Nov 222010
 

I wanted to like iTabletop.  I tried to like iTabletop; it seemed to be exactly what I needed in a virtual table top.  Unfortunately, it has failed which is sad because it has a lot of potential.

What is iTabletop?  It’s a virtual table top program that allows you to play RPGs online.  It has a bunch of really cool features, which I’ll get to in a moment.  We’ve been using MapTool & Skype for voice for the last couple of years and decided to give iTabletop a try especially since a lifetime license was only $25.  Most of my group shelled out for the lifetime license, and I purchased an additional four “floating licenses” to allow those that didn’t to play in the games I was running on iTabletop.

Unfortunately, last night, we had to go back to the free MapTool program + Skype for voice as our session was just unplayable.

There are many things I liked about iTabletop.

  • Integrated voice chat, as well as text-based chat
  • The game was hosted in the cloud, so nobody had to host a file and let people connect to their computers, nobody had to mess around with trying to forward ports, etc. etc.
  • Integrated video capabilities.
  • The ability to play sounds and music.
  • The ability to attach .pdf files, such as character sheets, to tokens.
  • Integrated dice rolling.

Many of these features, particularly integrated voice and video chat, are not available on MapTool.  The program is built on Silverlight and can be accessed by any web browser that has the current version of Silverlight installed, so there is nothing to install on the client computers.

Unfortunately, most of the stuff that I liked doesn’t work very well.  The voice chat is laggy with at least a 2 second delay even with video turned off and intermittently either doesn’t work for one or two people or cuts out entirely.  The text chat is even worse, sometimes not even recognizing keystrokes.  Uploading the maps, sounds, token images, etc. and creating the adventure can be an exercise in frustration due to the slowness of it all.  Don’t get me wrong, there are times that it runs extremely quickly and smoothly, but those times don’t seem to coincide with our weekly games.  Everyone in our group exceeds the low system requirements to run the program, and we all have very good speed internet.  We have tried two weeks in a row, and the same problems are occurring.  And I understand that there is going to be some lag due to the online in-the-cloud nature of the program, but it shouldn’t render your sessions unplayable.

Unfortunately, because of all of these issues, I can’t recommend using this program for playing RPGs, which is a shame because I truly like the features that, were the program working the way it should, would be extremely cool.  Sadly, they don’t.  If they are able to fix some of these issues in a future release, we’ll probably go ahead and give it another shot, but for now, we’re sticking with the free solution of Maptools and Skype.

Edit:  If I hear that some of these issues are addressed, I will definitely reconsider my opinion.

[tags]virtual table top,VTT,role playing games,rpgs[/tags]

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About Buddy Mcgehee

Buddy is a geek extraordinaire and is into comic books, video games and role playing games. Look him up on Google+, or add him to your PS3 and Xbox 360 friend lists for some video gaming fun; gamertag on both is "Nightchilde."

  11 Responses to “Gaming in the Digital Age: iTabletop”

  1. First, a well written review. It’s good to see a blogger write a review that isn’t skewed too hard in one direction or the other. You point-out some flaws, but also list what you like.

    I’m going to make note of the product and come back to it in the future.

    I’m in the process of starting a virtual Gamma World game for the listeners of our podcast, but don’t have much experience with that. I know of D20Pro and MapTools, and will probably use Ventrilo for our voice service.

    Do you have any tips for a first-time virtual GM? Have any experience with Gamma World and MapTools?

    Thanks!

    -Carl, co-host of the Flagons & Dragons podcast.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tracy and Troll in the Corner, nightchilde. nightchilde said: My Troll In the Corner review of iTabletop. It's not kind. http://trollitc.com/2010/11/gaming-in-the-digital-age-itabletop/ [...]

  3. Carl,

    I have no actual play experience with Gamma World, but my review of how it reads is here on the site. The short: I felt it was too goofy and silly for me to run it long term.

