Thursday, November 02, 2017

The Sage vs The Crows - A True Story

The sage sat in his wagon reading a book. Outside a murder of crows descended cawing at the darkening sky. He looked up. About a hundred crows settled into the trees around the wagon.

"Hmm... evil approacheth, me thinks," said the sage to himself. "What to do?"

He considered staying in the wagon and hiding. That wouldn't do. Evil thrives when good men do nothing. But what was there to do?

"I can try a Thunder Hand Clap and scatter them, I suppose," though that wasn't likely to do the trick, and once played and lost, the crows would become convinced that their enchantment was working. That wouldn't do.

So he lifted his creaking bones and climbed out of the wagon, thinking "There's only one thing that will help against Evil such as this... I will pray to the God of Love. He will hear my prayer and send some aid, I think. After all, we can't allow evil to prosper in the land. That would be bad."

And so, he stood beside the wagon observing the crows as they swarmed in groups on the trees and in the air, their cawing growing into an ever louder cacophony.

In one of the small young trees right next to the wagon were a few sparrows, staring silently into the air. They seemed a bit terrified. The sage loves sparrows. They remind him of his lady, who said if she could be any animal it would be a sparrow. He smiled.

"Chit-chit-chit" he clicked with his mouth. "Chit-chit-chit". After a few tries one of the sparrows made a little whistle. He imitated it with a whistle of his own, and chitted again a few times. Another sparrow whistled, and one chitted. A conversation began, and the sparrows began to whistle and chit with the sage. It seemed as though they were in a world of their own, and the crows had no power there. The sage was smiling, and enjoying the conversation. He hadn't spoken with sparrows for a while. They're such fun little folk.

"Now, what to do about these crows?" he asked himself. He was chewing on a mint leaf as he contemplated. "Oh I think I will try a Breath Weapon. Why not?"

And so, as the clouds began to rumble, and the crows flocked in a huge mass on one glowering Hawthorn, the old sage drew a large breath into his lungs, and began to blow Minty Breath towards the darkest part of the murder ... suddenly, before the breath even had finished, the entire black flock launched into the air, and without a single caw flew in a wide arc into the sky, and over the hills and vanished away beyond the tree line over yonder.

The old sage smiled at the sparrows, but they had also gone by then. He was alone in the forest. Not a sound could be heard. He felt a wonderful sense of calm, and the air seemed fresh and filled with a sweet scent... and so he climbed into his wagon, picked up his old book, and continued the story where he'd left off. And a good story it was.

- A Character Portrait for Elthos

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Some Thoughts On VR / AR GM Tools

In response to the post Are we a step away from 3D augmented reality rpg tabletops? by +Gerardo Tasistro, whose original post was this blog entry on Saurondor ... I'd like to present my reply to the OP here as a way to get these ideas out to a wider audience ...

Yup. I think this represents one of a series of "first steps" in the direction we're looking for as Professional Gamesmasters. Definitely. The technology needs to mature, and tools specific to RPGs need to be created, but yes. I can imagine this working in the context of shared environments in several ways. With AR the use would probably be to have a virtual table that all your friends sit around (ala Tabletop Simulator). In the case of AR it would be more like holodeck where you take a first person view. The best solution, as far as I'm concerned, would be the ability to switch between the two viewpoints at will.

That said, I would also like to point out that over the past 20 years there's been all kinds of promising looking technology, such as VRML, that could have done exactly this for us... but totally failed to come to fruition. The reasons are manyfold, but one of the primary ones, other than ridiculous and destructive corporate insistence on implementing the technology in proprietary formats instead of standards-based open formats, is the fact that there hasn't really been a Killer App for it yet. I see live-GM'd VR / AR games as the solution for that.

Gamemasters who are World Creators, teamed with 3D Artists and professional improve players could run sustainable entertainment companies based on live action VR / AR RPGs.

However, the tools need to be created for that. And so far every VR / AR company I talked to has said, "Oh that concept is absolutely awesome... but two levels above where we are technically at this point."

There's also the fact that if the stars do not align right in the business world, another hundred years could go by without anyone figuring out how to build those tools, and coalesce an actual community around them for live VR / AR RPGs.

