In case you’re not on the D&D maelstrom that is Twitter, Wizards of the Coast announced today that the new version of Character Builder will be released on 11/16. As has been previously rumored, the new version is web-based, and will support Essentials and Dark Sun characters, which the previous version was not updated to do. The old, downloadable version will still work, but will not receive any further updates. Monster Builder (and other web-based tools) are to follow later. The FAQ on the character builder goes over some of the issues as well, and below is some of my take on the whole thing.
- Cross-platform, i.e. those of us with Macs (like much of D&D’s R&D department) can finally use Character Builder without having to go to the extra step of dual-booting into Windows.
- Easier to update for the developers. According to Paolo Marcucci, Software Development Manager for D&D (who is answering some questions in this thread and who I’m using as a primary source for this article), they will be in a better position to provide updates. I’m not surprised as the way the old character builder was built I knew it would be a pain in the ass to incorporate the vastly different structure of Essentials characters. This hopefully will allow them to make even more timely updates to CB… ideally, at the same time the book drops, but I wouldn’t count on it.
- No download and no onerous updating procedures. Also, no .NET installation (though it does require Silverlight, see below.)
- Improved speed and interface. This is my own speculation which we won’t know until the final product is launched, but frankly, it’s hard to imagine it being any worse.
- Requires an active internet connection. I don’t make a lot of changes during a game to my character, but it is nice to be able to pull up my character on the fly with my laptop handy. The importance of this will vary by user: for some who game regularly with internet connections, it won’t be a big deal; for others, this is a complete deal-breaker.
- Built on Silverlight. Though Paolo lists reasons for the studio using it, it does mean that iPod/iPad usage is right out. Not that this is a change in the status quo, but it’s easily a missed opportunity. And don’t expect that to change, with Microsoft largely abandoning Silverlight for web applications. Also, I don’t know about you, but I personally have had Silverlight installations go wrong. Let’s hope this isn’t another .NET-style debacle.
- Missing important features at launch. No export/sharing characters at launch (hopefully it will come later), no house-ruled characters at launch, no campaign-customization options
- Requires constant log in. This means if you don’t have a current subscription, you can’t use it. No more paying for one month, doing the updates, then letting it coast for a while.
The Unanswered Questions
- Multiple logins? DDI has never tracked that before, but maybe they will now, putting a stop to login sharing across a gaming group. Frankly I’d like them to finally spell out that I’m allowed to have 6 players use the same account and stop just turning a blind eye, but that’s neither here nor there.
- Cloud hosting? This is something I’m in favor of, actually, having all my characters available with one login so I don’t have to remember which computers my characters are on, and have them all be synced up. There are legitimate concerns about this, though. Data integrity is a concern, and especially without an export feature initially, if you unsubscribe, your character files are no longer yours. The files will be kept for a year on their servers, but without an easy export (unless you want a non-editable PDF), your characters are locked out.
- Privacy? Here was one interesting quote from Paulo:
In other words, if I run queries on the database, I can only figure out WHAT paople are creating, but not WHO is doing that. Speaking of this, we plan to mine the databases constantly, in order to better understand usage patters and the kind of content pleople are most likely to use. For example, if suddenly 90% of new characters are Muls, then R&D may take a look into writing some special Mul content
I think that might bug some people, and others might see it as an opportunity.
- Is this the right move? Only time and the market will tell. Like any change, reactions are decidedly mixed. A lot of factors had settled into status quo: CB users got used to using it in places without internet access, and Mac users got used to saying CB isn’t for them, at least not without some struggle. Now that status quo is being shaken up, as the complaints from the latter had long since died down and the former made up the paying customers. And as always, that switch is tough, and judging from the ever-growing thread, is the last straw for some folks. For others, maybe this will open up a whole new world of digital character building. That’s always the hope, right?