Fallout 3 Tweak Guide
[Page 3] Troubleshooting Tips
This section contains specific troubleshooting tips which address many of the common problems experienced by Fallout 3 players. I can't stress enough the importance of taking the time to go through the checklist of advice below if you're having a problem with the game.
Official Support: The first place to look for official support details is in the Readme.txt file in your \Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Fallout 3 directory. Importantly you should check out the minimum system requirements in the Readme.txt file, and the supported hardware list, since if any of your hardware is below the requirements or not supported then it's highly like that you will experience problems with the game, or quite simply won't be able to run it (See the OldFallout Project if that's the case). You should also check the Official Bethesda Fallout 3 FAQ for your OS for details of how to resolve specific error messages and other issues. In terms of community support, there are a wide range of forums which provide varying degrees of tech help, but the best one to start with is the Official Fallout 3 Forums.
Game Bugs: Fallout 3 does indeed have a range of gameplay and engine bugs, which is inevitable in an open-ended game as complex as this. However there are not nearly as many bugs as people would like to think. To start with, consult this list of suspected bugs and fixes which the community is compiling to see if your issue is covered. There are also a range of solutions found in this thread on the Official Forums. Keep in mind though that most crashes and general issues are the result of unoptimized systems: conflicts with background programs, codec pack conflicts, overheating hardware, overclocking, outdated or incorrectly installed drivers, and of course hardware which is not supported just to name a few common causes of problems. See the Conclusion section of this guide for a discussion on PC gaming. In the meanwhile I strongly encourage you to read this guide carefully, as well as using a comprehensive system optimization guide like the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion. Finally, make sure you've installed the latest patch for the game, as Bethesda has said it is working on patches to resolve identified and verified issues.
Mouse Acceleration Issues: As of the 188.8.131.52 patch (See Page 4), you will experience a noticeably accelerated mouse when in 2D interfaces such as the main game menu. This appears to be caused by some change in the patch, and you can alter the level of acceleration by adding several variables under the [controls] section of the Fallout.ini file - see the Advanced Tweaking section on page 8 for details.
Game Launch/SecuROM Issues: There may be some problems launching the game due to Fallout 3's disk check protection provided by the SecuROM system. Full details of how to troubleshoot SecuROM-related problems are provided here and in the SecuROM FAQ. Note however that as covered later in this guide, you can bypass the disk check component quite easily and legally - see page 4 for details; this should help resolve SecuROM-related issues as well.
Windows 7/Vista: If you find that Vista Sidebar widgets keep periodically flashing up in the background when the game is running, create a new desktop shortcut to Fallout 3 by going to your \Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Fallout 3 directory, right-clicking on the Fallout3.exe file and selecting Send To>Desktop. Right-click on this new shortcut, select Properties, and under the Compatibility tab tick the 'Disable visual themes' and 'Disable desktop composition' boxes, so that the desktop is properly disabled when Fallout 3 is running.
Important Update: Some people with newer quad core CPUs and/or using Windows 7 or 8 may find that Fallout 3 crashes randomly. Feedback suggests that inserting the iNumHWThreads=2 command under the General section of the Fallout.ini file, as covered in the Update on Page 10 of the guide, can resolve this on some systems.
Games for Windows Live: Fallout 3 includes and installs Games for Windows Live, a service long used by XBox players and now available for PC gamers. However because Fallout 3 is a single player game, the Live service isn't vital to the game, as there is no multiplayer component. At best it simply allows people to record and share their achievements online, get notifications of game updates and get additional Downloadable Content (See page 4). Since some users have said that disabling Live has resolved lag and some crash issues for them in Fallout 3, if you want to remove/disable Live successfully, use this Games for Windows Live Disabler Mod to disable Games for Windows Live.
Important Update: If you have a problem launching Fallout 3 after installation, and receive an error message along the lines of "the ordinal 5359 could not be located", this is related to Games for Windows Live. To resolve this issue, you must disable Games for Windows Live, particularly as it is a service that is no longer being offered by Microsoft. To do so, follow these steps:
1. Go to your \Program Files (x86)\Bethesda Softworks\Fallout 3 directory.
2. Copy the Medium.ini file, and paste it into your \Users\[username]\Documents\My Games\Fallout3 directory.
3. Rename this newly copied Medium.ini file to Fallout.ini.
4. Run the Games for Windows Live Disabler Mod, as linked further above.
5. Launch Fallout 3, and it should start as normal now given Games for Windows Live has been disabled.
Uninstalling/disabling Live as covered above should be trouble-free, but if you do run into problems, reinstall Fallout 3 and Live will be reinstalled along with it. In the end there's no real reason why you should uninstall Live, but as noted, it's not completely necessary and some people do claim that removing it resolves various issues, so try it at your own risk. If you want to keep Games for Windows Live and instead have some other kind of problem with it, check this Official Support Page. Note that there may be saved game issues if you use Live - if you can't see your saved games, check under your (My) Documents/My Games/Fallout3/Saves directory and if there is a subfolder with your Live profile name there, your Live saves will be there. You can copy your saves into/out of your Live folder if you want to play them using Live.
Lag/Freezes/Stuttering: Many people are complaining about stuttering in Fallout 3 and the momentary freezes and performance drops that come with it. Since Fallout 3 is based on the same engine as Oblivion, the causes of this stuttering and the solutions are pretty much the same: the Fallout 3 game world is extremely large, open, and relatively detailed. There are a lot of different objects, textures and sounds which need to be loaded up as you wander around the game world, and these have to be constantly loaded up from your hard drive into your system RAM and video RAM and back again onto the drive as required. This means that for systems with slower hard drives and/or less system RAM and/or less Video RAM, there will be noticeable periods of stutter and inconsistent FPS as you wander around, even moments when the game will appear to freeze for a bit. This is not a bug as such, this is the way the game engine is designed to handle the loading of data in a large open game world; it simply can't preload every piece of information about the game world at the start of the game as there's too much data to preload, so it loads the data piece by piece as necessary - you will often see your drive light on when these stutters/pauses occur, confirming that it is related to data loading.
