Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My Eyes - Part 2 (The Treatment)

This is the second entry in "My Eyes" saga so please start reading with "My Eyes - Part 1 (The Diagnosis) so you know what's going on.

Okay, so there's one thing I don't like and that's uncertainty or better yet "the unknown". As much as I wanted to freak out (and I did) about knowing about my condition it helped to know that there was treatment and that things can go on for years before surgery was ever needed.

The first step of treatment was glasses. They don't fix your mis-shappened eye but they will help with your vision. When those don't work you have to move on to contacts.

The fact that I would have to get contacts and my insurance company would pay for them was exciting. The reason why, not so much. You can first start out with soft contact lenses but my eyes had already gone past that point and I had to move to a different kind.

That would be Hard Gas-Permeable ones. And when those didn't work they move you to a HGP lense especially developed for Keratoconus. Fitting a nicely curved hard lens on an eye that is not so nicely curved was aweful. It was painful and it took a couple of years to get the right fit. And then every year my vision had changed because my eyes were getting worse that we had to go through the fitting process all over again.

I can't tell you how many times I just sat in the doctor's office and cried when he would tell me my eyes are getting worse. Just the thought of surgery and the complication and the possible loss of vision in that eye (or the eye itself) was enough to make anyone break down. My doctor was great; he would sit and talk to me and alleviate all my fears before making sure I was okay to drive home. When I finally switched health providers and had to pick another doctor I wasn't sure I would ever find someone as caring and compassionate as that man. I've even recommended him to my parents and anyone still using that HMO.

The special HGP lenses for Keratoconus are meant to try and push back the coning shape of your eye into a more rounded form. They're not very comfortable and just getting through the day at work (on a computer) could be long and painful. I hate wearing shoes and those are usually the first things I take off when I get home, but some days the contact lenses had to come out before I could even think about removing my shoes.

I started playing video games long before I knew I had this problem, but I didn't start playing games online until after I had my contacts. Unfortunately because my eyes hurt so much I ended up playing games with my glasses on instead. This meant that I still had some distortion in my vision since the glasses don't do anything to reshape your eye. Sometimes I wondered if I was just a bad player or if my eyes limited me in how I played.

Eventually you get to the point where your eyes become "contact lens intolerant". That means that your cornea has thinned out so much that putting a small piece of plastic on them become extremely painful. It would be like getting an open wound and just when the first new layer of skin starts to form you keep rubbing it back and forth with a pen or a credit card. The only course then is to stop wearing the contact lenses because you run the risk of rupturing the cornea and losing your eye. If you rupture your eye and all the things inside your eye become things outside your eye . . . well, you're screwed.

I got to that point in January of 2004. I know exactly when because I went on a Hawaiian cruise in December and when I got back my allergies had gone haywire. After seeing my doctor for some new allergy medicine my eyes still weren't getting any better. When I saw my eye doctor he said it was time to start seeing a surgeon.

When I saw the surgeon he told me to stop wearing my contact lens in my left eye and to let it heal for awhile and come back to see him. When I did go back a month later he said it's time for surgery for my left eye.

If you get to the point where you can't wear contact lenses any more you're getting to the point where your cornea might thin out enough that you might rupture it just by rubbing your eye. If you do that you'll lose your eye. So around May of 2004 my doctor put my name on the transplant list for a new cornea.

The next step in the process is a corneal transplant. I was at that stage, but I wasn't ready for it. Over the next 9 month I freaked out almost daily. But I'll save that for the next post.

My Eyes - Part I (The Diagnosis)

Okay I've been talking about my eyes for awhile and some of you know the story, but most of you don't. Here it is. It's going to take several posts so it's best to read them in order.

About 10-11 years ago I was in desperate need of a new pair of glasses. I even considered giving contact lenses a try . . . as long as they didn't cost too much. I didn't have any vision coverage through work so everything was going to be paid "out of pocket". So where did I decide to go for a cheap eye exam and glasses? Walmart, of course.

