Sunday, July 26, 2015

Trials and Tribulations

I've been sitting on this post for a while, letting it percolate in the back of my head. It started off as a general essay regarding disabilities and gaming. In the interest of transparency, I scrapped all that. Instead, this is a post about the player of Jazabelle, what drives her, and what stops her.

This post really defines "oversharing," so if you don't care to read in depth about me, my physical challenges, and what drives me to do what I do for the Everquest II and Homeshow communities, skip this post.

If you are curious about all that, you can visit the link to my interview for Gamer of the Month in November 2012 (the original interview disappeared when Daybreak took down the Station Blog). Some of the information is out of date, since it's from 2012. But the bulk of the important information is still relevant, including my drive for doing the things I do in EQ2.

If you don't want to read the interview, that's fine. I'll be repeating a lot of the things I said.

So, hi.

This is the person behind the keyboard.

I am the player of Jazabelle, a character on the Antonia Bayle server. I run the guild Homes and Tomes, and have been playing Everquest II since late 2005.

I am sometimes absent from Everquest II for days, weeks, or months at a time. This is because I suffer from chronic debilitating intractable migraines. Breaking it down into layman's terms, chronic means that I suffer more than fifteen headaches a month over at least a three month period. In my case, I am a "chronic daily headache" (transformed migraine) sufferer--every single day, I have a migraine of some intensity or other. Debilitating means of course that I suffer migraines that are strong enough in strength to cause me to be bedridden at times. At least ten times a month, I am forced to spend at least a few hours in bed due to the migraines. And intractable means that no medication so far has been able to control the pain (aside from seriously heavy duty painkillers, but who wants to live their life in an addicted haze of extra strength percocet?).

My migraines are triggered by more things than I like to think about. Weather? Check. Stress? Check. Food? Check. Hormones? Check. Scents? Check. Lights? Check. Sounds? Check. Heat? Got that covered. Exercise? You betcha! If it can possibly trigger a migraine, it does. And for extra fun, I have a ton of allergies. But instead of expressing themselves with hives, a runny nose, or itchy eyes, I.... get a migraine (and my joints hurt. That's known as "allergic arthritis"). So really, I have a migraine of some level or another all the time.

Interested in seeing what that looks like? Here's a Facebook post from April 2014, with a copy of the pain diary I keep. And if you're curious, yes, April 2015 was even worse than April 2014 (which was worse than April 2013).

As you may suspect, this means that I am in the not-so-enviable position of being unable to maintain a traditional 9-to-5 job. What this also means is that I am constantly looking for ways to focus my attention outside of my own body, to ignore the pain for a little while. For the most part, that is Everquest II. Sometimes the pain is bad enough that I can't sit up or concentrate, and I wind up not logging into Everquest II for several days, until it dies down enough to manage. Other times, even though the pain isn't that bad, the nausea and vertigo are so bad, I can't remain vertical.

To make things worse, I have other health problems. Recently, I was diagnosed with a cervical spine degeneration, a herniated cervical disc, and spinal canal (cervical) stenosis. The C7 nerve root in my neck pinched twice in under three months, with pain so bad, extra strength percocet barely took me from wanting to kill myself to "only" wanting to cut my neck, shoulder, and arm off. That was when the doctor ordered a ton of tests. I'm now up to seven times in eight months that the pinched nerve has acted up, and during the (on average) two weeks when the pain is really really bad, I can't sit at a computer for more than a few minutes at a time. Nearly half my life since the diagnosis has been lost to the pinched nerve.

These are the results from the MRI I had done in March. Based on that, and the needle EMG study my doctor did, he believes I'll need surgery in the next few years. I'm hoping I can make do with cervical epidurals. For the curious: neural foraminal narrowing.

Add in a host of other health issues, and my attendance in game can get sticky.

