Monday, October 19, 2009

The future of RPGS is marching on.

I talked several times about how future technology will impact RPGs.

Peering into my Crystal Ball
The Future of RPGs? One more piece fell into place

I basically hypothesized several parallel paths that future technology will have an impact on RPGs: Virtual Tabletops, E-books, and Surface Computing.

I found that a team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh are hard at work on the surface computing angle. There was a team in Brazil that had built a battleboard using a custom built rig. The CMU guys are apparently using Microsoft Surface and D&D 4th edition rules to build their system.

This is their website. And this is a video of what they are doing. They are calling their project Surfacescape. Unfortunately their website is not the best. They should have tested on people running higher resolutions and browsers other than Internet Explorer.

Surfacescapes Demo Walkthrough from Visual Story TAs on Vimeo.

A few quick thoughts.

1) The they should look at fantasy grounds on how to do virtual dice. Their virtual dice is way too sluggish. Fantasy Grounds animation timing on the dice roll is pitch perfect.

2) The 3D Virtual monster seems like a good idea but in reality should be focusing more on incorporating physical miniatures. If people buying what is a big expensive battlemat do not want to play a computer game. They want help with what they are already doing which is pushing stuff around a table or board. Surfacescape with just touch is just a novelty, Surfacescape with pushing miniatures around is damn cool.

3) Like the dice the monster moves way too slow. Probably should not have any animation at all.

4) In general they should shy away from using heavy animation. It may attract people and investors but will cause the product to fail in actual use as it will be perceived as sluggish and unresponsive.

5) While it understandable that 4th edition D&D would be chosen as it first target. Keep in mind that you should have rulesets, like Virtual Tabletop , that developers can swap out so they can play different board games and RPGs.

The CMU team has built a solid foundation in their demo and it will be interesting to see how it is developed further.


James Maliszewski said...

I realize that I am a Luddite of a deep stripe, but I guess I just don't see the appeal of using computers to play a tabletop RPG. If I'm going to use technology like that, I'd rather play an actual computer game. This weird halfway house between tabletop and computer games simply holds no appeal for me, but I'm old and my opinions can be discounted.

Robert Conley said...

To answer your question

to cut down on the physical books one has to reference to one manageable device. The find/search feature is nice too.

Virtual Table-top
Those of us who live in rural areas have difficulty finding gamers. Also many groups have friends that move away that would otherwise continue playing. A VTT make playing easier.

Surface Computer
Many like complex rule system. Many like using full color battlemats with miniatures. A surface computer makes both of these easier to use.

Then there is the fact that people a generation younger embrace technology to a far higher degree than you and I probably do.

Robert Conley said...

The good news is that unlike MMORPGS these three technology with with Tabletop RPGs rather than supplant them.

James Maliszewski said...

If this stuff keeps people playing tabletop games, I can't complain, but I do worry that these gadgets will only highlight the differences between traditional RPGs and computer ones and not in a way that plays to traditional RPGs' strengths over their digital competitors. I hope I'm wrong about that, though.

Gothridge Manor said...

@James, VTT is not the best, but at least we can game with friends who live in other parts of the states or countires. It's not how we play, but that we get to hang out together and laugh when Rob does an imitation of a female in his campaign.

@Rob, this looks interesting, but it does look like a whole lot of hoopla that FG2 already does well. This is a horrible analogy, but its like putting a toaster in your car. I like my car, I like my toast but I don't like toast in my car and spreading the PB is a pain. With this it looks like a computer game and an RPG. I like them both, but not sure if I would like them together.

Robert Conley said...

@Tim E-books and VTT are here and use so we can see what they are

Surface Computing has no where near the use of those two yet. So it may just wind up like a toaster in a car.

The only thing close to surface computing is people using cheap LCD Projectors for battlemats. The main advantage of which is that you can easily cull the internet for images and display them without going through a lot of hassle printing them. Like what Dwayne does.

@James - I few these technologies as a neat hack so to speak. It is easier to together with people playing a MMORPG. The complexity of the rules can be hidden behind a simple UI in computer RPGs. However both of those come at the prince of throwing away the advantage of a tabletop RPG.

But the technologies I mentioned work with tabletop RPGs rather than supplant them. My criteria focuses on what happens when you switch between traditional table-top and any of the three technologies.

When Dwayne came to town it was a snap to just play that session around a table.

Now if we were playing Ultima Online then that wouldn't be true. The best we can do with UO (EQ, or WoW) is have all of our computer in the same room hooked up to the internet. It may be fun but it still isn't tabletop.

James Maliszewski said...

It may be fun but it still isn't tabletop.

Nor is this -- at least to me, but, as I said, I am a Luddite.

leadjunkie said...

"4) In general they should shy away from using heavy animation. It may attract people and investors but will cause the product to fail in actual use as it will be perceived as sluggish and unresponsive."

Or as with many computer games let you toggle the animation on and off. On for investors, attracting attention and novelty for first time users. Off when you tire of it and just want to speed play.

As a roleplayer since 1976 who has game tables with all kinds of terrain and set dressing and thousands of miniatures to go with it, I can see how surface computing could give that visually immersive feeling, but save me tons of storage space and reduce portablity issues.

I too use VTT to include gaming friends who have moved away. It also makes it possible to have spur of the moment games without everyone traveling to the game location and dragging all their stuff with them. I play and judge in a couple of games this way. In some I use a voice software adjunct, but I don't mind all chat based either.

Nope said...

I'd actually agree with james the way the tech is presented. BUT! I think it has potential to replace the tabletop, it just needs to work on it's presentation.

Where the tech fails to me is in the use of pretty and animated graphics. What it should do to be more useful in a game is emulate a tabletop. Allow simple drawing tools on a simple grid(maybe even basic textures), rather than use animated graphics for minis, just use a simple static 3d mini that can be manipulated like the real thing.

If the tech can be made to feel more like the tabletop it will have the greater advantage of portability and convenience. Include the ability to make your own gadgets and tweak the interface so you could say link virtual dice rolls to char sheets, or interface char sheets on a third party handheld device and I can see this completely replacing pen and paper.

The most important part is the feel. If you can emulate the feel by providing the essential functions of the tabletop than it might open the minds of even the most hardcore of grognards to the possibilities of the future.

Nope said...

another thing that would be neat is to have a handheld digital notepad that could interact with the screen. This could be your dm screen, note book, maps collection and handouts all in one. Generators, map programs, etc...

pen and paper are cool, I use them primarily still as most of my game planning is done away from the computer, still I'm looking forward to the possibilities of future tech.