A GEARVR NEWS SUGGESTION PIECE
NOTICE: This article is really long because it contains all of my ideas for about a year in one place. Read at your leisure, when you have the time, interest, and pure stubbornness to do so.
AltSpaceVR has established itself as the premium group-based mobile-avatar chat program across PC’s and GearVR. It offers avatar-based VR chat in Public rooms of various descriptions ranging from card games to chess to outdoor mazes … and finally there’s D&D, thanks to a license granted by Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) permitted with their blessing. WOTC even provided some cool CGI footage for AltSpaceVR to use in their viral YouTube video advertising to authenticate this amazing partnership! Unfortunately at the moment though, the D&D room offered by AltSpaceVR is only supported on PC. And what a pity that is, as the majority of VR users at this time are GearVR users. Even Facebook doesn’t think that this trend (of mobile devices being the most prolific VR devices) is all that likely to change for a quite a while.
But I have to give the AltSpaceVR creators some credit, this is a great idea, one that really takes the cake! Since this partnership was announced last year, I haven’t stopped thinking about D&D in the arenas of VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality). Because D&D could really shine in both areas, no doubt; not only shine, but be taken to a whole new level and be revived like never before. D&D in VR and AR could be so awesome that it might explode out of the slow decline that’s been crippling it for the past decade. AR would be the coolest looking method, once AR is perfected in 5-10 years as the field of view widens to cover a lot more than it can today. But AR still suffers the setback of requiring the people to meet face to face and sit around an actual table, eat snacks and clutter up someone’s home, coordinating everyone’s schedule for those long 8-12 hour games, not to mention the long drives to and fro. VR, however, solves almost every detriment of the old D&D lifestyle while keeping and enhancing all of its good aspects. So it’s: “VR for the win!”
Despite the slow decline, WOTC hasn’t thrown in the towel yet, that’s for sure. Their sales may still be pretty good, but with iPhone/iPad games, and so many game consoles on the market, interest in table-top gaming has steadily declined since D&D’s epic rise in the 80’s and 90’s to become the crowning achievement of the publishing world. They had so many books and game accessories, it seemed their Kingdom would never end. Then all at once, so many of the teens who were obsessed with D&D had to get lives, find wives, and settle down … in far away places no longer close to their familiar gaming circles. D&D, for many, sadly fell by the way side, a thing to be remembered like a long-lost treasure.
“It’s mine, MINE!!!! It’s my own … m-my pwecious!”
Now, however, the sudden emergence of VR is the very thing that could undo all of the problems with getting the old gang back together for a session. It could literally open the floodgates for a renewed sense of interest in D&D like never before. WOTC stands to gain hugely from VR and AR in the next 1o years if those creating the VR/AR versions take this their VR versions seriously and make sure to come at it from entirely new angles as this article will discuss. Because VR has the power to breathe all new life back into this by providing fresh and amazing tabletop experiences.
One thing to consider is that VR allows access to CPU’s that can crunch numbers more accurately and faster, remote-controlling many aspects of gaming that the DM (the Dungeon Master) had to do himself. DM’ing was almost a full time job for those involved in tabletop D&D. It took 20 hours per game to get the details down, plan the monsters, plan the storyline, write dialogues, alternate routes, maps, dungeon diagrams, plan the treasure to dole out after each battle… it was exhausting. But so fun, too! But having access to the VR HMD’s CPU’s will allow for mitigating some of those burdens, allowing the DM to change roles somewhat, becoming a Director, Actor, Thespian, and Guide. And not get bogged down in some of those extraneous details that slowed the action down.
I feel it is the duty of the app to help wherever it can by offloading the heaviest items onto the CPU. It should be able to generate a group of monsters with various differing statistics and set them up for the DM in one of his Tomes for tracking during battle, and provide the figurines at the same time. He would “Create Battle Group” based on 1-3 differing monsters the DM chooses from a list. It pulls them, assigns their stats, and creates a nice list in one of his Tomes. Starting and tracking a battle would nearly be effortless, as it should be.
