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What would you want from an online board game design tool?

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TheMob
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Update: Online demo here: http://www.loota.com/protohut/?12345

Hi,

I'm sort of lurker in these forums, and haven't posted often (entered challenge once though - http://www.bgdf.com/node/47)... but now thought to ask a bit of feedback.

I've been thinking of doing an online ajax based boardgame tool that would help people 'play' boardgames online. I initially started thinking of this to test sort of a (easier) Diplomacy type of game with some of my friends. The basic idea of online system would be that first of all it would be easy to start using it (no need to download anything, or support Java or flash - just basic Firefox/IE + Javascript support would be enough). To start a new board, you wouldn't need to register - just click 'start new board' and it would generate a random link to you (for example thefancyboardgametool.com?2z94a5mp5Q61S) which you could then share with other people. The benefit of course is that (1) it would be online tool and (2) good software support.

Now, for functionality, I would like to get some feedback. What sort of features would you want from a tool like this?

Here's my list so far for basic features:
- Possibility to create a new board and share it with your friends
- Possibility to upload pictures (to create some sort of 'pool of art' for you)
- Possibility to create objects that use pictures from 'pool of art'
- Possibility to move objects in the field
- Possibility to move objects under & on top of each other (as in you can make sure that 'map' is under 'tower unit' and not vica versa)
- The 'new board' must automatically save each move (so that each player sees the same board and can exit the game & come back to see the current state of the game)
- Moves are updated real-time

(With these features alone, one could play Democracy in the board - first you could upload a map (800x600 for example) and then upload units (30x30 or something) and then you could create different units for different players and play the game.

Then some additional features I had in mind:
- Chat (although I think this one isn't so important in the beginning - if you play with friends then you can use Messenger or skype or something to chat with people)
- Throw dice (again I think this is not so important, after all - you as the designer can handle dice throwing and if you cannot trust your friends - then why play with them?)
- Unit front side visible only to certain player (it would be possible to flip units so that they would show only the back of the unit to the other player. With this, you could upload playing cards and then each player could see only their own cards).
- Unit visible only to own player (bit same as above, but so that the unit wouldn't be seen at all by other players. Not sure how practical this could be in board games, but something to consider I think)
- Deck, and shuffling it (one could create decks and link units to a deck. Deck could be considered as 'an area somewhere' and when one clicks 'shuffle', the units in the deck would be shuffled. For card games this would be very practical. The usability should be thought well here).

One more thing: downloadable or not?
Another consideration is if this tool should be downloadable instead of online? You could still 'play' it with your friends, but both of you'd need to download the tool first and then connect (one is the server, other joins the game). Everything would stay the same, except you could not 'give link to your friend'. (Oh, and of course the downloadable version's graphics could be more fancy and it would have more smooth moves etc. - since the connection is much faster than basic http calls online)

Which one you'd prefer:
1) Online non-downloadable version (AJAX+Javascript web page tool)
2) Downloadable version (supports win/unit/mac)
3) Either way is fine...

Notice:
I must say that I don't plan to have any kind of 'automatic calculation' ("if unit A attacks unit B, then do X damage"). All this needs to be handled by the designer. Also notice that I'm gathering info before making the decision on how to proceed (or not). All feedback would be most welcom.

seo
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Kitchen Table

You might be interested in this page from the old wiki site, about Kitchen Table, a virtual playtesting application doho123 was developing. He reached a pretty advanced state, but life tends to get in the middle for ambitious projects like these.

InvisibleJon
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I prefer the web-based application option.

TheMob wrote:
Which one you'd prefer:
1) Online non-downloadable version (AJAX+Javascript web page tool)
2) Downloadable version (supports win/unit/mac)
3) Either way is fine...
I'd prefer web-based only (option #1). Why? It works on any computer with an internet connection, and it reduces the overhead for the developer (you). Reduced overhead means that you spend more time developing nifty features and less time having to futz with making it work on each platform and such.

bluesea
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Ideally it is this:

Ideally it is this: Parametric Inkscape with basic integration of spreadsheets, random number generator, and the ability for multiple users/designers to collaborate...and downloadable for those of us with slow, dodgy internet connections.

