I got an invite to Wizard’s Virtual Game Table and I hung out on it with Dave from Critical Hits and Quinn from At Will, who are now the only cyber denizens who have heard my glorious voice in all of its glorious glory. I also have screenshots. My initial impression is that this could be a pretty good and accessible product with more polish, and that of course it is a beta so it’s not going to be mind-blowing right now, but I like the look of it, and I managed to discern all the player functions from just looking through tabs for a few minutes, and it feels pretty stable. With that said, let’s look into it.
For reference purposes: my computer is a Macbook Pro 2.4 ghz Intel Core 2 Duo, running Mac OS X 10.6.5, and I have 4 GB of 1067 mhz DDR3 RAM.
I signed up for the beta program and received an email with 5 passwords, one each for five total games I could play on my beta table. To get started, I went to a forum thread in the beta testers group and I clicked on a link there to get to this place:
The Virtual Tabletop keeps a list of ongoing campaigns and their status (whether they accept players or not, etc) in this searchable database. This is really promising for the table, because just like any good online play site, I can scan around for games, talk to some folk, and pop right in. You can get a good sense of the population and what’s going on by looking at the database, and I think that’s a really good feature. Searching by campaign setting, game system, format, etc is a really nifty, useful feature. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to write a little campaign blurb there too.
Then things sort of go downhill for a moment. When you join a game, you download a little java applet to your desktop. It’s up there by the boobs. Then you have to go run this file and wait for it to load the tabletop in the room you selected. It is not terrible, but it feels pointless and convoluted. Hopefully the final product will just spawn a window right there, right after I click Join. Once you’ve loaded the virtual tabletop, which takes a while (now, my connection is not incredible, I have like 1 mb/second download times on good days and like 250 kb/sec on bad days, but it took me like 2 minutes to load this thing).
Up there is the interface. Of note, the voice chat was a lot stabler than I thought it would be. Even just using the computer’s built-in mic my voice was pretty clear, and there wasn’t a lot of voice lag (at first, it got a bit worse like an hour in). It has pretty standard voice controls: mic volume, lets you select your microphone device, etc. Then it has voice fonts which are incredibly glorious. For a moment I was Wyatt-chan and I was told I sounded like quite the woman with the male to female filter. I think beyond just joking, the voice filters are a cool idea. When you roleplay online, you can be all kinds of characters you wouldn’t normally try, and having cross-sex voice filters and such can help people to break out of their roleplay shell and try something new. Okay, and the orc filter is hilarious.
I should have taken more screenshots of all the interface, but it’s got stuff like notes, journals, PCs, initiative, and so on. Rolling dice in bunches is just a bit finicky. You can’t import characters yet, so it’s pretty difficult to use the built-in character stuff as anything but an initiative tracker. You certainly don’t want to have to type all your powers into the little box there. For now, you’ll probably have your own sheet somewhere else, and then use the spaces provided for your basic stuff like defenses, HP tracking and initiative.
You have your typical controls at the top. There’s pointers, there’s a ruler telling you how many squares away something is, there’s zooming, etc. The GM gets drawing tools and can put down tiles. There’s a selection of poster maps as well, but it is limited right now. You’ve got a couple tokens to play around with now. I opted for a Warforged head because…
Each player can have a bunch of characters at once if needed, which is nice. Anyway, that’s it for this first look at the game table. All I did was mess around with it and not really even in the GM’s seat so there’s not much more to say about it. I like the look, I think the interface is pretty simple and not too cluttered, and once it gets more polish, and features, it will be a pretty good way to play D&D online. My final verdict will also depend on the pricing of the final product, and whether or not you absolutely have to buy into Dragon Magazine and all this other DDI stuff if your only desire is to play online. I really hope WOTC comes up with a player-only pass or something, because I seriously do not want to envision every single player in a group needing a whole DDI account to make this work. Some groups can do that, but I don’t think they should have to.