooting the sudden new priority.

At that point, I would have traded a good many things to get back to my simple regular non-stressful routine of dabbling around doing dailies in a “comfortable” game, in a comfortable chair.

The trouble began Friday night, when I logged in for my usual Teq and Wurm runs.

GW2 was freezing on me.

As in, a complete hang with mouse cursor frozen, inability to ctrl+alt+delete and the only way to get out of it was a hard reset.

The hell.

This was, of course, not good for any semblance of normal blood pressure since rebooting would -obviously- mean I fall out of the correct megaserver map instance and have to try my luck spam taxing back in.

Before long, I stopped worrying about even getting into the correct map, because I was consistently triggering a freeze every time I opened Teamspeak alongside GW2 and switched into a channel with people talking.

?!!??!?!

This was fine yesterday, and the day before that, and the months before that!

I’d changed nothing with my computer between yesterday and today!

Utterly bamboozled, I decided that maybe I was straining the RAM on my computer by having multiple programs open at once and gave up Teamspeak as a lost cause for the night (which didn’t bode well for any future fun with TTS until I could figure out the issue) and just sat in Sparkfly Fen on a pug Teq map brooding on possible causes and solutions.

10 minutes in, the system froze again.

WTF?

Hard reset, retreated from the crowded map, sat in Lion’s Arch to get some crafting and TPing done – some secondary productive activity anyway, though I really wanted to be killing Wurm – while trying to see if the problem still persisted.

I bought a mass of sigils from the TP for a little experiment, and the “Take All” triggered a freeze.

Fuck.

Hard reset again, log in, try not to do anything more strenuous than stick stuff, jigsaw-puzzle like, into the Mystic Forge.

30-45 minutes into this, freeze yet again.

YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME.

Completely unable to enjoy any aspect of the game in a normal fashion, I ended up giving GW2 up as a lost cause for what remained of the night (not very much) and started basic troubleshooting.

Maybe it was a memory issue? The Resource Monitor did seem to indicate that having both GW2 and TS running was exhausting the “Free” memory, but there was still a lot of blue-colored “Standby” memory remaining – I’d already switched to Win 7 64-bit to combat the problem…

…maybe I was running out of swapfile? I was admittedly a little low on the free HDD space, so I ended up on a mass transfer-data-to-external-hard-disk deletion spree.

Temperatures of the CPU and GPU were all normal, so that couldn’t be it either…

Then with a sinking feeling in my chest, I suspected I had a real problem when the mouse cursor froze up on the desktop with nothing more strenuous open than Windows Explorer and Firefox (plus regular startup programs.)

Maybe it wasn’t a GW2 specific issue after all.

There was more disk space free on both drives than had ever existed in the past month, the pagefile had plenty of room to play with…

I shut the computer off for the night because I was tired of hard resetting (and worried about how much strain it was putting on my ancient PC)  and just overall tired and sleepy, and was rather hoping to wake up in the morning and find that it was all a bad dream and that everything would be back to normal in the morning.

It wasn’t.

I got on to GW2 just fine, gingerly stepping into LA, expecting a freeze any minute now.

It didn’t come, so I logged onto Mumble in preparation for WvW reset. As I switched into the guild’s channel, I heard our comm say someone invite Jeromai to a group…and then yep, the computer froze.

Well, shit.

Cue hard reset. Cue all the attendant stress and obligation that comes from having social networks and connections and expectations online – though fortunately, this was pre-battle and not like, a dc in the middle of a raid or something where your not-being-functional could cause an immediate wipe of a mass of people counting on you.

Went through the slooow loading Windows, loading GW2 process and finally logged in, to explain why the party invite and I was just sitting there unresponsive (and probably greyed out and offline) and then backed out of any WvW reset parties to grimly face a morning’s worth of troubleshooting.

Little did I know.

Sure enough, just sitting there in LA and switching into a Mumble channel where folks were talking produced fairly consistent freezing. It wasn’t -just- Teamspeak. It seemed to be all VOIP.

