How to Fix Games That Crash on Start-up in Steam

bioshock_logoI played Bioshock on Xbox shortly after it came out several years ago, and although I was blown away by the opening sequence, I had trouble getting into the rest of the game. I probably put about five or six hours into it before getting distracted by something else (Mirror’s Edge, probably), and soon forgot all about it. I hate leaving things like movies, books, and video games unfinished, however, so while I was between games recently, I decided to buy Bioshock through Steam and give it another go (ever since I built a new gaming PC, my Xbox has been relegated to nothing more than Netflix duty). With an open mind, and determined to assume a totally fresh perspective, I got the game downloaded, started it up, and watched it promptly crash.

Unfortunately for Bioshock, rather than troubleshoot the problem, I played Mass Effect 2, instead. But a few days later, just for fun, I decided to try again. I’ve had good luck playing older games in the past by changing the compatibility mode of the application to an older version of Windows, so I decided to start there. The problem, however, is that it’s a little bit harder to find games’ executables when you install them through Steam, but if you know where to look, you’ll see that they are installed just like any other binary on your machine. I found Bioshock under:

E:\Steam\steamapps\common\bioshock\Builds\Release

(Note that the first part of the path will obviously be different on your machine since you probably have Steam installed somewhere else.)

To change the compatibility mode of a Steam game (or any executable, for that matter), simply:

  1. Right-click on the game binary (application file).
  2. Go to Properties > Compatibility.
  3. Check the box that says “Run this program in compatibility mode for…”
  4. Select whichever compatibility mode works for the application you’re trying to launch.

In the case of Bioshock, I found that “Windows Vista (Service Pack 2)” worked, though I’ve used other modes for other games (depending on the age). Just click “Ok” and your game should launch properly through Stream the next time you start it up.

Update: If you’re having trouble with the sound, especially after Bioshock’s intro, see this thread on the Steam Users’ Forums.

How to Fix Pink/Purple Textures or Shaders in Fallout New Vegas

purple_head_2The first game I decided to play after building a new gaming PC was Fallout: New Vegas. Unfortunately, I installed both Steam and New Vegas before I finished tweaking my video drivers which resulted in some very bizarre purple/pink textures or shaders. As you can see from the picture above, poor Doc Mitchell was the first victim.

I fixed it by uninstalling New Vegas and Steam (I could have probably just uninstalled the game, but I wanted to be 100% certain), getting all my video drivers and settings properly tweaked (including the newest version of DirectX), and reinstalling. When I started the back game back up, not only were the textures and shaders correct, but I had also fixed an occasional crasher I got when the New Vegas launcher started up (which I believe had to do with the detection of DirectX).

I later came across this post which may have saved me the trouble of reinstalling. It recommends holding down “A” when the game loads until the Bethesda logo appears which apparently clears some sort of cache, fixing the issue for some Oblivion players. I have no idea if this works for Fallout, but it’s probably worth at least trying before reinstalling.

New Gaming PC

After relying primarily on consoles (Xbox and PS3) for gaming over the last few years (and occasionally a very nice Lenovo ThinkPad with a surprisingly capable graphics card), I decided it was finally time to build a serious gaming rig. I’m still tuning and tweaking, so I can’t give a final verdict yet, but so far, I’ve been very happy with it. Here are the components/specs:

  • Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz CPU
  • 2x MSI N570GTX Twin Frozr II OC GeForce GTX 570 video cards
  • 16GB (4 x 4GB) Corsair Vengeance DDR3 240-Pin 1.5V SDRAM
  • 2x Western Digital 1TB 7200 RPM drives in a RAID 1 configuration
  • SAMSUNG 470 Series 128GB SATA II Internal Solid State Drive (so game data loads faster)
  • MSI P67A-GD53 ATX Intel Motherboard
  • LG Blu-ray/DVD/CD reader/writer
  • CORSAIR Hydro H70 CWCH70 CPU Cooler
  • CORSAIR 750W ATX12V power supply
  • COOLER MASTER Black Steel/Plastic ATX Full Tower Computer Case
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional

At this point, I’ve still put more time into building and tweaking than actual gaming, but hopefully that’s about to change. I’m a few hours into Fallout: New Vegas, and will probably go from there to Mass Effect, Brink, L4D, and eventually StarCraft II. Any other suggestions?

Update: I’ve gotten a lot of questions on cost, so here’s some additional information. I paid about $2,300 for everything (including Windows 7), shipped. If you’re interested in building your own gaming system, you can do it for much less, however. Here are some ways to save money without sacrificing very much (if anything) in the way of gaming performance:

  • Shop around rather than buying all your components from the same site. I spent enough time researching components that I didn’t want to spend even more time finding the lowest prices on them, so I was lazy and bought them all from the same retailer. That said, I bought them from Newegg which has pretty aggressive pricing, so I probably wouldn’t have saved very much.
  • Skip the liquid CPU cooler. The fan that comes with your CPU is sufficient. I just used a liquid cooling system for fun, and just in case I want to get really aggressive with the overclocking (which I haven’t yet).
  • Use fewer hard drives. I could have saved a lot of money just using a single 500GB drive rather than two 1TB drives and an SSD. In fact, this could probably have been my single biggest savings.
  • Buy a cheaper case. The case I decided on was expensive, but I wanted something nice and big for air flow and expansion, and I figured I’ll have the same case for a long time as I upgrade individual components. But there are much cheaper cases out there that will still work fine.
  • Buy less RAM. 8GM would have been plenty. 12GB is kind of ridiculous, but as you can see, I had a little too much fun designing this thing.

