Thursday, October 28, 2021

If You're Going To Have A Party, Always Have It At Someone Else's House.

Here's another reason why blogging's great. People give you ideas. As Philip Larkin said about parents, they may not mean to but they do. In this case the idea came from Kaylriene, who posted yesterday about the arcane topic of flushing the water-cooling loop on a PC.

I read the piece with horrified fascination. Just knowing there are people doing this sort of thing in their own homes is disturbing enough but the real shudder of eldritch terror comes from the suspicion that one day we'll all be doing it and we'll think it's normal.

In reaction to that Lovecraftian terror, I drafted a comment. I tried to keep it as neutral as possible. I opened with the observation that if there was one thing that might drive the mainstream acceptance of remote services like Google Stadia it would be the thought of having to spend an evening doing something like Kaylriene had just described.

As I was typing I realised I wasn't one hundred per cent certain what Google Stadia was so I thought I ought to do some fact-checking before I made a fool of myself. In the process, I read an article that also mentioned some other cloud gaming options, one of them being GeForce Now.

There was a link to that and I clicked on it to see what the difference was, which is how I found out GeForce Now has a free option and that one of the games most recently added to the platform is New World. I imagine you can see where this is going.

I'm very happy with New World. I like most everything about it. I've already played for over a hundred hours and I would play it more if it wasn't for one thing: If I do, I'm worried my PC might explode.

Okay, it's not quite as bad that but playing New World does put a huge strain on my aging and not very impressive to begin with system. I can run the game on High settings, if there's no-one else anywhere near my character but it makes all the fans rev up in a way I am not at all used to hearing and it makes me very anxious.

With the graphics on Low the game plays smoothly during the day and even at the lowest settings it looks pretty good. Pretty and good in fact. My PC, though, has a bad time of it even though the game itself runs adequately. Tabbing out causes all kinds of ructions and the hard drive goes into continual grind mode. How ironic, right?

I've taken to closing everything else while I play, even Firefox, which is CPU-hungry at the best of times but even with nothing else in play the whole machine struggles to cope. When I log out it takes the best part of five minutes to settle down. Sometimes I can't even use the mouse for a minute or two.

Even before New World I'd been looking at upgrading. Nothing else I play has the same kind of issues but doing things like changing maps in Guild Wars 2 seems to take a lot longer than it used to and I feel like I'm noticing slowdowns and general sluggishness all over the place.

My current PC is now five years old and I've added nothing to it in that time other than some extra storage. The last two machines I had got upgrades while I used them and replacements before they got to be as old as this one. Back then, though, both components and whole PCs were a lot cheaper than they are now.

For very well-known reasons, this is a bad time to upgrade or replace a gaming PC. I looked at graphics cards again recently and to get a card that's a significant improvement on the one I have would cost me around £300. That's almost three times as much as I've ever paid for a graphics card and twice what I'd be prepared to pay at the moment.

Other upgrades are more reasonable but still overpriced. What's more, there seems to be a consensus that some of these items will fall heavily in price next year and even further the year after that as the supply issues resolve themselves and producers overcompensate for the shortages.

And my PC is fine (Touches wood, crosses fingers.) It's probably the best I've ever had in terms of reliability, stability and all round not giving me problems. I don't want to change it. It plays most old things perfectly well and old things are mainly what I play.

If I want to be able to play new things too, though, I'm going to have to do something eventually. In a while, probably not a very long while either, there will be new things I want to play that won't run on my PC at all, even at the lowest settings.

Windows 11 won't, for one. I tried the benchmark yesterday and failed. A lot of people with much newer, more powerful machines than mine are finding out they can't pass that bar. Not that it matters. I can manage happily for quite a few more years on Windows 10. I imagine everyone can. Everyone except Microsoft. They have to make money somehow and selling people a new OS they didn't want is what they know. It's a warning call, all the same.

I finished my comment to Kaylriene by saying "Hmm. I think I might be talking myself into something…" and I was. I was talking myself into taking one of the cloud computing services for a test run. 

GeForce Now, unlike the others I looked at, has a low-grade free option. It's very restrictive in terms of usage. You get a one hour session and if there's demand at the time you want to use it you have to queue. Doesn't sound great as an alternative to having everything available 24/7 on your own machine.