So ... we as a community of GMs would need to specifically and assertively push for it. I recommend doing so loud, clear and often. Twitter, FaceBook, Google+... et al.

We need VR / AR RPG Gamemaster Tools!

Loud, clear and often.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Thoughts on Creating a Successful Project

This past few years has been hugely educational for me.  I would never have known how hard it is to create a successful project in the RPG world had I not gone through all of this effort personally.  I always assumed that "it can't be that hard".

Allow me to say, for the record, "Yes, it's that hard".

The reason why is because there's a lot you need to know, and there's actually no really efficient or effective way to learn it without going through several years worth of poking, prodding, scraping and plenty of trial and error.  And all of that costs both time and money.  And frankly, most of us have too little of both to make a successful venture out of our favorite hobby.  But before I get into what's involved, let me discuss first what I mean by "successful".

What I don't mean is, I wrote a rules book, put it up on DriveThru, and got 200 downloads and $5.00 via PWYW from my friends who are supportive.  That is not what I mean by success.  Not that this isn't something that is a success in that doing the work involved with creating an RPG is hard, it takes a lot of time and effort to do a good job, and frankly, if you got 200 downloads you're already squarely in the middle of the pack in terms of success for the general mass of RPG Indie Publishers.

But that's not what I mean.  I mean the kind of success that one can bank on.  I mean real success.  And by that I don't mean "I made a lot of money".  What I do mean is "I made enough money to fund the project's continued development, support, and that enough people are enjoying it so that it has become an actually sustainable project."  And by "sustainable project" I mean that it has enough community support so that it won't just vanish into thin air as soon as I stop tweeting about it.

But to create that kind of success requires a great deal of effort.  And a lot of money as well, even if you try to do it as cheaply as you possibly can.  First, there's the effort that goes into creating a sound set of RPG rules.  That requires a good deal time in thinking, writing, copy editing, and play testing.  There's also the matter of artwork.  If you're not an artist then you have to obtain artwork from someone.  You could use public domain art, but ... really. You need fresh nice artwork or no one will look at your book.  Even if you have the most innovative rules in the world, people gravitate towards good art, and are repelled by mediocre art.  It can be the make-or-break point for many rules systems.  And good art is expensive.  It also takes time and effort to procure.  There's an art to obtaining good art.  Of course, if you want to go on the cheap as much as possible, then you have the option to do your own art.  If you're a good artist then that can work for you, obviously. If you're so-so... well, you take your chances.  I'm taking my chances with Elthos RPG.

And that's just the rules book in terms of RPG system.  There's also a lot of thought, and the rest, that must go into creating the Setting for those rules.  In fact, according to current (or are they already outdated?) Laws of RPG Rules Books, your rules are "supposed" to reflect the genre you are going after.  So every rules book has a genre focus, and those genres have specific rules to support it as such.  If that sounds hard to deal with, it's because it is.  And yet, most of us deal with it.  Except for those who are creating Genre-Neutral systems, in which case your rules need to be designed to allow for any possible genre.  Which is not easy either.  Let me repeat that.  That's not easy either.

Now you mesh your rules, your art, and your setting (not necessarily in that order) and you play test the hell out of the thing.  You find that Rule X doesn't work.  Maybe it's a central rule.  Back to the drawing board and revamp the system.  Maybe it's a minor rule.  Cool.  Update the docs and keep going.  But the point is that Play Testing is part of the work involved.  And that's not easy either.  It's not just playing the game and having fun.  It's checking the rules via the game and ensuring that the rules work to create fun for the players.  It's hard to monitor the game from this point of view, and you have to test all the rules, so you need to create scenarios that test all the rules.  Your players, who are there to have fun, and maybe to some degree test, may raise eyebrows.  But you keep going.  "Its a game test" you remind everyone, and you move on.  It's not easy either.