(Yes, I'm undergoing treatment for all of my health issues. No, so far the treatments aren't helping for most of them. If you have suggestions, I'm all ears, but don't assume your "magic bullet" treatment will help me, and don't tell me I "only" need to do XYZ in order to fix all my problems. So far, every single magic bullet medication, process, or procedure has failed. I'm willing to try almost anything, and will usually proceed with a treatment for several months at a time to get an accurate idea if it's working or not. Most of the time, the answer is "no.")

Ongoing health concerns. Yes, there are a lot of them. Yes, some of them have been blocked out. No, they aren't your business. Actually, none of them are, but since I'm writing this post...

When I do make it in to Everquest II, I do my best to have fun. I focus on helping people. I answer questions in Homeshow, I offer suggestions for items, I tour homes and give opinions. Making others happy makes me happy. Helping others helps me to forget for a little while what I'm dealing with.

I also run contests. Every few months, I try to run a different contest, while doing my best to make sure they don't overlap Norrathian holidays.

Of course, spotty attendance means that sometimes things don't go quite as I expect them. Granting prizes this last time around especially, has been difficult. Some days I dragged myself out of bed (with a migraine of pain level 10 out of 10) to grant gifts, then stumbled back to bed. Sometimes, I can't even manage that much.

The previous contest was the first time I'd decided to grant prizes to everyone who participated. I wasn't prepared for the number of people who entered, nor for the fact that every person who chose a prize tended to choose multiple items so as to use their full allotment of DBC.

Add in the fact that cross-server prize gifting wasn't working, which meant I had to create a character on each server in order to send the prizes. Gifting two prizes a day can take anywhere from half an hour to an hour of my time, depending on load times, the marketplace (sometimes I have to relog a few times to get it to work), and other factors.

Had I been able to log in every day to grant prizes, sending the two prizes per day without fail, it still would have taken me over three weeks to grant prizes.

The good news is that I've learned from my Retreats of the Rulers gaffe. For the Sacred Spaces contest, I'm making sure that I'm not one of the prize givers (besides which, I'll have used up all of my DBC--9500 worth of it--on the Retreats of the Rulers contest). I'm making sure that contestants are limited to one prize each, so that there are fewer prizes to give out. And I made sure not to set a date for when I expected to have the prizes granted (when I set the date for the Retreats of the Rulers prize granting, I'd completely forgotten that there was a 2 gifted items per day limit). People will get their prizes, but I'm not about to tell them, "You will receive your prize by X date!" Finally, people's participation prizes will be given to them as soon as they complete their Sacred Space. Hopefully that means that by the time the judging is complete, only the three winners will need to have their prizes given.

But I've drifted off topic.

I don't run contests for me. To be honest, I seriously dislike the stress of contests. (I love the spreadsheets, though.) It isn't fun for me. I don't get anything out of contest or events, except the happiness of knowing that other people enjoyed the contest. In fact, I give way more than I get. I give time, I give energy, I give my precious few upright hours, and I give DBC or other prizes.

Some people might say that I "get" fame out of it. To them, I point out that even before I began running contests, I was known in the Homeshow channel for being able to explain the layout editor to people, and for the houses I built. Besides, "fame" in a game isn't really worth the paper it's printed on (get it? It's not printed on paper! Hah hah hah!). It doesn't get you anything. Yes, people send you tells. A lot of the time, they're nice tells. I love receiving nice tells, and I've met plenty of my good friends that way.

The rest of the time it's, "Come do this for me!" Or, "Hey, you're good at decorating. I have this empty house that you can decorate. I won't even charge you for it, because I know how much you love decorating. I'm doing you a favor by giving you a space to decorate!" (Yes, I really do get tells like that. Yes, I'm still polite to these people, because they obviously don't know or understand how much work decorating is.)

The fact that a few developers know who I am means absolutely nothing. They don't treat me any differently than other players. In fact, the only difference between me and other players is that they might share a post of one of my contests without me having to ask them to. Might.

To be honest though, I'm an asocial (Asocial, guys. Asocial, not antisocial. There's a difference. Look it up) introvert, who prefers her own company. If I could be a hermit with an infinite library of books, I'd probably wander off, book in hand, and never look back.

