Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Peering into my Crystal Ball

Over on Grognardia, Jim made me aware of an article on RPGs by Allen Varney of Paranoia fame. The article is concise, more useful as a conversation starter. It is both gloomy and upbeat. Allen mentions a lot of things, from 4e, to old school gaming, to Virtual Table top. Here are some things I think he missed.

E-books

Owning a kindle is simply a better way to read. In order to be of use for RPGs we need a version capable of handling a 8.5 by 11 screen with some color or great grayscale. Along with the price coming down. Preferably by half to the sub $150 range. I predict that within 5 to 8 years e book readers will start making major inroads into how we buy our books. When the first 8.5 by 11 reader gets under $300 we will be seeing them spread through our hobby.

Surface computing.

Where your table-top is a touchscreen. I think that once this become affordable it will open up a whole new form of gaming. The prices is going have to be near console level in order for widespread adoption. In addition the platform needs to be open enough to allow marginal activities (like ours) the chance to develop applications for it. It's main use will battleboard presentation and automation of rules. A possible application will be tagged miniatures. Think Heroclix but with a RFID chip that the surface computer can use.

Virtual Tabletop Software
Allen talks about this. My feeling on VTT software is that this is going to become ever more important to hobby. It near faithfully replicates sitting around the time along with a few advantages (effective fog of war). It not better mind you but when your old group scattered across a continent it really helps.

This is one area that Wizards dropped the ball in their digital initiative. They can still recover. If they do and create a decent VTT with access to thousands of players it will be a game changer for the hobby. Especially if they open support to games other than 4e. The network effect will explode interest in playing RPGs and have a shot at attracting a slice of the MMORPG base. And sales of 4e would probably go up as well.

Note how all these technologies don't replace what we do in Tabletop. They are not like MMORPGs where the DM is replaced by the game engine . Instead they merge in with some advantages and extra bells and whistles.

I see table-top RPGs supporting two different but reinforcing paths. One will be through the internet, relying mostly on VTT software. The other will be using e-books and surface computers to bring more options to the home game.

P.S. The "do you use miniatures" battle will still rage on but now it will be do use a surface or not. Both sides will be using e-book though.

Note: My day job is head programmer of a company that make software for creating and unfolding 3D shapes for metal cutting machine as well as controlling the machine themselves.

11 comments:

Bonemaster said...

I agree that E-Book in some form will take over the hobby at some point as it will likely start replacing books in general as prices start to fall.

The Surface computing, I'm not sure of. I'm sure it will happen, but I'm not sure it will quite take off for our hobby. One of the strengths of RPGs is the play anywhere aspect. I've played in some really weird locations were Surface computer would just not be able to work. I think there will be a split on this one.

Helmsman said...

Head programmer you say... you're probably far too busy for this but I'll pitch it anyways because that's what I do and it needs to be pitched.

We desperately need more virtual desktop game software, but the fact is that certain programs are doing things for online gaming better than the current offerings of virtual desktops can do. Skype is by-far my favorite and all my games have been ran over skype for the past few years. Interestingly my game group prefers the chat client to the VoIP, as chat history is saved forever and the Find function allows us to pull up game details from months prior.

What I'd really like is some further playability aids. 3d Avatars to represent the characters, a mechanism to quickly generate environments not unlike the SIMS. And a versatile mechanism for a GM to quickly create events and then adapt them in real-time. Vampire Redemption did this almost a decade ago and a few of the NeverWinter Nights titles did something similar.

What I'd like to do is generate a community that could build a system that would do all this open source that could become intuitive enough that it could provide a reasonable way to do miniature-based roleplay online. I know Second Life does something similar, but honestly I feel it's problem is that it's too freeform. A system that's structured for ease of use for strictly tabletop gamers wanting to bring their game online that's moddable by more experienced programmers I think could inject some new vigor into the role playing hobby.

Rob Conley said...

Play anywhere will work out if flexible display technology continues to develop. This may be a result of the same technological development that driving e-books.

Rob Conley said...


What I'd really like is some further playability aids. 3d Avatars to represent the characters, a mechanism to quickly generate environments not unlike the SIMS. And a versatile mechanism for a GM to quickly create events and then adapt them in real-time. Vampire Redemption did this almost a decade ago and a few of the NeverWinter Nights titles did something similar.


Send me the link (when you have it set up) via the email on my profile.

The only comment is that VTTs work well because their "display"involves scanning in the maps and battleboards we already use.

I used Neverwinter Nights and actually DMed a short campaign using the environment. It was pretty cool. The major downfall was it is so labor intensive to create scenario and harder to do things on the fly.

Even VTT software has some of this problem as you have to make sure your counters have the correct dpi and size.

I don't mean to sound negative but if the labor problem is solved asw well as on the fly problem then 3D environment would be a great option to have.

Will said...

"Owning a kindle is simply a better way to read."

Oy vey. Not so long as I live, and I'm only 30.

I will never pay a cent for any RPG product (or any written work at all) in electronic form.

Rob Conley said...

All I can say it looks like paper not at all like a computer screen.

Mike Mearls said...

I used to think the Kindle was lame, but now I'm flying to Philadelphia tomorrow and really, really wish I had one with all my D&D books loaded on to it.

leadjunkie said...

I completely agree regarding e-books. I have been looking at them before the kindle came out, but decided that they just weren't there yet.

I got my wife a kindle. She loves it. It uses magnetic ink, so the screen is not back lit. No eye strain. Size and weight makes it more ergonomically comfortable to hold than a paper back. I think the second generation fixed the poor design choice on placement of the page forward button (which you could easily accidentally hit while holding). It memorizes what page you are on (no bookmarks). You can look up words while reading. Second generation has greatly increased storage. Much cheaper than printed books. download books in seconds by wireless from anywhere.

The drawbacks for gamers is no color, no graphics and they have not figured out PDF yet.

I don't read a lot of novels. Most of my reading is non-fiction (with photos, maps and graphics). Lots of gaming stuff. Kindle can't support any of this. So, I'm still waiting for the e-book that works for me.

Touch surface shows a lot of promise, but is likely years away from having the impact that you are suggesting.

I do almost all my RPG on-line. I have first hand experience as both player and Judge with virtual table tops. I started with OpenRPG (which has lost its development support in any meaningful way). MapTools is much more robust. It is constantly under development. It is open source. As I am learning it, I find it to be very powerful. You can get started at a very basic level. If you are inclined to learn macro writing, you can go to town automating stuff.

The group I Judge for likes using a voice adjunct (Skype, TeamSpeak or Ventrilo all work well). The two games I play in prefer pure chat.

The really interesting thing about on-line gaming is that I really only know my fellow players in character. It is a very immersive experience in that regard.

Olman Feelyus said...

Great post, Rob. I actually came over here because of your longer post on the same subject over at therpgsite. I think your perspective is a very interesting one and I'll keep my eyes open.

I've run a few games using GameTable. I've also participated through iChat AV with my old group. They would put a latop on a chair and my face would fill up the screen. It was pretty funny when a roommate would come home and we'd all say "hi", including me on the screen. Some excellent double takes.

Since then, videoconferencing has become much more accessible, both the hardware and software. I'm tempted to try it again now.

Restless said...

Have you seen this?

Rob Conley said...

Yeah I say something like that.
Thanks for sharing that.