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Playtest with beta-testers all around the table

1337189772
Agemegos
KS Backer
I ran an adventure on Tuesday night North American time at which we had several of the active beta testers playing characters, and therefore seeing Roll20 from the other side of the virtual table. I ran the game to produce those experiences, and am starting this discussion to get them reported, so essentially this discussion is for Deightine, Kage, and John Stapleton to report on the game in. From my point of view the game didn't run very well, but I think that that was down to the players being unfamiliar with the system ( ForeSight ), the setting (my rationalised-planetary-romance setting Flat Black ), and my GMing style (which requires more pro-active initiative from the character-players than anyone was accustomed to). That all showed promise to improve quickly, I thought. Another problem was that one of the players, playing the boss character, was a no-show, so the various investigators didn't have the Gibb-figure to report their discoveried to and thus reveal them. That isn't Roll20's fault. We also had the usual trouble with a slight lag upsetting the verbal cues as to when someone has stopped speaking and it is someone else's opportunity to speak. That gets better with practice so long a lag is manageable. In any case tht isn't something tht the Roll20 developers can do much about, either. I drew sketch maps with a paint package, saved them as .png files, and uploaded them with surprising ease and speed. Diagramming with the built-in drawing tool was awkward but not too bad. The scenario I ran was heavily prepared with text handouts—more than I normally would for a single session, but to an extent I might easily get to in a continuing campaign. Including character sheets, equipment lists, background briefings, reports of autopsy findings, reconstructed timelines, summaries of research findings, and so forth I had thirty-seven to handle and the character-players typically had ten. We, really, really needed better organisation and handling of handouts. And at the end of this over-long introduction I hand you over to Deightine, Kage, and John Stapleton.
1337195060
Deightine
KS Backer
Sheet Author
Let's see... I love Roll20 so far, but rather than fanboy about it (which won't help anyone), I'll just go straight for the bits that felt strange, difficult to work with as a player, or stuck out as shining. I'll break it down by area of the structure. I've been thinking about it since lastnight, and although nothing was glaringly painful, some issues stuck with me. Roll20 Table: The text, drawing, etc, tools really do need that upcoming overhaul. So that's already in the works, and frankly, it needs it a lot. I did have trouble tracking activity around on the surface on a few occasions, unless I was zoomed out pretty far. I suspect that when the Pings fully drag your screen around to be sure you can see the action, that will be a lot easier. The GM's drawing on the fly wasn't too bad, if a little difficult to make out at times, but it got the point across. Again, something that should likely change in the overhaul. Moving tokens worked like a charm, as did the swivel and the Alt-Swivel, on the hex grid. Being able to see the color of who was moving which token was also very helpful. There were however, a considerable number of issues with quick-searching for tokens to use as NPCs, which slowed our GM down a good bit as he hunted. He wasn't looking for anything terribly complicated, but nothing vaguely relevant popped up. Roll20 Chat Space: The chat feed feels very confined. I use Chrome, and in my browser at least, it isn't a resizeable area. But it does resize whenever I do anything else with Chrome that adds a frame to the page I am on, like using Inspect Elements, will do a resize of the frames. Perhaps there is something that can be toggled to make the division between the table and the chat area draggable? We didn't use the chat a lot, but I can imagine getting a lot of use out of it in the future. Roll20 Characters & Handouts: When you load an image into the Handouts, right now it initially loads a smaller resolution image and scales up if you press the Magnifying Glass icon at the center. That's not a bad solution for quickly sifting through Handouts, however, it was a concern when it became clear I couldn't scroll that zoomed image. So the first and last 4th of the blown-up image was outside the window. That was kind of frustrating while trying to find things on the fly, although not impossible to get around. Although it did require I circumvent the protections of the page by using Chrome's element tools to locate the cached (max.gif) image file pertaining to the handout I wanted and move it to my desktop to open in another viewer. That was a lot of work to read a percentage of the page space. The only other work around was to zoom out on