Monday, January 1, 2018

New Years 2018 - Things to Come



Here we are, New Years' Day ... and I am finishing up my tenth year of writing for the blog.  There have been so many house rules since the start, so many ideas and things I've implemented into my game.  I've written more than 2,500 posts telling people how to play, making up rules and getting into a great many arguments.  I've made bad mistakes as a writer and, occasionally, as a human being.

So, why not make a few resolutions, since today is the day for it.  By now, the Gentle Reader is surely aware that I consider designing D&D to be a journey, not a destination.  So while I will continue to work on many ongoing projects, some of which will never be finished, I also have some new ideas in mind.

I have tested the screen capture software I have on the new computer and it works.  So does the camera and mic I have, so I have made some dry runs in the audio-visual department as well.  I'd like a better mic, and have had some suggestions on that front, but that's something that can easily wait. Here's some things I am thinking about for 2018.

Vlogging

I tend to agree with readers regarding giving D&D advice via talking head.  I have disliked my own efforts in the past, even to the point of deleting them from youtube.  However, it is also true that we get better with things we practice.  I haven't had a lot of practice.  I should get more.  The right path would be to record myself every day, until it gets to where I don't hate what I'm seeing.  I'm going to try that.  Until I have some insight in this regard, I'll say no more.

The Online Campaign

I haven't talked about this with the players, but I'd like to get the Juvenis campaign going again.  Part of the reason it was a headache had to do with the speed of my old computer, which did not happily process images very well, despite the demand with multiple images for combat sequences.  Just now I am struggling with a new version of Publisher, which isn't anywhere near as friendly as the version I've used since 2007... but I'm getting the hang of it.

I should still be able to make images like this ~ even better.

Something I'd like to suggest would be trying an online game, IF the players are confident enough with their images appearing on the internet.  I considered doing it with voices only, but I think that could be confusing.  I certainly don't want to pressure anyone.  I don't think I'd give up the blog ~ but if it proved possible, the videos of the live sessions could be embedded in the Juvenis blog.

A few things about recording.  I have watched the video strategies that others have employed and I must say, I am not a fan.  Problems I have include the dullness of empty, listening player faces, as the DM prattles; nervous grinning and giggling, because a camera is running, adding nothing; competing for verbal space, as people talk over one another; an unchanging view-shot that goes on for hours, without relief; and not enough editing.

I believe that filmmakers are trying to "capture the table vibe" with this sort of depiction ... but it is awful and misses the point of playing in a game altogether.  D&D is not about staring continuously at players.  Most of your eye-movement will be centered on: a) your character sheet; b) whatever the DM is drawing; c) rulebooks or source material; and d) the face of your dice.  Yes, of course you do look at the other players, but not from a vantage point seven feet away, like depicted here:



The very proximity of the players here takes me right out of the game.  It is nothing like real game-play, where the next player's face is two shoulder-widths away.  Where most of the time, you can only look at one fellow player at a time, as you turn your head from side to side.

I've felt for a long time that properly filming a D&D game is a feat in itself.  Each player should be personally cam'd and mic'd.  The game table needs close-up shots as well; the whole thing should be heavily edited, like a film, with camera angles changing to better catch the moment-to-moment interpersonal relationships.  The example above, the most popular online game in the world, is like a cheesy set-piece in a high school play, with less authentic costumes, voice-acting and amateurish character-casting.  Stuff like the above only played on stage when the performers were super-popular jocks, who could memorize two lines before roaring, "San Dimas High School Football Rules!"

Cue cheers.

It might be interested to get players to film themselves on their cells, up close, then cut that together into the general film, but probably not practical.  I have found that my screen capture will simultaneously capture both my main screen and my secondary monitor at the same time.  I'm planning on making some tests to see if I can split the video after recording (I'm pretty sure I can, as the editing program I have will let me change a video's size quite a bit).  This would let me duplicate a second video that would show the screen with the combat maps and images, separate from the video that would show only the players.  The two videos could then be cut together, with the players' voices retaining their continuity, regardless of the editing.  I could line up another personal video of a player filming their dice or their own face, so long as the sound through their computer was consistent with the recorded sound on my own (which should be easy, and the sound mix troubles basically ignored, as I am not yet able to play with sound).

One big problem is this: how do the players see the maps and images I'll be putting on the video, while the game is going on.  I don't have an answer for that one.

On the editing front, I can edit visuals way easy, I've had hundreds of hours of practice.  It would be a lot of work to present one video of game play, but if it worked out as I liked, it would be WAY different from the shit I'm seeing on youtube.

I'll wait to hear back from Pandred, Embla, Englehart and Lothar on this one, but I am definitely going to try this with someone this year.


Podcasting

This is a different thing altogether.  Part of my podcasting experience has shown that one-person podcasts just don't work.  At the same time, I don't seem to be able to rely on any one person to put in the time and the commitment to get into a regular cage match with me on D&D (or most any other subject), for various stated reasons that I completely appreciate.

However, I think that some of you wouldn't mind having a go at me once, so here is what I have in mind.

I'd like to interview Dungeon Masters who are in the process of running a game that is, in some part, of their own design.  It doesn't have to be D&D, but I may need a primer if the game is very obscure.  My agenda would be this:

The first half of the video would be a fact-finding process.  Keeping my own opinion out of it, I would be asking how the DM got started in the game, what they liked about it, why they keep playing, what sorts of things have they learned, how are they applying those things to the game they are playing now and so on.  I'd like to provide the DM ahead of time with all the questions I'm going to ask, to ensure that there are no surprise questions and that the DM had time to prepare.  I would then run through the questions, letting the DM rule the interview, presenting their opinions and position freely and with full knowledge of what was coming.

