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Subject: Making your own electronic game board rss

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Neil Carr
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With all of the superbowl tv deals going on right now I started ruminating over making my own digital gameboard.

The digital gameboard premise

For those who haven't been following the various threads on e-paper based gameboard and the "entertaible" touch board, the idea of an electronic gameboard would be to have some large flat digital device that you could lay on a table just like a boardgame. There would be a digital display of a game and the players would be able to play the game through, ideally, a touch interface. Some designs work with the idea that you touch the screen and move pieces around in that manner, another option would be to have special game bits that would rest on the screen and be tracked by the device. There are probably many other ways in which the interface would work.

The point though is to be able to harness the abilities of a computer for gaming, but retain the face to face play that we all enjoy.

What you need

All of this is technology in the making right now, however if you really wanted to you could make one today if you wanted to spend the money. It would require:

A large digital display (big screen LCD TV or projector)
Notebook computer
USB hub
Several computer mice

The idea is that you either lay a big screen tv down on the table or project the image on the table. The notebook computer is used to generate the image for the display with programs like Cyberboard, Vassal, other "virtual tabletop" software, or even computer ports of current games that allow for hotseat play. The use of a USB hub plus several USB mice will allow easy reach of an interface device for all the players.

The technical issues

Interface - With several mice spread around the table people can grab one and do your normal point and click to interface with the game. I have a couple of mice connected to my computer right now and they all work. I'm not sure what happens when you connect four or six of them to one computer, but with two they both function without any glitches. The active one seems to disable the other one. There are also mouse splitters out there, but they are limited to only dealing with two mice at a time.

The View - This is where some of the major problems come into play. Your typical LCD screen has a limit as to how clear you can see the image when looking at it from an angle. The technology is getting better so that you can see a clear and bright image from a greater angle of view, but you tend to have to pay more for this quality.

The projector solves this if you take it and project down onto a table, however the size of the "board" might be limited as to how high up you can mount the projector. Well placed mirrors could solve this issue though. The other option with the projector is the project upwards from beneath the table. You'd need a clear table covered in a white sheet or white paper to create a screen so you could see the image. Obviously, this is probably a bit more involved in getting setup.

Hidden information - You can deal with hidden information by placing screens on the virtual boardgame surface to hide your cards, tiles, etc from others view, just like you would for a game of Tigris and Euphrates or Samurai. This requires that you have software setup so that you can put the hidden information in a particular place on virtual gameboard so that the information is always fixed at that spot.

Assuming the software works well this shouldn't be a problem, unless you are using a projector from the top down view because unless it is angled very well the player screens would probably block the view of the projected gameboard.

Software - Most of the limitations on the experience stem from the software right now. Currently there is nothing out there that was written with this kind of use in mind and so there could be niggling issues with the interface or how a game is presented. A lot of it really depends on the particular game you want to play and what demands it has on how information can be displayed to players. However a lot of games could be played easily.

At the most basic level something like chess wouldn't have any issues at all since there is no hidden information and what is presented to the players is very compact. Of course putting all of this together just to play chess is overkill, but some more complicated games could really benefit from this setup.

One example would be Paths of Glory, a wargame about the First World War. It's a pretty large game with hundreds of pieces, cards and chits. Setting up the actual game takes awhile and to play the whole scenario can clock in at around 10 hours. So this is something that might not normally get pulled out. You can play a port of it on Cyberboard and that solves all of the logistical problems of having a game setup up in your house. Normally you use Cyberboard to play it via PBEM and it works very well, with all of the necessary dice and card deck features one needs to play the game.

If you were to setup Cyberboard as a virtual tabletop for PoG then you'd be able to get all of the convenience of what the program has to offer but you'd also be able to play face to face with your buddy. The only thing you'd have to solve (via hidden player screens) is each player's hand of cards. There is one other problem though...

Resolution - Another wrinkle in all of this is what resolution you are running the image at. If the resolution is too low then the "screen real estate" is going to be minimized and thus you won't be able to present a lot of information on the gameboard. Because of this you really need to spend enough money to get a decent amount of resolution for your image device. A lot techically could be said about resolution but for simplicity sake you'd really need something capable of showing at least native 720p when it comes to High Definition standards, though 1080i is what you'd really want.

Since you are using a notebook to generate the image and assuming the notebook isn't a dinosaur then you should be able to generate a good amount of resolution, however if the display device is a 480p device then it might not be able to handle what the notebook is generating, or reproduce it in such a muddy way that it wouldn't be a pleasant experience to stare at for hours on end.

The other factor that comes into play with resolution and the software you are using is that you want to avoid needing to scroll around. Ideally you'd be able to project the entire gameboard as one single view, however some software, such as cyberboard, might require you to scroll to see sections of the gameboard if your resolution is really low. Once again, a lot of this depends on the game you are trying to play.

Conclusion

That's the end of my ruminating for now. It is feasible if you have the resources to pull it off. It might be a bit too much for most people to bother with but it is something I'm going to fiddle with. At some point one could hope that an display and interface could be designed that would remove all of these technical issues, until then if you really want to try playing this way it is possible

I have a projector which I use for xbox and watching movies on and so I think what I might do just to test things out will be to link it up to my notebook and when I get my hands on the Puerto Rico PC game try it out with my game group. I'm not going to go to the trouble of setting up the projector to fire onto a table for this first attempt, but instead just throw it up on the wall. I just need to get a couple more cheap USB mice so we don't have to pass one around to everyone. Puerto Rico is a good initial test as it doesn't have any hidden information specific to a certain player so we can just use the hotseat method and play that way.
 
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(The Artist formerly known as) Arnest R
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Re : Software

If you are going to be writing code from scratch, OO seems the only way to go - in Java the GUI could be handled nicely, you´d basically need to write a subclass of a frame to get the orientations right + maybe a custom layoutmanager...


I´d be very curious about any results you achieve.
 
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Did you check this? Inspiring...

http://www.d20srd.org/extras/mapProjection.htm
 
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Neil Carr
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woodoo03 wrote:
Did you check this? Inspiring...

http://www.d20srd.org/extras/mapProjection.htm


Ah yeah, I remember seeing that awhile ago, that's a very cool setup. There is even software now which would make his DMing job even easier now.
 
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