roll20 itself, which caused the image to shrink again anyway. It was.. frustrating. I couldn't even right-click to open the image in a new window, which I personally like as a feature for GMs. However, a handout should be toggleable from edit as downloadable or highlightable. A lack of highlighting kept me from copying out an inventory to keep it in a side notepad in another window, so I could free up some of my Roll20 table view, in an effort to keep up with the action. I had to screenshot it and paste it into a .png so I could see it from an image viewer. In summary... if you have a decent number of handouts (8+) it becomes really cumbersome to have them above the table itself. Thoughts on TokBox: During play, when Agemegos would try to show us the differentiations between areas of a room by doing a hold-click to ping, it was incredibly out of sync with how he listed it. Although there was a slight lag from the process of taking the data into Roll20, then sending it out to everyone, it was only a second or two. On the other hand, TokBox was at times 5-15 seconds latent. Other times TB would show me someone speaking, and the audio would take a full 3 seconds to catch up with their lips. Which is truly surreal, considering audio and video are both handled by TB's API. The difference between lip movements and audio did change depending on the geographic location of the person involved; Kage and John are closer to me and their overall latency was less, making it less noticeable. Not a Roll20 issue entirely, but no doubt an issue we'll be seeing in the future. Thoughts for development: Idea One: <a href="http://community.roll20.net/discussion/454/tweaking-ping-general-" rel="nofollow">http://community.roll20.net/discussion/454/tweaking-ping-general-</a> Idea Two: <a href="http://community.roll20.net/discussion/455/community-maptokenportrait-gallery" rel="nofollow">http://community.roll20.net/discussion/455/community-maptokenportrait-gallery</a> Idea Three: <a href="http://community.roll20.net/discussion/456/auto-open-handouts" rel="nofollow">http://community.roll20.net/discussion/456/auto-open-handouts</a> Idea Four: Still mulling this one threw... But GMs may need a way to set the default Zoom for a given page. Why? Because when you pop into a new page, it loads and leaves you staring at the maximum resolution at 100%. It barely gives us any idea where to begin, and takes away time spent in play, trying to approximate on the map where the action should be. If someone likes these ideas, comment, vote them up. I am not concerned enough to ask they all be added beyond suggesting them, but if it would help others... well, let the popular request win on this one. Thoughts on what Players & GMs need to keep in mind: This is a different medium. For GMs from a primarily offline source who are looking for an online solution to distance, etc, this can't be beat... however, you need to plan in advance for it to take longer. Especially in a pickup game. It is very hard to read what people's faces are saying if they are lagged or unfamiliar to you, so its hard to know when it is safe to speak. That means you have the video window, but you can't rely on it to know when it is okay to talk. Getting over that hurdle is mostly one on a player/GM's end, so plan for it. Anticipate at least an additional hour of time to acclimate if people are unfamiliar. I'm planning a One-Shot right now, and I just added 2 hours to my anticipated play time. If you're a GM, keep in mind that your players cannot read minds. That means if you give them a handout, you need to remember to tell them what it is. If you start a game and its pre-generated, you need to do twice as much explanation of the culture, etc. In an offline game, or in a game between players who know each other really well, we spend a large amount of time (that we don't account for) fielding questions about cultures, races, the environment, etc. When you have to do that through TokBox... it can take some time. Considerable time. For players and GMs... be patient. Since it is in very early beta, this is all destined to see tweaking and change. We need to keep that in mind and account for that in our efforts. We may have helped fund it, but our developers are not superheroes... not yet, anyway. Riley's working on it by learning to defy sleep as a Platonic concept, but he's not there yet. Pull for him though--he needs it! ;)
1337195590
Nolan T. J.
Roll20 Team
Deightine-- this is great stuff. Really appreciated. Not sure if you have yet or not (running from thread to thread), but if you haven't please run the TokBox diagnostic tools on your end and give any feedback you can to them as well. I know some window popping and resizing is in the future, and we'll look into some of your finer points as well. Thanks to Agemegos for running the game and encouraging feedback from all involved, and I look forward to hearing what others encountered in this session.