So why then do I talk in Homeshow, am I relentlessly cheerful there, and why do I do things that bring me into the limelight if I hate it so much?

It's simple.

I might prefer to keep to myself, but I still like making people happy. Contests and events make people happy, and there aren't enough people running them.

With that said...

What makes people happier, me keeping to myself, or me answering the questions that no one else seems to be able to answer? Me keeping to myself, or me running contests because so few other people seem willing to do so (Especially contests open to all servers, so that the quieter servers don't get left behind)? Me keeping to myself, or me being bubbly and cheerful in the channel to try and make other people smile?

I know which options I think make people happier.

What drives the player of Jazabelle to be the person she is in Everquest II?

Well, the "tl;dr" answer is:

A desire to distract herself from her pain, while making other people as happy as she can make them. If that means a little bit of extra discomfort on her part, at least she knows she made someone smile!

Rendering Lag (Homeshow reply)

Mary the Prophetess asked on the Homeshow forums:
Greetings all.
As I understand it, rendering lag is a function of the distance an object is from the zone in location. Is this true for both the horizontal and vertical axis?
Also, do the number of objects placed affect rendering or just the distance from the zone in? If I were to place, (hypothetically), 1200 floor tiles in stacks around the zone in, would it have any effect on the rendering speed, or is the rendering speed strictly a function of distance from the zone in. and not of number of items?
If building in the breakout area of a huge zone, such as the Hua Mein Retreat, what can be done to reduce rendering times?
Is player lag inside a house, (moving, etc), a function strictly of the item count. or does the distance from zone in *also* increase the lag a player may experience?
I tend to push the limits on my houses to the max, and any suggestions on ways to reduce rendering times and player lag without impacting item count are very important to me. I also worry about the stability of massive homes and crashes that visitors might experience especially if they have a relatively modest rig.
Thanks ahead of time for your suggestions and advice.

Haohmaru of Daybreak responded with:
There are 2 things that cause the noticable lag/loads people see in homes/halls. Well, there are other factors but these are the 2 biggies most of the time. 
Texture diversity which directly equates to memory usage. The more textures (and geometry but that's far less an issue) used by unique items, the more memory is needed. The more memory needed, the more loading/unloading going on and the hitching that occurs even when you don't 'see' items in front of you. You will try and load any items within your view distance even if above/below you with no direct view. Items farther away use less texture memory unless a copy of the item is also close to you. It's constantly balancing those assets which leads to performance hits.
Item density which equates to rendering performance. If you have 1000 items in your view, it has to setup all of those to be rendered each frame. If you have lights/etc, it gets costlier. Even if the item is 'cheap' (few textures or copies of a select few items all over, like tiles) it takes time to set the items up to be rendered. So even if they are memory-friendly, it can still hurt performance if the quantity in view is crazy.

Unfortunately, there's little we can do to mitigate this since it's a completely user controlled experience. We've always said that players are a homes worst enemy One of the things we often suggest though when homes start to cap out is for players to lower their texture quality while in dense homes (better yet - before entering). Obviously the trade off is aesthetics (which pains me to suggest this) but generally, every step lower in texture resolution (say from Maximum to High) should lower memory usage by almost half, possibly more, sometimes less. If that doesn't do much, then it's more an issue of items-in-view and the only suggestion at that point is to thin out dense pockets which is certainly not a popular solution. I tour homes and watch a lot of crazy tour videos. It's insane what the community continues to come up with so I'd love nothing more than to remove all caps and let everyone go even crazier with their designs, but I'm not sure a computer exists that would allow that yet
I also took a moment to chime in with the following:

As Haohmaru already addressed the actual lag portion of your question, let me take a stab at the rendering lag issue. (And if any devs want to step in and correct any misconceptions I may have about how things work, that's encouraged! Everything I'm about to type is from observation and personal experience, not insider knowledge )

"Rendering lag" is the time that it takes for items to populate on your screen after you appear in a location (as you know, just reiterating for anyone reading who doesn't understand what's being discussed). The further items are from where you are in the world, the more likely it is that you'll run into rendering lag.