The assistant had me take all kinds of tests with my eyes. For one of them I had to put my face up against a machine to look inside of it. There would be a random flash of light in various places and I would need to push a button every time I saw the light. I wondered why I didn't see as many lights on my left side as I did my right but then I didn't know if that was part of the test. When the assistant pulled the results she said I failed . . . miserably. After another couple of attempts at various test that I did horribly at she said I should really see the doctor and see what he wanted to do about the test.

When he came into the room he look one look at the test results, one look in my eyes and said "Yep, you've got keratoconus." Okay, but what is it?

Keratoconus is a progressive, degenerative eye disease of your cornea. Progressive because it changes over time. Degenerative because it gets worse. What happens is your cornea (the skin-like membrane holding your eye together) thins out over time. Because of the pressure of the fluids and all that stuff in your eye it puts pressure on that thinned out cornea and it bulges out in a cone shape. So instead of your eye being nice and round like a baseball, it's more cone shaped like the end of a football. If you want to know what that makes your vision look like have a look at the photo. Since the light coming into your eyes hits your lenses at all kinds of angles you get overlapping images in your vision.

The doctor said that Keratoconus is considered a medical condition and not a vision condition I would need to go to my medical doctor and get a referral to see a specialist. Thankfully everything would be covered under my medical coverage (which I did have) but getting to that point was a pain in the butt.

It took three months before I finally got everything approved and referred by my HMO and I got in to see a specialist. He confirmed the diagnosis and laid out what the treatment options were. That was when my life started to fall apart emotionally. But I'll cover that in another post.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Otherwise occupied

July has been a slow month for posts here on my blog. There's a reason. I've been looking at buying a house. While that's not taking all of my time it is taking all of my energy and creative thought. I'd love to have my own place (with a tricked out game room) but this whole process is driving me nuts. Just thought you should know.


You might have heard a huge sigh of relief the last two nights. That was me. I finally got two achievements that I've been working on for a long time.

The first achievement was the Purdy Mouth (playing Bullet Marsh 3+ rounds and winning) for Gears of War. My friends took one night and only played that map so a bunch of them picked up the achievement in one night. Unfortunately I wasn't online that night (crazy, I know) so I didn't get to participate in the carnage. Since then my friends have been very reluctant to play that map. Mostly because we all hate it. And because no one likes getting their head popped off by someone they can't even see. Depending on who's hosting our Gears matches at night that map might not be in the rotation. I still have at least one friend who hasn't gotten that achievement yet so I guess we'll still play this map until he gets it. At least I've got it and that makes me happy.

The other time I sighed really wasn't for a particular achievement at all. I just wanted to get ANY achievement in that game. What game was it? Bejeweled 2. I know that probably sounds dumb but I'm having a hard time getting achievements for that game. For the endless one I got up to level 40 something when my save file just vanished after I got booted off of Xbox Live during the middle of a game during that whole Christmas holiday debacle the system was having. Not fun, I tell ya. Since you need 100 or some odd levels to get the Endless achievement I still had a ways to go but I wasn't happy about having to replay the levels I lost.

The Action achievement (I think that's the one) you only need to finish 17 levels. I was only making it up to level 9 before I would get that dreaded "No More Moves" message. I took a break from Bejeweled to play Puzzle Quest and I've found Bejeweled a little bit easier to progress through the levels now. I can still only get up to level 12 in the Action mode but I've earned back 30+ levels in the endless after just a couple of days of trying.

The achievement I got was for completing the Puzzle mode. I use to play that mode every now and then and if I got to a level that I couldn't figure out I would go back to the regular game. I realized the other night that I was close to finishing the puzzle levels . . . and that there were helpful hints available to you. I cruised through all the remaining levels using the hints when I got stuck and it all came down to one level that I couldn't beat. Unfortunately there were no cheats available for this level. I messed around with it one night and couldn't figure it out. The next night I thought I'd try again and after a couple of attempts I finally figured it out. Level complete. Game mode complete. Achievement unlocked!

I finally had an achievement in Bejeweled 2. I've had this game almost as long as I've had my 360. While I'm thrilled I finally got an achievement in that game I feel like the kid who gets overly excited the night before Christmas. When he finally wakes up and open his presents he's left a little underwhelmed about the whole thing. "What? That's it?" He likes what he's got he just can't figure out what all the excitement was for in the first place.

