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Surfacescapes D&D Demo 162

Jamie found a video showing an unpolished idea demonstrating the use of Microsoft Surface for D&D. Looks like they are using 4th ed as the basis for the system. This comes from the Surfacescapes team at Carnegie Mellon, which strikes me as a very good place to be a nerd right about now... provided you make your saving throws.
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Surfacescapes D&D Demo

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  • Roll 1D20 (Score:3, Funny)

    by protodevilin ( 1304731 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @09:37AM (#29793193)
    ...for security vulnerabilities?
  • D&D?? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Follier ( 901079 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @09:38AM (#29793209)
    Wrong wrong wrong.

    If they want this technology to take off, they need to get the porn industry on board. Seriously, the possibilities are endless.
  • by Jonah Hex ( 651948 ) <> on Monday October 19, 2009 @09:40AM (#29793233) Homepage Journal

    If you can roll physical dice onto the Surface and have it read the values, that would be perfect! At least offer the choice. There is just something about rolling your own set of dice that makes D&D special. -HEX-

    • by BobMcD ( 601576 )

      Based on what the surface does, I'm not sure how this would work. If all the sides are symmetrical, can the surface distinguish them?

      • All you would need to do is give the value of the opposite face in some machine readable form. Doesn't surface recognize barcodes? Or is that just Android?
        • by BobMcD ( 601576 )

          Okay, but now you're talking about fist-sized dice, aren't you?

          • Surface, as I've recently looking into, uses a proprietary dot-based matrix marking call ByteTags to recognize objects. These dot markings aren't that big, so while the dice might have to be a little larger than normal, fist-sized is probably more than necessary.
    • It should be possible in theory, you just need special dice. The Surface can already read objects that are placed on it using special tags (I think they were a bit like 3D barcodes on some things - the demo I saw used brochures and poker chip sized counters). As long as your barcode shows the opposite side to the one it is on (e.g. the "1" side of a D6 shows the barcode for 6) then it might work :)

      • by thenextpresident ( 559469 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @10:13AM (#29793665) Homepage Journal

        Dice are already marked. They have pips or numbers on them. Opposite sides add up to the number of sides on a dice plus 1. So if the number 1 was on the bottom, number 6 would be on top.

        Granted, this works for some dice, like d6, d8, d12 and d20. d10 are odd/even, and equal out to one less then the total number of sides. So 2 and 7 are opposites.

        d4s are usually easy enough, but depend on the type you get. The one I have has the number on the top, and the number doesn't appear on the bottom.

        Basically, the point is, most die follow a set of rules for number placement. If you can read the bottom of the dice, you can easily tell what number is opposite of it.

        • d4's are no problem, regardless of type. The #3 surface, for instance, will list "1", "2", and "4" in *some* (basically unimportant) configuration, finding the missing number, which yields the roll, is then just a matter of deduction.

          The main issue is whether or not the system can read the numbers/pips, or if you need specially marked/equipped dice.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by IBBoard ( 1128019 )

            The tokens I saw were very much "black and white", so while pips are "already a system" they're not necessarily one it'll be able to read. It'd also only work with most D6s, since all of my D4s/8s/10s/20s had numbers on, which will probably be more difficult to read and interpret from any direction.

            Besides, if all it can see is the number "1" then how does it know what type of dice you have to calculate what is on the upper-side? Most dice (except D6, I think) have triangular sides, so you couldn't tell fro

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by TriezGamer ( 861238 )

              d20s, d8s, and d4s are triangular, d12s are pentagonal, d6s are square, and d10s are 4-sided and wedge shaped, though I'll be damned if I can think of the name for the shape without the caffeine kicking in this morning. I would think that using special dice encoded with a pattern of some kind on each face, indicating the value on the opposite face, would be the best solution.

            • I understand your point. Although, I've never seen a d4 where there's only one number per side. If "1" points downward (and isn't shown to a viewer), then what's your roll?

      • Strangely (having looked at the video and full-screened it) it looks like their character selection does actually use a dice, or at least a dice-like object, so it can interact with them to some degree. I can imagine that rolling the dice off the table would cause problems, but that's just an obvious case for a re-roll (or pick it up and put it down however it landed).

      • Would be amusing to integrate a D4 with that logic :P
    • As long as people don't read the dice, it should be able to. All it needs is to detect the die shape, "d20 just rolled" and then roll a pseudo-random and announce the "roll". Benefit: no weighted die-problems. Detriment: some people have d10's that are shaped like d20's, and some others do all their rolls with one d20 and one d12.
      • If you did it based on simple shapes (and not ByteTags, which would solve all these problems easily), you'd be up shit creek if anybody had dice that weren't a standard size as d4s, d8s, d10s, and d20s all have triangular faces.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Abreu ( 173023 )

      Well, as I posted above, I see nothing wrong with using the Surface (or a simpler overhead projection system on a blank table) to show the characters positions and keep the rest of the map obscured (maybe with a light radius focused on the character that carries the torch).