The app should also be able to track Initiative in a nice Tome list. It should be able to reference the same information sets that used to be on the famous DM Screens of old. It should be able to generate treasure for the party after a battle, randomly, by knowing their levels, and having a luck factor determined by the DM before rolling the treasure. It should know the spells a monster has and with a click of a button suggest to the DM a good spell he might use from each particular NPC or monster. He could of course override this and choose one he likes from the list. But a suggestion interface would help new DM’s out a lot. The games would be a lot easier to get going for newbies, that’s for sure. It should help him track on-going constant effect damage for players and monsters and alert him when the a new round begins that it’s updated all the monsters with the constant-effect damage so he can rest easy. In short, wherever the CPU can be used to track something for the DM, it should. The DM can focus on telling the best story he can and using his assets in the way which will facilitate that. With less to stress out over, the DM can do a better job actually DM’ing and capturing the mood, retaining the flow of action, and preserving the fun of the game. It is the duty of the VR app to do what it can where it can.
HOW ALTSPACEVR’s D&D ROOM WORKS NOW:
The D&D Room is incredibly festive and amazing. It’s set in a “ye olde tavern“-style pub with a roaring-pit open fire. There’s a series of books along one wall, some giant beer barrels, a large fire pit, and some extra chairs (seen in the photo below). This makes roleplaying that much more Cosplay Style than ever before. You are literally in a world very much like the one you are obsessing about, and D&D suddenly feels way more inviting. Plus, as a DM, I can think of a ton of ways to use this room’s extra features that would add to my games immensely (as I will discuss later).
The room is NOT actually called the “D&D Room,” it’s listed as the “Tavern Gaming Space” and it is currently a Public Space. That means you can’t yet host a private room for just you and your band of merry players. From time to time, other people will pop into your space to disrupt your adventures and nose around in your things. I don’t much care for that, but in researching this article, I just saw that they’ve fixed this issue recently. Now DM’s CAN host private rooms for a group of friends he’s selected. Nice! Having strangers pop in and out and bumble about interfering in my mood, as a DM, would’ve bothered me to no end! DM’s like control over their environment, and I don’t really want to show off my DM’ing skills to random strangers … except for the random strangers who joined my campaign and are willing to give back through their own dialogue, role playing, and unique choices. So thanks for fixing this issue already, guys!
Next, located in the back of the room, there is the actual gaming table, with space for up to seven players and one DM, or eight gamers. There is a projection screen on the wall behind the DM upon which any custom graphics, bestiary images, or maps (as seen above) which can be loaded by the DM for enhancing the mood or bringing monsters to life. Below you on the table are boards of tiles (which maps you can build and save beforehand) in a variety of styles for creating immersive outdoor landscapes, dungeons, or other things like battle zones to explore and interact with.
Each player stands around this table in his assigned place using an AltSpaceVR avatar as seen in the photo above. My 1st point is that except for the DM, all player avatars should use the same models they use for their player character on the board below them. There should be no robot avatars allowed in the Tavern Gaming Space by default!
(Suggestion #1: Keep Avatar/Tabletop Models Identical to Each Other!)
There would be a small model and a large model, allowing for a kind of “Cosplay-style recognition” for other players between their tabletop-board models and room-scale VR-avatar models. This would help set the mood even more, but also allow for easier identification of which models correspond to which avatars. This would let us get used to matching both parts of a person’s aspect at once without a thought or any confusion.
In the photo above, we see a typical tile arrangement that can be created by the DM and saved before the game even begins … to speed up battles. It also allow the DM to get all the details just right without annoying the gamers with a long set up time. The DM can also lock the tiles in place, preventing them from being picked up or moved around by himself or others inadvertently. In locked mode, a wall comes up to let the DM know the board is safely locked, but all of the NPC’s and PC models may still be easily picked up and moved, or rotated (shown below) without concern.
Here (above) we see the table from the DM’s perspective. On the left, you can see different load out arrangements, from character pieces, to beast models, to tiles and tile sets. Click left or right to switch over to the load out you require. Place the tiles you want, get everything just right, and then lock the board. Now add NPC’s, monsters and such, then save the board in one of your many board slots. You can even use a TinyURL to help you remember it directly if you wish. Once you recall the table later, everything is right there, and the PC’s can place their characters on the board where you require them to as DM. If this is a combat scene, roll Initiative and begin!
Here (on the right side of the image above) we can see a really important aspect of AltSpaceVR’s user interface, the Tomes. Each player has up to three Tomes, front, left side, and right side. It’s possible to have all three open, but the front-facing one often blocks the table view, so they suggest not using it. The Tomes are windows only your character can see, floating all around you, in which you can open several different things which are very useful.
