Monday, March 29, 2010

Vitrual Gaming: Wherein Jason Phones It In Again.

 "Fatherhood, I'm doin' it right!"

Hey look! It's a whole new week, and you know what that means gentle readers. It means back to the salt mines for yours truly. Well, maybe not salt mines exactly, but it does mean that I need to get back to work after taking a week off to help care for my new daughter, who you see up there with dad. So now, with roughly seven hours of sleep under my belt since last Sunday, I'm back in the saddle. Speaking of babby, I'd like to tell you a little story about how I phoned it in to my regular Thursday game last week.

Okay, I don't know how many of you are parents, but if you are you know what the first week of parenting is like. Those of you who aren't parents, and I highly recommend it, let me tell you something. It's a lot of work. Like, a lot of work. Since babbies are essentially massive, incontinent time sinks, I felt it was prudent to not drive the 50 miles to Ann Arbor on Thursday for our weekly game. For a while now, our group has been discussing virtual gaming due to one of our guys getting his jaw wired shut and the fact that both Wayne and I live over 50 miles away and, frankly, a simple wish to play in our underwear from the comfort of our own mancaves. So, since Thursday was upon us and I was going to have to miss Harn, Jacko, Riff, and I set about ginning up a solution to the problem.

First thing we needed was a way for me to talk and listen. We looked at both Teamspeak and Ventrillo, and eventually settled on Vent. Riff picked up a decent, temporary microphone and ordered a very nice one, and both he and Jacko provided the on-site hardware and software solutions in Shade's basement with some speakers, the mic, and Riff's laptop. Once everything was set up, they configured Vent for voice activation and set it to stay active for 30 seconds or so. In theory, that would keep the mic on their side on the whole time as long as someone was making noise. We did some troubleshooting with the setup and found it good and they fiddled around with mic placement and input/output levels, and got it pretty well nailed down before the rest of the group showed up. On my end, I prepared by getting into my jammies, pouring a cocktail, settling in with babby, putting on my headset, and setting Vent to "push to talk". Push to talk is, of course, the best setting when you plan on both gaming and making googoo noises and babby talk at your kid.

So everyone showed up, we tested the room with everyone in it to make sure that the mic would pick up all the players, and set to playing. The verdict? Well, it was a mixed bag. I was able to play from home so I could be available to help with the kid, I didn't have to drive an hour each way, and I saved money on gas and take-out food. On the other hand, we quickly ran up against the technical limits of Ventrillo, the lag eventually got pretty bad as the buffer tried to keep up with all the chatter, and I missed out on the face to face socializing and the after session debrief at Denny's. I felt kind of disconnected and distracted, which is probably attributable to the kid more than anything.

In all, it was a very successful experiment and, while not optimal, a good short-term solution we can use to play when a player would otherwise be absent. Since then, Jacko and I have worked with Skype and have decided to go with that instead of Vent. It doesn't seem to have the problems with lag and handling multiple speakers at once that Vent has. The better microphone arrived to replace the cheapie stop-gap mic used for the first session, which should improve sound quality and range. We're also looking at a virtual desktop program for mapping and die rolls and such, probably MapTools. Oh, and a webcam probably so I can see what's going on.

So that's it. My first experiment with virtual gaming with my friends was by and large a success, and even with some technical glitches I was able to take part in the session and still have fun while being able to stay home and be a dad. I'll be doing it again Thursday, so we'll see how it goes with Skype and the new mic. I'll keep you posted.


A. Ringia said...

At least they sleep a lot during the first few months. She looks happy there gaming with you :)

Anonymous said...

Maybe yours li'l boy, whom I love dearly, has resisted regular or long naps his entire life. *FRAZZL*

For the first couple months I actually appreciated an hour-and-a-half commute as my only chance to sleep.