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Gavin Greig [userpic]

Steampunk by Visual Telegraph

November 10th, 2009 (12:05 am)
current location: KY16 8SX

I ran a session of Steam Elephants on Saturday – my fledgling campaign using a very slightly modified version of  ffutures' Forgotten Futures rules. I say fledgling, because it's probably still accurate; it's been running for about two and a half years, but infrequently, so we've not racked up a lot of sessions. However, given how long it takes me to start a campaign these days, I’m inclined to think I’ll stick with this one for the foreseeable. It feels fairly comfortable for me, seems to be going down well with the players and it’s got lots of potential. And there are fun figures for me to paint, when I get the time!

This particular session was a not-particularly-steampunky first though; the first game I’ve been involved in where we had a virtual presence.

I set up a spare PC with a web cam on a chair in the living room, and msinvisfemtook part from California. The times worked out fairly well; our regular start time of 3 o’clock was 7 in the morning on the west coast of America so it was early, but not impossible.

I took advantage of someone else’s trial and error in finding the best solution; Scott Hanselman has written a couple of articles about remote working with a more social side to it, and in the absence of a spare $5000 for a Roundtable camera, I went with his Skype video recommendations, which he uses for speaking to the family when on the road, and sharing a virtual office with another remote worker, setting up a dedicated Skype account on the spare, and telling it to auto-answer anyone on its’ friends list with full-screen video. As it’s an old PC and I don’t have the world’s fastest broadband connection, I didn’t try the High Quality Video Hack, although the camera would have supported it.

Picture quality was good enough anyway, and help up fairly well for the nine or ten hours of play. There were some problems with corruption of the picture and freezing, and the sound was not always perfect, sometimes requiring repetition; but on the whole, OK. In the post-mortem, it turned out that some of these issues might have been due to a virus scan starting up in the background on one of the machines, so maybe the problems we did have can also be avoided in future.

From the GM’s point of view, I would say it was a success. It wasn’t hugely different from having a player in the room. There were some practical issues regarding who to send out of the room at some points when secrecy was required (i.e. everyone else might have to move rather than the remote person, because the PC is not easily shifted) but nothing insurmountable. I was kept busier than usual just keeping things going, but that may not have been due to the teleconferencing – we had a good turn-out, which means more people to deal with, which means more work.

From the remote player’s point of view, I think it was more of a qualified success. Although it did allow involvement in play from a distance, the positioning of the camera meant that other players were disembodied voices, so it wasn’t as immersive as actually being there. One thing I got right with the camera was putting it on a long USB extension lead, so that it could be brought over to the table to show the position of figures. I wonder if there’s a better place to put it for general play, though. On top of the monitor is good for other players, because it’s easy for them to face the remote player when talking to them; but positioning the whole assembly naturally as if it were just another player meant the other players usually weren’t within the camera’s field of view. Finding a different location that would show more of the other players to the remote player would be an improvement. I’ll have to see if I can come up with an alternative place to put it.