Point being - creating an RPG is not an easy thing to do.  It's just not.  It takes a huge commitment, both in time and money.  And finally you're ready to publish.  Now you have to learn a bunch of stuff about how to publish your rules.  You've got DriveThruRPG, pretty much the 800 lbs gorilla of RPG Publishing, and you've got to learn how to deal with the rules of creating a printable PDF, which requires the use of InDesign, or the equivalent software.  InDesign has a huge learning curve, and it's expensive to "rent" from Adobe at $32 / month.  Doesn't sound expensive until you add up the months you spend renting it.  Then you see, oh yeah... it is expensive.  So don't forget to suspend your rental when you're not working on the project.  You can always un-suspend when you need to.  Of course if you work on it intermittently as things come up, like I do, that's not a practical option, and yeah, the cost does add up over time.

But there's more.  You have legal considerations as well.  Did you happen to want people to use your rules to create their own Settings, like I do with Elthos RPG?  Well, you need to bake that into your terms of service, or license, in your book.  And guess what, you probably need to consult a lawyer.  And that's expensive.  But only if you plan on actually making a Success.  If you are thinking you're going to do a run of 200 and that's it, then you don't need to bother with the legal stuff because there's a solid chance you won't ever get sued, or run into legal issues.  On the other hand you still could.  So being prepped with the right legal verbiage is a good idea.  For example, I was going to save some money by going with Creative Commons.  But as it turns out, I didn't understand how CC works and what it's intended for, and it wouldn't have worked for Elthos.  My lawyer explained it to me, and now I get it.  I have a license agreement in Elthos that allows Settings creators to use the Elthos Rules to creating Settings Books and sell them without anything more than an attribution to Elthos.  But that took money for me to have created so that it's correctly formatted in legal terms.  And without that I would have run a risk that later people would have had a stumbling block and that would not have helped me with my goal of creating a Success.

Then there's marketing.  How do you market your RPG?  You tell your friends.  That's good for 10 to 20 downloads, maybe, if your friends are cool.  Your mom.  She'll download at least 3 if you ask her several times.  Then there's your friends friends... good for a few more downloads.  You post to social media ... a LOT.  You create new and fresh content that helps people in the community, and you constantly mention off hand that by the way you're working on something over there ... and you point.  That's good for a few more downloads.  So finally you reached 200.  Now what?

Marketing.  Now, yes, yes, I know, no one does Marketing in the world of RPGs.  But then again, 98% of RPGs go for the 200 run, and that's it.  Which is fine, if that's all you intended, and you worked along those lines, so it didn't cost you much to produce and the time was spent on a hobby thing that you love anyway.  No great loss.  But - that's not creating a Success in the way that I mean it.

So Marketing.  You hire a Marketing company, or you go it alone.  If you go it alone there is a huge learning curve in terms of SEO and how it works.  There's strategy, there's tactics, and there's money.  You have to spend a lot of money on marketing even when you go it alone.  Or, if you're really really good, you do all the research on it yourself ... which takes a LOT of time because it's really complicated, actually - and as Einstein once proved Time = $.  But lets say you don't mind and you spend the time.  You learn.  It still costs money as soon as, for example, you want to "Boost" your post on FaceBook.  In fact FB's Boosting is ludicrously expensive.  And if you don't Boost?  Well, that's the thing.  I'm not going to go into how FB algorithms work, and how Boosting works here, but suffice it to say, expect spend money if you want your post to reach more than 35% of your friends and family.  And if you're a business, or trying to use FB to spread the word about your RPG ... well, you get the idea.

Marketing is probably the most important, and the most expensive aspect of success.  And also probably the least understood.  It's complicated.  And it takes a long time for it to actually work.  A years's commitment to a marketing effort is normal in the industry because most people who don't see positive (very) responses (ie sales) in the first few months figure it's a bunch of hokus pokus and quit the campaign before it has a chance to work.  So Marketing requires a great deal of commitment.  Which equals time and money.