Then, I believe I would pause the recording, and explain (based on what I had just heard) where I intended to push back.  I would want the interviewed DM to have a few moments to prepare (again, not wanting to blindside anyone), before starting the recording again.  The second part would be, then, somewhat confrontational, but hopefully in the spirit of constructive disagreement, supported by my giving warning before cutting into anyone.

Once I got a few of these recorded and edited, viewers should start to grasp the principle and intent of the interview, enjoying the conflict while recognizing that the participants did not seem to be taking it personally.  It would still be a cage match, but the agenda would be to inform and deconstruct, not to shame and humiliate.

Obviously, I can't count on any famous people to come forward and be interviewed, but I don't think that matters.  I believe that the best DMs on the internet are familiar with or reading this blog ... and I further believe that the everyday DM has more to say about the creation of a good game than celebrities would.

I haven't got questions yet, but I am researching into it and it is really just a matter of applying myself for a few hours.  Obviously, a few guests will mean a change is needed, so there's no need to feel a strong need to be exact in this regard.

I would like to start interviewing people in January; I've lined up a few people on facebook about this, but I have made no definite appointments.

In Conclusion

So, this is what my superior computer will let me do.  I'm probably biting off more than I can chew, like I did with the comic last year; but that comic was a fun ride while it lasted and I may find myself going back to something like it one day (maybe a serial; people liked that idea).  For now, here is where my thoughts are.  It is just day-to-day from here.

13 comments:

Pandred said...

I would doubtless be nervous to do anything like a webcam setup, but the situation you describe where we can see the map while filming our own cells is something I know can be done.

I don't have any clue how, but I am 100% positive it's possible.

I'm very glad to hear that Juvenis will ride again, regardless of the way we decide to continue.
Frogaland is ours for the taking!

Alexis Smolensk said...

omg ...

I had never remotely thought of "Frogaland." That's brilliant!

Archon said...

I haven't been keeping up with your campaigns.

I would definitely like to see something like this done, and would be willing to help/participate.

You could use a system like skype or discord or twitch to stream your screen to the players, who could then view it on their computers. Since so many modern laptops come with webcams, you could use that to record people's faces, if you wanted to. This works especially well, since people will likely be staring at their screen a lot during the game.

With regard to the podcast, It would possibly be more effective to record your pauses, and only edit them out after the recording, which would make is easier to get the most useful parts of the argument; I don't know if that overcomes the points you were trying to make.

Does any of that help?

Alexis Smolensk said...

I was thinking of Google Hangouts for communication; it is easiest. I am not yet sure how that looks with multiple users at the same time ~ will need some experimentation.

A webcam is what I expect will capture the user's faces, but it does end up feeling static, as we can't easily get up and move around while remaining on camera. But there are of course limitations to everything.

I will have to do some research on streaming.

Samuel Kernan said...

Excited for what lies ahead! These + the ongoing infrastructure, dev, etc project = a lot of cool content.

Steven Grover said...

If I understand what you want to record correctly, Maptools by RPTools can do what you want by providing a map you see on your machine and the players see on their machines.

I have been using this for a weekly in-house game over the last 5 years. Initially the players were looking at a projection of the map on the wall, then to a wide screen TV on the wall. Currently everyone has their own laptop at the table with the Maptool client connected to the DM machine. This gives each player only the view their character can see based on their position on the map.

There are other VTT available, Fantasy Grounds, Roll20, Table Top Simulator to name a few. Some are free, some cost at purchase, some have recurring costs.

Shelby Urbanek said...

Sorry I'm late to the party on this one, just got caught up after the holiday. I'm totally up for resuming the Juvenis campaign. Timing for a live game might be interesting, but I'm willing to make the effort.

I have used roll20 to conduct my games on the projector in my living room pretty smoothly. However, if that particular product is used, I recommend having one of the players record their screen/session so that DM-side information is kept as a surprise. That should be easy enough to cut in during editing.

JB said...

The podcast "interviews" you propose sound like an incredibly awesome series. Would love to hear it (assuming you can find some brave souls willing to risk vivisection).
; )

Best wishes for the New Year!

Alexis Smolensk said...

Perhaps you'd like to take a crack at it, JB.

JB said...

@ Alexis:

If I was currently running a campaign (or even a weekly game), I’d certainly volunteer, if only to have the opportunity for an actual conversation with you! At the moment, the only thing I could offer is historical info, which I don’t think is very useful to the discussion.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I've heard this tale of being out of the loop more than once, now, and I strongly disagree. We don't discount the experience and personal knowledge of athletes when they cease to be athletes, we encourage them to take positions as coaches, instructors, sports journalists, managers and organizers, where the experience they have accumulated will be useful to others who have not seen and learned everything there is.

Your present status as a DM would seem, to me, a matter of complete indifference. I recognize that there are some who dubiously insist that if you aren't running a campaign right now, it must be that there is something wrong with you, but this is precisely the sort of attitude I want to overcome. In any case, there would be no requirement to dictate on what dates or of what number of years have passed in either the questions or the answers on the podcast.

JB said...

Ah. I got caught up in the part about interviewing DMs “who are in the process of running a game” (I assumed you meant “currently”).

If such is not an issue, I’d be happy to participate.
: )

Dani Osterman said...

I'm sorry to be so late in responding to this. I love all of this. I'm happy we will get to continue exploring Frogaland, and I think doing our own game video would be fantastic. Count me in!