Some insight into Dead Space control problems

My last post on mouse and control issues in Dead Space brought in lots of advice, including encouragement to try things (like disabling vsync) that had helped some folks improve the mouse control on their systems. I did, in fact, try most of the common remedies discussed online early on in troubleshooting the problem, before coming to the conclusion that the game’s mouse-and-keyboard control scheme is fundamentally broken. After spending some more time with the problem, I still believe the game’s controls are broken, but I do have some insights about how they’re broken—and some possible workarounds that might help.

We should begin by classifying the several Dead Space control pathologies, since they are related but somewhat separate.

  • In the game’s menus, mouse pointer movement is strangely imprecise and feels "floaty," as many folks have described it. Just setting up options and starting the game can be a chore.
  • In the game itself, mouse control is both imprecise and also slow. Cranking up the game’s mouse sensitivity slider to the highest setting may help somewhat, and using a high-DPI mouse may help, too. But you may still find yourself "rowing" the mouse across the desk multiple times in order to turn around.
  • Worse yet, mouse movement becomes even slower if you are pressing a W/A/S/D movement key or if you have your character in "aim mode" in the game. The gap between regular sensitivity and movement/aim-mode sensitivity seems to vary inconsistently while playing and makes predictable movement almost impossible.

For me, the final problem was really the last straw, since I realized that none of the various troubleshooting measures recommended online were any help for this particular problem. I tried all sorts of things—disabling vsync, forcing on triple-buffering, setting the Nvidia graphics drivers to allow the GPU to render more than three frames ahead, dropping to a lower screen resolution, and using a very fast mouse—in various combinations, but none of them resolved this disconnect. In fact, they might have made it worse.

I did listen to those of you who said the game worked well for you, though, including my friend Andy, who had played through the whole game on his own PC without issue after disabling vsync and forcing on triple-buffering. Curious to see the game working well, I tried it out on his system, and sure enough, it worked much better than it did on my GPU test rig. His system is pretty nice, with a Radeon HD 4870 X2 and a 65nm Core 2 processor, but it’s not quite as fast as my Core i7-965 Extreme-based GPU test rig with dual GeForce GTX 260s. Yet his PC ran the game pretty well, with very little difference between aim-mode and regular mouse sensitivity.

This discovery launched another round of troubleshooting. I came home and fired up my second test rig, with a Radeon HD 4870 X2 and a Core i7-965 Extreme, to see if using a different video card was somehow the key to the control problems. At first, the Radeon-based system seemed to be a night-and-day improvement. Controls were fluid and responsive with only vsync disabled, even without forcing on triple-buffering. However, as I played through the game, I realized that the responsiveness of the controls and the disconnect between aim-mode and regular controls both seemed to vary depending on the situation. Enter a large room and scan for baddies, and control seems great. Walk into a small bathroom on the ship or turn and face a corner, and the controls would slow considerably.

Slowly but surely, a little light bulb icon pulsed to life above my head. Could it be that the problem was worse when the video card was doing less work, when it was rendering the game too quickly?

I fired up FRAPS to get a frame-rate counter and tested my theory. Right away, I noticed that frame rates in the problem areas were approaching 180 frames per second, while open areas with smoother controls ran closer to 120 FPS or less. This was at 1920×1200 resolution on the Radeon test rig. Switching up to 2560×1600 slowed frame rates a little, and control improved as a result.

To further confirm the problem, I ran FRAPS on the GeForce-based test system and gave it a shot. Sure enough, at 1680×1050, frate rates were ranging well beyond 200 FPS, and again, the controls were most pathological where the FPS counter was highest. Solving the problem with the GTX 260s was tough, however. I tried going to 2560×1600 resolution and forcing on 16X anisotropic filtering and 16X AA in the Nvidia control panel, but the AA settings didn’t seem to work.  Even aniso and high res didn’t prevent FPS spikes into the 180-200 FPS range. Finally, I disabled SLI, effectively dropping back to a single GeForce GTX 260, and BAM—fixed. Frame rates settled into 60-90 FPS territory, and the game’s controls worked effectively.

Let me explain what I mean by that. Even when using my older, lower-DPI mouse, the sensitivity and responsiveness were excellent. I could turn my character around with the flick of a wrist when needed. On top of that, the controls didn’t become any slower when I pressed a movement key. The mouse sensitivity in aim mode may have been a little bit slower, but not by much. The difference wasn’t so great I couldn’t adjust easily, and heck, it might be as the game designers intended to enhance precision. Suddenly, the game wasn’t just playable but earnestly enjoyable, and I found myself playing through level one in a single sitting.

So the worst problems, it seems, happen when your PC is actually too fast. Crazy.