But there's another problem with Marketing that might not occur to people straight up.  So I'm going to mention it because I just found this out today.  So, as it turns out Marketing is a lot about SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  You need this in order to expand your audience beyond the scope of your Friends and Family.  That way when people are searching for terms using Google the key words will bring up your site instead of someone else on the results page.  Without that, no one may notice your site.  So SEO is important to Success.  But ... SEO requires a LOT of fairly complicated interactions because the SEO algorithms look at all kinds of factors when ranking pages.  Everything from linked posts to hash tags, to press releases, to comments, to ... well everything.  And the more interconnected the posts are the better SEO likes them.  The reason is that Google (et al) tries to ensure that you're posts are "Authoritative" in order to spread them around. Now, it should be said that there's a science to SEO.  However, because Google doesn't like to publish the details of it's SEO algorithms, it's a murky science at best.  And there's considerable amount of trail and error that goes into the thing by our ever persistent Marketing departments.  And when Google inexpectedly introduces changes... well, it's like a busted bee hive of activity in the Marketing offices while the experts try to sort out what the change was, and how to adjust to it.

And so for your product or service to be classed as ranking high in a Google Search, and showing up on the highly coveted Page 1 results, you need to show a long term persistent, and shall we say "Professional" approach.  In other words, you have to be spending lots of effort on it.  Like, you know, a professional business would normally be expected to do.  So all of that sounds normal and good and stuff.

But here's the rub.  The kinds of posts that get shared and liked and linked and wind up hitting positive marks with Google's SEO may not be NOT the same posts as those your friends in the community expect or like.  They can seem like glitzy marketing hype. And in a sense they are.  But that Marketing aspect is there BECAUSE that's what the Google algorithm looks for when plotting SEO.  So while you might normally post stuff that's rich and deep and engaging to your friends... Google is looking for hype-ish looking materials that it can easily categorize with an algorithm.  Hence... the end result is that your Marketing team may well be producing materials for you that seem to you to be what you might fear others will consider hogwash, and you'll be concerned that all your lovely RPG friends on the InTarwEbz are going to think you've "Sold Out To The Marketing Hype Machine".  And you'll notice when that happens, especially among the Smart-Set of RPG enthusiasts (who are keenly aware of Marketing Glitz and tend to hate it with a purple passion, as everyone with half a brain does).  You'll sense it if there happens to coincide a palpable fall off in interest in what you're doing.  People really have come to hate hate hate to be marketed to.  I do, too.  It's totally understandable.  But the Google Machine has made it so that if you don't go down the Marketing Glitz path then you can't gain actual real-world traction with your project.

Now you might be thinking, but what's the point of all of that?  I'm just trying to publish a small press offering of my cool new RPG for a few of my friends and it's a labor of love and I don't care one iota if only 10 people ever see it, and I make no money from it at all.  That's cool with me.  I'm doing this work as a labor of love, after all, and therefore if I hope and expect financial gain from it then I'm selling out, and my work will be garbage, and everyone will hate me for it.  So there.

Yep.  I understand totally.  Most of us, rightly, have adopted that attitude.  Not necessarily because we are thinking "But if my RPG hit the big time and became the next D&D, well that would totally suck."  No, I don't think any of us are thinking that.  But the massive effort involved with creating a D&D sized Success in the RPG industry is so huge, and so risky (in terms of lost time and money) that most of us look at that and auto-reject it.  But we still love RPGs, we still want to create RPGs, and so we go after it - in hobby mode.  No gain expected.  But then again, without the effort we can also expect that not much will come of our efforts either.  Which is fine if that's cool with you.  That said, I think that really, most of us are hoping for more.  But like that proverbial bridge too far... we can't make it to there from here.  So we sigh, and resign ourselves, and say "Yeah, well, that's all ok.  I'm doing it for the love of the hobby anyway." and we go with it.

I don't have a problem with that.  In fact I'm inclined to want to take that route too.  Except ... at least in my case, I wanted to do something more ambitious yet!  Back in 1980 I thought we'd have computerized RPG tools to help us run our games by doing the number crunching for us.  Not take over the creativity aspect... just crunch the numbers, and give us a tool to help us create and maintain our worlds.  Software.  Oddly, no one created that.  So in 1994 I decided I would do it.  Why not?  I knew nothing about software at the time, but figured I could learn it, and so I began with one step.  I bought a QBasic programming manual and read it page by page and practiced the techniques until I understood them ... and began creating the Mythos Machine (aka "the Gamemaster's Toolbox").

