I am quite the fan of tabletop role-playing games (RPG’s) like Dungeons & Dragons, Champions, and Pathfinder. Ever since my grandmother bought me that first basic D&D boxed set for Christmas in 1977 (thinking it was a jigsaw puzzle), my lifelong quest to remain entertained has often turned on the spin of a 20-sided dice. In fact, I devoted a good chunk of my grade school, high school, and college years to gathering around a table, building stories, rolling dice, leveling up, and creating a shared mythos of stories with friends. The humor that came out of those years remains a part of the jokes we still tell each other even today. Modern video games are amazing, but I’ll always be an individual who champions the interpersonal virtues of getting together with friends and rolling up characters.
That said, one of the most challenging things pen and paper gamers face over the years is, well… getting face to face. As you move into careers and life, friends move away and even when they’re still close, scheduling is always an issue. Everyone wants to play, but few can consistently make it to the table each session. This has resulted in the death of many promising campaigns through the years.
Some individuals turn to tech to try and overcome this gap. Things like Skype and Google Hangouts have made it possible to try and game together over a distance. Even when the fates do align, something has always felt missing here to me. So many elements of what makes gathering together fun ring hollow when you’re just staring at a static cam shot of your friends or a board. All hope is not lost though, as virtual reality may have an answer (or at least the promise of an answer) to this dilemma.
Rather than dropping the player into a wonderfully rendered first-person world of dragons and knights, like we see in games like World of Warcraft, the good folks at AllspaceVR bring back the classic gaming feel by serving up a simulated game space in VR for the party to form around. In fact, AllspaceVR has formally teamed up with Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast to build this new experience as a formal portal for experiencing the game.
Taking a look at this conceptually, it really makes a ton of sense. Each player (and the DM) take on an avatar in the VR space and you join up in a virtual tavern around a very traditional looking gaming table. Here you can access the board, dice, miniatures and your own private tomes. Those tomes are spots where you can keep private information like spell lists, character sheets, etc. Even better, the tomes also act as a web browser so you can bring in all kinds of options without having to step out of the virtual game and you can even toss imagery from the web up on the walls of the tavern to share with other players.
Here, the traditional gaming table sits in front of players who can freely talk to each other, gesture, manipulate the environment, and emulate the more traditional side-by-side experience of table top gaming. To me, this has the feel I would need to get back to some of those classic adventures with friends who have drifted away. Dice can be rolled, maps can be saved/loaded, music can be added, miniatures can turn, be placed, and even knocked over… It’s all pretty spectacular and this is really just the technology in its infancy. Even better, this isn’t just a plan that’s “coming soon”. If you have the tech, you can play today and they do a good job of showing you how it all functions on their website and demoing the features in this video.
What they’ve creating may not be perfect, but it implies what the future may hold going forward and that really has me excited. For an initial rollout where the tech and software are very new, this looks functional in much the same way that an Atari 2600 was a hint of the capabilities we would one day see in, say, an X-Box One. I use this analogy not because it looks like 2600 tech, but rather because I think it has that much room to grow.
I love the idea of what’s coming and the adventure I might share with friends as a result. I think through technology we might one day see a playing experience (through the improvement of animation, player resources, multimedia, and atmospheric effects) that keeps the best elements of tabletop, yet brings in technology to enhance the overall experience. This VR has all the right cornerstone ideas for this or other companies to build even more exciting products over time. I can’t wait!