Hi folks. As we close out 2017, I thought I’d update you on EpicTable 2 and what I’ve been working on lately. I’m really excited with the way things are going, and I wish I had some visual way to show that to you. Unfortunately, what I’m working on at the moment is infrastructure stuff–storage and messaging–and there’s not anything very visual about that. I have a cool video planned where I’ll show you why it matters to you, but 2017 John doesn’t want to steal 2018 John’s thunder, so I’m not going to describe that to you. You should see that fairly early in 2018. Instead, let me tell you why I’m working on infrastructure and why it matters.
EpicTable 2 is entirely WPF-based. To the non-developers out there, that won’t mean much, but it’s essentially this: EpicTable 1 was built mostly before the current set of Windows development technologies existed. So, in the early versions, I had to do some things that were crazy by comparison to today. In version 1.2, the tech used for maps got an upgrade, but everything else stayed the same–you know, so it could get out there quickly(ish). But that left some strange artifacts that you guys see on occasion–flickers, maps going black when you do certain things and then reappearing when you click back onto them. Chat didn’t get a tech uplift at all, and so many things I wanted to do, like making the dice and fonts resizeable, just weren’t practical. Worse, as a new generation of laptops came with varied video resolutions, it was becoming harder for chat in particular to avoid rendering weirdness. I’m happy to report that the new chat looks awesome, and the new maps, sitting in a brand new all-WPF shell, have none of the flicker and other oddness.
The main difference with messaging and storage is that in ET2 I’m using a cloud-based relay for some things that used to be peer-to-peer. You won’t see any functional difference, but the time to send resources from the GM to the players, or vice versa, is way, way shorter. Especially you guys that sometimes find yourselves on slow networks will appreciate that. This was actually one of the most common problems I’d see people encounter–bogging down a GM with a slow network. This will become more important because EpicTable 2 will incorporate video in some of its features.
Basically, the theme of EpicTable 2.0, in addition to bringing in some new features, is making everything work better and making the codebase simpler so that it’s easier to add new features. So when are you going to see any of this? You know I don’t give out dates, because any tech hurdle that arises throws a schedule based on nights and weekends way out of whack. However, the milestone I’m currently working on is getting the new data storage done and all the pieces–chat, maps, dice, etc., fit back into the “shell” with no themes or anything. Once that’s done, I’ll be able to better project when you can have a beta to play with. As always, I’m fighting with perfection as the enemy of done.
In the meantime, here’s a reminder of work toward EpicTable 2: the EpicTable 2 Preview playlist on YouTube. I’ll continue to add to this playlist and update you here as work progresses. As a side note, December 2017 has been the best-selling month in EpicTable history. Thank you all for your support. I’ll work hard to get you EpicTable 2 as soon as I can.
In the last post, I talked about the new inline image editor in EpicTable 2 (upcoming) that lets you do some basic edits on images as you’re selecting them. With EpicTable 2, you won’t need to use a separate image editor for common things we all do to prep our images, and you get the benefit of EpicTable’s recommendations about image size, etc. In this preview, I look at cropping.
Check out this video demo of the work in progress.
One of the problems people run into when using a virtual tabletop for the first time is selecting images that are appropriate for a given use. Often people will use maps that are meant to be printed or large, high quality images for character portraits, and this wastes a lot of time and bandwidth, because they’re transferring sometimes huge images that are never going to be viewed at their original size. I always advise people to use smaller images, but it’s kind of a pain–now they have to use an image editor, and while many people are comfortable with that, EpicTable is supposed to be the easy virtual tabletop, right?
In EpicTable 2, I’m making this a lot easier. EpicTable 2 will tell you when you have an image that’s larger than recommended for its type. For instance, a character portrait should be a lot smaller than a map, and map shouldn’t be something you’re going to print out poster-sized. Not only will EpicTable tell you when you’ve got an image that’s not the appropriate size, but it will help you remedy that without resorting to an image editor. In addition, some common image manipulation beyond size, such as rotation, flipping, and cropping can be done right within EpicTable.
Check out this video demo of the work in progress.