For example, you can access your Character Sheet to keep track of your stats, and take session notes (keyboard required). You can use another Tome to load up the Player’s Handbook to reference information you need to know about for whatever spells or skill you may be preparing to do. They are basically just in-line web browsers, so you could also just load info on a spell you need directly from Google or any way you want. They are there to provide access to information without having to take off your VR headset to read actual books, and to keep you from having to leave the VR environment.
Above the table is where the dice are located. Select one die or multiple dice and then click the dropper to toss them onto the board below. The dice fall, bounce around, are calculated, and displayed for all to see (as shown below).
The dice roll around but do not disturb the pieces or tiles. When you are satisfied you’ve seen your roll and added your math, you can remove the dice to clean off the board. It’s all very easy and intuitive.
One of the great features of D&D in AltSpaceVR is the use of something called a Soundboard. The Soundboard has a variety of sounds that the DM can click to play either a piece of background music or fire off a special sound effect like a dragon’s roar to enhance the fear and excitement of the situation unfolding before the party.
Currently however, the Soundboard has been removed from AltSpaceVR for some reason. This is horrible news. Perhaps it was causing too many bugs or crashes, and had to be redesigned. I would like to know if it will be returned to the Tavern Gaming Space in the future, as I have a number of cool ideas associated and layered over top of it that relied on it’s functionality to perform.
(Suggestion #2: Soundboard-to-Tile “x” Linking!)
Once the Soundboard feature is returned to AltSpaceVR, can we have a way to link a square on the board with a certain soundboard audio file? How it would work is that when a player puts his piece on that square, once he’s completed the move, a second later a hidden sound linked to that square would be activated. This causes the sound of a trap being sprung or a monster snarling at them in some way the DM can interpret after the jump-scare is over.
These sounds would come included and could be anything from a monster’s howl/roar, to a series of chains being released, a pulley system activating, or some scary noise that comes from deep underground. The idea is to use audio files linked to board squares to emit sounds that can create mystery or fear without having to actually say it out loud. Since you would already have these tools in place, linking them seems quite an easy thing to do. And would be saved with the board. The DM would be able to see the sound markers on each square but the players would not.
(Suggestion #3: Bring Soundboard to the Fireplace)
I think it’s more moody and exciting to be able to tell the opening story of our game, having story elements told, while players are gathered around the fireplace. For that reason, the Soundboard should be able to follow the DM to the fire pit. Players should be able to sit down (emote style) cross-legged to enjoy the story in a relaxed mood while the DM stands above them menacingly. During this, the fire is blazing and the players can see the DM clearly standing next to the fire from where they are sitting.
It would be cool if the game master could control the fire level. If the DM has a particularly scary moment to emphasize, the fire might suddenly double in size and have a sound effect such as a legion of screaming demons coming out of it (or other hauntingly scary sounds).
In addition, it would be cool to have a few spells that could come out of the fire during this time, to heighten the visual atmosphere. Or maybe … you know how we can beam an image onto the big screen? What if we could beam an image inside the fire so players could see that image coming through the fire, faintly? Any white-background elements should become invisible … so maybe the image could get chroma-keyed somehow to take the white background out when in the fire? The DM could prepare a pre-game slide-show hosted magically inside the fire, each image appearing to warp and writhe inside the fire. The fire would have to be constructed in layers so that it has actual 3D Volume for the images to sit inside.
(Suggestion #4: End Story Intro with Transitional Trumpets & Tent Unveiling)
When the story concludes, there is a button to “End Story Mode” which will begin the game. At the pressing of this button by the DM, a trumpet sounds over the gaming table (VR positional audio) signalling the beginning of the game. A cool 3D tent had already surrounded the gaming table when Story Mode begins. As the player arrive, moving away from the fire pit to approach the board, this tent drops down and fades away, revealing the first map which the DM loaded in advance of “Story Mode.” It contains all of the monsters and or set pieces already in place. The game has begun….
(Suggestion #5: Templates for Personalizing Dice)
Players tend to think that dice are personal. And that the luck they get come from having their own unique dice. Bad luck comes from touching other people’s dice. This is kind of normal thing to experience during gaming sessions. Therefore, there should be at least a few different dice-model types that can also be further customized to a specific color. So each player can have their own dice attached to them. When it’s their turn to roll dice, the dice change into their dice. Everyone sees the dice change and they know whose dice are whose. That way, they won’t feel another person’s bad luck will affect the currently “communal dice” that are offered in the Tavern Gaming Space.