Aside from defragmenting and general system optimization (see below), reducing your settings is one way of reducing stuttering - see the In-Game Settings and Advanced Tweaking sections for specific settings which affect stuttering. In some cases however, only a hardware upgrade will reduce this type of stuttering. If you're considering a hardware upgrade, I would strongly recommend getting a fast hard drive such as a Western Digital Raptor or a Solid State Drive (SSD). Combine that with at least 2GB of RAM, preferably 4GB or more, and a graphics card with 512MB or more of Video RAM, and this will provide the best method of virtually eliminating data loading stuttering in any game, not just Fallout 3.
Note: There is another type of stuttering which can occur, often referred to as micro-stuttering, juddering or skipping. It usually appears as tiny skips, like missing frames in a movie. This is not the same as the normal type of stuttering mentioned above, it is not caused by loading new data, it appears to be an actual bug related to graphics synchronization in the Gamebryo engine, possibly made more noticeable by certain graphics drivers. A video demonstration of the problem is shown here. To confirm the problem, use the iFPSClamp=60 setting as covered in the Advanced Tweaking section - if that removes the skipping then you are experiencing this issue. However changing iFPSClamp does not properly resolve this problem as it will then ruin your overall game speed at certain times. At the moment the only known solutions you can try are to firstly force enable VSync both in the game as well as in your graphics card's control panel - see the VSync option in the In-Game Settings section for instructions. If changing VSync doesn't work, try using a different version of your graphics driver. If that still doesn't work, there is a fix which some users claim works in removing this type of stutter: The Fallout 3 Stutter Remover mod (and this mod for Fallout: New Vegas users). If none of these things work then you will have to wait for either a patch and/or a new graphics driver version to resolve the issue. It's an issue that's been present in the Gamebryo engine at least since Oblivion so it is not new, and so far there is no real solution.
The Latest Graphic Drivers: Graphics card manufacturers are constantly updating their graphics drivers to take into account the most popular recent games and any issues there may be with them. Given some issues (such as the micro-stutterng mentioned above) could be related to certain graphics drivers, making sure you're using the absolute latest drivers is one of the easiest and quickest ways to resolve problems and gain performance in Fallout 3. For ATI users, using the latest 'hotfix' version can help, and for Nvidia users using the latest beta version is equally useful in more quickly resolving issues. See the ATI Catalyst Tweak Guide or Nvidia Forceware Tweak Guide for details on where to download the latest drivers and how to install them properly.
Defragmenting: The sheer size of the game files (around 5.6GB of data) mean that you must run a defragmentation program after installing the game to reduce stuttering and loading issues. The normal Windows defragmenter is fine, however to get an even better result consider a third party defragmentation package. More details are in the Drive Optimization chapter of the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion. It may take quite a while to defragment but it is a critical step in reducing stuttering.
Background Programs: The game's developers recommend that you disable all background applications - especially virus, trojan and spyware scanners and messaging utilities. These applications can and do use up valuable CPU resources, take up precious RAM, cause memory conflicts and crashes to desktop, but most importantly they interfere with read/writes to your hard drive effectively slowing it down and causing even more in-game stuttering and freezes. Full instructions on how to identify your startup programs and services and how to correctly disable unnecessary ones are in the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion. This is a critical step you should not miss as it has a major impact on Fallout 3's performance, especially in relation to reducing stuttering and preventing crashes to desktop.
Overclocking: Fallout 3, as with most games, can be extremely sensitive to overclocking. If you've overclocked any components on your system and are having problems such as crashes, reboots and graphical anomalies, the first thing to do is set everything back to default speeds and try running the game. If you don't experience the same problems at default speed, or they're reduced in severity, then your overclock is the primary culprit. Either permanently reduce your overclock and/or increase cooling to regain stability. Don't ever assume that because other games run with stability at a particular speed (even Oblivion) that Fallout 3 will do the same. Each and every game is different in how it tolerates overclocking, and overclocking is one of the most common causes of problems on gaming PCs. Note that aggressive RAM timings can also be considered 'overclocking' for the purposes of causing things such as crashes to desktop - try setting your RAM timings to 'By Spd' (the default timings) in your BIOS and see if problems persist.
Heat Issues: Even if you don't overclock your system you will have to keep an eye on temperatures to make sure that your system doesn't crash or experience graphical anomalies through excessive heat. You must ensure that plenty of cool air runs through your case so all your components can remain cool while playing Fallout 3.
I cannot urge you strongly enough to follow the advice above, and to make absolutely sure that you take the time to go through the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion, because that alone will make the biggest different to the stability, performance and smoothness of Fallout 3 - and indeed most any other game. I realise most of you are after a patch or a magic tweak which will make all these issues go away, but this simply will not occur as past history has shown over and over again. Unless you optimize your entire system you will keep experiencing problems with this and most every other recent game. It may be boring to go through something like the TweakGuides Tweaking Companion, but it will give the biggest rewards to those who do, and you will end up saving a lot of time in the long run if you learn how to operate, maintain and optimize your PC properly once and for all.
The remainder of this guide goes into more specific settings and tweaks which can help improve your performance and resolve any problems.