Of course, the game’s developers likely didn’t run into this problem on any of the consoles. And yes, I was more likely than most to encounter this problem in a really nasty way, given the sort of hardware I was packing. But none of this changes the fact that the game’s controls are basically broken on the PC platform. The easiest workaround is to make sure you use sufficiently demanding graphical settings to keep frame rates from getting too high. However, this fix is only partial, because frame rates will vary as you play the game. Every once in a while, you’ll enter an elevator or other tight space, the FPS counter will spike, and the mouse response will slow down.

Still, this is the most effective fix I’ve found, and it has rescued an almost terminally ill PC port for me.

Another avenue for addressing this problem, strangely enough, is to enable vsync in the game itself. Doing this will lock frame rates at 30 FPS, according to FRAPS, and it will unfortunately make mouse control in the game’s initial menus incredibly over-sensitive and "floaty." However, this fix makes the in-game mouse control work well, with enough sensitivity that you may want to turn down the slider some, even with an older mouse. And controls are very consistent with this vsync frame-rate cap in place. The obvious drawback here is the locked 30 FPS refresh rate, which looks slow and not especially smooth to my eye. Still, this may be the only consistently effective fix, especially for those folks with a faster graphics card and a relatively low monitor resolution like 1680×1050.

Seems to me like EA could issue a patch that caps Dead Space‘s frame rate at something like 60-70 FPS and save us all a lot of grief. Hasn’t happened yet, though. If you’re having problems with the controls in the game, you might try one of my remedies for slowing things down.  Your PC might just be too fast for its own good.

Update:  Voila!  As a couple of commenters have noted, enabling vsync in the Nvidia drivers appears to lock frame rates at 60 FPS, which is pretty much a best-of-all-worlds fix.  The menus and the game controls both work nicely.  With vsync forced on through the Nvidia drivers, it doesn’t appear to matter what the vsync setting in the game is; I’m seeing 60 FPS either way.   Even SLI works perfectly.

Apparently, you end up with that 30 FPS cap, sluggishness, and imprecise mouse control in menus if you have vsync set to follow the application setting in the drivers (or perhaps forced off) and then have vsync enabled in the game.

Frustratingly, forcing on vsync in the AMD drivers appears to have no effect, so this fix won’t work for half of us.

Comments closed
    • odizzido
    • 11 years ago

    The fact that the game released in the state it did is just sad. Even at its best the controls aren’t very good anyways.

      • toyota
      • 11 years ago

      the only sad thing is you not being able to figure out how to fix any control issues. the controls are just fine if you follow what others have told you to do…

    • murfn
    • 11 years ago

    I have a theory this might have something to do with mouse acceleration. That is, the mouse becomes more sensitive when you consistently move it in one direction to allow you to turn quickly when you really need to. And less sensitive when you change directions or move inconsistently as when trying to zero in on a target. The acceleration algorithm may be based on the change in mouse position from frame to frame and works best on some 60 fps. Any faster, and the updates in the mouse position may happen slower than the rendered frames, thus producing an inconsistent movement and a loss in the acceleration effect or even lurching and wobbling. My USB mouse has a 10ms packet sending interval, which means a maximum of 100 updates a second.

    • zqw
    • 11 years ago

    Interesting! So two problems?

    Your CPU/engine was outrunning your GPU and queueing too many frames = the classic floaty/lag feeling you saw in the menu (and I assume with in-game vsync on?) …the stuff first seen with shader heavy games starting with Doom 3, Oblivion, etc.

    And as you aproach 200FPS, the mouse goes dead: Sounds like the engine might be doing: mouseDeltaPixels * FractionalFrameTime * mouseSensitivitySetting …with very poor precision, maybe using ints. ie your mouse movements get chopped to small numbers and/or rounded down as FPS goes up.

    Ending up with a (ported) engine that relies on 30/60 fixed framerate, and QA that doesn’t use high-end rigs. But, you know the developers did. So, shame on the devs/publisher for not getting it into a FAQ that’s easy to find.

    I haven’t seen a good article aimed at enthusiasts/gamers covering the different problems in different games/engines with cpu to gpu desync or “lag”. Does it exist? Or this is a golden opportunity? It’s funny how we all know about mouse, monitor lag and ghosting.

      • toyota
      • 11 years ago

      its not really a 30/60 cap. if you use the in games vsync it will cap at half refresh rate which of course would end up being 30fps for most people. I first played it on my crt at 85hz so with the in games vsync I was at 42 fps. turning off the games vsync and using vsync from nvidia control panel let me play at 85fps. with an ati card I was not able to force vsync on from the control panel.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 11 years ago

    I was just about to give up on this title because of the mouse issue and the resume game bug that has forced me to play the game on it’s highest difficulty level. However I am now back at trying to make it through the game now that I used the vsync option in the nv control panel.

