Beta 15 – Fixes, Hexes, Keys!

Posted in EpicTable Development, EpicTable News on January 20, 2012 at 2:06 am

Beta 15 is ready. Anyone who wants to take EpicTable for a spin is welcome. Check out Beta 15 – Fixes, Hexes, Keys! over at the support site.


Beta 13 Released

Posted in EpicTable Development on November 22, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Beta 13 was released last night, a bit earlier than expected, so that I could address a couple issues reported by beta testers.
Learn more about EpicTable Beta 13 at the EpicTable Support site.


Looking Ahead to Beta 13

Posted in EpicTable Development on November 7, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Now that beta 12 is out there, I wanted to give you a look ahead towards beta 13.  I’m planning to take a break from drawing and memory issues and knock out some, easier, very visible stuff.

Grid Improvements

There are a few bugs reported against grids–notably that changes to the grid don’t get broadcast and that grid visual settings, like color, aren’t saved.   Additionally, I have some support for hex grids that I’ll put in place while I’m tampering with grids.

Annoyances

I hate that the tab renames don’t get broadcast to the other participants.  I’m going to stop the hate.

Automated Reports

These are the result of the "Report this to EpicTable Support?" dialogs that come up when something bad happens.  These have been really helpful, and I’m glad people have been sending them.  Every release, I fix a couple of the things that have come in this way.  However, I’m getting to the point where the easy stuff has been addressed and the ones that come in now are more difficult for me to reproduce.  Tragically—necessary for your privacy, but tragically—there’s no email address or other identifying information sent.  That makes it impossible for me to hit you up for more info, even if you’d like me to do that.  I’m thinking about an “opt-in settings” page, where you can opt to share your email address with me, so I can contact you about your bug report.  Maybe I can contrive to ask during the report and let you choose to apply that response to future reports.  That way, you don’t have to go looking for the opt-in page.

What About The Sync’d View Feature Requests?!

This is the request to let the GM sync the players’ views to his.  There was a lot of conversation on the forum about how this might work and whether the GM could “force” players to his view.  I haven’t forgotten about this.  I’ve resolved to implement the feature. Plenty of people want it—including me.  It will probably be shortly after beta 13, just because I think it’s going to take a bit of work, and I don’t want to hold up this other bug work while I work on this new feature.  I think this one merits a short spec (maybe fodder for my first doc section!) and prototype, so I can get some feedback before it’s too far along.


Testing Beta-12

Posted in EpicTable Blog, EpicTable Development on November 4, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Beta-12, after many interruptions, is nearing completion. I have a candidate build that’s gone through its first round of testing. I’m going to test installs and then post it. If I don’t find anything tragic, you’ll have it in a couple hours.

Beta-12 isn’t a big feature release. It has some memory-related fixes that should help those on lower-end machines, some minor fixes to issues that were reported against earlier betas, and a set of fixes for the drawing tools–most notably issues with drawing when scrolled and/or zoomed. The memory fixes are what took all the time–well, that and taking my 3-year-old daughter to Disney World.

When Beta-12 goes up, I’ll write another post with links to the download and change notes.


Beta 11 Slated for Saturday

Posted in EpicTable News on August 20, 2011 at 3:12 am

For those of you in the beta, especially those who saw beta-11 at Gen Con and have been wondering where all the extra stuff went, here’s the beta 11 update: I have a release candidate of beta-11, which means I don’t intend to add any more features or fixes before releasing it. It’s been through testing on my dev machine and looks pretty solid. From here, I do a build on my “Official Build Machine” and verify that the installer works and that the updater works. I’ll then collect the list of changes for the “what’s new” page and upload the installer and turn on the updater. All that should happen Saturday.

What’s in beta-11? I’ll go into that in detail, including recording a screencast or two, but for tonight, lets leave it at:

  • Fixes for some of the bug reports that have come in lately.
  • Ad-hoc drawing (draw on the background of a map or tabletop, just like you would on your battlemat)
  • A much-enhanced text object for maps/tabletops. You can set font, color, size, border, and fill.
  • It accepts and records license keys, so those who took advantage of the pre-release deal at Gen Con have something to do with the license key they got!

Watch for more later tonight/today. Also, don’t forget that the first in a new series of demos starts tonight at 10PM. Hope to see some of you there!


Beta Newsflash: Beta 8 Stops Zombies!

Posted in EpicTable Development on July 3, 2011 at 3:34 am

In last Friday’s game, out group discovered an unfortunate side effect of a new feature. Prior to beta 7, one couldn’t drag a private character to a map. Why? Because he was private, meaning no one else had that character. If EpicTable encountered a character token and the character wasn’t shared, EpicTable would just get rid of it. This was confusing, especially if it happened to the GM that was getting rid of things (because the GM saves the game). So in beta 7, I started letting tokens referring to private characters exist on maps and tabletops.