1337196044
Agemegos
KS Backer
I reckon that perhaps one significant issue is that, having only ever seen the GM's interface of Roll20, I don't know what happens from a player's point of view when I give him or her sight or control of a handout.
1337200326
Kage
KS Backer
Let's see if I can live up to Deightine's and Agemegos' posts, which do a pretty complete job of summarizing the experience and have already highlighted most of the major points I had. Interface From the interface itself, I think the game would have run smoother if we could have all shared handouts with each other and for future games with different intents, being able to create summary handouts and notes that we as players could pass to each other might be a helpful feature. And the ability to organize handouts is dreadfully important. Even bolding new handouts when the GM gives them to you would add some utility to the process. Also, yes, the token library could be updated with more tokens that are appropriate for science fiction games and much better search capabilities, but I suspect that's ultimately going to come down to GMs uploading their own tokens or finding sets beforehand. Still, some of the results you get when you search can be bizarrely off topic. On The Game Itself The following is just opinion on how the game went and for people who want to run games in the future. I also think, purely based on this playtest, the chat interface needs to be more heavily utilized in order to compensate for the lag time in everyone talking over each other. There were long moments and pauses where everyone clearly waited for someone else to talk and then everyone would start talking at once as the lag caught up and it would just become this unfortunate jumble of voices. Perhaps OOC chatter or IC chatter or something should be kept in chat. That may just be my experience playing PBP games talking, but I really felt that we could've better discussed our options and ideas on what to do next by typing rather than talking. I really liked the use of handouts, which I think went a long way toward giving vital information fast and might otherwise compensate for some of the slowness of playing online. They were also a good draw-in to the setting, for me, issues with their sorting aside. There's also some social convention stuff where everyone tries to adjust to each other's styles that always there in playtests and one shots with a new group, so that probably didn't help our speed. If you are planning to GM with Roll20, however, especially with a one-shot, I would plan to tack at least an hour minimum on the normal running time of the game. For whatever reason, everything happens slower online than off. Also, a very important note for all future Roll20 players and GMs: Plugging the headphone into the headphone slot will produce far higher quality audio and make sure you don't miss the first ten minutes of game time trying to hear what's being said :D. I want to reiterate my thanks to Agemegos. Even though we didn't get into the good part of the adventure, I really appreciate him running it for us and it gave me a better idea of how the interface works with real people, plus I actually had a lot of fun. I hope to join in more playtest games soon and I think this set up is really going to make me lose even /more/ hours to roleplaying.
1337201437
Riley D.
Roll20 Team
Thanks for the feedback, everyone. To pull one thing out (not that I haven't read the rest), it seems like the video/voice chat was really causing issues for you guys and adding onto the time it took to play the game. Just out of curiosity, what are the geographic locations of everyone involved?
1337207512
JJ
KS Backer
I honestly can't add a whole lot to what's been said, as I'm late to the table putting in my 2 cents/pence (Agemegos, what on earth do YOU call pennies??). One small issue I found was that when I would go to use the zoom feature, after the list of percentages had expanded, it would not register my choice. So I'd click on, say, 60% but the expanded window of zoom choices would just disappear without any change. I had to scroll through the list with arrow keys to get it to zoom in or out, which was a bit weird. I was running Firefox 12.0 on Mac OSX 10.7.3. I have not had this problem when logged in as a GM and creating my own campaigns, only as a player. I agree quite strongly about the handouts. There is a strong need for players and GMs to be able to organize handouts, zoom them, and pop them out into new tabs and/or windows. Much like handling numerous handouts on a real table, we need the ability to shuffle them to the top/bottom/middle of the pile, pull them up for quick reference (and then put them back away quickly), re-organize them, scribble on them, and divide them into piles and folders. I use various folders in my real games to organize handouts, characters sheets, and other planning information. I often use a multi-page file organizer, and put randoms NPCs towards the back, the baddy-of-the-night near the front, and long-term planning stuff in the middle. I use separate folders for different games and campaigns. I honestly wonder if it might be useful to some people to be able to break apart the elements of the Roll20 table. I'd happily have the chat, main window, and handouts sections as separate windows, so that I could cascade or tile them and click back and forth quickly. I prefer larger windows that I can layer over one window that has too much crammed into it. Not sure what the ramifications of such a change would be, code-wise, but it's a thought.
