Particle Prejudice

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This week I happened to be helping a friend set up a display for a Second Life snapshot contest, including assisting the selection of photos. But we had a disagreement over which pictures were most appropriate. We deferred to the contest rules in an effort to determine which photos were permitted. The rules contained the usual, such as no photoshopping, must be PG material, etc. But hidden inside was one other ominous rule: No Particle Effects, or as the rules stated, “No Poofers”.

There. It happened again.

It's what I call, “Particle Prejudice”. When others declare that particles do not belong in Second Life.

I've had the same thing happen to me many times. A typical scenario involves visiting a new location, and I might discreetly start up an appropriate and minor particle effect just to add to the visual experience. Suddenly the owner or manager charges up to me and says “Turn that OFF Immediately!” and “You are causing LAG on the server!” Since it usually isn't my property, I turn it off. And leave.

There seems to be a peculiar type of paranoia regarding particles. Sure, if you have a really crappy graphics card, your PC might be unable to render all the particles, but that slows no one else down. Some may call this effect “lag”. In fact, most people don't seem to realize that particles usually have very little to do with lag. At my shop, Electric Pixels, there are often several effects running simultaneously. Does this slow things down? Not in the slightest. Server stats remain stable and running quite well. My experiments tell me that the single biggest factor of sim lag is simply the number of people within it. A single particle effect has virtually no effect on the sim whatsoever. Yet, you'd better shut that effect off Right Now otherwise you'll crash the sim!

When used correctly, particles can transform a Second Life scene from a lifeless stack of objects into a living, breathing environment, in much the same way as sounds can. I've found many people really enjoy particles. Some are my customers and they collect effects of all kinds. But others, particularly older avatars who rezzed years ago tend to avoid them, or worse, actively try to get rid of them. Perhaps this is a phenomenon originating years ago when servers were slower and PCs were far less graphically capable than today? Or maybe it's due to the griefers who abuse particles to disrupt public events. They are the bad guys.

And the rest of us? We're not the bad guys! We just love particles and use them appropriately. Don't shut us down, save it for the griefers.


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