Well, that put my Elthos Project into a whole different category of effort. I created a really comprehensive tool that was finished in 2000.  But it was done in Visual Basic, and therefore it was buggy as hell and I declined to release it to the public on the grounds that support for the tool would kill me.  By this point I had become a professional programmer / analyst and was working my day job, and doing programming on Elthos at night.  So ... it's been an incredibly slow process.  I also take classes at night, so even slower than you can imagine.  But I'm a persistent if not too smart person, and over time I built Elthos from the ground up.  First with my 1978 rules system, which I distilled into its present streamlined mini-system form (The "One Die System"), and converted the old VB program into a Web Application called The Mythos Machine.  I figure that I've put in about $2 million worth of time into the project (taking my average salary over the years I've been working on it times the number of hours I've put into it overall).  Yep.  That's a lot of time=money.

Some people might ask, well, why didn't you speed up the process by going and getting Venture Capital and hiring a team to build it instead of doing it all yourself at Museum Speed?  Fair question.  The answer is - I didn't trust VC to not come in and take over my concept and turn it into garbage for the sake of Fast Money, and for a handful of shekels actually sell out to the man.  I figured I'd rather do it slow, on my own dime, and maintain full ownership, so that I could do it the way I think it really should be done.  Regardless of the cost in time that it would take.  Stupid of me, probably.  But, yeah... I wanted to avoid "Imperial Entanglements".  I didn't trust VC then... and I don't now.  So you'll see me trying my best to boost this off the ground myself, and with a little help from my friends.

So now I face this crazy edge of the project where I'm trying finally to get word of it out to the public.  And that's rough.  Marketing is rough.  I think it's far more rough than any other part of the project, including the programming.  Because finally, after all, I'm interacting with the public.  And ... gee ... I feel like a bit of an ass putting stuff out there that looks, well ... sort of horrid from my point of view.  But SEO!  SEO! SEO!  And I'm really afraid that my friends in the community will see this stuff and be like "OMG that is soooo 'Marketing-Glitz', I can't stand that guy."  Which would suck.  But unfortunately, it's also necessary.

You see, I want Elthos to be successful.  Really successful.  I want to advance the cause and foster creativity with RPGs.  I want an online tool system that helps GMs to create and run their own Worlds to succeed.  Because I believe that creativity is the one great thing that sets us apart from all else.  We're creative beings.  We should exercise our creativity, and if at all possible, prosper by it.

So I'm trying everything I can to make the Elthos Project a success.  I want to leave it as my legacy ... in the early 21st Century a new generation of digital RPG Tools began to arise from the misty ethers and take form ... and Elthos was one of them.

That's what I hope to read in the 22nd Century history books.  And that takes a lot of work. A LOT.  But I'm up for it.  I enjoy it.  And if all else fails... guess what?  Well, I did it for the love of the hobby, and even if it turns out that I'm the only person who uses the Mythos Machine to run my own games, and no one else notices it ... I will still have creating something amazing.  A printing press for RPG Settings.  I think that's cool, and I think I can be happy even if that's the ultimate result.

On the other hand, if people actually discover how great a tool it is, and it becomes popular and people like it and use it a lot ... I won't complain.  :)

If you want to check out where I'm at with it, and join the last leg of the Open Beta ... feel free to take a poke at ... I'll be curious to hear what you think of it.

Also... if you are looking for advice and/or help with your own project... I've learned a lot in the past few years.  Maybe I can help.  Let me know.  I might be able to offer advice gained from my experiences with this project. Feel free to message me if you think I might be able to help answer some questions or point you in the right direction.  Happy to.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Elthos Patreon - Asking for Advice

Hi Hi... I have my Patreon pretty much set up ... but I'm worried about my Rewards. The problem I think I have is that I'm offering things that will consume my time in a way that if I get success with the Patreon I'll wind up buried with Patreon related rewards rather than working on the core project. I'm wondering if anyone else has faced this issue, and how you work it out? I could offer other things besides time intensive things, but I'm not sure what would work best.

