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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 34 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] Down By The Sea -- Online Logistics  (Read 2993 times)
jburneko
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Posts: 1429


« on: April 16, 2012, 12:12:09 PM »

With the impending closure of The Forge thought it appropriate that I make a few posts about my recent highly successful Sorcerer game.  This post is about the logistics of the game.

Late last year I began to be in the mood to play Sorcerer but the current configuration of the people I play with on a regular basis weren’t really setup to do so.  I began thinking about running an online game via Skype.  The main barrier being that my free nights are mostly weeknights and I don’t get home until 8:00-8:30.  Given that I live in Southern California that pretty much limits me to other late night West Coasters.

I initially reached out to Joel Shempert to see if he was interest.  He said he was, and we got an opportunity to meet face-to-face at Geek Girl Con in October.  We played S/lay w/ Me together and that was a lot of fun.  So after that I pressed a little harder about setting up a Sorcerer game and the two of us got Hans Otterson and Justin Smith on board.

Then came deciding what tools we wanted to use.  Originally we had decided to use Skype.  I had expressed concerns about running an audio game only because I wouldn’t be able to read body or facial language.  We decided to try using video.  It turns out that video chat is a premium feature to Skype so we ultimately ran using Google+ Hangouts.
However, what I found in practice was that I spent more time looking at EpicTable (more on this in a minute) than I did at the video feed.  The video feed was great for pre-game and post-game chat but during the game I hardly ever looked at it.  We even turned the video feed OFF for our final session because we were experiencing technical problems due to bandwidth issues.

What I found was that the lack of facial and body language actually made the game EASIER for me to GM.  I found it much, much easier to bring the hard adversity because I could both imaginatively throw myself into the fiction more and I wasn’t concerned with second guessing the players comfort levels.  Because I had a reduced amount of feedback on whether my contributions might be “too intense” I was able to keep the pressure on more consistently. 

My fears about misjudging the players’ reactions for purposes of Humanity rolls and bonus dice awards were unfounded.  It turns out that most of the moments are punctuated by verbal outcries.  “Oh no!”  “Holy Fuck!”  “Wow.  Just wow.” And so on.

The other bit of technology we used was EpicTable, a virtual tabletop now in open Beta.  I spent a few days comparison shopping virtual tabletops.  I ultimately went with EpicTable because of one feature: It was the only virtual table top that supported virtual index cards.  You think that would be a pretty common basic feature but it isn’t.  All the other programs I looked at were highly optimized for maps and mini play (totally understable) but had virtually NO SUPPORT for just throwing a handout on the table and writing on it.  Weird.
And here’s where I had my next bit of revelation.  So EpicTable lets you create a private table that only the GM can see.  On that table I had every NPC written up on an individual note card and laid out in array.  This ended up having a HUGE, HUGE impact on my ability to GM the game. 

Normally, I have NPCs writing up in about 2 to 5 pages of notes that I just shuffle around as needed.  But here I was able see ALL the NPCs at once.  Because I could see the entire cast at once it made it much, much easier to think about NPCs actions and agendas beyond just those present in the current scene.  It was much easier to have NPCs take pro-active action off screen, as well as show up at appropriate times.  It was like a sounding board of bangs.

I have a serious problem of simply forgetting that certain characters exist or care about certain things.  Having this whole array laid out in front of me completely solved this problem because no matter the scene I could see every NPC in the game.

EpicTable served us well in other areas too.  Joel seemed to have great fun using the character editor to assign pictures to various characters.  The dice roller was functional for our needs as well.  It did seem to have an odd habit of either lagging super badly or just disconnecting a player for no apparent reason and with no message.  They would appear to be connected but would simply stop receiving updates.  But hey it’s in beta.

So yeah, I can highly recommend Google+ Hangouts & EpicTable for running remote Sorcerer games.

I’ll start another thread about the actual content of the game soon.

Jesse


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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2012, 12:01:34 PM »

Hey Jesse,

Funny you should mention this! A Sorcerer-specific application is among the projects Epic Table has waiting for post-Beta.

You nailed a bunch of the points I think are most important, so the only thing I'll add is that the program really does concentrate on making a play space for the real people, rather than a simulated outcome image for the fiction they produce. I think that design insight is hugely important.