other things:
1. Have a PLAY MODE and a DESIGN MODE. In PLAY MODE things set them selves to certain *states*, e.g., hidden information, fog of war turns on, immovable object, character generates based on given range of parameters, etc. DESIGN MODE, everything is editable.
2. You need a dice roller! (Seven-sided dice. YES!)
3. EZ PEEZY Card Creator--collaborate with NanDeck to make a *better* user interface that dummies like me can use and incorporate it into the app.
4. Each GAME could be stored as a database of parameters and upload to a site and played online.
5. KEEP IT VERY SIMPLE TO START!! We'll tell you when we really need something. :)
6. FREE??

Quote:
I must say that I don't plan to have any kind of 'automatic calculation' ("if unit A attacks unit B, then do X damage"). All this needs to be handled by the designer.

I would want some ability for the app to make calcs, if nothing more than reading the result of a spreadsheet or doing the sums on certain game variables.

Inkscape is open source, can you start with this and just modify? I'm sure it's not that easy.

TheMob
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seo wrote:You might be

seo wrote:
You might be interested in [this page](http://archive.bgdf.com/tiki-index.php?page=Virtual+Playtesting+Software...) from the old wiki site, about Kitchen Table, a virtual playtesting application doho123 was developing. He reached a pretty advanced state, but life tends to get in the middle for ambitious projects like these.

Hey, this is cool, and it has plenty of those ideas listed I was thinking of. Thanks! Some of those features aren't needed very early (for example the dice - everybody can throw dice in their own home). The 'rotating card' option is bit tricky. I'm afraid browser based card rotation would be quite hard (there's no CSS, so it would possibly need to generate new rotated images) - but of course in downloadable version this would be no big deal.

As for those 'admin modes' I was thinking that maybe some sort of basic admin system could be useful.

One more thing I remembered: "player turn" indicator. This could be useful for some purposes.

Is there a way to create poll - would be nice to see 'downloadable' versus 'non-downloadable' votes - since both have their pros and cons. (downloadable meaning faster & smoother user interface, non-downloadable means slower interface but easier to start using).

Any more votes on that 'poll'? :)

TheMob
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No "download" & "offline"

No "download" & "offline" version. It would be either downloadable or non-downloadable. Must have some restrictions if you intend to get something done ;)

[design mode]
There would be no things like 'immovable object' - all these would need to be explained by the designer. :)
(well, maybe it would be possible to lock object somehow... after all you don't want to accidentally move the 'board' under objects :))

Can you give more specific reasons why 'designer mode' would be needed?

[dice roller]
okay, maybe some very simple Javascript random number generator. It's not a big deal, but seriously guys - you have dice :)

[card creator]
Nope, this wouldn't be a card creation software - but prototyping software. Card stuff is generated & uploaded by the designer :)

[game]
there would be no concept of game - just 'kitchen table' :)

[very simple to start]
this would suggest that you'd prefer "slower" non-downloadable version?

[free]
at least in the beginning ;)
(maybe some sort of non-intrusive ads at some point, like every time sombody 'launches board' it would show ad or something - but money would of course be needed to continue developing the software. Free software has bad habit of getting no updates ;))

[Inkscape]
Not sure if that's any useful :D

Taavet
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Online Browser App

Don't really have much experience at all with playtesting or programming or even using existing programs to playtest. So I don't really have much useful feedback but would rather have an online browser app so I could send link to a few online and we could playtest and collaborate.

Solo play? Anyway to make yourself play several different players for when you just wanna test something simple instead of whole game and can't find friends?

drewdane
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sounds good so far, but...

I like where you're going with this. (btw, my vote is online) but I would never play a game in which I was not able to watch the other players roll dice. This needs to be open, and transparent. Maybe you have trustworthy friends, but for the rest of us, that's kind of hit and miss.

TheMob
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Quote:This needs to be open,

Quote:
This needs to be open, and transparent. Maybe you have trustworthy friends, but for the rest of us, that's kind of hit and miss.

Heh, well - do you guys really play offline with some people who aren't trustworthy? I don't :)
With that being said... I'd say that some sort of 'log' system could be useful: each dice roll & each action could be Logged and visible to the user (like "player B threw D6, result 3" or "player C moved unit N to place Y" - or similar).