If I had really wanted to, I could have probably gotten the cost of everything down to about $1,800 and still had an amazing machine. Of course, I could have also spent much more, so I figure it all balances out in the end.

If you like flickr, you’ll love fastr

Via this post on O’Reilly Radar, I came across fastr. If you like flickr, and you like word games and/or puzzles, you’re going to love fastr. In their own words:

Fastr is a game that uses flickr images. It loads ten images that all share a common tag, one by one, and you guess what the tag is. When you guess right, the tag will turn blue, and you’ll get points. The faster you guess, the more points you get. The points are reset every six minutes. You’ll need to choose a player name before you can play. You can play using tags for multiple languages and for specific flickr groups.

Enough said. Try it. I’ll probably see you there.

Gaming on the cheap

I’m taking a little break from my Developer Relations position at Adobe Systems to work on some of my own projects, which means no money coming in for a while, which in turn means I won’t be dropping $60 on any new Xbox 360 games any time soon. Although I’d really like to be playing the new Ghost Recon, Advanced Warfighter (which I’ve played at friends’ houses and love), I am instead entertaining myself with Xbox Live Arcade games.

If you have an Xbox 360, you need to spend some time checking out the Xbox Live Arcade. It consists of a couple dozen small, simple, downloadable games across six categories which seem to cost anywhere between $5 and $10, and provide hours of swearing and celebration. To get to the Xbox Live Arcade, go to the Xbox dashboard, navigate to the Games tab (or "blade" as Microsoft calls them), and it’s right there.

I’ve played Hexic HD (written in Flash, I believe), Mutant Storm Reloaded, Geometry Wars Evolved, and Joust. My favorite is Geometry Wars Evolved so far. The graphics are simple, but extremely sharp and bright (on an HD TV), and the movement is amazingly fluid given everything that’s going on on the screen at once. Hexic HD is available for free, and is created by Alexey Pajitnov, they guy who, by inventing Tetris, is responsible for decades of accumulated lost productivity.

You can download a free trial of each game which is limited in some fashion, but works well enough to give you a sense of whether you want to spend a little money on it or not. While playing the trials, your Xbox will ask you about 800 times if you want to "unlock" the full version which gets annoying, but the trial technique is appreciated, nonetheless. Unlocking (in other words, buying) the full version allows you to record achievements that your Xbox Live friends can see, and lets you play the entire game through.

The only thing that bugs me about the Xbox Live Arcade is that you don’t pay real money for the games. You purchase "Microsoft Points" which you can then redeem for games, sort of like the Chuck E. Cheese token model. I guess I don’t mind the model itself so much, but they conveniently leave out dollar equivalents next to points. In other words, you might see that a game costs 400 points which you can purchase quickly and easily right through Xbox Live, but there’s nothing there to indicate how much money that actually is. Convenient. Anyway, the exchange rate seems to be 80 Microsoft points per $1, so games will cost between $5 and $10. Check out the Microsoft Points article on Wikipedia for more information.

Of course, there are other ways to game on the cheap. You can pick up an original Xbox bundle for $179.99 at Best Buy (that actually seems a little expensive to me), a PlayStation 2 for $149.99, or a good old Nintendo Gamecube for a mere $99.99. If you’re into mobile gaming, I strongly recommend checking out the new Nintendo DS Lite (videos here and here) which will save you money over the PSP. And if you’re a do-it-yourself type with no moral objections to this type of thing, you might be interested in knowing that the Xbox 360 firmware was recently hacked.

Stream music to your Xbox 360 (from any computer)

My Xbox 360 monitoring script worked, and I got a Platinum system from Circuit City. I’ve had it for about a week now, and I think I’ve spent as much time playing with the dashboard and media capabilities as I have playing games.

I don’t have a Media Center PC (yet), but it turns out I don’t need one in order to stream music to my Xbox 360. All you need is a media server that the Xbox thinks is a Media Center PC. I’m using a server called TwonkyMusic from Twonky Vision. I’m running it on a G5 iMac in my kitchen, and it streams music to my Xbox 360 over a 802.11g wireless network perfectly. The server automatically starts when I log in, and indexes all the MP3 files in the /User directory. It even runs a little web server on port 9000 that you can use to administer the music server from inside or outside your network. The TwonkyMedia server will stream photos, as well, but I’m only interested in music since all my photos are on Flickr (who I hope is working on some sort of media streaming solution of their own).

The one issue I’ve had with the server is that I ended up having to shut off the firewall on my iMac (but not the firewall between me and the outside world). I tried opening all the ports that TwokyMusic claims to uses, and that let me connect to the server from my Xbox, but not browse music for some reason. I have to look into that further, but otherwise, it’s been working great, and my Xbox 360 has been playing music just about nonstop ever since.

The Twonky server products are available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X, and will allow you to stream music to about 34 different devices. I’ll still probably end up getting either a Media Center PC, or whatever Apple announces in a couple weeks, but in the meantime, this is a great solution.

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Xbox 360 hunting

No, I haven’t gotten one yet. Yes, I want one. In fact, I want one badly enough that some friends of mine (Danny Dura and Mike Chambers) and I put together a script that keeps constant tabs on 13 different sites who we believe are mostly likely to get more in stock. The script pulls the source of specific product pages, checks to see if one or more strings are either present or not present, and if it looks like there’s a hit, sends email and SMS messages. Initially we got several false positives, but at this point, the script is refined enough that when we get a ping, we know it means something. In fact, last weekend, Circuit City was selling a couple of different bundles for about an hour, but it was between five and six AM Pacific time, so we were all sound asleep. I dare one of these stores to get a shipment while I’m awake and sitting in front of my computer.