Bejeweled 2 is one of those games where it helps if you can see two or three moves ahead. Kind of like Chess. While I love playing Chess, I'm not very good at it. I can see ahead maybe one or two moves but that usually doesn't take into account my opponent's moves. If you like those types of games you'll probably like Bejeweled 2. And speaking of Chess, I have that game downloaded and no achievements. Oh well. Now I have another game I'll struggle to get an achievements in.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Focused on gaming

I tried a bunch of Arcade games this weekend and picked up a few achievements. Some of them seemed so easy (especially the "East 'A'" one in Boom Boom Rocket) that I wonder why I didn't pick them up sooner. I was only a level away from getting the RooGoo and Marble Blast achievement and just a half a level away from getting the Undertow achievement. Why I quit before when I was that close I'll never know. Or course I might not have known I was that close to getting another achievement when I was playing it the last time.

Getting the Boom Boom Rocket achievement was easy and although I didn't get another achievement I did manage to improve my score on several songs. All because of my headset. I have issues with noise and my upstairs and side neighbors. I bought a headset that has big ear pieces for both ears. It's kind of like wearing earmuffs. You plug it into your TV and your controller. And what you hear through the headset is in stereo so it's really easy to hear someone creeping up on you in Gears of War as long as you have the music volume setting turned way down. Using that headset helps to drown out the noise coming from my neighbors. Unfortunately it also drowns ou the sound of my phone ringing too. Oh well.

Because of the stereo sound and the quality of sounds, minus all the distractions, it's helped me focus more on my gaming. I think my friends in Gears of War have noticed a difference. At least now I'm not turning my head every time my chandelier shakes wondering if it's going to come crashing to the ground. Or cringing every time I can hear my neighbors speak from their apartment or when they slam their front door making my walls rattle every time they come and go (and they do that a lot). I have a little piece and quiet for my gaming and I'm making the most of it as my achievements show.

The only downside to the head set is that there's no mute feature for the microphone. If I had to cough and sneeze I've got to unplug the mic from the controller and then plug it back in when I want to speak again. For a slow paced game like Texas Hold 'Em or Hearts it's not bad but in a fast paced game, like Gears of War or Unreal Tournament 3, when even the slightest twitch can mean the difference between life and death while your fingers are still on the controllers, it's not very convenient to "mute" yourself. But the benefits outweigh the negatives so I'll live with the occasional mute/unmute distractions and hope that my friends can live with the occasional cough and sneeze from over my mic.

I may still have issues with how I see the game, but my mind is focused on gaming when I wear that headset. If you haven't looked into getting one for yourself and you think you might need one I highly recommend it. Coming from someone who'd rather play against you while you're distracted, maybe you should only use something like this while I'm on your team.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's just not my day

So I had to change one of the gazillion passwords I use at work today and I just couldn't think of anything to change it to. I finally settled on "hate5job". Can you tell how my day is going?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Poll Results - How long for a single player game?

Here's the results of the last poll:

How long should it take to finish a good single player game?

15-30 hours = 2 votes
30-50 hours = 5 votes
50-75 hours = 1 vote
100+ hours = 1 vote
0-15 and 75-100 hours = 0 votes

I can understand why no one votes for 0-15 hours. That's just way too short for any game. And if you look at the financial investment you can tell. At $60 a game and it only lasts 15 hours that means you spent $4 a hour to play it. That might not seem like much but I can remember when the minimum wage was less than $4. Now a days that's a breakfast at McDonald's for every hour of game play. Two hours of game play could probably get you into to see a matinee movie, which might also take two hours. But at least with a matinee all you have to do is sit there and be entertained. A game takes work.

I voted for the 100+ hours. You might think I'm crazy, but I have my reasons. I was mostly thinking of RPG style games. Those games usually have areas, side quests, and what-nots built in to them that require a little extra time exploring and wandering around. I certainly don't expect BioShock to take 100 hours to play. I think I did it in about 20 hours, but I'll have to go online tonight and check that out.

However long it took me, BioShock was a short game. The fact that there was nothing else to do besides the main quest didn't help. It's still a great game but it didn't completely satisfy my gaming needs. In other words I wanted more.

