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DF Direct Weekly: stuttering problems in PC games is getting out of control

Plus: State of Play reaction and Horizon Forbidden West patch analysis.

We tried not to talk about it, we spent almost an hour avoiding the topic but eventually it had to come out: Alex is being driven to his wits' end by the fact that so many major titles are shipping on PC with a stuttering issues. Kicking off this egregious assault on gameplay most recently was the bizarrely poor conversion of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, followed up swiftly by Elden Ring and just last week, Shadow Warrior 3. But it's not a new problem - games like Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Ghostrunner and Sword and Fairy 7 launched with similar issues. Typically, this stutter is caused by shader compilation - the process whereby GPU code is compiled on the fly during gameplay - and seems to be particularly bothersome on Unreal Engine titles.

Why compile on the fly - and why doesn't the same issue impact consoles? The two questions are interlinked: shader code can be pre-compiled on consoles as they're fixed platforms and the data is included on the disc or in your download - things are trickier for PC because every GPU and driver revision requires a new round of compiled shaders. Adding to the problem - and perhaps explaining why code makes it to the end-user with so many issues - is the fact that once shaders have been compiled on PC, they're cached to disk and re-used when needed without re-compilation. Revisiting the same area again should result in smooth gameplay, leading many (possibly QA too?) to think that the problem is solved. The amount of replies we get about this issue ("the latest patch fixed it" or "smooth for me now" etc) doesn't change the fact that first contact with any non-compiled shader will cause the issue.

Can it be fixed? Absolutely - either by compiling shaders during load-time (The Ascent), compiling them before you even boot the game (Horizon Zero Dawn at launch) or compiling them in the background (Horizon Zero Dawn's recent patch). Further options may be available, such as crowd-sourcing shaders on a platform like Steam, but ultimately, we can only hope that by highlighting this issue, it gets sorted, without recourse to Alex Battaglia launching an Angry Alex YouTube channel.

Cover image for YouTube videoDF Direct Weekly #52: State of Play Reaction, Horizon PS5 Patch Analysis, Dying Light 1 60FPS!
The 52nd DF Direct Weekly, with Rich Leadbetter, Alex Battaglia and John Linneman perpetrating this one.
  • 00:00:00 Introductions
  • 00:01:05 State of Play reactions
  • 00:14:04 Horizon Forbidden West's 1.07 patch
  • 00:20:26 Dying Light's next-gen patch
  • 00:25:44 F-Zero X comes to Nintendo Switch Online
  • 00:29:55 Media.Vision announces five games in development
  • 00:31:38 Switch OLED 3600 hour burn-in test
  • 00:38:31 DF Supporter Q: Do you think the 'burn-in crisis' is overblown?
  • 00:42:37 DF Content Discussion: Guardians of the Galaxy on GamePass / DF Retro update
  • 00:51:02 DF Supporter Q1/2/3: Elden Ring performance questions
  • 00:58:35 Elden Ring PC patch early impressions
  • 01:02:57 DF Supporter Q4: What would you prefer? Locked 60fps or 60-80fps VRR?
  • 01:06:22 DF Supporter Q5: Why is it so hard to produce OLED screens for the PC market?
  • 01:14:32 DF Supporter Q6: Do you hold out much hope for improper frame-pacing being addressed in the next Switch?
  • 01:16:42 DF Supporter Q7: Do you think Super Switch will be capable of matching or even surpassing the visual presentation of the new Sony and Microsoft machines?
  • 01:19:07 DF Supporter Q8: The Bubsy Curse rumour

But before the tirade on PC gaming's single biggest issue kicks off in earnest, there's plenty of chat to wade through, starting off with our picks from last week's Sony State of Play - mostly focusing on Japanese developers, therefore giving us some respite from the triple-A onslaught we've been wading our way through over the last few months. There are some interesting titles we highlighted, but it was slightly frustrating to see that so many of them are cross-play in nature. Yes, it seems that the PS4 will be with us well into 2023!

There's also discussion on the latest Horizon Forbidden West patch, with tweaks to address the complaints about 'shimmer' on vegetation, specifically in performance mode. I had the launch code installed on my PS5, so was able to compare the before and after. It seems like the effect is reduced, but far from eliminated - and doing so would require a fundamental revamp of the anti-aliasing system that would reduce the overall detail level. Our take is that the texture mip-map is reduced to a lower quality version on some vegetation, meaning less extreme detail being packed into the pixel real-estate - a tweak, but not a game-changing solution. Meanwhile, John reckons that quality mode has changed too...

And as always, we field a bunch of questions from backers of the Digital Foundry Supporter Program. Yes, we wade through the expected Elden Ring performance enquiries, tackle the realistic results we can expect from DLSS on the mooted 'Switch Pro' and talk through frame-rate vs frame-time when you exceed 60 frames per second. Is 60-80fps (12.5ms to 16.7ms) with VRR better than a locked 60fps - a flat 16.7ms frame-time? We suggest not, but when you get to 80-100fps (10ms to 12.5ms), it's a different story. You can get a better idea of what we do on the Supporter Program right here, but for the full-fat DF experience, we (obviously) recommend it!

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About the Author
Richard Leadbetter avatar

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.