    • toyota
    • 11 years ago

    definitely some misinformation there Scott. turning on vsync in the game, not the game and control panel, will lock you at half refresh rate. turning the games vsync off and using the control panel vsync will give you the normal vsync. also turning on vsync from the control panel only works for nvidia cards. for some reason turning it on from ati control panel does nothing. also aa doesnt work from the video card control panel for either company. the game uses that blurry aa crap like in dx9 mode for the original stalker game.

    I noticed absolutely no difference in the controls whether getting 150fps or getting 80 so I am not sure why you did. its funny the people talking about how triple buffering made their game smoother which is not true. triple buffering from your video control panel only affects opengl games. the only way to force triple buffering in dx games is to use a 3rd party app and most gamers should know that.

    I played the game on various comps and the controls were fine with the in game vsync off. the tighter feeling aiming only took a few minutes to get used too. Im picky as hell and I just dont see what all the complaining is about. this game is the only one I have even enjoyed in the last six months or so.

      • Damage
      • 11 years ago

      Ok, you had some good info there. I’ve tested some and updated the post.

      I think you’re making a mistake generalizing from your experience to everyone else. Obviously, quite a few folks have been running into serious issues with the controls in this game, even if you haven’t.

    • dukerjames
    • 11 years ago

    l[

    • HurgyMcGurgyGurg
    • 11 years ago

    Thanks for the re-look.

    I’m going to test fraps tonight on my own to see if I have the same problem with the controls getting worse at higher FPS.

    I guess a 4870 is not to fast today. Anyways, send this stuff to EA and lets get our patch!

    Besides that, enjoy the game.

    • Loefer
    • 11 years ago

    This is a common problem with many PC games, sometimes alternately referred to as “mouse lag”. Interestingly the problem is not that your computer is running ‘too fast’ as a whole, but that the game’s rendering loop is submitting frames to be rendered faster than your GPU can deal with them. This happens more often in highly optimized engines that have extremely complex shaders (particularly pixel shaders) that require significant GPU processing time on a small number of efficient API rendering calls.

    The most widely accepted solution to the problem is to insert an event into the command buffer at the beginning of each frame, and then flush it right before you present the frame. This reduces the ‘lag’ to approximately a single frame by forcing the CPU and GPU to sync up at least that often, while still maintaining some parallelism between the two. Nvidia/ATI tend to discourage this solution because it reduces the number of frames they can queue in the driver, and therefore slightly reduces the overall framerate (and subsequently affects their benchmark scores).

    Unfortunately there is very little an end-user can do about it. V-Sync is a good option, since it performs a similar function (stalls the CPU waiting for the v-blank). Changing other video options may help because it forces the driver to flush queued frames at different intervals, but your individual mileage may vary.

      • moose17145
      • 11 years ago

      Here’s a thought for the Radeon cards. Could you also maybe use Temporal AA to help fix that problem? Since temporal AA will not allow the frame rate to exceed the refresh rate, that means you could get above the 30 frames per second incurred by V-sinc, but not exceed 60 frames per second (assuming that is what you have your refresh rate set to, obviously if you have your refresh set to 72hrtz then you would not be able to exceed 72 frames a second). I know Temporal AA was initially designed to work with CRT monitors, not LCD panels, but i don’t see why it shouldn’t work all the same. Unless i am just totally wrong in my understanding of how temporal AA works…

    • NeXus 6
    • 11 years ago

    What works best for me is to force Vsync via the control panel and disable Vysnc in the game. This gets rid of the 30 fps cap. Radeon users might need to force Vsync with D3DOverrider to get it to work.

    • crazybus
    • 11 years ago

    Shouldn’t disabling vsync in-game but forcing it in the nvidia control panel effectively lock the game at 60fps like you want?

    • moose17145
    • 11 years ago

    Ok now that i have gotten done laughing at Post #12, I would like to point out that this is not really a new problem, in fact it’s such an old one i doubt most people would even remember it. Many old games used to actually rely upon the inherent slowness of a cpu in order for the game to run properly. I believe lots of old MAME games are this way, and one of the emulators main functions is to basically slow down how fast the program gets executed, otherwise the game would just run as fast as the processor could process it. What is more than likely the case here is they did the same thing, they relied upon the inherent “Slowness” of the console to keep things in check and manageable. This can have many advantages in that it can sometimes help simplify game design, but it also has the disadvantage that we notice here, where with sufficiently fast hardware the game becomes virtually unplayable. Whats interesting though is that this is kind of the opposite many of those old games form back in the 386 / 486 days had. Back then if the machine was too fast it just ran the game so fast you had no chance of keeping up with it. This problem instead causes the response on the controls to become so slow and sluggish that the game becomes unplayable.