1337207732
Agemegos
KS Backer
I'm in a small country town on the east coast of Australia.
1337207976
Agemegos
KS Backer
Agemegos, what on earth do YOU call pennies??). We replaced them with cents in 1966.
1337209059
Kage
KS Backer
I'm in Texas.
1337217411
Deightine
KS Backer
Sheet Author
Myself, and my better half (who also played) are on the border of the states of Kentucky and Ohio, USA. There were times where even she lagged 3-4 seconds behind for me, closer to Kage and JJ's latency, and she was on the other side of my apartment. ;) Agemegos was only a few seconds behind them at the better parts of the time (around 10:30pm-12:00am), but we all fluctuated a good bit. I suspect due to network loads. Also, I've run the Tok Box Diagnostic Tool twice, with no issues detected.
1337254435
Riley D.
Roll20 Team
The way TokBox works, it chooses the server closest to the GM to use as the video/voice chat server. So even though you and your wife were in the same room, every packet of information was going from you, to the server closest to Age', back to your house. Which would explain the delay. I'm not sure what the closest server they have to Australia is (it might even not be in Australia, which I'm sure adds quite a bit of lag onto the experience). I would be curious to see what would happen if you were all to jump in a Google Hangout, just for comparison sake. When we play our sessions (which you can see recorded/live every other Monday), we have people playing from the West Coast, Midwest (x3), and East Coast of the U.S. While there is the occasional hiccup or laggy moment, for the most part we really haven't seen any of the immersion-breaking types of delays you guys experienced. It might be good to start compiling a list of experiences based on geographic location of the participants so we can get an idea of what "works well" and what doesn't.
1337254484
Riley D.
Roll20 Team
Also, I've run the Tok Box Diagnostic Tool twice, with no issues detected. I think that tool just helps you figure things out if you can't get TokBox to work at all. This seems like it was much more a network/geographic issue than a "my webcam isn't working" type of issue. Not sure if they have a tool that would help us debug those problems or not.
1337266382
Deightine
KS Backer
Sheet Author
I think that tool just helps you figure things out if you can't get TokBox to work at all. This seems like it was much more a network/geographic issue than a "my webcam isn't working" type of issue. Not sure if they have a tool that would help us debug those problems or not. Indeed. I think I mentioned that over in the TokBox thread--they're not running a traceroute when they do the diagnostics (visibly at least), which is sad, because it means they're not getting information based on geolocations. I made the comment about running it twice for Nolan's sake, as he asked if I had run it: Not sure if you have yet or not (running from thread to thread), but if you haven't please run the TokBox diagnostic tools on your end and give any feedback you can to them as well. I think putting together a Geo list would be a good idea. Riley, how hard would it be to add Geo-tracking to our user profiles? We could all just volunteer our regional locations to that, which would populate the database you are already using, and we could see what our spread looks like. I think there are a few really easy Google Maps API bits that could be used for doing it, if this forum software doesn't include its own. I've also seen mentioned in a few places that we would all benefit from knowing each other's timezones, as well. Two birds with one stone?
1337273912
Paulus
KS Backer
What about your internet connection speed, could that be any issue? I have a roughly 2mb down speed (roughly 350kb up) and struggled with video chat - even when it was just me and The Missus were testing it in the house from my office PC upstairs to the laptop in the living room downstairs - but audio on it's own worked a lot better once we got the mic positions and levels. There's still a little latency and as kage mentioned there's no visual cues so talking is awkward but it seemed a lot easier with the video feed off. If all your speeds are better than mine then it probably isn't an issue but it was just a thought.
