Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

How to work out why a PC game keeps crashing

Here is some tips and advice from someone who a) develops PC games b) used to be a PC systems engineer and c) handles tech support for a games company.

So your PC game is crashing. You probably want to contact tech support from the developer or publisher, or seek help from other players on their forums. This is the information you need.

  • The EXACT version number of the game. A lot of games stick this on the main menu screen, or in the ‘readme’ text file in the games folder.
  • The EXACT model of your video card. Go to control panel, then click system, then device manager and look for your video card. You should see the details there. It’s probably some variety of ATI or NVidia.
  • The version of windows you have. Is it 64 bit? 32 bit Windows 7/XP/Vista?
  • if you are doing *anything* unusual, such as running a windows emulator on a mac, or running a beta version of windows, or using beta video card drivers etc.
  • EXACTLY where the game crashes, and the content of any error message that is displayed. You need every detail. ‘It crashed and said something about X’ isn’t specific enough. Especially note any error numbers.
  • if it happens in fullscreen or windowed mode, and your screen resolution.
  • If the game crashed once, or many times, and if the crash can be repeated on demand.
  • If you run other games, and if they work ok. If everything crashes randomly, the game is not at fault.
  • If you have managed to reproduce the exact same issue on a different PC.

Those factors collectively will really help a tech support person. Here is stuff you can try whilst waiting for them to reply.

  1. Reboot your PC and try again. A lot of bad applications can crash and leave your PC, specifically it’s video card driver in a ‘corrupt’ state. Rebooting fixes all stuff like this.
  2. Check there isn’t already a patch for the game. if there is, then install it, because it may well fix your crash. Not every patch notes file contains *all* the fixes.
  3. Install the very latest video card drivers for your PC. You can find a slightly old, but still relevant guide to that here. You probably need to go to nvidia or ati
  4. Go to windows control panel (view by large icons), then administrative tools, then event viewer. windows logs, application log. Look for anything with a red icon, with the name of the game that is crashing. If you find one, click it and you will see in the pane below all kinds of stuff that might help. This is worth sending to the developer in some cases. If the ‘faulting process’ is ATI or nvidia something… then you may have a driver issue, rather than a game code bug.
  5. Check your PC for malware. I recommend antimalwares malwarebytes (free) and microsoft security essentials. Do a deep scan of your whole PC. This could take all day. It is worth doing. A lot of malware generates random-crashing style symptoms, and obviously it’s stuff you want rid of anyway. I have both these programs installed and they are fine, and not at all intrusive.
  6. Check your PC doesn’t badly need defragging. Right click the C drive under windows explorer, select tools, then defrag. If it’s higher than 4% then I’d say do it. If nothing else it speeds up your PC.  While you are there, also check your disk for errors, just in case.
  7. Now we are getting more obscure. is this bug a totally random crash? If you are at your wits end, turn off and unplug your PC. Open the case, and take out the video card and then put it back in. This is called re-seating , and sometimes corrects tiny problems with the socket. Do the same for all of the RAM. In my day, we had a tiny toothbrush to clean the gold connectors with :D. if you aren’t confident opening the case, get your local geek to do it.#
  8. Check your hard drive isn’t full (almost certainly not). In windows explorer right click the C drive and select properties. Do you have at least 1 gig free?
  9. Still no joy? Try running the game as administrator. Right click it’s icon and you will see it as an option. Failing that, experiment with the compatibility mode options in the same place.

If you actually have found a bug in the game, then be aware that this is pretty RARE. You wouldn’t think so, given by online gaming forums, but take a game that sells 50,000 copies (low for retail, high for indie). If there really is a bug, even an obscure one, it’s definitely affected at least 500 people. Maybe 1 in 5 of them emailed the developer. The chances are, the bug was found and patched after the 20th email, let alone the 100th. This is why you should always check your game version number before anything else. It’s still worth emailing the developer with all this information. It will likely help them rule out certain things, the more examples they have.