The challenge for me is that I'm a startup with very limited resources, so I have to economize as much as possible while I bootstrap my operation. So one thing that doesn't cost money to give is time... but of course, time is our most precious commodity, especially if you're an inventor / innovator / entrepreneur who is struggling to launch an actual business, but needs help along the way to get everything up and off the ground. It's not easy, especially if you're doing so on a shoe string budge in order to avoid "Imperial entanglements" (Venture Capital). So Patreon seems like a wonderful possibility. But I realize I have to be able to offer something that my patrons feel is worthwhile, and I suspect that "working on the project of my dreams - the Elthos RPG Mythos Machine Web Application" might or might not suffice on it's own. So of course I'm on the hunt for ways to offer things to my patrons that are worthwhile. But not things that would inhibit progress on the main project by eating time each week. And the more successful the Patreon, of course, the more time would get eaten. So it's a tough call. But I do have stuff... I do artwork (which takes time, but I do it on off moments when I'm in between tasks), and I have quite a bit of written material in story form that are actual play stories from my game ... written up in prose without OCC comments quite faithfully to the adventure as it happened. I think it's a fascinating view of an Elthos game, and quite funny in places (I'm blessed with funny players). I have some things like readings of Lord Dunsany which I've made a couple of and they came out reasonably nice. In other words, when I'm not programming (which most of the time) then I'm free to do some creative work like that. So... given all this... any suggestions on how to structure my patreon in terms of rewards would be great. I think I'm just having a mental block on this. The answer is probably obvious. Anyway, if you have any thoughts, please let me know. Thanks!

Anyway, if you have time and care to offer any thoughts please visit my patreon page at Elthos Patreon. So, if anyone is willing to take a look and offer any advice on it, I'd really appreciate it! Thanks!!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Future of Story Telling (FoST) Expedition Report

The Future of Story Telling (FoST) is a fascinating experience held on Staten Island in NY (Oct 6 - 8).  As a Gamemaster who is looking to the future of the hobby in relation to Professional Gamemastering I was curious to see what new developments are in the works for VR and AR, and see if anyone at all is considering tools for Gamemasters.  I also wanted to meet people and plant some seeds for future reference there. Unfortunately, I only had one day that I could attend and that was Friday Oct. 6.  So my intrepid and lovely Adventure-Associate, Ling, and I hoofed it over yonder Verrezano Bridge ($17 toll, omg!), and within 2 hours we were at the event, starting at 11am.  We stayed until they closed at 6pm and we certainly had only sampled about 1/3 of what was there to see.

Object Normal
David Lobser

The Birds!  Ok this was totally 100% fun.  It was certainly and by far the most creative use of VR I saw there, and the most entertaining.  The actresses were absolutely adorable, and Ling and I now have our 'secret' bird calls which we will use periodically going forward as secret passwords.  Hehe.  Anyway, it was a lovely time, and I totally recommend this one, but sign up early!  It gets booked fast, and we were very lucky to squeeze in at the end of the festival day when we replaced a couple of no-shows.  Lucky!

TwoBit Circus

A game where one person gets inside the VR and plays the Monster trying to protect his treasure from the thieving adventurers (the other three players).  I didn't get inside the Monster (my girlfriend did, though), but I'm told it was fun ... you reach out and grab the little thieves with your giant claws and give them a squeeze before they can get your gold back to their ships.

Quantum Interface

Innovation in Headgear design.  The idea was to find a solution to the vertigo experienced by many VR users.  It worked nicely, and I got the hang of it immediately, though my girlfriend who isn't a computer gamer by any stretch of the imagination, and with little experience, was able to get the idea after a few tries.  I'd say it's pretty intuitive once you get the idea, but the initial WTF may be steep for some.

Mech Bird
Tatiana Vileca do Santos

This was a very artsy installation in the VR Realm.  At the point where I pressed the button and flipped the room so I was on the ceiling I "got" the Vertigo Effect.  Woah.  Now I know what they mean. It can be really disorienting. I tried it several times and each time the visual effect was so strong I almost fell over.  The Vertigo nausia lasted for another 20 minutes after I left it.  That said, the scene was interesting and very Salvatore Dali-esque.

