Alphas 13 & 14

Posted in EpicTable Development on December 12, 2010 at 2:47 am

I’ve been hard at work on EpicTable, trying to make good on that prediction of a Fall beta. (Hey, I have until the 21st! )

We tested out Alpha 13 and 14 today/tonight. Alpha 13 fixed the character transfer issue from Alpha 12, and it reintroduced some long locked-down UI customization capabilities like changing the visibility of the chat, character portrait bar, and dice tray, dragging panels to secondary monitors, etc.

Brennen, who’s on a smaller display, has been needing that auto-hide feature for the various EpicTable panels, and immediately noticed that the panels were slow on his machine. That was this morning (um…Saturday morning, that is) on Alpha 13. By this evening, Alpha 14 was born, and its auto-hide panels are considerably snappier.

I have a few things I still want to take care of before the beta, but some of you die-hards are apt to hear from me before I’m officially past my Fall deadline.

For those of you interested in the kinds of things going on in the alpha tests, the release notes for the alphas are actually here on the site:

Alphas 11 and 12

Posted in EpicTable Development on November 21, 2010 at 3:12 am

Due to a variety of work and family conflicts, my group had a longish break between tests. (And yes, I know, if that happens again, I should pull in some of you folks who have offered to wade into the alpha fray. )

I had my own set of conflicting priorities, though, so the extra time didn’t hurt. I posted Alpha-11 to my group on the 19th in anticipation of testing Friday night. However, Friday night before the test, I fixed some things related to handouts. So, I quick spun up an Alpha-12 while the guys waited patiently, and that’s what we ended up testing.

Here are some highlights of the delta between Alpha-10 and Alpha-12:

  • I fixed “Brennen’s Terrible Scrolling Problem” – scrolling stopped prematurely on Brennen’s small(er) laptop screen than on my test screens.
  • I eliminated the “Tribble Notes” – notes that cloned every time they moved.
  • I fixed an issue with the installer that was causing it to not update an existing installation.
  • I fixed some things with character edits and character portrait transfer.
  • There are better “wait” screens now than there used to be, for things like waiting for the game organizer to join, retrieving game resources, etc. There’s still not as much feedback as I’d like, but it’s better than it was. For the trivia fans out there, the splash screen is actually the same image used for the EpicTable banner we had in the Gen Con booth this year.
  • There’s a nice self-extracting exe for the installer now, so there’s no need to go through the hassle of opening a zip file, wondering if you should extract the files first, and then wondering whether you should run setup.exe or the .msi file. There’s just a single exe. You run it. The product installs. Simple.

The really good (from a glass half-full perspective) things to come out of tonight’s test:

  • There are things wrong with character portrait transfer that just aren’t misbehaving in my lab. (The glass half-full part about that is that I wouldn’t have found this without the alpha testers, and the rest of you would have been hit with it in the beta.) This is curious–since the server is central, it doesn’t really matter much whether two clients are in my house or across the world from each other. So, I don’t yet have a satisfactory explanation for why character portraits work so well for me.
  • Something’s not right with the auto-updater. I wonder if my installer “fix” has anything to do with this….

Alpha 10

Posted in EpicTable Development on October 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Last Sunday, Brennen and I took Alpha 10 for a spin. We verified that the dire problems of Alpha 9 were fixed, tried out a new self-extracting installer in development.

The self-extracting installer was something I did as a break from other things, and it’s complete in Alpha 11. I only spent on hour or two on it, but it’s really motivating to me to do “finish work” like this. The gist is that the setup.exe and MSI are bundled into a single, self-extracting executable, so there’s no wondering which file to run, unzipping to temporary directories, or anything like that. Not 100% necessary, but consistent with the ease of use goals of EpicTable.

The Dire Problems, as you might recall, were the Ever-Changing Background and some weirdnesses with rich text notes. Both have been eliminated. You still get backgrounds, now you just don’t get them every two seconds. 😉 Rich text notes no longer cause mysterious “drag and drop registration errors”.

