Thursday, October 11, 2012

Remote Gaming

I want to talk for a moment about remote gaming. I've touched on it here--but I want to do it again in more detail. At this point, right now, the only gaming I do is over Skype--with two kids (one 7 months, one three years old next week) and friends ranging from 25 minutes away to over a thousand miles, the gaming group I have simply can't meet easily and, frankly, I don't have the time I used to.

This isn't all bad--firstly, I expect when the kids are older to have more time--but also: given the difficulty of gaming period, I think a regular weekly session speaks volumes to the commitment I have to have it work. If you follow the link in the last post you'll see some of the artifacts that were created for the game we're doing now--and you can see how rich this is in terms of audio-visual (we had that before, face to face--but not like that).

So here's our method

1. Skype
Skype is a mixed blessing. Nothing else we've tried works so well--but it doesn't work especially well. Skype's user interface is confusing--sometimes confounding. When someone calls me, I sometimes get it on my iPhone and not my desktop. Players have dropped. Voice has been choppy.

You can't do group video (hey, maybe that's a plus?). On the other hand, mostly? It works fine. The sound quality is good. It's pretty easy to set up (I think the UI is so bad because it is designed for grandparents to be able to use it at the expense of, like, having the chat-window easily and clearly accessible).

In any event, it is free and it (mostly) works. I have a group "Gaming Group" which I push the call button for at 6:30 PM Sunday nights.

Recommended: I have a Turtle Beach head-set which is both comfortable and very high quality sound and mike-wise. It cuts out environmental noise and seems to do a good job otherwise.

Recommended: Make a group for the whole gaming group--it saves the pain of having to individually add everyone each time.

2. Google Docs
For mapping we have tried all kinds of things. Nothing--nothing--has come anywhere close to Google Docs for purposes of mapping and tracking. We have:

  • A Google Spreadsheet dice roller. This handles rolls and Initiative for the group. We could build it out to do resisted attacks and wound tracking--but have not done that yet. Jeff, a former player, built an incredible online server for JAGS Initiative handling but when I moved I never set up the Linux box it ran on again. It's better--if only somewhat--I don't have to open my firewall or manage Dyndns to keep it going. Google Spreadsheets seem to work well enough.
  • A Google PowerPoint for mapping. We create smiley-face icons in different colors for each of us and move around on the blocks that the GM draws. This works outstandingly well. We have had grids for tactical battle-maps, large sketches for outdoors areas, and plenty of interior maps. The only thing Google Presentation lacks is a Union operator to join shapes. As it is we have to layer them to make turns and such--it's a little difficult at first but after a few times the maps even look decent. You also have to keep in mind that your icon needs to be right-clicked and "moved to the front" so it doesn't go under a newly added corridor (or the GM can Order the corridor block to "back"). However, given the vast array of other shared drawing tools and mapping engines ... this is by far the easiest and best.
  • A Google Spreadsheet for damage and gear. I have a long-running spreadsheet that shows the gear / treasure, SP totals, healing potions, and so on that we have acquired. We can go back through the list and see things we were doing two years ago.
Recommended: Get everyone on Google Docs and use Google Talk for chatter if you don't want to speak over someone.

Face To Face Gaming
I want to note that we do, rarely, do F2F gaming when the GM is in town for the holidays and we can get everyone together. It's rare but like 1-2x per year. I'm not sure it's better: what would improve my experience most is moving from 2.5 hours to a 4 hour time-block which we have done in the past (when I was running a regular f2f game about 3-4 years ago we did 4 hour time-blocks and that seemed about perfect).

I the future that's my goal--but it'll have to be when the kids are older / more self sufficient.

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