      • Saribro
      • 11 years ago

      Unreal Tournament (the original) doubles the game speed in singleplayer when you get to 200FPS. It’s definitly not a new sort of problem :).

      • titan
      • 11 years ago

      I was just going to post something to this effect. I remember when a game I bought a long time ago actually recommended a 486 over a Pentium.

      They didn’t rely on the inherent slowness of the CPU, they just relied on the clock of the CPU. In turn, that clock became faster as faster processors came out. The game designers clearly didn’t think this out way back when. It wasn’t until they realized that, that they decided to use a different clock. The sound card.

      You may be right in that the game designers again decided to use the CPU clock of the console to maintain a set speed, and then forgot to change what they used for a clock for the PC version.

        • moose17145
        • 11 years ago

        Well yea… relying on the clock, relying on its “slowness”, guess to me it was the same thing. Eitherways it relying on a 33 MHz clock (at leas that’s what my 486 ran at) compared to a 3200 MHz clock (or faster depending on your cpu). Comparatively its crazy slow to what we have out today.

        With the Xbox 360 though i would say it has to be something else other than the clock speed of the cpu or some other part, as the game dynamically gets crappier as the frame rate increases. Also if they relied upon the clock speed to keep it in check then you would think the core i7 would be a near perfect match, as both the xbox 360 cpu and the i7 965 (or whatever it’s model number if… i forget at the moment cause its late and i am pumped up on lots and lots of wonderful day quil) are both running at 3.2 GHz. So the clock speed is a near perfect match.

        Unless i am just not thinking clearly at the moment and massively missing something. I definitely know the former is true at least…. meaning the latter is probably also true….

    • Pachyuromys
    • 11 years ago

    q[<...a relatively low monitor resolution like 1680x1050.<]q !!! It's nice to know my brand new 20" monitor, the first I've bought in almost 10 years, allowing me to move up from 11X8 to 16X10, is only "relatively low resolution." Granted, I don't have to actually /[

      • moose17145
      • 11 years ago

      ROFL!!! LOL Oh My God something about that post seriously made me LOL!

      • Vaughn
      • 11 years ago

      Jealous much?

      • CasbahBoy
      • 11 years ago

      Contrary to popular belief, people with large monitors can actually still have what is called ‘a life.’ They use their monitor probably about as often or a little more often than you do, its just bigger.

      Actually what surprises me more is that you have your your monitor blocking your window. Not only do you get to see less of the outside, but it screws with your perception of monitor brightness and contrast.

        • CasbahBoy
        • 11 years ago

        Sigh, okay, I see you were mostly joking. I’ve been a little uptight today, sorry.

    • MaxTheLimit
    • 11 years ago

    This really does bother me while playing. I suppose I could slow my GPU down to make it run better, but seriously, My computer to is TOO FAST to run the game well? I’ve got a couple decent mice played in the game and the DPI makes a little difference. I just though this was a totally misguided control scheme. Now that I see the difference on a slightly less powerful computer I’m a little pissed.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    q[

      • yogibbear
      • 11 years ago

      Yeah I’m now actually considering not tossing my 8800gt just so i can continue to play Dead Space without problems…

        • ssidbroadcast
        • 11 years ago

        You know, I joke around here a lot, but seriously… am I the only one here that gets some sort of /[

          • moose17145
          • 11 years ago

          Haha no you are not alone. I too get some sort of sick joy out of it.

          Serves you right for getting to play on a 30 inch screen at 200 frames per second ya big jerk!

    • Vasilyfav
    • 11 years ago

    I’m a proponent that in Dead Space, in-game controls should feel floaty and awkward. After all you’re a spaceship engineer, not a special ops marine with 10 years of training of killing space aliens.

    You’re not supposed to be wielding huge guns and plasma cutters in the first place. The sluggishness is the added reaction time for a human being.

    • DASQ
    • 11 years ago

    It’s laughable how this issue even got passed any testing whatsoever.

      • eitje
      • 11 years ago

      nah. testers probably don’t have top-end systems.

      several years ago as a tester for Origin, the system I had at home was better than my computer running the tests.

        • DASQ
        • 11 years ago

        This issue would’ve been apparent had they even used a small spectrum of speeds, you don’t need a top end machine to see this problem.

      • sigher
      • 11 years ago

      It’s even more laughable how graphicscard drivers are released with even more obvious bugs, and still get WHQL certification..
      Nothing surprises me anymore in released software at this point.

    • yogibbear
    • 11 years ago

    Very interesting stuff. Doesn’t look like EA’s going to patch the game though :S

      • radix
      • 11 years ago

      I think EA should patch and pay TR for Q&A work 😛

        • sigher
        • 11 years ago

        You definitely don’t ever want to be an EA employee, No sir.

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