Goddamn it, was I doomed to a future in-game life with no contact with the VOIP-using player subset?

Hell, I didn’t even need to be running in GW2. Just sitting in Mumble could cause the freezes. (Silver lining, WvW reset goes for over three hours, so there’s lots of time to find channels where people are talking to stress test my system while troubleshooting…)

Googling up “computer freezes” in relation to VOIP presented a whole smorgasbord of possibilities:

  • There was something apparently called DPC latency, which had an impact on whether computers could handle real-time data streams, and may be the cause of audio-drop outs and a couple seconds of freezing. (Except my freezing was a LOT worse than a couple seconds.)
  • My RAM could be failing.
  • My hard disk drives could failing.
  • My power supply could be failing, and so on.

(None of the above were particularly incredible possibilities, since my computer IS 7+ years old by now, with all the hardware inside likely way past their warranties.

These were all not fun possibilities to consider. The RAM failing wouldn’t have been a matter of just going out to buy new ones to slot in.

It’s DDR2 RAM – who sells DDR2 RAM these days?  My mobo is too old for DDR3 RAM. I’d have to switch the motherboard, which meant the CPU as well, which meant pretty much embarking on the whole new computer adventure at a time when my budget still can’t really deal with an SGD $2000 purchase. Besides, new computer would mean reinstalling Windows and all the programs, a day of intensive effort I never look forward to.

A hard disk failing would mean potential data loss, having to copy over stuff from the last not-terribly-recent backup, more reinstallation of stuff, and oh, cracking open the case to swap in a new one. Still not fun.

A new power supply would cost about double the price of a hard disk or two sticks of RAM, and still involve an opened case and lots and lots of rewiring and computer surgery.)

  • Or it could be a virus.
  • Or maybe… could it be some kind of driver or IRQ conflict?

Cudgeling the memory suddenly revealed that I -had- changed one thing between yesterday and the day before that.

I’d absent-mindedly plugged in my phone to transfer some photos, and this was apparently the first time I’d done so with my new-ish Windows 7 operating system, because it did its usual automatic “installing drivers” schtick.

They weren’t the ‘official’ drivers from some CD loaded with plenty of branded bloatware, just whatever Windows 7 had decided of its own accord was worthwhile to use. It had worked for the purposes of transferring pictures… but had Windows 7 been too clever and rearranged something it shouldn’t have?

  • Or it could be the anti-virus itself getting too smart of its own good.

I’d been running Avast antivirus, with its multiple shields, and I couldn’t help but notice in the stats provided that its File System Shield seemed to be scanning a lot of files, at roughly the same time I was having all the freezing problems. Coincidence?

So many possible angles. No real clue of where to start.

Suffice to say, there was a lot of scanning.

That terrible boring activity of watching a progress bar creep slowly up percent by percent while listening to your hard disk spin away, hoping not to hear any funny sounds or see any errors pop up on screen.

There were a lot of freezes mid-scan attempts. It is not a fun thing to attempt to surf to Malwarebytes’ website and have the computer freeze on you. VIRUS? TROJAN? ROOTKIT? are all things that go through your mind.

The second attempt post umpteenth hard reset worked… so maybe not…

DPC latency checker or watching resource monitor was consistently triggering a freeze about a minute or two into watching the info display.

There were scans of the hard disks for functionality. Seemed ok.

There was writing MemTest to a CD to boot from so that the RAM could be checked. Seemed ok.

There was lunch sometime between scans and brooding, barely tasted.

If anything, it’d gotten worse.

I was only getting into normal mode Windows for about 2-3 minutes before the whole system would freeze, which isn’t much diagnostics time at all.

The one saving grace was that safe mode Windows (with networking even) seemed to work fine… and was even pretty stable.

No freezes there.

So it -probably- wasn’t a major hardware issue, was the afternoon’s conclusion.