1337294662
Deightine
KS Backer
Sheet Author
Mine fluctuate a good bit, but are better. Mine is advertised as 20 down, 10 up, and I usually get somewhere between 3-6 down (6 moreso when I'm lucky), and 1-2 up. It wasn't that--I even ran a speedtest against a server in London (the opposite direction from NZ) from another computer while playing, but that didn't alter my connection speeds any. Wish I'd written down the results of my speedtest now, however.
1337321857
Paulus
KS Backer
I don't suppose it should matter much with those speeds, then. I'd love to get a 6mb down speed... would make grabbing games from steam a lot less painful... A friend of mine lives next to the exchange and gets speeds from 15 to 20, the utter git. If I could somehow move into his house and move him somewhere else without him noticing, I would. As I said, 'twas merely a thought along the lines of if one or more person's vidchat is lagging due to bandwidth it may've had a knock on effect due to pauses, stops, starts and catchup on their end so others would have to wait longer which would cause further delays etc etc etc.
1337322618
Agemegos
KS Backer
I generally get about 10 Mbps down and 880 kbps up, at least in good weather. You have to figure that a lot of the lag between the players and me occurred under the Pacific.
1337343455
Deightine
KS Backer
Sheet Author
Unfortunately there is only 2 trunks under the pacific, although blissfully for you Agem', one of them terminates a little northeast of NZ if I remember right. The folks I feel bad for are the average citizens in northern China, Mongolia, Russia, etc. Beyond their countries sometimes restricting their access, they also get connection rates to north america that are remarkably similar to a stagecoach mailman. I suspect this will be one of the biggest hurdles of using Roll20, honestly. These days graphics cards are so good we have trouble making games that can outdate the hardware; we have CGI so good people have trouble remembering its CGI; etc, but our bandwidth isn't getting a whole lot better across the planet. So some of us, as GMs and as Players, may occasionally experience the infrastructure bottleneck pretty roughly. Perhaps we should go over and suggest to the TokBox fellows that they geolocate a server somewhere between all of the participants, rather than the one closest to the GM. It would probably require everyone connect as usual, then some kind of API option for a user in control of a video conference to trigger a reload using everyone's locational information. That might clear up -some- of the issues... equalize them at least.
1337461385
Agemegos
KS Backer
Unfortunately there is only 2 trunks under the pacific, although blissfully for you Agem', one of them terminates a little northeast of NZ if I remember right. My bliss it limited, since "a little to the north-east of New Zealand" is still 3,000 kilometres from here. People outside of Australia and New Zealand don't realise how wide the Tasman Sea is. The folks I feel bad for are the average citizens in northern China, Mongolia, Russia, etc. Beyond their countries sometimes restricting their access, they also get connection rates to north america that are remarkably similar to a stagecoach mailman. A stagecoach can have a pretty fair bandwidth if you cram it to the roof with high-density thumb drives. Its latency still sucks, though. These days graphics cards are so good we have trouble making games that can outdate the hardware; we have CGI so good people have trouble remembering its CGI; etc, but our bandwidth isn't getting a whole lot better across the planet. So some of us, as GMs and as Players, may occasionally experience the infrastructure bottleneck pretty roughly. Our federal government here in Australia has cheerfully announced that it is going to run optical fibre to every house except for isolated ones it hooks up wirelessly, but that it isn't even going to think about planning to roll out this "National Broadband Network" in my area for at least three years. The effect, of course, is that no commercial provider can see a buck in building infrastructure for me or even renewing the 1970s copper in my street. Unless I move to a marginal federal electorate I'm stuck with ADSL over decaying copper for the foreseeable. And by the time the NBN brings optical fibre to my house chances are that it (at least the spec chosen) will be obsolete.