Vir's Archive

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Every Gamer Needs

Connecting People...

This is one of those posts that isnt revolutionary or anything, but deals with a topic I have to discuss if I am going to talk about gaming and overseas life. Bear with me.

This is a map of online connectivity in Africa. See that dark spot in the middle - the void of crappy internet? Yeah, I live there.

In this digital world the necessities for gamers has changed. Previously, we all needed a copy of some sort rules-set (usually D&D), a full set of polyhedral dice, a pencil, some paper, and a comfortable place to play. For much of my gaming career (the better part of 15 years now), those were the necessities.

Now? Now things are very different. Computers and the internet have changed a good deal - most of it for the better. From the above list the only absolute necessity that remains are friends and a copy of whatever rules you are using. You can get rid of everything else -- even the dice.

The reality of living overseas, mostly in the developing world, is that I am often the only gamer in thousands of miles. Take, for instance, my situation right now. I live in Central Africa (most of you likely cant find Gabon on a map). The closest large community of gamers is a 5 hour flight south into Pretoria/Jo'berg. Thus, if I want to game - either roleplaying or wargaming - I either have to find a way to stay in contact with other gamers from different parts or the world, or build my own gaming group.

For this blog, we are going to focus on staying in contact with other gamers. To that end, I come back to the title of this entry: What Every Gamer Needs is Skype.

This little "S" means "gg."

I'm going to try to avoid becoming a shill for Skype, but understand that it is invaluable for the transforming nature of gaming in the digital age. I am a big fan. Alongside Skype are Ventrillo and other comm protocols that are also easily available (and often free!). I firmly believe that Skype (and communications programs like Skype) are quickly becoming the norm for us as gamers. In ten years? I expect Skype gaming and the use of Virtual Table Tops (VTTs) will overtake traditional face-to-face games in terms of popularity.

More pressing for me, without Skype, I probably wouldn't be gaming. I currently play in a weekly game with my college buddies. We bounce between systems and campaigns every couple months, but it is so wonderfully regular. We figure out a time that works for us despite the time changes (I am seven hours ahead of CST, which are where my buddies mostly live) so there is a need to schedule ahead of time. But assuming we have a little foresight, we can game with little problem.

Alongside Skype we use Google Wave. Now, Wave probably isnt the best choice for everyone since it will cease to be directly supported by Google in the coming months, but some sort of program that allows for common editing and an online dice roller are all you need. Wave, for us, allows the group to share character sheets and game summary information as well as see the results of (virtual) dice rolls in real-time. Besides Wave, there are a whole host of virtual table tops coming on the market - some free, some not -- but most are useful. many VTTs have VOIP capabilities making Skype redundant (for my money though, Skype is still the way to go - cheap and very reliable).

Hey! Wrong VASSAL!

My buddies and I also use VASSAL. Its a program that is specifically designed to facilitate online play of board - and wargames. Readers of my older posts will know that this is pretty much the old may I can play Warmachine with any regularity outside of my yearly pilgrimage to GenCon. Skype with VASSAL allows me to spend an evening with my buddies practicing new army compositions and tactics. VASSAL is great not just for isolated gamers like me, its a good place to try the really wonky stuff you want to do on a wargaming table (8 bombards FTW!), but in an environment that is a tad less competitive. By its very nature, VASSAL creates an environment a little less intense than a standard table top.

Nope, not that Vassal, either.

Now, admittedly, pushing pixels of minis is not as fun as pushing lead around a table, but its something. Actually, VASSAL is a little like methadone for a heroine addict. Not as good as the real need, but it can tide you over.

Yeah, that Vassal.

Its amazing, really. In the span of 10 years or so, the gaming community has moved from being dependant on basements and brick-and-mortars, to playing virtually. Its been a boon for me, allowing me to keep my old gaming group going through the last 10+ years.

This, people, is the way of the future. Cosmonaut ho!