(Suggestion #6: Required Dice Rolls Shown Over Player Required to Make the Roll)
If a trap was sprung and a certain player needs a 16 or better to evade damage, it would be cool if a that “16” would float above his head temporarily until after the dice roll. The DM could also place any number over a player’s head for the other to see that can only dispelled upon rolling the required combination of dice. So that means the user in question would also get a notice: “Roll a 1D6 + 1D4 now” and as per Suggestion #5, their default dice would load for them at once. This feature would make it so that all the players can follow this event’s outcome with more personal involvement and anticipation.
(Suggestion #7: Project Dice Rolls onto the Big Screen)
Essentially, this is for players that aren’t at the table. If any player is for any reason not at the table when a roll occurs, the Tavern will know and throw close up video of the roll in process on the Big Screen on the wall behind the DM. Or if everyone likes it for some reason, it could be set to do that for every dice roll, returning the previous image immediately afterwards.
(Suggestion #8: 3D Tile Stacking – More Deep Tabletop)
Allow us to raise the terrain, showing hills and valleys, cities built on an incline, or winding dungeons that slope down. Stacked tiles would add tons more immersion. Eventually, we would (a few years from now) be able to look forward to creating the same amazing 3D gaming sets that WOTC created for their tabletop cardboard cities and buildings construction sets. We will start to make the gaming table look like those VR-enabled full-terrain maps that we are now standing over and looking down in. You know the A.R. video by Microsoft showing Minecraft sitting on a table in your living room? We can turn that around and use that visualization for VR, but it works better because of the larger FOV of most VR units. Opposed to Hololens’s 20-degrees of FOV which sucks.
One Reddit user, bloodfist, in his own D&D thread giving similar suggestions, wrote:
“Tiles should stack in 3D. It can’t be too hard to give them a z-index and there is already the “stacking blocks” app to rip code from. This would allow more customization of maps, and building 3D terrain and structures.”
All I can say is “thanks for backing me up here” because I feel this is an essential suggestion for making D&D in VR the ultimately coolest it can be. VR has depth, so why not project that depth onto the D&D tabletop, too?
(Suggestion #9: AltSpaceVR Cloud Repository)
I say let us not only save those tile maps and 3D boards … but let us be able to publish them to a Cloud Repository for the Tavern Gaming Space. So we can not only see what other DM’s are creating with the tile sets, but make use of them in our own games! This would allow us to use the best designed boards in existence in our own games without too much effort. It’s already hard being a DM, so let’s allow the community’s work … to WORK FOR ALL OF US!
(Suggestion #10: Realistic Fires for Tabletop Battles)
Can you imagine if the DM could start a fire on a tabletop map? Now a fire is burning. Players would be able to see the fire’s proximity to their figurines and react accordingly, as their characters really would. Each round the fire would progress, (in a simulated way … round by round only, not second by second). It would spread naturally based on the rules of physics (loosely, not too CPU-heavy, just loosely) so that the fire would spread to other parts of the map on its own (without DM guidance). It would look cool and also emit burning sound effects and create quite an impression in everyone’s mind.
If some mage uses rain or ice spells, they can kill the fire on certain squares within the radius off the spell. So, if the fire has consumed half the board, a player might be able to use magic to take control of the fire. But if some of the fire was still burning, it would continue to spread to adjacent squares unless there was ice or some other fire-retarding feature on that square. The DM could draw on squares after pressing the “fire-free zone” button and painting an area quickly and locking it down. Now the fire would ignore those regions (say an important plot location that can’t get destroyed) and either burn out in its present location, or hop squares if there was a wind condition present (determined by the DM during the Initiative round from a list of possible fire-altering behavior check boxes. “Wind? Hot weather? Cold Weather? Raining Slightly? Raining Heavily? Stone terrain? Wood Terrain?” Choose one at Initiative Round and the fire changes, reacting accordingly.)
Say someone shoots flaming arrows into the corner of a forest map during a battle, the trees may catch fire and burn. But if in the city on stone terrain, the fire would probably just die in its tracks. It would all be done automatically so that even the DM might find the strange behaviors and effects enjoyable and add some chaos to his own story-telling so not everything is totally in his control.
