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Archive for May, 2011

The Witcher 2 initial experience is troublesome

This past week, I decided on a whim to buy both The Witcher and The Witcher 2 on gog.com, a site that has earned plenty of praise for their work with, literally good old games. In particular, the GOG version has no SecuRom copy protection in it, something I am always happy to avoid. I must add that while I have no major issue with copy protection or DRM, it needs to work right, be reliable and not mess with Windows. SecuRom in particular doesn’t fit this bill, but that is a story for another time.

Long story short, I downloaded the files and brought them home. Installation of both games went well, no issues at all. The problems began once I tried to get online to register the games however. The Witcher website appears to have been redesigned shortly before the launch of Witcher 2, which is nothing major in of itself. What is a problem is that you cannot login or register on the site, with those buttons being greyed out. Attempting to register from within the launcher for Witcher 2 is a very hit and miss affair with the servers seeming to be constantly offline or having connectivity issues.

While I finally managed to get the game registered, I’ve been unable to download the first piece of free DLC they released. The launcher struggles to connect to their servers, most attempts simply die. When it does connect, it downloads the file, says Verifying and then does nothing. Going back into the Downloadable Content option on the menu shows that the DLC was not installed. Mass Effect 2 was a good example of how to do DLC right technically. Download an exe file, install it and content is available if you log in with the matching account.

Trying to register Witcher 1 has been even less successful, as it appears the servers are either down or not available. Reading the Witcher website reveals that there is some hairy server maintenance going on, accounts being moved, forums offline, use one account for Witcher 1 and one for Witcher 2 and many other issues.

The overall feeling from this is one of irritation. While I have no problem with server issues, a clear announcement on the front page of the website would be useful as well as some sort of concrete timeframe on when everything will be up and running.

In mitigation, I will say that perhaps the demand has surprised the crews at CDProjekt Red, and based on what I’ve read, they are working insanely hard to get it all worked out. It’s just a pity that no game seems to be launched these days without some or another flaw that makes the initial experience less than perfect. I begin to understand what draws so many people to consoles now…

Overall, I’m going to give things about a week to settle down, and in the mean time I can play through Dragon Age 2 and Witcher 1 before finally getting into Witcher 2.

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Further fun with Citrix XenServer

I’ve previously written about some of our experiences with moving most of school’s servers onto Citrix’s XenServer platform, a process that we are still learning from every day. Last week we hit a known issue inside the product we were not aware of due to us not having taken the time to read all the errata, hardware compatibility lists and so on.

The problem we hit is that XenServer 5.6 has some compatibility issues with the new power saving features introduced in Intel’s Nehalem and Westmere server chips. If you enable the C3 and C6 power saving states in the server BIOS, the processors will attempt to save as much power as possible by putting some of its cores into a sleep like mode when load is low on said CPU. Unfortunately, there appear to be bugs in how the processors handle resuming from these states, as well as some other random issues that can be hard to pinpoint.

Initially we had no problem with this until about 2 weeks ago. After a massive power failure, we started noticing that the server wasn’t lasting beyond 3 days uptime. At first we let it go as a minor once off issue, but when it happened twice more, we could no longer ignore it. Microsoft Exchange has a pretty robust database engine, but too many unclean shutdowns would eventually cause corruption. While faulty hardware was always a possibility, it seemed more likely that this was some sort of software issue on the host causing the problem.

Cue searching on the internet, which lead to this Citrix document. My colleague and I immediately felt that this was the root of the problem, as we had enabled the C states when we set up the server. My colleague took the chance on Friday afternoon when it was quiet to restart the server and change the settings in the BIOS. Although it’s a bit sad that we’ll lose some of the power saving features of the new CPU’s, we’d take that any day over poor uptime and crashing hosts.

As of this writing, the server has been up for over 48 hours now without issue, and I will continue to keep an eye on it. The week ahead at work should tell us if the C states were indeed causing the problem. If the server stays up past 3 days uptime, we will know for sure.

In the above linked document, Citrix say their engineers are looking into the problem. Hopefully they will get it fixed by the time of the next release, so that we can make full use of our hardware.