Its 2013 and we are connected even more than ever through the internet. I have carried on conversations and played in games with people who were on other continents. It might be possible to eventually organize a game with participants on all of the world’s continents. When you cannot locate players for a role playing game in your local the internet becomes a substitute for connecting with other hobbyists.
So how do you play a social game over the internet? In the early days of the internet play by email (PBEM) and play by post (PBP) debuted. Latter games were run in chat rooms and virtual table tops. Most, perhaps all, of these methods continue to be used.
In PBEM players emailed the game referee their moves. He collated the moves and compiled them into a response he emailed back to all the player. A player’s contact with other players was only indirect through the game master. A game could fall apart simply because the referee dropped out.
With the advent of discussion forums and similar communication platforms games were playable by post where all players saw everyone’s moves and had direct contact with each other. A game referee might drop out of the game but a player could step forward and take over keeping the game going. The greater contact between players spawned a better sense of community. For players scattered around the world in different time zones and countries this is a very viable option for gaming. The pacing is slow like a chess game played through the mail but still it’s an enjoyable method of play. The anticipation of waiting to see what will happen next, creative character development, and the ability to play a game with people hundreds or thousands of miles away are some of its benefits.
Chat rooms (for text chats) and similar platforms (audio and video chat) allow players to play as if they were sitting together at a real world physical table top. You typically required other internet based features for playing like a dice roller or a someplace to host a map or pictures. Eventually, dice rollers were encoded into chat windows which helped or people used the honor method or reporting die results. I’ve used Skype to audio chat a game and it requires some adjustment because only one participant can talk at a time. Problems can arise with the audio and visual chats because of hardware and internet speed deficiencies hindering some players. This makes text chat is usually a good default to keep everyone in the game.
Virtual table tops have been around for a little. I’ve not had great experiences with them in the past. One required the download of software and it was only with great difficulty that I was able to get it sorted out and jump into a game to lurk. There was a tremendous learning curve to the software and it was easy to become frustrated. I quickly decided to content myself with PBP and texted chat gaming but not without a little bit of longing for a user friendly table top.
I believe I have finally discovered my wish: browser based virtual table top optimized for RPGs. http://www.Roll20.net , looks to be the new generation of virtual table tops. It has all the dice functions you’d expect in chat but also 3D dice that can be rolled on the map. Moveable character icons and avatars can be added to the map and fog of war can be employed to hide areas the players haven’t visited yet. The best part is that it runs in your browser without downloading its program, it seems fairly user friendly and it supports audio and video chat. It’s available for free with registration and there are increased perks with a premium membership.
What’s next? I suppose a more immersive virtual table top, something that is the cross between an online video game where your control an avatar and the current virtual table tops. 3D and avatar chat rooms and games are already here but I think these platforms need to be optimized for the RPG community. It will require the ability to set up a hot bar where the buttons can be customized for dice rolling or other common actions. The ability to zoom the view out to watch the other avatars at the meeting or zoom in to look through your avatar’s eyes at the 3D table top to consider maps or diagrams the game referee is posting. While, I’ve considered text chat a good default in the past audio chat will need to become the new base line for communication with pop up text windows for side conversations or private whispers between a player and the referee. I’m sure that anyone who’s use to MMORPGs will welcome this platform for gaming. I would also anticipate that the next generation of game experience after that will be a 3D avatar that is animated by you directly via a camera on the computer that translates your talking and physical movements into actual animations for your 3D avatar.
Categorised as: Review