Contrary to popular belief, distance from your current location and number of items are the only things that matters with rendering lag. If items are 500 units away from you or 5000 units away from you, when you teleport into the middle of those items, it will take the same amount of time to load on your screen. The more items there are, the more time it will take, but the distance doesn't matter once it's out of your rendering distance from your point of origin. 500 or 5000, if you couldn't see it when you originally zoned in, it's going to take the same amount of time to render.

Rendering lag is actually not connected solely to zone in location--if you zone into a house zone and teleport to the decorations, and encounter rendering lag, then log out and log back in to the decorated portion of the zone, you will log in instantly, with all decor already in place on your screen.

Rendering lag is due to teleporting to items that are outside your character's rendering distance. It doesn't matter if you're starting from the zone entrance and teleporting to a location 10000 units away, or if you're starting from a location 10000 units away, and teleporting to a location at the zone in. If the location you're moving to is outside of your rendering distance, and you appear there instantly, you're going to experience rendering lag. Yes, it's less once you've been to a location in a zone once, and are heading back there, but it still happens.

I've found that sometimes it's actually faster to zone into a house, teleport to the decor, then /camp back to my character (a total time of less than a minute, rather than the longer load time of sitting and waiting for everything to appear on screen).

There isn't really a way to minimize rendering lag. The only thing that will "fix" it is to build the home inside a character's rendering distance from when they zone into a house. Even that depends on player settings, however. If a player has a low rendering distance, a low level of detail bias, and a low spell effects distance, not all of your home may load even if they're standing directly inside of it. Most players' computers can handle high enough settings these days that that shouldn't be an issue, but I have seen it occur.

Mary the Prophetess said: “As I understand it, rendering lag is a function of the distance an object is from the zone in location. Is this true for both the horizontal and vertical axis?”
It doesn't matter if that distance is horizontal or vertical; your visibility is a sphere around your character, so a horizontal or a vertical distance are treated the same.
Mary the Prophetess said: “Also, do the number of objects placed affect rendering or just the distance from the zone in? If I were to place, (hypothetically), 1200 floor tiles in stacks around the zone in, would it have any effect on the rendering speed, or is the rendering speed strictly a function of distance from the zone in. and not of number of items?”
I briefly touched on this earlier. The number of objects placed do affect rendering time, and while they affect zone in time, it isn't a big deal (30 seconds as opposed to 20 seconds, for example).

If you were to place 1200 floor tiles in stacks around the zone in, a player might experience a slightly longer zone in time, but it wouldn't be truly detrimental. I have a home with 1200 floor tiles in one room, and the zone in time isn't noticeably different from a home that's a bit more spread out. Most homes' items are all within a player's rendering distance from zone in (unless it's a breakout or custom build, which I covered above).

As Haohmaru mentioned though, texture diversity is a big one. If you had 1200 floor tiles, and you split those tiles among every type of tile in the game, it would take more zoning time and cause more lag than if you used 1200 floor tiles of one type. In fact, that's one reason I built my cathedral out of as few different textures as possible--the limited number of textures means that it's easier for a lower end computer to render without lag (of the rendering and movement varieties).

Haohmaru said: “You will try and load any items within your view distance even if above/below you with no direct view. Items farther away use less texture memory unless a copy of the item is also close to you. It's constantly balancing those assets which leads to performance hits.” 
 This. This this this this this! Keep this in mind when decorating.

Mary the Prophetess said: “If building in the breakout area of a huge zone, such as the Hua Mein Retreat, what can be done to reduce rendering times?”
When building in something like the Hua Mein, the only suggestion I can offer is to build the bulk of your home within rendering distance of the entrance, and to ensure that there are plenty of points throughout the zone for players to stop and explore. If you ensure that each "exploration point" is within view distance of the next one, this will allow the following exploration point to load on a players' screen while they're occupied with the current one. It isn't a perfect fix, but it does prevent the player from noticing the rendering lag that's occurring, as they slowly move from one point to the next, and each further point renders.