But then….

We found that it was possible to get into a cycle of infinite retrieval when multiple tokens on a map referred to the same character. To hit this issue, you had to drag a private character to the map and then do that again, or duplicate the token before everyone retrieved the image for it. The more players you have and the more times you duplicated or re-dragged the token, the easier it was to make this happen.

This never happened to anyone prior to beta-7 because you couldn’t drag private characters to a map back then. (Or rather, you could, but since they were private, no one would retrieve them and things got confusing but non-lethal.)

In our Friday night game, Brennen dragged a private zombie (a zombie for money…) to the map and started duplicating the token to throw a horde at us. (Okay, maybe not a horde, just a group, but it seemed like a horde to our characters.) At that point, everything slowed down. One or more of us had entered a cycle of endlessly updating the zombies. This hammered away at Brennen’s machine, making it lag relative to the other players’. Very nasty stuff, though a rather nice load test of the messaging layer, which it seems can run at a rate of at least 5 ZUPS (Zombie Updates Per Second) indefinitely…or until Brennen’s machine is brought to its knees.

After that session, I dropped what I was working on for beta 8 and turned my attention to these zombies. I’m happy to report that my group tested beta 8 last night, and its issue with zombie updates is fixed.

Beta testers: Look for a forum announcement for beta-8.
Others: Please stay tuned.


Beta Update: Beta-4 Released

Posted in EpicTable Blog on April 4, 2011 at 12:18 am

First off, let me apologize for my long absence from the public part of this site. I’ll try to do better. I’ve been incredibly busy with the beta. It just doesn’t show on the face of this site.

So, where are we?

The beta is still a closed beta. Right now, it’s really just a handful of folks who have been following EpicTable for a long time. Why? To keep from getting overwhelmed with questions and issues and requests. The beta testers have been great–all I could hope for–but I sure didn’t need more of them, at least at first.

Now, things are settling into a bit of a rhythm. I just released beta-4, about a week after beta-3. There’s one issue that I want to resolve prior to opening up the beta. Partly, because it’s a painful one for the beta testers, but partly because having a lot more people encounter it is going to generate a lot of noise in an area that I’m changing anyway. I may as well get a lot of feedback on the new code, rather than on a known flaw. Once that issue is fixed, I’ll start opening the beta to a wider audience.

Speaking of wider audiences…. Some of you visited the EpicTable booth at Gen Con this year. (Thanks!) If you signed up for the beta, you’ll be in the next wave of beta invitees. However, if you visited the booth, you have some loot in your possession. Look at that carefully for a way to get into the beta right now.

Also, I very quietly–I guess too quietly–updated the Features page. That has a few tutorial videos on it, and I’ll be expanding that as time goes on.

Thanks for sticking with me. Talk to you soon.
— John


Hybrid virtual tabletop / face-to-face D&D using EpicTable

Posted in EpicTable Development on February 17, 2011 at 11:20 pm

EpicBasement SetupSunday afternoon was the first session of my hybrid face-to-face / virtual tabletop D&D game using EpicTable. We’re using beta-2 (EpicTable is still in closed beta, but watch the site for an open beta in coming months). I resisted the urge to run anything in development–instead using only the beta that the rest of the testers have.

My EpicBasement

  • Big screen TV connected to my laptop.
  • Fairly ordinary, moderately priced webcam on top of the TV, which also functioned as the mic. (This worked surprisingly well.)
  • My GM’s table, and a players’ table.
  • Initially, I was recording Skype and the webcam pointing out from the TV towards the players, and I had a second video camera behind the players, pointed at the big screen showing the player view. Finally, I had Camtasia recording my GM’s screen. Aside from setting myself up for an incredible amount of video editing, this proved too much for my aging laptop to handle.

The Game

We were playing D&D 4th Edition, partially out of gamer curiosity and partly because I feel like I need to know more to support that community of gamers. Wow, was I right. Turns out, running D&D for years and years does not suddenly make you able to run D&D 4E smoothly with a quick read of the rules. I don’t think that’s 4E’s fault–I just underestimated the number of times I’d be left saying, lamely, well…in 3.5 it works like so, but in 4E…hmm…I’m not sure….

How EpicTable Fared

From an EpicTable perspective, I have to say, my feelings on the session are mixed. On the one hand, it’s rather humbling to experience some of the shortcomings that the beta has. It’s one thing to know that they’re there and see them while testing. It’s another to experience first-hand how much they impact a game. On the positive side, though, there were really only a handful of issues that were really painful, and all but one was well-known to me. Clearing those up will make a huge difference, and they really are mostly in the missing feature category, not the “something’s broken” category. So, in the end, once I shake off the despondency, this will be a focusing, energizing experience.