    Maptool and Skype is what we’ve been using to game online for a few years (look for the other Gaming In the Digital Age post i put up here a while back). The biggest thing that I can tell a n00b virtual DM is, don’t expect it to run as quickly as a face to face game. You can get close with a combo of MapTool and Skype, but it’s still not as quick. And technical issues happen. There have been a few sessions that I’ve had to cancel on for whatever reason involving technical issues.

  4. Carl,

    I’ve run very few virtual games that were not simply play by post sessions, but my advice for you would be this: communicate with your players. Check in on them between sessions to remind them of the date and talk to them about non-game stuff to build a rapport (even if they are your friends already). Ask what they like and don’t be afraid to try different methods for a session here or there, so long as the group is open to them and able to install any necessary software ahead of time. In addition to that, what Buddy says is all true as well.

  5. Hi guys –

    This is Paladin on the iTabletop website. I am the founder of iTabletop – and first just want to apologize to Buddy that his needs weren’t met while he was using iTabletop with his group.

    For the past month both Hermit and I have been pulled away from doing much tech support for iTabletop users, due to family stuff, and I think you may have fallen through the cracks. Our community has been really stepping up to help, but sometimes you just need a dev to troubleshoot with you to get to the issue.

    Anyway – please private message me “paladin” on the site, and I’d like to spend some time with you testing some things. Because truthfully, it’s not the norm for people to have these kinds of issues in iTabletop.

    Recently, for example, one of our customers has been having slowness and lag. I did some major troubleshooting with his game, and found that he has one of the largest games of our customers. So the game is eating up RAM, which can cause the audio/video to lag and even some crashes.

    I’ve begun to re-archetect the way the platform handles memory and scope of objects – so this won’t be an issue down the road. However I also offered my help to reduce the size of his games so that until we have a fix for “giant game syndrome”, he can still keep happily gaming. The fix for him is to make his maps and token images smaller in size, and to reduce the number of maps and rooms in his games. I offered to do some work in the database to make that easier for him.

    We personally have used iTabletop for both gaming and even as a company video conference solution for a couple years. And we only see audio/video lag when one or more persons in the session actually either have a bandwidth issues or inconsitency, or when their computer CPU is pegging or RAM is getting low. In other words, the Amazon.com cloud for our servers has been the best choice we ever made, as we’ve seen consistent high speed even when some players are in the US and others are in the EU in the same game.

    Also, to help with the perception of lag, make sure all players use headphones – so you don’t hear the echo. Echo makes lag extremely noticible and hard to deal with.

    Anyway – please PM me so I can get in there and see what may be happening with your group. In the PM let me know you’re Buddy from this site.

    Take care and have fun whatever you choose to do.

    James

  6. James,

    Sorry it took so long to get back to you..for some reason I didn’t get a message that there was a comment posted. I’ll definitely shoot you a PM on the site; I’m very interested in using iTabletop. :-)

  7. Have you tried iTabletop recently? I have just discovered it and I’m wondering if it’s worth the purchase. I play in a different country to my gaming group and my internet connection isn’t very fast..

    iTabletop have just released v3 which looks great – but i’m reluctant to spend the money if it still has issues…

  8. I was wonder the same. it looks sweet I just dont want to spent the money on it and decide it lacks what I want

  9. I went in and tried playing around with it about just before they released the latest version. I have not tried version 3, as apparently the “lifetime” license I purchased did not apply to the the upgraded new version. I should point out that I did spend a bit of time trying to go back and forth with the iTabletop crew to come to some resolution on the issues, but after a few messages, they stopped responding; in fact, Paladin’s post upthread was more helpful than the messages he and I sent back and forth. So, as it stands, I’m out over $100 for a product I could never get to work properly and will never be available to work again.

    That said, I have found Roll20 (http://roll20.net) to be excellent, especially for a free service (though there is a supporter version that gives you a few different perks). If I had to suggest one over the other, I would definitely recommend Roll20 as it works extremely well (and, y’know, free)

    • Thanks for the Quick reply. I was actually playing around with roll20 last night and was likeing it so far (just the demo). Have you tried Fantasy Grounds 2? And if you have what do you think about it? Been playing with the demo and I was thinking of getting that instead.

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