Friday, April 02, 2010

Skype and roleplaying

One thing I always meant to play with since I got a T1 line is webcam stuff, and since my Eee has a webcam built in and Skype preinstalled, it only made sense to try it there. It only took a few minutes to set it up, and last night I got to test it out with a friend, and it worked very easily (even if she had to comb her hair before she'd turn on her webcam!).

One thing we talked about is how this might be used for roleplaying games. The friend in question lives a long way away. She's visited a few times and gotten to roleplay with us, but that's the only roleplaying she's done apart from some games at cons and online games like MUDs. (She's just too busy to find or found a group in her area.) She'd like to join in our group, but she's far too far away. (Realistically, if she were nearer, I bet she'd still not have time, but anyway...)

So could she play with us via Skype? Certainly, trying to play with us by text chat is not viable. Chat is too slow even when everyone's chatting; playing via IRC is possible, I've done it a few times, but it's slow enough that it's a qualitatively different experience. But if most of you are talking you can't possibly keep up with one person who is chatting. Voice fixes that, but I wonder how much webcam adds. In practical terms, not much: the camera's not fast or clear enough for me to hold up visual aids, nor could she see a combat map or figurines with it, without a lot of fiddling. These things would be much better handled by sending images, or using a cooperative website for mapping like ScreenMonkey. So what would webcam really provide? Mostly an emotional sense of presence and involvement, which is probably important.

I'm imagining having my Eee sitting at one end of the table so the person on Skype can see the rest of us, and vice versa. Wonder if the audio could be made to work well enough in that configuration. But I wonder how practical it would be to have more than one person brought in that way. Assuming the network connection and processing power could handle it, I'd certainly need a lot more screen real estate. Might be that the Eee is not up to the task there, and I'd have to get a webcam for my laptop (and HDMI it up to the TV perhaps). Plus I'd have to figure out a way to integrate some kind of combat map and visual aid sharing method. And then there's my player display: how could I make that visible to the remote player(s)? Seems like doing it really right demands a custom application that combines ScreenMonkey with Skype and other stuff... which would be great, but who's going to make it?

If anyone else has already tried this, I'd like to hear how it worked, and what you'd suggest about making it work better.

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