Obsidian dev sheds light on PS3 Skyrim lag bug

A developer of Fallout 3 spin-off project Fallout: New Vegas has offered up an explanation for the game lag issues experienced by those choosing to play Bethesda's epic role-playing game Skyrim on a PlayStation 3 console.

While fans are complaining of bugs across all versions of the game, those playing the title on Sony's PlayStation 3 console have more reason than most: a bug triggers when the game save file exceeds a certain size, at which point the game begins a gradual decline.

When the bug hits, the game's frame rate - the speed and smoothness with which the screen is updated - begins to slow, making certain areas all but unplayable. Worse, as the save file grows so too does the chance of the game freezing altogether, forcing the player to reset the console and lose any progress made since the last save.

While Bethesda has been quiet on the problem, failing to address it in a recent patch which has the unfortunate effect of causing dragons to fly backwards and resistance effects to fail in a way which unbalances the game, a developer has stepped forward with a potential explanation - but, alas, not a cure.

Although Joshua Sawyer doesn't work for Bethesda and hasn't been involved with the development of Skyrim, his company Obsidian Entertainment did work on a spin-off title for Bethesda dubbed Fallout: New Vegas, which uses the same basic game engine as the Bethesda-developed Fallout 3, Oblivion and Skyrim.

"The longer you play a character, the more bit differences on objects - characters, pencils on tables, containers, etc. - get saved off and carried around in memory," Sawyer explains. "I think we've seen save games that are pushing 19MB, which can be really crippling in some areas.

"As with Fallout 3 and Skyrim, the problems are most pronounced on the PS3 because the PS3 has a divided memory pool. The Xbox 360 has a unified memory pool: 512MB of RAM usable as system memory or graphics memory. The PS3 has a divided memory pool: 256MB for system, 256MB for graphics. It's the same total amount of memory, but not as flexible for a developer to make use of."

While that offers insight into exactly what the problem is - and why PlayStation 3 gamers are particularly hard-hit by the flaw - it doesn't, sadly, bring gamers any closer to a fix.

For now, the Skyrim community is suggesting that players avoid opening non-essential containers found within the game world - such as pots, baskets, and cupboards - in order to reduce the number of objects the game needs to track, and thus slow the growth rate of the save game file.