Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Reflections on Playing via Internet

This post brought to you by Microsoft!  Disimproving skype since 2011 (seriously, new version for linux dropped yesterday, and they removed support for ALSA.  WTF, guys.  It's the first release in over a year, and it's still 32-bit only.  Since I use Alsa, I guess I had better find another voice/video-over-internet solution...).

Which, of course, will only make already-lacklustre gaming-over-IP experiences less good.  So far, I think an accurate summary of our existing problems follows:
  • Voice-channel multiplexing failure.  We don't have transcontinental latency low enough for video to work, and as a result, we have a very hard time telling when someone is done speaking.  This results in substantial dead time on the wire after anyone says anything, as everyone else waits to see if they have anything else to say.  The opposite problem, of interruption / simultaneous starts, is also prevalent, which causes further backoff delays.
    • Potential solution: push-to-talk-like voice chat, with some manner of quiet indicator (either visual or a beep or background noise that cuts out) that someone is in or has exited talk mode.
  • Too many players.  Since we're on the internet already, let's invite everyone from everywhere, and their family and significant others!  I don't think this is necessarily a problem on the campaign-scale, depending on structure, but six-player sessions with already bad communications latency are just rough.  Consensus is basically impossible to establish, nevermind in a timely fashion.
    • Solution: picarqesue-style games, with small (<=4) player groups pulled from a potentially much larger pool of irregularly available players.  This has its own advancement and group cohesion problems, but that's true of any game in this style.
  • Distraction.  "Hold on guys, my pizza just got here," or worse yet, "brb I need to go cook for 20 minutes."  In a face-to-face game, there's one period of food-distraction for everyone, during which misc discussion occurs.  Here there're a bunch of them, unsynchronized, and they do not help the Too Many Players or Multiplexing problems.
  • Lack of out-of-game planning and discussion.  In college, the gamer crew was also a social circle which met and discussed outside of the game itself.  This is much less true post-diaspora, and also with isolated subgraphs like family members of one player.  Great games, I think, are driven by the external discussion, speculation, and musing surrounding them.  Ultimately, this may be a symptom of loss of cohesion as a social circle rather than anything gaming-specific.
    • Unfortunately, I don't think there's really a single digital center-of-interaction which is in regular use by all of the group, which is a major contributing factor.  I know Alex, my father, and I aren't really facebook users, for example, which is probably the closest thing.  While everyone is on obsidian portal, it's hindered by the forum structure (I like old-style forums, but I get the feeling others do not), crappy UI, and infrequency of checking.  It would probably be straightforward to get an IRC channel somewhere, which would also enable logging in a way that voice comms do not...
  • As mentioned in a previous post, scheduling has been fun, and unreliable attendance and tardiness are high.  This problem is only likely to get worse as sleep cycles diverge further; if I'm getting up at 0600 EST (if sun is up, cat is up.  If cat is up, I'm going to be awake whether I like it or not) and Drew is getting up at 1100 PST, opportunities for 4-6 hours of overlapping free time are going to be hard to come by.
  • DM burnout.  That's my excuse, at least, and my understanding from discussions with Alex drew a somewhat similar impression (setting burnout for him).  It's just been so long since I actually ran a decent game that it's rather discouraging.  Maybe you West Coasties and Yinzers have more fun things to do out there, but if one of y'all would be willing to assume the mantle, I for one would not be ungrateful.

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