Playing Games Over the Internet

Since the coronavirus hit I’ve been spending a lot more time on streaming, and unfortunately neglecting this blog a bit. In fact, last night Dan and I did a re-do of our Wandering DMs episode from Sunday. It turns out we had some pretty bad audio issues that made the VOD from Sunday unwatchable — and I’m sure it was just as bad for the folks who stuck it out watching live on Sunday. However, we both felt like it was much too important a topic to brush under the carpet, so we completely rerecorded the show.

What was the topic? The same as this post – playing games over the internet. We discussed all the technology available for moving your regularly scheduled game night online. Starting with logistics over Facebook, email, forums, or chat rooms, through the variety of options for live video chat, and ultimately going over several options for virtual table tops. Here’s the video if you missed it:

When we got to the virtual table tops, unfortunately our background became more academic than practical. I did a fair chunk of research for the sake of the show, even tinkering solo with some of the options, but I have yet to play an actual game on any of these platforms. My regular Sunday group has been discussing moving our game online, but we haven’t gotten past the logistical problems yet.

I think I must rectify this. The fact is, gaming over the internet is one of the few fun, social outlets we have available to us now that everyone is cooped up in their homes. I’ve found a lot of people are asking me how to go about it, and I’d like to position myself to be able to give real advice born of practical experience, not just the same info anyone could get searching the web themselves. Also, the fact is, I kind of just want to have some fun playing games with my friends online. I think folks are turning to me for advice because of all the online games I’m already doing for our channel. That seems reasonable, but there’s a creative/performative element for those games that have their own demands, which can be fairly different from games run by folks who just want to blow off some steam and hang out with their friends.

So last night I proposed to Dan that we try out a little experiment just for the fun of it. I thought we might try the tabletop RPG equivalent of “2 gamers on a couch”. More than just a media trope, this is actually a style of play that I’ve heard discussed professionally in the video game industry. The notion is this – 2 gamers sit on a couch and play a single player game together. In reality one player is clearly more in direct control, but for games that involve puzzle solving or lots of story elements, the strategizing and conversation of the two gamers is actually a good chunk of the fun. Anyone who has ever watched Super Replay knows what I’m talking about here. And believe it or not, some game dev teams have strongly considered how their game works for and even attracts this style of play.

My idea is this — we’ll get together and play through some of the old SOLO D&D modules. Once in the past we actually played a couple solo board games this way – Barbarian Prince and the flash version of Dark Tower to be specific. Since old school D&D is really our favorite, I pondered what’s the closest we could get to that, while still playing an essentially one-player game with no DM? The first thing I thought of was actually the old Tunnels and Trolls solo adventures, but of course, classic D&D has four such adventures itself.

I think we’re going to try it tonight. Will we stream ourselves doing it? Yeah, probably. I mean, we’ll certainly use the software we’ve accumulated for streaming to make it presentable to each other, so we might as well press the stream button while we’re at it. But don’t expect our usual production quality. There won’t be intro sequences or credits or anything, our goal is to do this primarily for our own enjoyment. If folks tune in, it may be entertaining to get feedback on our choices as we play the game. So long as that adds to the experience for us we’ll explore it, but my primary goal is to have fun playing a game with my pal Dan. My secondary goal is to learn more about how to use some VTT software (I think we’ll try Roll20 first). Streaming it for the entertainment of others is a distant third.

So, if you’re bored tonight, take a poke at our channel and see if we’re streaming. Or just check my Twitter, I’ll probably post there if/when we start. Or, just wait for my follow up post on how it went. I’m actually really looking forward to it, and hopefully it will be educational, as well as a good time.

5 thoughts on “Playing Games Over the Internet

  1. Rerecording that Wandering DMs episode was probably a good call. It was watchable live, but the audio problems were a major distraction even after everyone seemed to decide to stop focusing on it and just push on. At least having the option to do that was one advantage of an episode without a special guest ๐Ÿ™‚

    I just ran my first D&D session through skype last night (using Death Frost Doom since I had been planning to do that with a friend earlier this month anyway), and it was a lot of fun! There were obviously some tech issues, but overall, I was much more satisfied with how it went than what my previous experiences on roll20 had led me to expect, and the other players also seemed happy with it. I’d like to keep checking out more telecon/share/stream-type options to see what else I can do, but at least as a baseline, skype + whiteboard fox (free web-based virtual whiteboard) + occasional links to handout pictures in google drive worked well.

    (also replying to your next post here to limit gumming up your “recent comments” tracker)
    I’m not sure what the hard limit is on number of players for a free roll20 account, but I was able to run for 5 + DM in the past.

    The fog of war functionality in roll20 takes a little getting used to, but it works well enough, bearing in mind that you’ll have to have a predrawn map to work with it. I’d found the GM layer of graphics useful for tracking locations of hidden/invisible/etc. creatures, keying locations (i.e. letting me see a room # without it showing up on the players’ views), and marking out trigger areas for location-based traps (like the classic tripwires or pressure plates). That said, the first of those (tracking the unseen) was the only one where I’d say it felt like a step up from what I would’ve done in real space.

    As I’d said on youtube, I enjoyed watching the stream. The enjoyment and energy for the game that you two exuded was far more entertaining for me than fancy productive frills and whistles because my interest in watching a D&D stream is in watching people play a game, not watching a show about people playing a game.

    1. It’s fascinating to hear that it was watchable live. Surely you must have had the volume cranked. When I watched the recordings afterwards I was horrified. The unfortunate part of not having someone dedicated on tech is that you do have to make that call as to whether to stop the stream and deal with the issue, or just press on and hope it’s not really that bad.

      Yeah, I think Skype really gets a bad rep. I like Discord, but I’m also very happy with Skype. I’m not convinced there’s a clear winner between the two, so I’d say use what you’re used to or what’s easiest for your group.

      5+DM is allegedly the limit for free Roll20 accounts. I’d really like to see what happens when you try to add the 7th person.

      Glad you’re enjoying our no-frills game! It’s very much reminiscent of how our main show started – just good fun in its own right, who cares who is watching. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I think I had my overall volume up around 60% (which is rather cranked, since I’m normally around 35%). It wasn’t comfortable or easy, but…well, maybe I have rather low standards for viewer entitlement on a free stream without a dedicated tech crew, but my definition of “watchable” is pretty generous.

        To paraphrase an august person, the best game to stream is the one the players are excited to play ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Good, I think the more info we get out there the better. I’m also very curious to see what new tools emerge as a result.

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