Apora Gen
Roman Miletitch

This one is probably the most interesting from the Professional GM Society point of view.  He had an installation where you draw a scene on paper with colored pens and each color represents a type of terrain.  Blue is water, Green is forest, Red is lava, and yellow is a barrier of some kind.  When you draw it on the map an overhead scanner reads the map and automatically adds the terrain in the VR World where people in headsets can interact with it immediately.  So for GMs who want the freedom to create their own Worlds on the fly and have players in an Interactive VR / AR environment, there may well be something to this.  I spoke with Roman and pitched him my idea for GM tools and he was interested.  I will follow up with him soon.

Layne Button

This one was a short show with a surrealistic touch to it.  Spaceship was involved.  You stand on a platform in a VR helmet and watch a vista of desert with some musicians and a tornado / storm heading straight for you and ... it was weird and interesting.  It's a mixed reality combination where the platform rumbles, and you feel like you're moving a bit.  The audio was great, and the visuals spectacular. But my girlfriend's video got stuck about 80% of the way through, no one knew, and she didn't figure it out until after ... she thought that was part of the show.   So like for many of these installation, I should mention, there were glitches along the way.  Most of them felt like DYI projects at a Maker Fair, with the exception of a few that were done by large companies like Microsoft.

Starship Commander
Sophie Write

This was a fun game using AI with voice and VR Helmet directional controls.  You can talk with your AI co-pilot, as questions, and go on the mission.  You fight space gooks, and destroy a battle station.  It was fun, but ... of course ... the AI was not that great, and the co-pilot didn't really understand what I was asking and so after a while I gave up on that part and just ran the mission.  You use your VR helmet to look at enemies and the ship automatically shoots down whatever you can keep your target cross-hairs on for long enough.  Fun stuff, but not really quite there yet.  Proto-type level.

Mashup Machine
Ben Cole

This one was also another potential GM-Tool candidate, though it would need some substantial resources to bring it to bear on our line of thinking.  What it does currently is allow the user to dynamically create virtual scenes like a game, via interaction with the Mashup Machine's AI interface.  It prompts and guides you based on some questions both you and the AI ask one another, and the result is a series of video game scenes.  The AI gets smarter as more people add their thoughts and concepts to the scene creation tool. This concept could be very helpful for GMs who are in the business of dynamic story generation.  Very!  But it has a ways to go from here to there, and no budget to take it in our direction as of now.  Still though - very worthwhile to keep an eye on this one, and ping them on GM Tools development news.

Hololens Exhibit / Show
Tero Pankalainen

For this one you wear hololens headset and watch 3D movie that takes place around you.  It looks very vivid and is AR, not VR, so you can still see everything else around you as well.  But the superimposition of items and characters looks very clear and distinct, and I'd even say "solid".  The story was a bit silly, but the graphics demonstrate the potential.  I could see this being used for AR style games where GMs build maps and players interact with them around the living room table, just like a miniatures map but with obviously far more potential and flexibility.  This could be something to poke at further in the future, Pro-GMs.

Feel the Night - Exhibit in VR
About JauntVR

The Microsoft Booth was demonstrating a couple of VR systems.  The headset was very smooth feeling, and light weight.  The sensory aspect was also smooth and I didn't get the Vertigo feeling from other installations, but that may be because the action in this one was slow.  But still I got the feeling that the motion in the VR was calibrated to go smoothly so you wouldn't likely get a sudden movement that disorients you.  Hard to explain.  Anyway, the show was interesting in a very basic simply dumb down almost nothing to do sort of way.  Or I should say rather that the artwork of the scene was pretty, though there wasn't much to interact with.  You play a giant who takes light poles from a local town in the desert and lift them up to the air and let go.  They then explode into streaks of starlight, or something.  "Returning the lights to the stars", the assistant of the booth explained, awkwardly.


We stumbled across MindShow, which allows you to jump inside any of a number of VR Characters inside a scene and control them.  The controls are really intuitive and easy to pick up, though a bit klunky to actually use.  Not terrible, but the interface could be a little bit easier to handle.  Even so, the concept, if not the implementation, is certainly compelling from the Pro-GMs point of view as this shows how it would be possible to jump inside of NPCs and play them.  All that would be needed is a live GM'd virtual world to do so in.

