This afternoon Dave and I had the chance to talk to Randy Buehler and Didier Monin while they showed us some of the D&D Insider features. Dave will be posting an interview that we conducted with Mike Mearls, Scott Rouse, and Randy Buehler which will discuss some of overall aspects of D&D Insider such as prices and timeline so this preview is more about the hands-on demonstration we were shown by Didier and our impressions of what we saw.
Didier started with the character visualizer by showing us the process of building a Dragonborn Ranger, and presenting the various options you can modify in constructing the model. The base model that it presents you with once you’ve chosen race look very sleek, but we did not actually get to see the range of customization that you have for the physical appearance of your character, however from the option menus we saw it appears there is a lot of customization (we may go back and ask him for a quick demonstration of these). What we did see were the options for posing your character which seems like a very wide range, and the options for equipping your character which had a huge amount of options.
To show us, Didier put a magical longbow in the Dragonborn’s hand and then (because Dragonborn look so badass) he toggled the weapons size to make it larger, and then tweaked the hand grip to fit with the new bow size. Each portion of the character had several slider bars that gives you variety of choices that are far greater than those you are given in other 3d character creation processes such as in MMO’s. Next he added a quiver to the character’s back and showed us that you can move it in three dimensions quite freely, but then finally placed it appropriately and angled it realistically.
What impressed me most was when he zoomed out and began to pan around the model, the backgrounds that they’ve created for the models may not be super rendered or detailed but they are very picturesque and really make the final snapshot you take of even a quick / rough model look super slick.
Next he showed us the character creation application which really blew us away. It is pretty much everything you’ll want to create your character online, it walks you through the rather complicated process step-by-step and even has a toolbar which shows you the entire process, order of steps, and where you are in all of that. From race selection, class, and even through skills and feats it looked like a very smooth application that then spit out a very clean character sheet with all of the information inputted directly. When you click on powers and abilities it shows you a snippet from the book of that power block, and also very surprisingly if you click on something in the creation program it links you directly to the compendium, which has a lot of potential when you consider how much they might merge all of the D&D Insider content. Overall the interface looked smooth and relatively clean, and it should be a great aid in character creation once it is released. Finally he opened back up the visualizer, saved a screenshot, and added that to the character sheet for maximum opulence!
The last feature that they showed us was the virtual game table application, which we saw back in February/March at the D&D Experience but it looks like they’ve continued working on it since then, and we had a bit more of a hands on look at it this time. Didier started out by placing a few tiles in the table space and showing us how the DM has an almost insane amount of control over everything that happens (which is, of course, great). The DM places tiles, adds light sources to characters, and places tiles, monsters, and features through out the table landscape. What is really cool is that the DM can open a separate window which is the “Player view” and shows what players see, so if there’s a series of corridors with rooms off of them, the DM can see the whole thing (and where light sources are), but the Players only see what is illuminated, and the fade / shadow effect is very creepy looking. Seeing a room open up from a corridor, but fading into blackness really has a leg up on just playing at a table where the players don’t get such a vivid sense of what their characters can and can’t see.
Next they loaded up a pre-made encounter which first showed the Fallcrest / Winterhaven regional map from the DMG, which appears on the DM’s and the Player’s screen and can be used to elaborate on larger aspects of a game through the game table. Next he loaded up the Kobold Hall dungeon already constructed and displayed in all its glory. While most of the game table is very similar to actual tiles and minis, in the fact that everything is bound to a 2d plane, the 3-dimensional statues and terrain features that are in the toolset are really spectacular to look at and move around. When you combine them with the stellar lighting feature, it really creates a unique looking experience that could really revolutionize online D&D play. Some other quick things that caught my attention were the pit trap tiles that are rendered in 3d (though a mini cannot fall into one as it is bound to the 2d plane) and tiles of water/acid, which can be “flipped” to hide them so that players do not see them until the trap is triggered. Also the menu options which let you shortcut monster figures to the f-keys, which really excited Dave that you can simply click f3 and drop a collossal red dragon on your party!
Really to summarize the D&D Insider game table would be to say that they have not needlessly limited the amount of control that a DM will have with the tool, which is probably one of the big reasons it has not been released yet and will not be for a while. This is clearly a great decision, and it should pay off in the end, but the shame of it is that we cannot use these tools today! The character builder looks to really help with the whole process (and save some player’s PHBs from being torn to shreds), and the character visualizer looks like a really nice tool, at least with these two tools Wizards has said that they are essentially Beta ready and we should see testing for these very soon. The previews we saw of these tools has definitely given us some things to look forward to.