A little eye candy for you while I work on pulling EpicTable 2.0 together. The new maps in EpicTable 2 support some new features. I’ve spoken to many of you about separating terrain and dungeon dressing from the map background and the token layer. While looking at the issue of map layers more generally, it struck me that there were some interesting effects possible. One such is this battle map of a volcanic cavern with flowing lava and smoke and steam. As cool as this is, I’ve no doubt it will drive some people crazy, so rest assured, I’ll give you a way to turn off animated elements of the map.
About this map
This map started life as one of the maps from the 2013 EpicTable Box Set, a beautiful cavern map created by one of my all-time favorite fantasy cartographers, Christopher West. You can find more of his work at Maps of Mastery. (Watch out, though–a lot of his stuff is for printing, so it’s super-high-resolution. I had to scale it down to some tiny percentage to make it virtual tabletop ready–and it still looks amazing.)
I made some areas of the map transparent, added some flowing lava under it, somewhat slower than the original, and added a layer of dark clouds, rendered mostly transparent and very slow, on top of it for the smoke and steam. Both those videos were from iStockphoto, and um…I’m chalking their cost up to my Marketing department (which is me).
Any of you think you might be able to make use of animated token bases? Check this out:
These are, for the moment, rather non-trivial to create yourself, so I’d probably start with a gallery of them for different conditions that you could apply to a character…like…um…”on fire”? 😉 I don’t know, honestly, that fire is the ideal example. I think maybe flying and confused and entangled might be better examples of indicating character status in this way. But you’ve got to admit the fire looks cool. 😉
How would you guys see using this? Or do you? Right now, I think of it as a proof of concept that may or may not have a concrete use. Before you suggest it–because I know you are about to–the related feature that this enables, which I’m more sure will be useful, is animated spell effects. I’ve been looking at things like (to go all D&D on you for a second) Obscuring Mist and Entangle and a Pleasantly Roiling Darkness. As with all things EpicTable, I’m trying to give you a set of game-system-neutral components that you can use in any game you want, but where I know certain things are going to be useful because they appear commonly in certain games, I’m not above providing some pre-builds for them.
A Little Gratuitous and Unnecessary Background for the Insatiably Curious
EpicTable 2 represents a fairly major technological uplift relative to EpicTable 1. I created the first version of EpicTable when some tech that’s available now just wasn’t around or wasn’t ready. As new devices have entered the market, it’s pushed me to upgrade the technology underlying EpicTable. In some cases, the benefit is just that it handles new scenarios like large screens and high resolution displays better. That’s why I started with chat, by the way–at the time that was written, one had to do horrifying things to render dice and text together, and not only was the code complicated, but it just doesn’t work perfectly with some of your new displays. The additional benefit, though, is that the new tech opens up all kinds of possibilities, and it’s looking like the EpicTable 2 codebase is going to be significantly smaller and simpler. The core is the same–the way a dice roll or a character or a map is modeled is the same underneath–but the way it hits the screen and allows interaction is way, way, simpler.
Here’s your first look at one of the things currently under development: the “Character Mini-Sheet”. This is a little card that you can pop up next to your character/monster token on the map. It’s meant to give you quick access to the values and actions that you need most often during play. Here’s a quick example.
On this card, configured for a D&D or Pathfinder game, you’ve got icons for armor class and hit points, followed by icons for a couple melee attack rolls and a ranged attack roll. These are all interactive. That is, you can type a numeric value or use the arrow keys in the AC and hit point icons, and you can click on the dice roll icons to make the corresponding roll. The second row has a rather unlikely set of conditions–wounded, hasted, and dead. You’ll be able to configure a set of conditions for your game, so that you can easily add them to a character during play. Notice the little grey plus signs? Those indicate unfilled slots where you can add additional icons.
As always, EpicTable is game system neutral, so you’ll be able to configure the mini-sheet to suit your game. As the mini-sheet concept develops, I’ll show you alternative configurations of the mini-sheet and some of the surprises lurking under each of these icon types.
EpicTable 1.2 is right around the corner. The features are done, and I’m testing a release candidate. The major feature of EpicTable 1.2 is fog of war, something I know many of you have been waiting for. I’ve been testing with it awhile now, and it’s fantastically helpful. I wish I’d had it in my last Pathfinder game. If you’re not familiar with the term, or because fog of war sometimes means different things to different people, let me explain what it means in EpicTable. Fog of war allows you, the GM, to control which parts of a map the users can see.