For a DM, this is often not something we get to experience, so we truly enjoy being surprised when running a game. Fire would be one way to do that, and it would add so much more too. Because now the characters would know exactly where to move their pieces around the board to avoid danger while battling enemies. Or they could try to trip an enemy and push one into the flames, because they can now see where the flames actually are. It would improve the imagination of players involved in such battle events considerably.
(Suggestion #11: Invisible Figurines and Models)
If players cast invisibility, the DM and the player can see the invisible character only. But according to spell rules, talents of certain races, the invisible character could be partially visible or have outlines in faerie fire. Or, if it’s raining, the whole “Predator” effect could be used so that when they move their figurine, other players might be able to see it while it is moving. In this way, invisible monsters could be right in front of players and now they can’t use Meta knowledge to cheat in how they respond to that monster, because now they literally can’t see the thing until it attacks. The DM and only certain PC’s could see it if they passed their checks using the cool feature of Suggestion #6 above.
Now Imagine the Scene:
The dark elf says “Look out! Don’t you see that orc right there!?” The other player says “What! I don’t see anything… What are you talking ab–“
CONK! (on the head by the invisible orc) … DM: “Roll to avoid passing out.” He rolls a 4. EPIC FAIL!
DM: “Doh! You … pass out from a surprise strike by something in front of you that you couldn’t see. You are allowed to say one thing out loud before you do… What do you say?”
Player (thinking a moment, then smiles and says): “OH, you mean THAT orc—!”
DM: As the words stumble over his own lips, he faints cold, hitting the ground … hard.
Everyone at the table bursts out laughing. (Except for that player, anyway, haha.)
(Suggestion #12: Weapon Ranges Highlighting)
The game already knows our current weapon because we would be required to tell the game that information during the Initiative round. When it’s our turn to go, if we want to use it, we can open the Tome and click on the new “Weapon Ranging” button feature. The app would already know our weapon’s range from its built-in database. So AltSpaceVR would highlight the squares around our figurines on the table (but only we and DM can see this ranging, not the other players). It projects information to us in the form of color codes.
If the area is yellow, the attack would be full power, but orange is reduced power, and red is out of range… so you can see which targets line up with your full attack range. You pick your target and roll your dice. The DM is alerted what range you selected. After you roll for damage, the DM tells you to reduce your attack by such and such amount due to the alert he got about your attack being slightly out of range. All of this is done internally so the DM and players can move the game along quietly … it helps plan attacks, and automatically tells the DM what adjustment to make to the final damage tally.
(Suggestion #13: Maps Larger than Tabletop Size, Can Be Dragged by DM)
Currently the map scale is pretty big. It appears to be 13 x 8 (or 104) tiles in size based on a current videos online, what they show. That’s not too bad … but what if there was a way to extend that dramatically and have the system update based on DM control?
What if the actual board was like 30 x 30 (900 tiles x-y) with the current map being a window on the table of where the DM placed the current cursor location inside a specialized Map Tome? Then when he wants to update the tabletop, he clicks a new location of the Focus (the center point) and the map shifts accordingly? All of the tiles shift but the end tiles fall off the table and fade out mid drop, gone. Meanwhile, the new tiles fade in as they arrive on the table. They then continue flying in the direction the map is still moving. So the entire map shifts while maintaining its approximate SHOWN SIZE of 13 x 8 tiles, which is the table size.
In this way, the DM can make really large rooms or dungeons, and as the players move through it, the room can continue to exist, as they move along through it. So the DM would know the map and the terrain for a complete area, not just small maps that he has to load for new areas, which breaks continuity. In the current set up, when a new board is needed, it just gets loaded from a save file. But if the players just moved down the edge of one board, when the new board is loaded, the whole feeling of continuity is broken. It feels like an entirely new place, because it is essentially. But with full 30 x 30 maps inside the 13×8 table-sized focused area, you can actually move the room around as the players investigate it.
The DM clicks and the map animates, sliding forward, the new terrain filling the space at the edge and moving toward the center until it reaches the new Focus location on the DM’s Map Tome. It’s a flying animated transition from point to point keeping all of the figurine’s actual places on the map (they all move with the map). In this way, more interesting maps could be created and the edges would remain true to something that is actually there, instead of always being boundaries set by the table-size of AltSpaceVR.