Except it's not quite as bad as it sounds. Each session is limited to a maximum of one hour but there's no limit on how many sessions you can have in a row. What it really means is you have to log out once an hour and log back in again. If it's busy you rejoin the queue.

That's not too disruptive, even less so when you consider my queue this morning was three people and took ten seconds. Also, I already have to log out of New World not infrequently to clear various bugs Amazon haven't yet fixed, the worst being that one that prevents any quest markers from appearing on the map or the compass. It's a very different game without quest markers and not one I want to play although I'd bet there are people out there who claim they prefer it that way.

It at least seemed like it would be worth a try so first thing this morning, after I'd posted my comment, I set about registering with Nvidia GeForce and linking it to my Steam account. Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

It took me over an hour. Some of it was my fault, some of it the obtuse and unintuitive processes themselves. In retrospect I should have realised I'd need to make my account with Nvidia using the same email account I'd used for Steam. It was entirely predictable the two companies would handshake that data to cross-check which games I owned.

Yeah, I didn't think of that, though. Not until I'd registered under another of my many Gmail accounts and then found the two wouldn't talk to each other. 

I probably should also have worked out that having two registered accounts with Nvidia would confuse matters even more. I could have saved myself some time by deleting the first account before I added the second.  

It's easy to delete a GeForce account, fortunately, unlike, oh, say, one you might have made with ArenaNet to play Guild Wars or GW2. To get your name off their books you pretty much need a doctor's note and a psych assessment but all Nvidia ask is a couple of clicks.

Once I'd sorted that out there were more shenanigans trying to get the two accounts to sync. I've managed to get along perfectly well until now without any kind of Steam profile at all but Nvidia weren't having any of that. They wanted to know more about me than Valve ever did.

I made a Steam Profile but that still wasn't good enough. It won't work if you set it to Private. It has to be Public. I have no idea why Nvidia are so dead set against anonymity. It's not as though they actually check who you are, just who you say you are. I registered my first account as Frito Mosquito and they seemed fine with that.

Unfortunately, back when I made my Steam account I gave them my real name (Which, in case you were wondering, is not Frito Mosquito, although I kind of wish it was.) If you want to buy games from the store you have to, really. 

Honestly, I think my days of pretending to everyone on the internet I'm not who I am are done. Not that I plan on using my real name when I don't have to but I have to recognize that I've already had to use it so many times it probably doesn't matter any more. The feline is loose from the burlap. It was a good run but it couldn't last.

There were a couple more hitches as I failed to understand exactly what it was either Nvidia or Steam were trying to get me to do. There were several sendings and resendings of codes to different email addresses. Steam seemed surprised I was logging in from a new location even though it had just passed my data to a service whose only purpose is to let me do just that. 

Applications got opened then closed then opened again. Error messages were read, assimilated and dealt with. Finally, about an hour and a half after I'd started, I pressed the big, green Play button and New World actually started.  

Of course, Geforce Now assumed I wanted to play on EU servers but it didn't quibble when I swapped to East Coast NA and when I did, there was my character, waiting for me. I logged them in and everything worked.

Sort of. As a "new" installation on a remote machine, every setting was back to the original defaults. That must be kept client side, I guess and I was on a different one. 

Why the camera controls default to the "inverted" version is harder to explain. Once I'd stopped my character lurching around like a drunk on a highwire I went through the settings and put them all back as I like them. Then I looked around. It didn't seem much different to what I was used to.

I checked the video settings. They were all defaulted to "Low", just as they were on my machine when I got the game. I found it unlikely that Nvidia would be using hardware that feeble even for the cheapskates on the free option and I was right. I reset first to High and then to Very High (Which is as high as it goes in New World.) No problem at all.

The world looked gorgeous on Very High, if weirdly softened. It seems that at higher settings there's some kind of bloom effect or there is in Everfall, anyway. Very mellow and autumnal with mist rising from the hollows and all the trees looking blurred in the middle distance. 

It looked a lot better than usual but I wondered how it would look in screenshots. I think the ones I take at "Low" must be saved at a higher definition because they look a lot sharper and more vibrant than what I see when I'm playing. 