What was intensely weird was that taking out all the startup programs and services using msconfig in safe-mode, and then starting up normal mode with that very selective startup of absolutely nothing worth mentioning… was still producing freezes.

There was a battery of virus scans in safe mode, all coming up negative.

Seeing those results, I uninstalled Avast to see if that would help the problem any. Still no go. Still plenty of freezing in normal mode.

In the evening, I took a break in safe-mode to make some backups of my recent data (like screenshots!)… just in case it really was a failing hard disk, I’d regret it if I had time to salvage stuff and didn’t, after all.

NO FREEZES IN SAFE-MODE. FOR THE HOURS IT TOOK TO TRANSFER GIGABYTES WORTH OF STUFF.

WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON.

During the enforced break, I discussed the whole perplexing issue with a friend, and we started leaning towards the possibility of a driver conflict and/or IRQ conflict.

It was weirdly suspicious, I told him, that the IRQs for safe mode and normal mode were differently assigned. My Creative X-Fi soundcard was sitting on IRQ 3 on safe mode, and IRQ 20 on normal. A bunch of various USB hubs on the mobo were seemingly chaotically arranged and sharing IRQs on normal, but looked a little more organized on safe mode. My graphics card had a negative IRQ on normal mode – was that usual? Sadly, I didn’t know, since you know, one never bothers to look at these things when the computer’s running smoothly. Did I really scramble something by plugging in my phone and letting Windows 7 have its way with things?

Annoyingly, there appeared to be no easy way to manually re-assign IRQs with Windows 7. The operating systems have gotten too smart to allow that kind of thing.

The conclusion reached was that it was time to crack open the case and try to isolate the problem from there.

Urgh.

Did I mention the dust in the case?

And that I’ve lately figured out that I have a dust allergy from a) developing a seriously runny nose and congested lungs from inhaling dust thrown up in the air and b) symptoms subsiding when I swallow an antihistamine pill?

If things were normal, I could have been just happily mining for iron and platinum ore instead, I thought mournfully, as I opened the screws and tried not to inhale.

Or static discharge anything into valuable components. (There’s one plus for living in a country with high humidity. Not many static shocks here, if you don’t spend your days rubbing across carpeted flooring.)

Swapped and reseated the RAM. Turned the main power back on. Booted up. Still freezes. No go.

Turned the main power off. Removed the soundcard. Booted up.

No freezing. Or at least… for five minutes and counting, which is about double the improvement already.

Crap. Really?

Googling up “Creative X-Fi” and “freezing” brought up an inordinate number of hits, especially in relation to Windows 7 and 8 and driver issues, and plenty of complaints about Creative being slow-ass sons-of-bitches who don’t update drivers quickly, or write competent ones to begin with, and that folks were having freezes that required hard resets to get out of in virtually every game you could name.

It was officially night, and one had finally narrowed down the possibilities to the probable culprit.

It made a certain kind of sense, it had been two voice programs triggering audio issues, after all, before things escalated to freezing any time it felt like it.

But but… it’d been acting fine for the months since I’d switched to Windows 7, and installed all the official drivers (last updated Feb 2014, for Windows 8) from the sad little page labeled with “End of Service Life.”

And I really really liked the sound my X-Fi produces. On-board sound just isn’t in the same league, by far.

Further study revealed that the motherboard had a second PCI slot. Friend suggested swapping in the soundcard into that one instead.

Did so.

Yadda yadda long story short, booted up, well, hey, still no freeze… checking the IRQs showed it had reassigned itself to 19 instead of 20… maybe that helped?

Friend headed off, celebratorily triumphant, thinking we’d licked the problem.

I sat down to some well-deserved and much-delayed GW2 dailies… when the computer froze again.

SERIOUSLY. FUCK THIS.