For safety of the player’s figurines, if the map transition would cause their PC to fall off the table, the transition animation would get blocked. The DM would then ask the players to move closer together or choose a direction together to move in. Once they set their pieces down, he would click “Retry” and then if it all checked out, the board would shift, the animation would run its course, dragging their characters along (maintaining their actual location although the board is moving). It would look really cool, too.
With this suggestion implemented, the Tavern’s table size would no longer be any issue or hindrance at all. The maps can be what they need to be for a whole battle or a lengthy dungeon exploration!
(Suggestion #14: Area of Effect Tools)
I would love to see the “line of sight” and the “conical-shaped” measuring tools implemented. They would start at a player or monster’s location and radiate out in any direction. You would click on the tool above the table, it would turn blue. You bring that to your player or monster and it locks on to them when you release it. Then you can rotate the cone (fire cone, frost cone, etc..) until you’re satisfied you’ve covered the best group of enemies you can. Once you release, all of those monsters (or players) touched by the spell get temporarily turned glowing orange. You can then figure out the damage for each attack and systematically turn them off to ensure you have applied damages already. That way, we can methodically roll for every monster/player that was affected without missing anyone. Area of effect spells would make life so much easier with a tool like this or some kind.
(Suggestion #15: Point-Of-View Mode)
As the graphics continue to improve for Board Tile Arrangements (plus if some of the ideas I’ve mentioned here got included) then maps would eventually become 3D as well. Sometimes it will be difficult for a player to know their line of sight to monsters. But VR would allow an entirely new and amazing experience here!
In order to make it more possible for a DM or player to know what is possible with their spells and abilities, they should be able to become their characters for a brief time. They would be allowed to shrink down and slide out of their avatar body and enter their smaller figurine on the table. The room scale would also change right along with it, making the Tavern appear to grow in size and become blurred out while the new perspective would become life size and ultra clear. You would become your character for let’s say about 30 seconds in order to suss out the line of sight better. How cool would that perspective be!!?
Say the game has a very complex board with tons of high and low points and you can’t judge if your spell would actually be line of sight or not (blocked by a tree or some tower or something partially in the way). You would open your Tome and click the “POV Button” and watch as your perspective shrinks down and you become your figurine.
You can now look up at that monster on the stairs and see if the tree in front of you blocks line of sight. If so, you can’t use that spell you were thinking about, and must adapt to the new reality. In this mode, with your scale changed, you could look up off the board and see blurry images of huge giants (the other player avatars) towering miles above you. Every once in a while, you could feel what it would feel like to actually BE THERE. WHICH IS WHAT VR PROVIDES!
So this would go beyond what current D&D and tabletop version can even do. Now we’re adding things that have never been experienced before! It would be so awesome.
(Suggestion #16: Whisper – Secrets Between Players)
We already have voice chat in AltSpaceVR, but there are times when you might want to whisper to someone else so the others don’t see or hear what you are planning. Maybe you know the Paladin is going to gum up your plans with his “overblown morality” and you want to trick him or plan around him, you’d need a way to do private chats. You might need to plan something with another member of the group without any others hearing you or even knowing what you are planning. First, to Whisper, it is required that two player’s figurines would be standing in the same square or next to each other. After that, you would open the Whisper panel (chat dialogue Tome feature) and invite another member to Whisper with you. What whispering does is takes you temporarily out of Public chat and let’s you talk to someone on a private line where the others don’t hear.
But whispering is still a Public action, open to scrutiny, even if on the down low. There’s always a chance someone would see what you’re doing. Perception Check, in other words. That should be based on distance and orientation. Your character-figurine’s orientation. So if one of the other characters is oriented to face you and if he’s close enough, he should be able to roll a Perception Check to see if he has caught you whispering. If so, the user who did the catching gets a die roll request “Roll D20 now” and if he’s successful, he knows you are whispering. That’s not usually very informative, so if there is a skill like reading lips and he has it, he should send a private message to the DM that he wants to read lips. The DM decides what the check is and rolls it himself. If the player passed the reading lips skills (based on intelligence probably) then the DM can link the player into the private chat secretly so they don’t know they’ve got someone listening in. The listening would be a modified version of lip reading, if using that skill.