I couldn't figure out where the screenshot key was. There didn't seem to be one. I've been taking all mine with the Steam screenshot function but that doesn't seem to work in Geforce Now, presumably because although you access the game you own on Steam, you don't use Steam to run it. Or something.

In the end I had to use the Print Screen key and tab out to save the result in, which turned out to be an excellent test of the service. If I tried doing that while playing New World on my PC the whole thing would come to a grinding halt after the first couple of shots. I'd be lucky if the game didn't crash and I'd certainly have to close the client and let it all calm down for a few minutes before carrying on.

With the game running remotely I could tab in and out as easily as I do when playing EverQuest II. Seamlessly, repeatedly, quickly, painlessly. The disk access light that usually glows steadily red for most of a session never lit up at all. The fans were silent. My PC was as calm, cool and quiet as I've known it.

I played for fifty minutes, running around Everfall, gathering, mining, killing, crafting. I ran into town and back out again without a hitch or a stutter. It wasn't heaving with people as it would be in the evening but there were a dozen or so players in the main square and more going here and there through the cobbled streets.

There was no perceptible lag or delay the whole time I played. Every command executed instantly. All my hits landed as they should. Every mob was exactly where it displayed as being. In just under an hour I had two momentary hitches, fractions of a second, and one chest didn't open properly until I backed off and tried again.

In a normal play session of that length using my own hardware I'd see many times more delays, stutters and glitches than that, even when the game is running what I would call smoothly. More often than not it would be considerably worse. Sometimes it would be quite literally unplayable at least until I rebooted. 

The real test will come this evening, when I try and play as the server fills up. If I can move through Everfall Town between seven and ten in the evening with my graphics on High I will declare the experiment a resounding success. Even if  I have to go back down to Medium or Low, if I can play comfortably in busy areas without the game becoming a slide show and my PC making noises like a turbine engine in distress, I'll still consider it a win.

At the moment it very much looks as if I'll be using GeForce Now to play New World from now on. I'll see how it goes on the free plan but I'm already considering a subscription. £8.99 a month gets you uninterrupted six hour sessions, priority access to avoid queing and better hardware to run the games. 

I would never play for six hours at a stretch. Even back when I was playing EverQuest for 45 hours a week my individual sessions weren't that long and these days I rarely go much over two hours before taking a break. A service like that would equate to always on for me. 

As for the cost, for the price of an upgraded graphics card I could subscribe to GeForce Now for almost four years. I need to experiment a bit more to find out how reliable the service is and how comfortable it feels to use but I'm thinking I might end up subbing, at least until GPU prices drop as they're predicted to, before upgrading or even replacing my PC in a year or two.

Or maybe I won't bother. Maybe playing on someone else's servers and paying rental is the future. I mean, just think about it. I could subscribe to a service like GeForce Now for a decade for the same cost as a new mid-range gaming PC but I'd always have up-to-date hardware, better hardware in fact, and I'd never have to fix or repair any of it.

Not saying I'm going to do that but I can see the attraction. And all of that from a post about how tedious it is to maintain a coolant system!

You see why I love blogging.


  1. My issues with GeForce now was having to log into Steam every time and not being able to cut/paste my rather long Steam password into it. I know that sounds super trivial but it made me nuts. And then for something like Guild Wars 2 I'd have to log into the ArenaNet launcher as well and same thing.

    The nice thing about Cloud Gaming is the silence. No fans going into overdrive. For me Stadia works better than GeForce Now (but you can't access your Steam library which is a deal breaker for most people) and GeForce Now works better than XCloud, but I think it's all really situational based on where you are and what your ISP is.

    1. I never let any device remember any password for anything so I'm used to retyping them over and over! There is a tick box on the GeForce log in to remember the Steam password though. Maybe they added it after you last used the service.

      I've played New World all evening with almost no stutterign or lag at all - far, far less than I would get playing it from my own machine. I had to log out every hour but really that's a good thing. I welcome the prompt to take a break. As for queues, they were something like 150 at around 7pm, 350 at 8pm, 250 at 9pm. The longest it took to get back in was under ten minutes, the other times less than five.

      As things stand I'm more than happy with the free service and I imagine I'll be using it to play New World all the time from now on. I might use it for other games on Steam too - as you say, the silence is great (not that my PC is very noisy) but the instant response when I tab out is very welcome, too.