Here's the resulting video - I'm the cat.

We also roamed around the the Tent City, which had another 30 or 40 demos, most of which were booked solid for the weekend already.  I would imagine that since we showed up on a Friday we were among the lucky ones who had a relatively light crowd and so we could actually get into a lot of demos without too much waiting.  Even so we couldn't get into the more popular ones, such as Tree, wherein you go inside a VR character of a Seed in the forest and grow yourself to become the tallest tree around.  I would have liked to try that one as it came with "Smell-a-Vision" as well (a girl with a spritzer sprays you with odors of the forest while you play.

We pass through the "VR for Good" tent which has demonstrations of various VR / AR applications used for social justice type purposes, mostly regarding holocaust survivors of various ethnicities around the world, deforestation, and the like.  Not sure how necessary VR is for those messages, but the demos were nevertheless compelling and do tug on the heart-strings.

The food court was good, but don't wait to hurl yourself into the crowd there at noon to 1:30.  If you show up at 2, like we did, you will find slim, but tasty pickings.

The campus / park on which the event takes place is the Snug Botanical Gardens, a place worth seeing on it's own anyway for the beautiful architecture and lovely gardens.

In Conclusion

From my point of view as the representative of the Professional Gamemaster Society, this was very interesting, though I have to admit, I didn't feel like I'm seeing much movement in our direction at all. In fact, overall, I have to say that most of the efforts still feel like Works-In-Progress more than finished products, and the concepts are fascinating, but I didn't see a single one that would be useful for us GMs out of the box.  Of course that said, I do think I planted some seeds of thought, got some really wide eyed looks, and heard a lot of this comment, "Wow, you're ideas are about two levels above where we're at at this point, but we'd love to participate in something like that when we get further along."  So there was interest, but no one has even imagined the potential for live GM'd virtual Worlds out there.

Which is why, once again, I recommend interested people get going with the tweeting, posting, commenting, recommending and insisting on such tools.  Because as it happens, if we don't pester these guys about this idea, they will follow the usual train - which is to create Static-Story VR / AR games that have absolutely zero to do with Live-GM'd Virtual Worlds and pretty much leave our vision out in the cold.  Why?  Simply because they never thought of the idea, and therefore have no plans to build anything along these lines at all.  So if you want to see the kinds of tools that help you with GMing in VR / AR environments starting to pop up in our future, it seems we collectively need to start putting the word out - "We need these kinds of tools, please, and pronto!"  The future is in our direction, in theory, but only if we successfully push for it.  Otherwise we'll all just be playing VR versions of DOOM for the next 100 years.  And that would be a crying shame, imo.

The FoST is a really fascinating view into the future of VR / AR.  Let's make sure that we are just as much a part of that future as everyone else! Tweeeeeeeet!  Tweeeeeeeet!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

There Be Dragons

In response to someone's recent query "What level is ok to throw a dragon at the party?", I have this reply ...

I don't throw stuff at my party, typically. I create a world in which exist many creatures who settle themselves into certain locations and do their thing. I then let the party roam around as they will exploring and adventuring. If they are careful they watch and plan, and peer around corners, listen at doors, ask the locals for information, and try not to walk into a dragon's lair... unless they are prepared for it. So I have a few dragons here and there. So far they've not directly confronted any of them. They could ... but they don't because ... well ...Dragon! That's how I do it. What I don't do is try to manage what level encounter is appropriate for the party as that is just 1) waaay too much work for me, and 2) puts all the burden on me for any TPKs if things go south ("You threw a F*cking DRAGON at us!") ... etc. Nope. Not for me. I have a world. It lives and breaths and in between games I roll to see what the major NPCs and Monsters are doing, based on what their motives, knowledge and resources are. And then when it comes time for the game I let the party play smart or stupid as they wish, and if they encounter the Dragon - cool. If they avoid the Dragon - cool. But throwing stuff at the party and trying to mange what level encounter is "safe enough but not too safe" just never worked for me. I prefer to have a world, and let them live or die in it by their own decisions, not mine. I consider myself referee rather than story-director.