Player Screen

I’d planned to drag encounter maps to a big screen TV. Then, I realized that I’d disabled that just before Gen Con because it was a little fiddly to get maps re-docked, should one choose to do so–and I’d never re-enabled it. So, the feature I planned on using wasn’t actually in version of the software I planned on using. Hmm…. While pondering whether I should try a quick change and run a development build, it struck me that what I wanted for my game was more than just maps. I wanted the chat window too, for dice rolls. Fine–that already supports undocking and dragging to another screen. But there’s just one of them. I couldn’t very well put my one and only chat window on the big screen. What if I needed to whisper? What if I needed a secret roll?

I decided I could solve all these problems by running the session the same way I run my tests–I created a new user, named “Player Screen” and ran EpicTable as that user. This was great! It was just like any other player. No GM info leaking out, and as a side benefit, because all clients go through a central server, what I saw in the “Player Screen” EpicTable would be very true to the experience of my players. Perfect! Except…. Except I was running the game on a laptop with 2 GB of RAM. I had two instances of EpicTable (which honestly could do with a memory diet), Skype, a Skype recording add-in (which was boosting Skype’s memory consumption to half a gig and its CPU utilization to 20-30%), Camtasia for recording my screen, and Chrome with tabs open to various 4E sites and Obsidian Portal. My machine just couldn’t keep up. Since we were trying to actually play, not just test, I killed off everything but the GM’s EpicTable and Skype–no second instance of EpicTable, no Skype recording, no Camtasia. This made everything functional again. This experience pointed out that I really need to consider how to run the player’s view in a face-to-face game without consuming a lot of extra memory and without requiring the user to know how to (or whether to) launch EpicTable as another user.

Priorities

This session really drove home a number of priorities for me. I have quite a few changes queued up and ready for beta-3, but I’d really like to put in a couple of those shown here before I release beta-3, because it was so painful playing without them.

  • Gesture support: Really, really need to be able to be able to point at things or make your cursor visible to other participants or something–some way to say things like, “this guy, here” or “over by this rock” and let everyone see what you’re pointing at.
  • Map sync: As GM, I know where I want to focus the action. I need to be able to sync players’ view to mine. It was incredibly painful to say things like, “Zoom out to 40% and scroll to the right.”
  • More accessible horizontal scrolling: Vertical scrolling via mouse wheel is fine. Horizontal scrolling is a bear. You have to keep toggling between the select cursor and the scroll (“pan” to some of you, I guess) cursor. There are already suggestions on the forum for making this better–I just haven’t implemented them yet.
  • EDIT: You can now hold down the spacebar and move the mouse to scroll. — John

  • Large map handling: The maps I was using were larger than I usually use–3000 pixels or more in each direction. They loaded fine but scrolling was sluggish. This is a known issue, but it’s very painful in a live game. I actually cropped the map to make this easier.
  • EDIT: This is better–not perfect, but better. — John

  • Dice cups (i.e., dice rolls you define for 1-click access later) need to be saved across sessions. It’s a known issue that they aren’t. In a real game, that’s a real pain.
  • EDIT: These are saved now. –John

  • Portrait bar needs to sync to all participants. Right now, the GM can use the portrait bar to rearrange characters in initiative order, but that isn’t communicated to the other participants. In a tactical game like D&D, it really needs to be synced.

Update on Beta 1

Posted in EpicTable Development on January 11, 2011 at 12:16 am

Just a quick update, folks. Beta-1 is in full-swing and has me incredibly busy! Lots of good feedback–suggestions, bugs, none of them genuinely concerning, though one issue was pretty crippling and unique to one user, so it was good to find that now.

Beta-2 is coming up, and once it’s out (this week?), I’ll release the next set of beta invitations. Again, I apologize for the wait–but I was right to roll out slowly–the participation has been great, but a little overwhelming. Between the alpha and beta-1 users, there are a total of 24 people with beta invitations. Had there been 200, I’d never have kept my head above water.

Things I’ve learned.

  • I need a couple moderators (this is in the works as we speak)–I can’t keep being the sole organizer of the forum and get any coding done.
  • I need a public-facing knowledge base and issue/feature tracker, not just a forum and not just my private bug tracker. This is still a research topic.
  • I have to stop putting off fixing the forum breaks that resulted from the last forum software upgrade.
  • You guys have tons of good ideas. It’s the right time for the beta.

Stay tuned for beta-2.
— John


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