To whet your appetite, here’s a video demonstrating the new fog of war feature. While this video doesn’t show it, the fog of war feature is not limited to maps. You can also use it on tabletops. So, if you have a more abstract playing surface, you can hide certain areas. Or if you use tabletops to share pictures, you could choose to hide some of them. It’s very fast and flexible, and it’s built for winging it. Enjoy.
EpicTable 1.1 is nearing the point where I’ll start letting people get their hands on it. I’ve been very reluctant to break anyone’s game night, so I’ve held on to this release, probably longer than I should have—certainly longer than I did with the beta releases. At this point, there are a few things that need to be put back together—changing technology on the tabletop/map area meant changing lots of little things, like how I handle right-clicks, how rich text is edited, etc.
With Gen Con right around the corner (mid-August), my goal is to get EpicTable 1.1 out there as the currently released version, and thereafter, start giving you guys some 1.2 and 2.0 preview content. If you’re at Gen Con this year, ask about the features we’re not selling yet. (We don’t typically demo features that aren’t in the shipping product, because we don’t want someone feeling like they got a bait-and-switch, but if you’re in-the-know and you want to see what’s still in the lab, let us know.) Once 1.1 is out and I’m back from Gen Con, I’ll do a better job of giving you previews of what’s coming up.
Speaking of what’s coming up:
EpicTable 1.1 is full of goodness. I’ve been working on it so long I sometimes forget how much there is to love about it. There are a few of new features, and a lot of what’s there just works better. EpicTable 1.1 will be a free upgrade.
EpicTable 1.2 will be the beginning of the long-awaited vision features. Several things about the technology shift in 1.1 will make (parts of) vision in 1.2 cleaner. I want to get this one in the hands of some existing EpicTable customers and let you help me make it better before springing it on the world. I know several of you have been waiting. I’ll be sending out more details on this after Gen Con; i.e., probably in September. (EpicTable Box Set customers: here’s where your “VIP pass” will come into play–you’ll be the first to get your hands on some of the 1.1 and 2.0 features.) EpicTable 1.2 will be a free upgrade.
EpicTable 2.0: Lots of things are vying for priority. This is going to be a fun one. I’m going to try beta testing 2.0 features with some of you 1.x folks, and I’m going to try not to let vision consume me, so that there’s some 2.0 work going before too, too long.
I did some EpicTable 1.1 testing last night with part of my Friday night gaming group. It’s looking much better than last week. But what would one of my status updates be without a weird looking bug to show you? This one, I call the “Player Horde”.
I’d like to tell you that I just have lots and lots of friends named “Scot” and “chris”. Sadly, that’s not the case (for who could ever have too many friends named Scot or Chris?). It’s far more likely that there’s a bug in my participant tracking. If I were to guess, I’d say that the New and Improved Participant Tracker and the Old and Somewhat Inattentive Participant Tracker are furiously reacting to each other’s notifications, each engaged in an existential struggle, trying to be the guy in the know:
“Hey, did you hear Scot just joined?”
“Yeah—I was just going to tell you that. Chris joined too.”
“I knew that, oh and I hear Chris—”
“Before for you go on, I need to tell you: Scot and Chris just joined.”
“Sure, but did you know Scot joined too?”
I’ll get in there tonight after the kids go to bed and break that up.
Where does EpicTable 1.1 stand?
At this point, everything that I expect to work does work. There are just a couple things that need to be re-implemented in the new technology, and they’re fairly low risk things:
Context (right-click) menus for objects on the map/tabletop.
Snap and size to grid
A lot of this is already done outside of the view and it’s just a matter of reflecting it appropriately in the new view.
There are some things that I’ve been improving or adding opportunistically while I have certain parts of the code open. I really want to talk about a couple new things, but I don’t want to force myself into releasing them if they end up taking too long. I’ll put together a whole “What’s New in 1.1” to make sure I wring every drop of appreciation I can out of the work I’ve put into this release.