So whatever is private between them could go really sour if they are caught in the act. Now the player can hear their private communications. By the way, when establishing a secure private connection, there should be a tone that is given by AltSpaceVR so the player knows a Private Line has safely opened and now no one else can hear what he is about to say but the intended party (unless he was caught is being overheard). Otherwise, if the game doesn’t have this “private” tone letting them know the line is now secure, players may inadvertently announce their plan to do something naughty to a member of the group TO THE WHOLE GROUP DIRECTLY by mistake.
This needs to be trustworthy, something that works well, or it won’t be much fun. I saw in many years of playing D&D that secret note passing to the DM was one of the funnest traditions of the game for many players who were obsessed with the secret plans being made. Note passing became famous because they had to be done openly, given to the DM in front of everyone. Now, with Whispering in VR, the secrets could actually remain secret. To a point. A good lip reader or even a spell of some kind, if successfully implemented, could allow others to listen in to that Private Line. Be sure what you are talking about is entirely in-game and not any real personal issues or innuendos because you never know who might be listening…
(Suggestion: #17: Roleplaying Mode)
In Roleplaying Mode, you are telling the app that you will be talking from your character’s point of view, not your avatar’s. This feature has the potential to really blow people’s minds in a new way, with audio. During most gaming sessions, the player might be talking to the DM and other players as himself. But once in a conversation with other characters, we need to shift the audio focal point down to the figurines themselves, on the table below your avatars. In VR and only in VR, we can set where the speaking voice comes from. During non roleplaying, the vocal point would be the avatar, at your face level. But now you’re in a conversation, and you are roleplaying. You must switch your coms over from avatar to roleplaying. Once you do this, all further things you say go to your character’s face.
The positional audio needs to be very good to pull this off. It also changes the volume of the sound, making it smaller, compressed slightly, and lower down, at the table height. While speaking, the app could be programmed to get the figurine to move it’s hands and arms around like what’s done in vTime when speaking. So now the figurine on the table comes to life. You bring it to life. You infuse it with your life force. You become an actor, an interactor, interacting with all of the other figurines. Within a few minutes of using this mode, everyone would almost forget they are even in the room, being so focused on the table-height storyline unfolding before their eyes. Everyone would be sort of hunched over the table, leaning in to watch the drama unfold that they are unfolding!
Can you imagine the group stopping to discuss which way to go in a dungeon? Some of the characters are arguing while one is on look out. The figurines’ heads and mouths are moving as the words come out, their arms and hands gesturing naturally while everyone talks. When you stop talking, the avatars stand fairly motionless. You are bringing them to life before your eyes.
But now add in a few dialogue emote buttons like “angry” or “sad” or “frightened” and now when you talk you lock one of these buttons down, the characters behave in that way while you speak through them. So the look out could turn to the group, frightened looking, hunched over in fear, and whisper through clenched teeth: “Oh hell, something’s coming!” And everyone playing the game would be watching this all unfold like a live stage play. OMG! The potential for real roleplaying exists in VR like never before!
(Final Suggestion: #18: The Dungeon Master’s Tomes)
The DM is in charge of the whole show. He has a lot to juggle and a ton of information is required at all times to help him move the game along with a nice flow, keeping the action relevant. And helping players feel it hasn’t been way too long between their turns.
Some of the hardest issues with DM’ing is tracking Initiative of all players and monsters and NPC’s. Who goes next? That’s the most asked question in the game. The game should know who goes next better than we do. We should just tell the game our Initiative Roll and get that plugged in for us by the System. The DM would then know it all, the monsters and NPC’s and players all into one big list. The list should be something the DM can see only. And he knows who is going next and the one after that, too.
But I also think the DM needs a bit more robust Toming System than the one the players have. I feel his Tomes should always be ready, and he should have up to six Tomes, 3 on his left and 3 on the right. Here is a comprehensive list of all the things his Tomes should have access to at will, (or within a few moments). NOTE: A few of the items shown below stack into one Tome and are changed by clicking the appropriate Tab.
- A chat-tracking window that tells the DM “who is whispering to whom” that he can always open up and listen into. This needs to be open all the time so it can be monitored, the DM can even set alerts that beep if a Whisper is open (but not during an open mic as that would alert everyone to the Whisper only he should know about).
- Monster stats, spells, possessions, Hit Points, and all relevant data needed to control and track the lives of monsters during combat.
- Initiative Order of All Parties (Shown in One Great List.)