Quote:

Don't really have much experience at all with playtesting or programming or even using existing programs to playtest. So I don't really have much useful feedback but would rather have an online browser app so I could send link to a few online and we could playtest and collaborate.

cool - that's the basic idea.

Quote:
Solo play? Anyway to make yourself play several different players for when you just wanna test something simple instead of whole game and can't find friends?

Yeh, sure. I was thinking that you could easily "switch to player X" or something (at least if you have the DESIGNER RIGHTS) to proceed.

---

By the way... the very, very early (and first) version is here now: http://loota.com/kitchentable/?123 (only ?123 works...) - you can move stuff :)

Taavet
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The force is with Yoda

I can't get Jabba to stay over Yoda. Apparently, Yoda is just too strong for Jabba to deal with or he just likes being on top?

Looks good so far! Thanks, keep up the good work.

Nando
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What would you want from an online board game design tool?

I would want this: http://www.zuntzu.com/index.htm

Except without the Windows-only bit.

larienna
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Zuntsu and Vassal

In my to do list, I wrote that I should learn zuntsu and vassal. The objective was that by making prototype with these tools, I could get more playtest done.

I have not digged in these language yet and I don't think I really want to . I don't think the amount of time spent at programming a prototype would really worth the feedback I would get.

So my question is: What do you have better to offer than these software so that it's worth it to create a virtual prototype?

The only thing I could see is

- Easier to program to shorten the developement time.
- Be able to play as hotseat so that you do not need to find people online to test a game.
- Assume that many games would be incomplete, since they are prototype. So have an engine flexible enough to play incomplete games.

So right now, I don't see much advantages. The only one being that the player can play a prototype without printing and cutting the game.

seo
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TheMob wrote:By the way...

TheMob wrote:
By the way... the very, very early (and first) version is here now: http://loota.com/kitchentable/?123 (only ?123 works...) - you can move stuff :)

It's cool to see you're already coding. :)
Not sure if using doho's "KitcheTable" name is the best choice, though. Not just because for many of us that's his application, but also because if he ever decides to revive the project, two similar apps with the same name might lead to confusion.

TheMob
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Good catch. Please suggest a

Good catch. Please suggest a new name! :)

[benefits]

Quote:
"The only one being that the player can play a prototype without printing and cutting the game."

- Yeh, that's the main benefit. And that's a big benefit. Just think about how easily you can use art from the internetz to test out your game (just type url and you are done... ;)

Playtesting: first I'd say it's better to find your own players. There won't be "anti-cheat" system so you need to find guys who can help you out - and who you can trust. (besides - who would prototype games & playtest games with people who try to cheat in the game? :D)

--

Since there's downloadable versions like ZunTzu and VASSAL - I think it makes no sense to try make another downloadable version. Online version it'll be.

Mitchell Allen
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Online Playtesting

I like this concept. I would have voted for a downloadable component with Internet support, but you seem to have settled on online-only.
Here is my (last-ditch?) plea for reconsideration of a downloadable aspect:
If you have limited bandwidth allotments, or a slow connection, it would be nice to be able to test your uploads ahead of time. Perhaps the sizes aren't what you expected, or the colors look bad, or the font is unreadable in the system.
Other than that, an online-only system would be perfect. And I agree, it does eliminate the system dependence. But you could probably make a localhost type lashup that uses the designer's browser.

Here are a few questions:
1. Will you store the game session in a database?
2. Related to #1, will designers be able to replay a session?
3. Will the system support modular boards? (Tile-laying games)

About cheating: I'm sure this has been discussed ad nauseum, however, as a design tool, cheating can help to expose flaws in the mechanics.
Of course, you would need a "designated cheater" - someone who enjoys looking for exploits and loopholes. With a compiled database of common exploits, designers can "harden" their prototypes against them :)

I suppose that's another project, though...

