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 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


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


Alpha 15 May Be the Last Alpha

Posted in EpicTable Development on December 19, 2010 at 8:27 am

Saturday night, my gaming group took Alpha-15 for a spin. There were a couple issues related to…well, related to my coding on Alpha-15 until 10 minutes before game time. Despite that, EpicTable pretty much stayed out of the way and just let us play, which is my heuristic for beta worthiness. I’m addressing those couple issues, and then I have some mapping work to finish. At that point, I’ll transition to beta.

One concession I’m making to time–I’m going to start the beta before the vision-related tools are integrated. I know, for some of you that’s going to be a downer, and I won’t feel bad if you want to wait for the vision support. There’s a lot of functionality that’s in pretty decent shape, though, and starting early with people who aren’t as concerned about vision will give me a gentler beta ramp.

I’m going to start reaching out to folks over the next few days to gauge interest in beta 1. Stay tuned.


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: http://www.epictable.com/whats-new/


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.


Absurdly Pleased by EpicTable’s Windows Conformity

Posted in EpicTable Development on August 29, 2010 at 2:48 am

Sometimes, on a project of this scope, done entirely in spare time, the little things matter more than you’d expect. In alpha-7 (yes, I’ve subjected my gaming group to 7 builds of EpicTable), the setup failed to install some resources. Technically, all the previous setups failed to do that, but since everyone had been just auto-updating since before there was a setup, no one noticed. In fixing that, I couldn’t help but be absurdly pleased with EpicTable’s new logo, sitting there, looking at home next to all my other apps–looking better than some that didn’t have the hi-res icons used by Windows 7.

There was a similar moment when I was installing and Windows presented its less scary setup warning–blue border instead of yellow, and “publisher verified as Realityforge” instead of “unknown publisher”. Signing the setup and other binaries lets Windows ask you if you care if Realityforge installs software, as opposed to that shady-looking ne’er-do-well, “unknown publisher”.


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