Best, Ron
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2012, 02:55:43 PM »

That's a great distinction, Ron. That certainly matches up with my experience with the table. It was a nice substitute for all being together in the same space looking at the same game materials. And it definitely felt more purposed for our usability as humans than any other virtual table I've peeked at.

Each player picked out a portrait for their PC: mine was Gunther, Justin's was Sebastian, and Hans' was Kelly. I had fun picking out character portraits for NPCs, as is my wont.

The video aspect was an interesting hurdle: at the outset of the experience i would have unequivocally preferred having a video connection to not. After playing for a few weeks, I noticed that while I'd flip over to the video widow frequently, the visual component of reading facial expressions and gestures wasn't a central component of my play. I still liked having it--just the regular check-in to see my fellow players moving in space, waving their hands, and having facial expressions renewed my sense that these fellow human beings really were playing with me.

It probably helps that I had met everyone in the game, and knew most of them fairly well. I tried a skype game a couple of months ago, audiop only, and not only did we have technical difficulties with running the game--Capes--in an online environment, but I felt really cut off from the players, who were basically strangers. Absolutely zero emotional and expressive cues were getting through, and on top of that I couldn't tell when I had anyone's attention. It was a total disaster, especially compared to this Sorcerer game.

Peace,
-Joel
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Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
Hans Chung-Otterson
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Posts: 54


« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2012, 01:06:57 PM »

I do think the video component was hugely important--at first.

But as Joel & Jesse said, once you all get to know each other a bit (and Joel and Justin and I play together locally, so there's that), it's not as big of a deal to not have it. Still, I liked using it throughout. It kept me focused, especially as it's easy to get distracted while gaming on a computer.

I feel similarly about EpicTable as well: it worked great for our purposes, other than the little bugs noted. However, I do think it took me a little longer to grasp the way Sorcerer works, mechanically, than it would have if we'd been playing it around a table. There is something about the physicality of grabbing those two extra dice for good roleplaying and how that gives your brain good feedback that I think is not as strong in a virtual environment. Which I guess is just to say: ideally, all games are face to face. But! This game worked very well overall on G+ and EpicTable, much better than my previous experiment (I tried to play Lady Blackbird over Skype once before and dropped out an hour or two in. Everyone else seemed to be having fun, but it felt so disembodied to me).
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Kludgel
Member

Posts: 4

Word nerd.


« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2012, 09:49:04 PM »

I do think the video component was hugely important--at first.

But as Joel & Jesse said, once you all get to know each other a bit (and Joel and Justin and I play together locally, so there's that), it's not as big of a deal to not have it. Still, I liked using it throughout. It kept me focused, especially as it's easy to get distracted while gaming on a computer.

I feel similarly about EpicTable as well: it worked great for our purposes, other than the little bugs noted. However, I do think it took me a little longer to grasp the way Sorcerer works, mechanically, than it would have if we'd been playing it around a table. There is something about the physicality of grabbing those two extra dice for good roleplaying and how that gives your brain good feedback that I think is not as strong in a virtual environment. Which I guess is just to say: ideally, all games are face to face. But! This game worked very well overall on G+ and EpicTable, much better than my previous experiment (I tried to play Lady Blackbird over Skype once before and dropped out an hour or two in. Everyone else seemed to be having fun, but it felt so disembodied to me).

Can I quote you on that? I'm writing a paper on "Narrative and Authorship in Internet-mediated Tabletop Role-Playing Games" and I wanted to get more players' opinions/experiences.
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Rock on. \m/
Kludgel
Member

Posts: 4

Word nerd.


« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2012, 10:20:32 PM »

[Sorry for the double-post. Bad introduction, I know.]

Actually, I should have directed that to everyone who has posted so far--I'm interested in what all of you have to say.

Thanks!
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Rock on. \m/
Hans Chung-Otterson
Member

Posts: 54


« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2012, 10:27:06 PM »

Yes, you can quote me. If you want to have more discussion about it, maybe we can take it to PMs?
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2012, 08:29:06 AM »

You can certainly quote me as well.
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Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
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