If you are one of those lucky people to be reporting a bug before it’s fixed, what the developer wants is something called ‘steps to reproduce’. You can be 99.9% sure that the developer has never experienced the crash. If they did, it would be fixed, which means that there is something about how / when / where  you play the game that is different to the way the game was tested. Good steps to reproduce look like this:

  • Start Game in fullscreen mode at 1920×1200 resolution on windows 7 64 bit with nvidia video card, latest drivers
  • Click ‘new game button’
  • Click ‘mission 3’
  • Select Arch wizard chipmunk character, and set all attributes to 7
  • Play mission until you encounter the 5th hobgoblin.
  • Click the ‘use death ray’ icon
  • Game crashes immediately you click the button…

Ideally, what you would do is identify only the steps that cause the game to crash. So if you try to reproduce it, but this time click the ‘use freeze ray’ icon and it still crashes, then you know its not specific to that one button. What the developer really needs is the minimum steps to reproduce the crash, and also to know what is a red herring (in this case, the choice of weapon). In tech support, we called this ‘drawing a box around the problem’. You need to be identify what causes the game to crash, and what is just filler and side-show.

Lastly, remember the game developer isn’t your enemy, they want it fixed more than you do. You aren’t the only person with the bug, and they would rather be coding new stuff than debugging, so they want it done as fast as they can.

If you have any other tips, or suggestions that you know have helped fix awkard and obscure PC game crashes, post them below.


11 thoughts on How to work out why a PC game keeps crashing

  1. Check the CPU and GPU temperatures with a tool like Speedfan ( or GPU-Z (GPU only).

    If the game is making the computer turn off or show graphical artifacts, it’s 90% of times because of overheating.
    A lot of people are trying to play on laptops, and most of them have an insufficient cooling system, provoking these problems (happens as well with desktops, but it’s more rare).

  2. All sound advice (except maybe cleaning RAM, I’d imagine they’d notice other problems before the game crashing). But it’s also a lot for today’s consumer to put themselves through, and I imagine they’re more likely to just stop playing than go to the trouble of gathering this much information for you, especially if the game was cheap or a demo.

    I think the developer should take as much of the burden of bug reporting as possible, by making it very easy for bug reports to be submitted. Have you looked at things like Google’s BreakPad? Clicking ‘yes’ to a ‘would you like to submit a bug report’ is a pretty low barrier to entry.

  3. I may have just missed your mentioning it: when sending steps-to-reproduce to the developer, it is also often helpful if you include a copy of your save file. Depending on the kind of game the specific gamestate you were in may be difficult or impossible to exactly reproduce for anyone else and may take a lot of time. Even if it’s something that can be set up in 5 minutes, there are so many variables that may be playing into the formation of that gamestate that the dev simply cannot be sure if a “I followed your steps and it didn’t happen” result was because the bug wasn’t in the game or because they just didn’t succeed in following your steps or if your steps weren’t quite right.

    Of course, that assumes the game has saved gamestates.

  4. The couple or so times I’ve had to report a bug, the tech support asked for a HijackThis logfile. Might be a good idea to get one of those sent; if they want it, they’ve saved time in asking. If they don’t, then no harm.

  5. It would be a good idea to write the information like windows version, GPU model, etc into a log file. The player would only have to send you the log file. Assuming he’ll be able to find it. :P

    It amaze me how much a well intentioned post can create so much commotions

  6. Regarding what Stephanie said: is there no free/open source library that can do this sort of this for us, that we all can use for such logs? You’d think one must exist somewhere because it’s such a useful thing to be able to report.

  7. Not that I know of. But I’m guessing you can relatively easily get the Windows version from the windows API and the GPU model from DirectX. AS for the CPU, you can get its spec from the __cpuid/__cpuidex intrinsic.


  8. I got the game via steam and loved it but it stopped working over the past month.

    It crash at start. The error log gives

    “Ship Hull not found >:..\src\SIM_ShipHull.cpp 503”

    What do I do?

  9. Thats probably related to a ship being deleted or some DLC or a mod being installed and then uninstalled, leaving behind some ship designs which now no longer work. As a last resort, you can rename
    \my games\gratuitous space battles, and then that resets everything.

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