Cheers,

Mitch

TheMob
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Okay, v0.2 updated... now it

Okay, v0.2 updated... now it has art creation (you can upload assets or use URLs). Assets are listed on right side menu (they'll probably go to left side at some point, but right now they are right side). Clicking assets creates a new unit (that uses the art from the asset). Also got rotations (90/180/270/360 degrees) to work right now... (you need to move the unit after you've rotated it to ensure that the info is stored to DB) :)

As you've probably noticed, you can drag & drop stuff.

Quote:
downloadable component with Internet support, but you seem to have settled on online-only.

Yep. Since there were already several downloadable systems, I thought this was ok.

The amount of data this transfers is not that big - I suppose the major thing are the pic sizes, and if you upload/use small sized pics it should be ok. Wasn't exactly sure what you mean be "test your uploads ahead of time"... but I will make it so that you can 'edit' your uploads (assets) and all units that use those assets will get updated.

Quote:
But you could probably make a localhost type lashup that uses the designer's browser.

Hmm, well I suppose I could provide files for people who wanna set up apaches and whatnot... but I think that's quite of big deal :D

Quote:
1. Will you store the game session in a database?

No. A some sort of log item might be considered at some point (not definitely very near future), but there won't be possibility to 'replay' the game.

The idea is to try to mimick a real playtesting session as closely as possible - and as with offline, the "kitchen table" doesn't save any playtesting sessions. You gotta deal that on your own. I have done all sorts of logging system, so I'd say that it's technically possible to create such 'recording tool', but I think it's too big headache. I'd instead use some sort of screen capture tool (Camtasia or Fraps or something) and record the gameplay as video avi for your own use.

Quote:
2. Related to #1, will designers be able to replay a session?

No... (see also above).

Quote:
3. Will the system support modular boards? (Tile-laying games)

Sure! Have you tested it? Just start your own board & upload assets and you have tile laying game
there. :)

Quote:
cheating

as for "somebody who cheats a die roll"... I have no plans to do anything like that. If there's playtesters who try to cheat (and I don't mea "exploits" or "loopholes" which are more like "flaws in design") then that guy should be kicked out. And that's the final word for this conversation. :)

Mitchell Allen
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Online Playtesting

Thanks for your answers.

I only went to the site to fool around with yoda. I need to get some assets to upload.

Cheers,

Mitch

TheMob
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Mitchell Allen wrote:I only

Mitchell Allen wrote:
I only went to the site to fool around with yoda. I need to get some assets to upload.

Heh, that's cool. Looks like somebody uploaded a board there :D

P.S. I just spotted one JS error, which I gotta deal next. Basically, if the page does not load (or gives javascript error) then simply refreshing the page should help. (It's the rotating code that causes the problems)

P.P.S. I call the tool 'Protohut' - feel free to comment the name.

Mitchell Allen
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Whoz Booard? My Board!

Ha-ha. I wondered if the system was persistent, vs. session-based.
You can delete the board if it gets in the way. I just wanted to play around a bit.

ProtoHut or ProtoShack
Methinks you're on the right track.

Cheers,

Mitch

The Magician
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The first things I would want

The first things I would want are a randome number generator and tools for calculating probabily.

TheMob
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Quote:The first things I

Quote:
The first things I would want are a randome number generator and tools for calculating probabily.

Hmm.... why this keeps popping up? (Hmm, doesn't anyone have dice any more? or calculator? :))

Bear in mind that this is "prototyping/playtesting tool first" ("play with your friends" second) - is it really that important to have (shared) random number generator?

Mitchell Allen wrote:
Ha-ha. I wondered if the system was persistent, vs. session-based.
You can delete the board if it gets in the way. I just wanted to play around a bit.

Persistent of source :)

I'll be adding unit deletion at some point... so soon you should be able to delete it in your own ;)

Quote:
ProtoHut or ProtoShack
Methinks you're on the right track.

Thanks. ProtoShack also sounds good...

End of Time Games
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@ The Mob The reason I say

@ The Mob
The reason I say random number generator tool is because I'm retarded at math. I know calculating probability is simple but if I can have a short cut, it make my right-brained mind easier to work with a design.