- Two standard Tomes Like the Players Have.
- The Soundboard, to control sound effects, ambient sounds, special effect sounds, and music tracks (or track lists) so we DM’s can instantly add atmospherics at any time.
- Lighting Effects (dimming the room lights to create more atmosphere, changing the color of the lighting in the Tavern [blood red light, eerie blue or purple lights, toxic green lights] in different locations in the room, with the greatest flexibility and number of controlled lights centered over the game board itself. This includes being able to control the fire over in the fireplace, change its size, how much smoke comes out, etc… for atmospheric mood conditions during the game. The lighting could just be one more layer of things that get saved with each “tile boards” you create so that you can tweak the lighting for your scene exactly like you want it on a tile by tile basis for that perfect “setting” you’re dreaming about. Once you work out the lighting and extra spell effects (like continuous fog) over your table, it all gets saved with the board.
VR is set to offer new life to the WOTC franchise, mark my words. In 5 years, D&D will see a resurgence as the visuals and the technology all come together to give the most realistic VR experience possible. Without a GearVR version of their incredible D&D space, AltSpaceVR is missing out on a huge segment of the population who are ready to host and play D&D games right now. I know, because I’m one of them. I won’t have PC VR for another year or more, with my budget.
VR takes what is bad about D&D (the long drives, the messy house after a long day adventuring, expensive pizza ordering … and long breaks to order said pizza) and just wipes them right off the table. And it offers new and exciting avenues for exploration in D&D that have never been seen before, such as my suggestion for offering P.O.V. figurine possession by the player (at life-size scale) to examine the tabletop environment from the eyes of their own character. It offers the ability to add spells over-top of your environments as DM, to add atmospheric animations, link audio events to tiles that automatically surprise players as they move to the square. It offers the ability to see a wide-screen image of the monster splayed across the entire back wall during the battle, so you can see an artists vivid rendition of your nemesis right before your eyes. It allows the DM to be able to roll dice in secret, or whisper secretly between players without the others even knowing it’s going on. It could offer voice modulation for the DM if implemented in the audio drivers so the DM can sound like that Giant he’s roleplaying. It offers the ability for the computer to do all the heavy lifting, calculate Initiative for all moving parts, track monster stats and apply round-to-round on-going damage automatically, lightening the DM’s burden. It allows the freedom to stay home in your underwear and no one will ever know how you choose to present yourself, because in VR, only your avatar represents you.
Of course, with VR, there are other set backs too, like overheating, battery power loss, the headgear becoming painful to wear if worn over a few hours, and audio transmission errors breaking up the dialogue at the worst of all moments. Haha, naturally, this ensures you didn’t hear the funniest thing that was said and are left clueless for the next 6 minutes as everyone laughs so hysterically they are unable to find the air to speak the thing you were left out of hearing due to that glitch. Yes, friends, now is an era of mixed results, some bad some good, but soon, within 5 years, D&D will be so awesome to play again. Toward that end, I think WOTC will let AltSpaceVR use their assets and rules for most of that time as a form of free research into what people want and what it should look and behave like.
But when it gets really good, when it starts to get important for them, I believe WOTC will release their own application that will most likely make use of many of these suggestions even if they never read this article before. I hope they do read this, though. And I hope AltSpaceVR is able to pull off at least a few of the more important suggestions listed here, as well. The next 3-5 years of our lives could get really interesting if there were enough meat in VR-based D&D to run the kinds of epic sessions we all dream of running.
I don’t see the Tavern Gaming Space coming to GearVR anytime soon, and definitely not with very many of these ideas right from the start. It will be a miracle to get D&D working as it stands even now in the clunky mobile version. AltSpaceVR is almost too PC-centric to run this app on mobile devices; it has all the right ideas but not enough implementation of them to smooth out the kinks thus far. I have been waiting to review the app itself on GearVR because I want them to improve it a lot more first before I do. I don’t want to give them a bad review, but this app lacks the polish currently to give them the review I’d hoped to give. And even without D&D, the app as it stands now is just not ironed out enough yet. Glitches and bugs and mini games that don’t animate or update well enough for you to want to play them. But one day, within 5 years, I think it’s not too unreasonable to hope that some ultimate version of what I’ve just discussed here for D&D will make it to the open market. And into our hands … finally. THEN IT’S D&D REBORN!