How LODs impact the entire game, a consumers story. (Part 1)

Users across the grid are noticing the issues with their purchases more discerningly than ever before. They notice the FPS drops from certain items, the furniture dissolving into black splotches just feet away. Even these crazy polygon counts people are bringing in unoptimised occasionally break the game, and their fixes are having to change other debug settings just to co-exist. Even noobs notice when items disappear. They have been for a long time. Is it fair to expect them to change their settings, tax their PCs, and adjust to conform?

We are experiencing a community-wide issue of both consumers and creators turning a blind eye to poor habits. These habits are ones we aren’t even aware are bad. We are proliferating these things by purchasing content we know to be flawed, simply changing our settings, and recommending others to, too. The cycle will continue as customers endorse things with their wallet, leaving creators content with the way they do things and no reason to critique their own work.

In SL, we are largely homebrewed artists – struggling by using tutorials made for other engines, engines not created in 2003, without the restrictions we have. We must learn to create mesh using external programs, learn to bake our textures, generate our own limited materials all largely on our own or through networks such as Plurk. Many of us just don’t know better.

So we keep passing on our hackish ways of doing things. It’s not hard to see how we got here, and why things have gotten so out of hand. “Just change your RenderVolumeLODFactor“, they said – and so we did, like a butterfly effect across the whole grid – starting from the days of sculpties. Let’s travel to the shoes of the average SL user to see how this cycle keeps happening.

A standard new Linden Home comes with 351 prims – almost 3 times as many as old ones to help allow creators to practice better habits for LODs.

You have been playing a few months and have a limited budget, part of that includes a small premium home with a few hundred prims to decorate from top to bottom. You pinch your pennies, shopping sales, gleeful when you snag a new beautiful low land impact deal. Your house is full of a variety of creators, and you love inviting your new friends over to see your latest find.

You purchase a new bed, it’s and it is beautiful but the designer decided to cheese the algorithm to get a lower land impact. Sadly for you, the pillows turn into triangles before you get across the room, and there is that pesky black shadowing flickering out from the covers as you back away. You have no idea why it does this, only that it frustrates you.

In the past, perhaps you’ve bought things which became totally unusable because they disappeared entirely when you zoomed out – even hair! These issues made no sense to you, and it was upsetting to throw away hard earned money, especially after the fee increases to just buy L$.

The same pillow at 4 different levels featuring: 2 triangles, 106 triangles, 164 triangles, and 996 triangles each. Sparing 2 more triangles would have permitted them to at least look square, and was a lazy decision on my part.

So you search for answers. You do what you see others do: You ask a huge shopping group network for help and they offer a solution: jack up a specific debug setting to as high as your viewer will go. You do, and never think about it again. RenderVolumeLODFactor 4.0 is just your life now.

Now you can enjoy your furniture in peace, you love the perk that it fixed that necklace which always looked broken at normal distances, too. You are a believer in pushing up the LOD Factor, and you curse Linden Labs for “making” you do that. Why wasn’t it that way all along? No matter, it’s fixed now and your home is gorgeous.

You love shopping, so off you go to the next new sales event. No longer are the stalls distorted when you enter! Now you load every minute detail of every mesh at distances that they’re mere pixels on your screen, everywhere! Even those crowded clubs, dealing with jewelry, eyes, and 400 blinging accessories that are so small on that chick half a sim away from your camera, or the dungeon beneath your neighbor’s house 3 plots down when you visit a friends living room.

All of these items perfectly rez, without distortion even when you’re far away – and to you, the inexperienced – this is great. This is how it should be. Brands you avoided before because they looked like black triangles are becoming staples in your home.

A popular shopping event on default LOD Factor settings.
Can you tell what is what? Not always.

There is one caveat. You can’t figure out why the lag has been worse lately, why your FPS kinda sucks, but it doesn’t really matter, everything looks great and you’re having an awesome time! Must have been that SL update, LL sure bork stuff! You’re happy everything looks good in SL, and maybe you’ll just buy a better computer next year. Even though yours is only 3 years old.

LOD Factor impacts every avatar here, all of their attachments, and all the items within your draw distance on the sim. All those market stalls you can’t even see behind the walls.

One week invite your flexi-haired, living in 2008 best friend over and everything in your house looks like crumpled black triangles to her, and the cycle starts all over. It gets so annoying to you when people see your avatar as a triangulated hot mess that you put LOD Factor info in your profile, to help everyone.

You’re a LOD Factor Evangelist now, and you want that hottie Chad to see you in your full 4.0 glory from the other side of the room, so you tell him about it too. Your life has been nothing but great since you made the change.

Multiply this issue over hundreds if not thousands of creator releases, some which may know no better themselves… and certainly possibly hundreds of thousands of consumers since 2010. We have a problem.

The problem is masked as mysterious lag, FPS issues, the blame is on Linden Labs. Most of the blame really should be on the creators, who despite putting out gorgeous meshes, aren’t respecting good mesh practices. A lack of knowledge and resources has only compounded this issue.

Over the next weeks I will be publishing a multipart series about what I have learned about the mysteries of LOD, LOD Factor, and how we as creators can do better. Following this, I hope to do a writeup about texture sizes and usage, then physics. I will also be doing my best to add creator resources in the side panel to help educate. Many of these will cite and reference other similar resources.

All series will be catered specifically to content creation in and for SL.

Stay tuned!

Anke ♥

Part 2, now live.

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