With traditional RPG games there's places all over that don't require you to visit them to advance the story. And just about everybody you talk to is going to either a) give you information about the main quest, b) give you the opportunity for a side quest, or c) annoy the crap out of you. In Lost Odyssey the other night I visited an area that opened up on the map but I didn't have to go to. I picked up a few cool items so it was very beneficial to do so. I didn't have to, but I'm a completist when I play RPG type games. I'll explore every option presented to me before moving on.

For some reason I don't expect a game like Gears of War or Call of Duty 4 to have extensive single player campaigns. It would be really nice if it did, but I don't expect it. Maybe because the developers know that the longevity to those games are through the multiplayer game play rather than the single player campaigns. Look at the Halo franchise. The first game was all about the story and game play. They throw in multiplayer stuff with the second one and not everybody who talks about that game focuses on that aspect only. You don't hear people raving over the single player stuff, now do you?

I remember in the good old original Playstation days games were made with really long (and sometimes very difficult) single player game play. Multiplayer game play took a back seat if it was included at all. Now a days with more casual gamers getting into the action and more interactive games on the market (Guitar Hero, anything for the Wii) more gamers are looking for more multiplayer action than single player campaigns. I guess this high profile move is taking the stereotypical gamer from their parent's basement to everyone's living rooms but I hope it doesn't do in single player campaigns and games entirely. Some days you've just got to immerse yourself and play alone in someone else's world. It beats listening to the news in our own world.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I'm a half-wit and proud of it

There are some achievements that are going to kill me. The ones in Brain Challenge specifically. I finally got the "40% brain usage" one the other day and I dont' know if I can task my brain any more. I wish I knew what the key to success in that game was. Is it answering questions fast, right or wrong? Or answering questions right, no matter how long it takes? Either way at 40% I'm less than a half-wit and I'm proud of it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Voting in poll

If you've had problems voting in my latest poll (like I was having) the problem seems to have fixed itself (I certainly didn't do anything). So take a moment and click a little white circle. Come on, you can do it. It doesn't hurt, I promise you.

I'm tired of dying

Sometimes I just get tired of dying. It doesn't matter how much fun I'm having with friends if all I ever do is just die, I'm not going to like it. It gets frustrating not lasting more than 15-20 seconds into a match before my body separates into tiny pieces from someone's well placed shot. Sometimes a girl needs a fighting chance. After all isn't that what first person shooter games are set up to do?

When I get in this mood it's hard to find a game to play with friends when all they want to do is kill people. I don't blame them. Sometimes I can't wait to get into a game and blow someone's head off. But since their skill level is so much higher than mine sometimes it's a hopeless night of repeated deaths for me. And that's not any fun.

Now, if I told my friends I didn't want to die I'm sure they'd do everything they could to not kill me; maybe not even shoot me. And if I was the last person left on my team they'd probably all stand there and let me walk up to them and kill them. While on one hand this would eliminate my dying woes, on the other hand it's patronizing and I'm way too competitive to get a kill or a win that way. I want to earn it. I take great satisfaction sneaking up behind someone and tagging them (frag or smoke grenade, it doesn't matter). Yes, I know I should just play for the fun of it and I do . . . mostly. I just want to get in on the action every now and then.

I can usually put together one stellar match per night. My aim seems to be spot on. My instincts seem to be honed to perfection. But having any control of when or which map that happens on I have no idea when it will happen. And the following map? Those maps are always worse than terrible when it comes to my performance. That's just how I play and I've come to accept it.

What I can't accept is always dying all the time. I've played Gears of War for over a year and half now and I don't seem to have gotten much better than when I started. But when I went back to Star Wars Battlefront the other night I was at the top (or close to the top) of the leaderboards every round without even putting much effort into it. Yes, I've played Battlefront longer than Gears but I would think I would be seeing a return on my time and practice investment by now in that game.

So for now until the foreseeable future you'll probably see me playing single player games like Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon or any number of Arcade games. If I'm playing a multiplayer arcade feel free to join me. But my friends shouldn't worry about me being away from the shooter genre for long. All it takes is one bad day at the office for me to get an overwhelming need to go home and blow someone to bits. As long as I can do that it won't matter how many times I die.