TheMob
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End of Time Games wrote:@ The

End of Time Games wrote:
@ The Mob
The reason I say random number generator tool is because I'm retarded at math. I know calculating probability is simple but if I can have a short cut, it make my right-brained mind easier to work with a design.

generating random number = throw die :) (a real die, you have them, right?)
calculating probability = I really recommend learning it, at least the basics (it's not that hard actually). Besides, I'm sure there's tons of calculators already. Just google for "probability calculator" and things should be fine. I doubt that "probability calculating" should occur during the playtesting/prototyping... but rather outside the table so to speak.

(of course I can consider adding something like this, but I need a really good reason for this. "I'm lazy at math" or "I don't have dice" won't do ;))

The Geemus
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online methods

Hi TheMob,

My vote is for the browser-based online-only version, if you're still taking input.

Another source you can consider for inspiration is an online "collaborative whiteboarding" tool like twiddla:
http://www.twiddla.com/
They have drawing tools, color picking, image upload, chat, etc.
All of it is multi-user collaborative, just like your system is intended to be.
I don't think they have image rotation... only resizing (by dragging on corner).

I know it isn't catered to the gaming or game design community (unlike your solution), but it does most of the tricks you're talking about and maintains the flexibility you desire.

Good luck and stay ambitious,
The Geemus

End of Time Games
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The Geemus, this is so rad

The Geemus, this is so rad twoddla.com! Thanks for sharing this site!

TheMob
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Thanks, great link for

Thanks, great link for inspiration.

Twiddla.com looked to have very slick user interface, but I think it's indeed more about 'drawing' and has all sort of stuff that won't be needed for game stuff (and lacks some stuff), stuff like rotations / flipping.. and other points already considered.

---

Browser based this is - and all feedback is more than welcome.

By the way, the table 123 got so crowded that here's a new link...:
http://www.loota.com/protohut/?12345

Now this has also multi-user displaying (it should show mouse cursors of other users...)

Howitzer_120mm
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If it's internet based (only

If it's internet based (only online), then you can be almost anywhere to play. And often times you aren't carrying dice around with you.

How about pieces that you can flip over (random events on the back) or something like that. That would work for cards.

Looks cool, I'll be following this one.

Howitzer_120mm
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More ideas

Ok, so what happens if you go here?
http://www.loota.com/protohut/

Also, let's say you have a track (VP track) and you want to keep score on it. If you accidentally click the track, it'll move to the top. I think a good thing to have would be a tiny "menu" button on each piece. Let's you rotate, move to top, lock in place, etc.

And double sided pieces are a must. And "flip" goes to the menu.

And for special dice - let's say you designated 10 symbols for a 10 sided die. The die could be a "piece" and then you could menu-> roll/randomize , then it would choose one of the symbols. If you implemented this system, then people could just create a d6 with symbols "1, 2,3,4,5,6".

TheMob
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Howitzer_120mm wrote:If it's

Howitzer_120mm wrote:
If it's internet based (only online), then you can be almost anywhere to play. And often times you aren't carrying dice around with you.

Ah, so you mean you could use this when you are at work - shame on you ;)

Ok. Gotta admit that's a good reason. I'll think how to go with this, and add some sort of way to throw dice at some point.

Quote:
How about pieces that you can flip over (random events on the back) or something like that.

Yes, you will be able to flip over all that stuff... but I did not quite understand what you meant by "random events on the back".

Quote:
That would work for cards.

I have been pondering how to deal with cards, and I was thinking of some sort of "container". You could randomly 'shuffle' all the units that are placed in a container. That way you could have deck of cards that you could shuffle.

Other option could be to group items somehow (based on flipside for example), and then shuffle all items automatically based on the 'group' (well, maybe all that are 'face down').

Quote:
Looks cool, I'll be following this one.

Thanks for the support, and comments. All feedback is most welcome.

Willi B
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Don't know how hard this would be to do...

Ability to freehand an orientation in addition to standardized 90 degree rotation?

Howitzer_120mm
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TheMob wrote:Howitzer_120mm

TheMob wrote:
Howitzer_120mm wrote:

How about pieces that you can flip over (random events on the back) or something like that.

Yes, you will be able to flip over all that stuff... but I did not quite understand what you meant by "random events on the back".

I was thinking Battlestar Galactica, where you flip the transport ships to see what happens (see what you lose). That type of idea. Where a piece needs both a front and a back.

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