Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Colin McRae Dirt 2 – Choppy sound and crashes in multiplayer

I like my driving games; always have done since the original Mario Kart on the SNES way back when.

So the other day I bought Dirt 2 on Steam as I needed some driving action (my previous driving squeeze was Grid – and I can highly recommend that too).  Very cool, especially with XBox 360 wireless controllers.

After clocking up 20 hours or so on the solo missions I decided to give the online game a go.  Whilst in the trailer I navigated to the Multiplayer ‘board’ and hit ‘online’.

The instant I hit the button on the pad, the sound started to crackle & stutter; then I lost everything except the menu sound effects (only later for them to return for about 10 seconds). I’ve had this before (during the videos on Streetfighter 4, for example) and I just thought ‘well if the game still plays, I’ll put up with it for now’.

Only it didn’t play – not exactly anyway.  The first race went okay (apart from getting battered by the opposition!), and then I went back to the menu ready for the next race to begin.  When the next race began to load, the game just froze.

So I fired it up again and had another go.  Got through the first race again, only on the return to the menu, it got stuck when the camera zooms out from the ‘photo’ that’s taken at the end.

All the while, the sound’s doing crazy things.  Oh and the framerate in-race was not as good as it should have been either (of course it can drop slightly in Multiplayer given the extra work going on to do the networking).

Now my machine isn’t top-end (at least not until the year’s bonus comes in ;) ) but it’s still pretty beefy:

Intel Q9650 on an NVidia 780i Ultra Quad Sli board (can’t remember the manufacturer any more, possibly ASUS – but it cost a bit).
4Gb Corsair Ram as 2x2Gbs using stock timings
Two BFG GTX 280s (not OCd) in SLI
SB x-Fi Pci-ex card.

So there’s really no excuse there for the kind of crap that was going down!

I did a google search for the problem and lots of people have been reporting similar problems, but seemingly not to any decent conclusion.  Lots of talk of onboard hardware, out of date drivers etc.  One common thread seemed to be Win7 x64 (which I run), but ultimately my machine couldn’t be any more up-to-date driver-wise (I’m a habitual upgrader).

Lots of people were moaning about the Rapture sound system that the game uses as well – well, mine was setup at it’s defaults (and still is).

So I gave up.

A couple of days later I was mucking about on the Games for Windows (GfW) screens in-game and stumbled across the Voice settings.  Guess what – as soon as the UI for that settings panel was displayed, the exact-same sound interference kicked in again!  I exited that screen and it went away straight away too.

Now, I don’t use a headset with a microphone (don’t play any games where verbally abusing everyone else will either help or add anything); so what I’m about to say will NOT help those of you that do.

I tried disabling the voice stuff in GfW, but it didn’t make any difference.

So instead I pressed ALT+ENTER to get out of full screen and opened the Windows Recording Devices UI from the Volume Control.  I went through and disabled all the recording devices.

Went back to the game window and back into fullscreen (ALT+ENTER again) and all of a sudden the sound was clean again on the Voice UI in the GfW overlay.

So, immediately I went to the multiplayer menu again – hit ‘Online’ as I was before and this time – no crackle, no stuttering or anything: everything working exactly as it should.

I then went on to play (and lose!) a bunch of online races, no pauses between loading, frame-rate nice and crisp as in Single Player and, best of all, sound stayed intact all the way through.

So – there you have it – disable the recording devices (probably only have to disable one or two of them, but I don’t do any audio recording on my machine anyway, so I’m happy with them all switched off) and have your problem fixed!

There’s clearly an underlying bug here – possibly at the Dirt 2 level, or equally at the GfW level, so that needs to be fixed; although the game is nearly a year old now so I doubt it ever will be.

In the meantime I can now get back to getting my ass handed to me by supafly teenagers with too much time on their hands; like I used to be 15 years ago.