We did find a couple things of interest. Brennen was having scrolling problems that I couldn’t duplicate for the life of me. He uses a laptop with rather less screen real estate than I’d imagined, and runs at a lower resolution than I do, so we spent some time trying to get my secondary monitor setup to mimic his. I still wasn’t able to duplicate the problem that night, but later, I found I could duplicate it on my own laptop, so…something about laptops is more nuanced than just screen size and resolution. That’s what I’m working on now. At least now that I’ve been able to duplicate it, the bug can’t hide for long.

Running at this resolution has really made me thankful that there’s so much ability to customize the layout in EpicTable. (I need to record a video of that….)

Alpha 11, targeted for this week, will have fixes for these two issues from Alpha 10, a fix to character portrait and handout sharing, and the finished self-extracting installer. There are probably some other things I’m forgetting, but I need to leave something for the Alpha 11 post. 😉

Field Report: EpicTable Alpha-9

Posted in EpicTable Development on October 3, 2010 at 4:17 pm

EpicTable Alpha-9 is a good example of why I’m releasing alphas (almost) weekly to my gaming group to stabilize things before giving the rest of you a beta.

I was pretty excited about Alpha-9. It had a lot of improvements and fixes–things you can work around but would never want to release. Everything was working really well in my testing–though granted, the alpha releases get very little–and I was looking forward to wowing my group. Our Monday game night rolled around and BAM! Three really nasty things hit us that didn’t occur in my own lab.

First, rich text notes, when sent over the network, resulted in a scary looking message about “drag and drop registration failure”. Hmm…. Second, Bryan found that he could crash Brennen’s EpicTable by editing a note at the same time Brennen did. Fun. These two were both relatively easy fixes and were due to the same cause. You developers out there are probably guessing that this was caused by simultaneous access to the note by the GUI and the incoming change notification, and you’d be right. It was a little more nuanced than that, but in essence, that’s what happened, and that’s fixed.

The third and final nail in the coffin of this build: The Miraculous, Ever-changing Background. If you changed the background of the tabletop, you kept changing it. Forever. And everyone told everyone else about the background change. Forever. Okay, so I’m not entirely incompetent. I had mechanisms in place that were supposed to prevent that. They…um…just didn’t. (I deleted my long-winded explanation of what was really going on, and instead, put that in my bug database. If you’re interested, let me know.)

So, why am I going on about the tragic Alpha-9 release? It’s to illustrate the distinction I’m making between alpha and beta, and to help explain why the alpha is closed and I’m making the beta contingent on the alpha’s stabilizing. The Alpha-9 problems were difficult to reproduce in my environment but outright killed our Monday gaming session. I know how tough it is to keep a gaming group going, and I don’t want give you a evening-killing bug. I’m sure there will be issues that come up with the beta, and I know you guys will be helpful and gracious as we work through them together, but I’m going to be respectful of your gaming time and do what I can to prevent evening-killers like Alpha-9 getting into the beta.

Alpha 8

Posted in EpicTable Development on September 15, 2010 at 12:52 am

No, you didn’t miss anything. I haven’t started the beta yet, and the alpha is really just my own gaming group. However, I thought I’d give you an update on how things are going. I don’t want to rub salt into any “give it to me now!” wounds you might have, and that’s part of why I’m just now telling you that I’m on my 8th alpha build, but I know you’re curious, so….
…continue reading Alpha 8

Micro-update: Auto-save

Posted in EpicTable Development on February 2, 2010 at 9:51 pm

I got auto-save of campaigns and campaign resources working. I know, it sounds like a little thing, but it’s a big deal actually. The same code that handles auto-saving the campaign is used in notifying participants around the table of changes–everything from changing the name of a character to moving a game piece on the tabletop.

…continue reading Micro-update: Auto-save

Alpha Within Reach

Posted in EpicTable Development on January 30, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Just a quick update: I have just a handful of things to do before EpicTable is usable for my Thursday night game. My plan is to take it for a spin on one of those Thursdays—hopefully, this coming Thursday—and then start inviting people to participate in the alpha.

Once this process starts, I’ll post a list of features in/out of the alpha, so you have some basis for deciding whether to participate in alpha 1 or wait for a later release. I plan to have automatic updates built in for alpha 1, so we should all be able to take advantage of new features as they become available.

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