  2. This was a really interesting read. I haven't really been following this whole cloud gaming thing (this is what this is, right?) so I didn't really understand the appeal, but your account provides a pretty good use case.

    1. Yes, I haven't really been paying attention until now, either. About all I'd really heard about GeForce Now was all the controversy about Nvidia adding games to it and then having to remove them when the developers complained about it. It never really occurred to me to try it until yesterday but it's working out well so far.

  3. Echoing @Shintar, I really enjoyed your write-up. I'm more on the Kaylriene end of the PC building enthusiast/hobbyist spectrum, but it is good to see how the cloud gaming is working for you. My concern was mostly that the games would never feel responsive. It's good that the system is working so well for you.

    1. Thanks. I'm fine with opening the case and swapping components - I can comfortably change graphics cards and processors and drives and so on. Beyond that, though, it gets a bit too fiddly for my tastes. Really, though, the deciding factor here is the cost. If graphics cards were their usual price (for ones a couple of generations old, that is), I'd just have bought an upgrade and not really thought about it. We'll have to see how it goes but on first sight this looks to be a better solution.

  4. Thanks for the write-up. My gaming machine has been struggling with New World, so after reading your post I gave it a try, and then signed up for the service. £45 for six months is something I can justify a lot more easily than possibly going north of a grand for a new machine.
    I'm a lot more impressed with GeForce Now than I was with the idea of Google Stadia. Google are trying to offer games as a service - the whole, vertically-integrated shebang with a price tag to match, and that means I would effectively be paying again for games I already own. Also, Google have a reputation for abandoning services that aren't breakout successes. GeForce Now is offering a platform as a service to play the games I've bought elsewhere - if Stadia is trying to be Netflix for games, GeForce Now is more like renting a DVD player for the DVDs I already own.
    The only issue I have with GeForce Now is one with the mouse buttons being swapped over - I'm a lefty, with a lefty mouse, but I use the LMB/RMB like a right-hander. I've got Windows configured accordingly, but that doesn't seem to carry into GeForce Now and I can't find any way of overriding it in the application. Much like scissors and cheque books, I can live with the inconvenience but it's just another example of right-hander privilege :)

    1. Glad the post was helpful. I'm finding GeForce Now very reliable and useful. I play New World exclusively through it and it also gets me past the problem I was having with New World updates, which for some reason kept corrupting and making me have to re-install. I actually have no idea if the version on my hard drive is updated or not now. I assume not, even though the GeForce and Steam accounts are linked.

  5. New World is a RAM hog, and if you do not have enough, it thrashes the pagefile - causing all the loading lag and the CPU usage. I doubled my RAM after the closed beta back in July, and now it runs smooth and quite - but everyone in my company with 16GB or less of RAM is having the experience you describe. Regardless of the graphics settings, the game seems to demand at least 7GB of RAM, and given how much Win 10 also demands, 16 GB is not enough to run both :).

    1. That totally explains it since I have 8GB! Since ram is relatviely affordable still, I've almost added another 8GB several tims over the last year but when I read up on it, most of the advice seems to be that more ram doesn't make much difference to the kind of games I play. That obviously isn't true of New World and I bet it's not of GW2, either, which also does something very similar although not quite as bad. Maybe I will bump the ram up and see what difference it makes.

  6. I'll definitely be curious to hear about your ongoing experience with GeForce Now. My rig is about 8 years old, I've been wanting to replace it for the last couple Black Fridays but kept figuring that things would get cheaper next year... And you can see how that has gone. I've very much considered trying GeForce Now, but for the time being I've mostly been working through my Steam Backlog instead.

    1. I would very much recommend trying the free version at least. It's very quick and easy to get up and running and so far it's worked perfectly for me. It makes playing New World a much more pleasant experience and my PC is quiet and cool and happy. I am going to try it on my very ancient laptop soon and see how that works. So far I haven't felt the need to upgrade to the paid version because as I said, I actually like being reminded to log out once an hour - it seems like quite a healthy thing to be nudged into doing. As for the queues, even at peak times I haven't waited much over ten minutes and mostly it's less than a minute or two.


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