Suffice to say that I essentially skipped dinner, and went through many permutations of safe-mode and normal-mode, doing everything I could to first disable Creative X-Fi (which resulted in stability long enough to finish GW2 dailies, giving me at least some stress reduction in that department) and then wiping clean every trace of Creative drivers and programs and registry traces that may have been producing conflicts with each other and other drivers (Driver Sweeper was pretty useful) and then crossing my fingers and reinstalling cleanly the official ones again.

(I would have gone to the unofficial ones next if the official ones failed. I was pretty much operating on a whole “If this… then that” systematic list by that time.)

There were the odd occasional scares between reboots when Windows failed to detect the soundcard at all, then detected the soundcard and installed its own version of an appropriate driver (dated 2011, no idea where it found those) which ironically seemed to work, but of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to try for the 2014 ones, then it couldn’t detect the soundcard again, and then only detected the soundcard partially (playback was missing, but the microphone inputs were there, what?) and so on and so forth.

Eventually, one install seemed to take.

When I screwed the cover back on and righted the case, the most godawful noise started buzzing out of the box. It sounded like a dying jet engine in severe distress. A whining spinning sort of propeller noise with plenty of death rattle in it.

DEAR GOD ALMIGHTY, IS THAT A HARD DISK DYING, OR IS IT ONLY THE FRONT FAN?

Both hard disks and the fan were in the same place, so it was rather difficult to isolate the sound. Whatever it was, it sounded like it was going to tear itself apart any second now.

There was much hasty shutting down, powering off, and un-righting of the computer case back to the horizontal. Reverse those things to boot back up, but nope, even with the case flat, that noise was still unhappily going at it.

Much listening. Much gingerly touching the hard disks with the power on and that godawful noise to check for vibrations, hoping not to zap myself.

It’s the fan, I told myself. It’s probably the fan. All that movement of the case maybe jostled a wire and got it rubbing against the fan blades… or a chunk of dust fell into it and now it’s misbalanced and complaining like a very pissed off mistreated centrifuge.

Well, there’s no way I can operate the computer with that noise.

I had to get at the fan. How am I going to get at the fan with two hard disks in the way? So the front panel came off, with much struggle, and way too much fucking dust.

I guess I forgot to clean that part of it, though I vacuum the rest of the insides once in a blue moon. (It’s a see-through Cooler Master case, one tends to go for the visible stuff and forget the rest.)

It’s the middle of the night, no one sells cans of compressed air at this hour and I didn’t want to drive out and interrupt the troubleshooting process any further anyway. So enter much lugging in of the modest-power vacuum cleaner and much careful hoovering away at the fan, without touching anything (fortunately, static is still not the major issue it is in temperate countries) and without sending the fan spinning too much, which might create unwanted dynamo effects and electricity generated in the wrong places.

Powered back on. Blissful comparative silence. It was the fan after all, and it was now thankfully behaving.

Undergo everything in reverse once again. Move vacuum out of room. Replace cover. Right computer. Boot up. Cross fingers. Load Windows. Still no freeze. So far so good.

I had supper at midnight and went to bed shortly after. Not a great recipe for avoiding acid reflux, I assure you.

The next morning was a case of gingerly tiptoeing around the system, testing out listening to voice programs alone and in conjunction with GW2, getting the startup programs re-enabled and testing if GW2 and VOIP would still work, and finally reinstalling a new antivirus program (gone over to Avira now, not sure if Avast really was being too smart for its own good, but the insistent ‘feature’ ads were getting to me regardless.)

I’m still getting a mild case of audio crackles and pops when someone speaks too loudly over VOIP, but I think I can live with that over freezes for now.

I’ll troubleshoot that ANOTHER time.

Really, sometimes it takes a crisis to appreciate what you had and took for granted.

I’ll happily play with my “boring” and comfortable GW2 that apparently lacks content in relation to other MMOs and attend a daily Teq and Wurm, being actually able to hear VOIP communication, and go from node to node harvesting stuff any day over Saturday’s 18 hour troubleshooting marathon. ANY DAY. ANY TIME.

IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE.