Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Computer-Moderated Gaming

I started working on my annual PDP (Professional Development Program). It’s a long and dull report on what wonderful things I’ve done over the school year and what I hope to accomplish during the upcoming school year…my thoughts, hopes and dreams for a brighter academic future. Or at least the future my want me to have. Naturally, my attention wandered to the internet, where I read a short post on the Solo Nexus blog concerning gaming apps. That got me wondering once again, why haven’t computer-moderated games ever took off? There seems to be only a handful companies that make them, and there is relatively few postings on the Computer Moderated Rules message board on The Miniatures Page. Fort purposes of discussion, I am using TMP’s definition that is: any software that aids miniature wargaming. I am not including rules that are in PDF format.

During my wargaming career, which spans from about 1976 to Present, I’ve encountered computer-moderated gaming (CMG) twice. First, and probably the most extensive use, was at a small gaming convention at the University of Kansas back in 1997. Some Army officers from Fort Leavenworth (its more than just a federal prison, folks) came up with this really cool fantasy CMG and were beta-testing it at the convention. It worked for land, naval, and skirmish combat. Not only did it resolve combat, but kept track of units in terms of casualties and morale. I got to play the land massed battle and the naval battle games. They seemed to work really well. Even though I didn’t always get the results I wanted, it didn’t bother me that I didn’t get to roll any dice. The second time was while playing a game of Warhammer 40K. My opponent had an app on his iPhone that had all of the stats for various troop types. He was able to download those stats that we needed for the game, which sped up having to look for them in a book. He also had a dice rolling app, which didn't seem to be any speedier than physically rolling dice.

Over the years, I have toyed with the idea of making my own computer moderated game rules, but my programming knowledge is still stuck back in the days of Fortran and Basic, and I was never any good at it. I've tried to enlist my wife, who does those programming sorts of things, but she never seemed particularly enthusiastic about it. Recently, at a local bookstore, I saw a book in the computer section on how to make your own computer fantasy role-playing games using Visual Basic. It was aimed at teenagers. My problem is that I am a Mac person and there does not seem to be a lot of readily available (and free) languages out there for Macs.

I thought up of some possible reasons why CMG has never really caught on:

1. Rules designers and computer programmers* are not mutually inclusive.

2. It does take a lot of time to design and program* something. Development tools like Visual Basic probably speed things up a lot, but its still a lot of work. I imagine it would be like making a large database program.

3. Time is money. Paying someone to develop a computer program* would probably be too expensive for most rule designers. Revenues from the rules may not pay for the programmer.

4. Its probably much more difficult to edit or modify newer editions of a set of rules if they are a computer version rather than a written version.

Any thoughts on this? If you had a choice between a set of rules that were exclusively a computer application, or in a book, and both cost about the same, which would you pick?

*I know that we no longer use the term "programmer," and I know they are no longer called "computer programs," nor do we use the verb "to program," but the last time I took a computer science course was back in 1987 when terms like these where used. So shoot me, I'm techno-terminologically challenged!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris,

    I imagine that if you're going to make the investment of time and money to develop a suitable CMG, then you might as well spend the same time and money producing a video game for Android or the iPhone instead. You'd likely see a much better return on your investment. CMGs undoubtedly have a fairly limited market.

    p.S. I'm not sure how to contact you directly, but you have won the drawing I was holding on my blog (Tabletop Diversions). You can reach me at john dot yorio at gmail dot com for the details