      Use regular dice and the regular rules for the rest... After all, if we wanted to play a videogame instead of a Tabletop RPG, we would already be playing one, no?

    • Agreed. I know it's possible because Microsoft always pitches that as a feature that it can recognize what's put on it. Maybe it's not that accurate but an HD camera installed above could solve that problem. Or just let the user type in on an on screen keyboard the roll outcomes.

      I've been saying D&D, Warhammer and a host of other tabletop games should be investing in this ever since I saw surface. It's a perfect fit. Let the game handle all the rules just tell the player when to roll dice. Put

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Blakey Rat ( 99501 )

        I thought the point of Warhammer was painting dozens of little statues. How would a Surface table help that?

        Oh... there's an actual GAME?!

  • Virtual D20 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slim ( 1652 ) <john@h a r t n u p . n et> on Monday October 19, 2009 @09:43AM (#29793269) Homepage

    A "virtual 20 sided dice"? No, no, no. This is *not* the way to apply computing to roleplaying. The computer can hide the dice rolls, in fact it can hide the whole "combat system" from you, and just allow you to roleplay.

    Now, I *would* like to see augmented reality applied to board gaming. Something that combines the tactile experience of playing with wooden pieces, with the convenience of computer gaming. For example, what if you could play Acquire, and see the current stock value hovering over the company tiles, rather than having to stop to count?

    • by Aladrin ( 926209 )

      Some people actually -like- the dice now.

      Anyhow, they said that this was 'unpolished' anyhow. It's just showing how it -could- work, not necessarily how it will.

      I'm sure someone will step up and write one your way as well... Or even give the option of doing it either way, for those that want the option.

    • by BobMcD ( 601576 )

      Based on what the surface does, I'm not sure how this would work. If all the sides are symmetrical, can the surface distinguish them?

    • by cjfs ( 1253208 )

      Now, I *would* like to see augmented reality applied to board gaming. Something that combines the tactile experience of playing with wooden pieces, with the convenience of computer gaming.

      The Tegra demo [] from a while back comes to mind. Integrating that in with a miniatures game of some sort would be interesting.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fredjh ( 1602699 )

      No, no, no. This is *not* the way to apply computing to roleplaying.

      Laughing... my first thought on looking at the demo was "all the boredom of the real thing."

      Ok, on a serious note, I'm an old timer, and I really dislike the new D I think around the first AD&D they hit a the mark between complexity (simulating reality) and playability... that's just my tastes, I know others like the newer systems, and I have no problem with that, but it seems to me that slim is right... a system like this should allow

    • I *would* like to see augmented reality applied to board gaming. Something that combines the tactile experience of playing with wooden pieces

      "Tangible interface" or "tangible space". I tried my hand in it with one of my AR demos []. Mostly users ignore it and go for the path of least resistance - play with phone and markers, not bothering with on-board objects. AR novelty by itself seems enough. Probably require a lot of design fine-tuning to entice users actually use non-trivial game interactions.

      • by slim ( 1652 )

        The video is pretty neat.

        I think baby steps might be the way forward. Take an established board game, in which some piece of game state is somewhat inconvenient for a human to work out on the fly -- and use AR to provide that info.

        Frivolous example: in Carcassonne, scoring for farmers is slightly fiddly. AR could highlight each farm and automate the scoring.

        I think there's a lot of value in trying *not* to overstep the mark at first; enhance a board game with AR, rather than turn it into an AR game.

        If this

        • We were discussing this at the last board game party I went to. We were playing Descent: Journeys in the Dark. We decided that a Surface app would really help that game has it had an insane number of pieces to build dungeons and a very large number of tokens which totaled well over 500 pieces to deal with.

          With an application you would need to make sure every piece is divided up into its correct bag for storage at the end of the night an pre-built levels could be loaded instantly. This would allow the pla

    • I love seeing the virtual dice rolls in Neverwinter Nights, because then I know just what an impact raising my AC by 1 point has, etc.

      • by slim ( 1652 )

        I love seeing the virtual dice rolls in Neverwinter Nights, because then I know just what an impact raising my AC by 1 point has, etc.

        It just goes to show; tastes vary.

        Myself, I'd prefer the "system" to be as hidden as possible, in order to be more lifelike. So you don't "raise your AC by one point". Rather, you'd get some better armour. Internally, the model of "better armour" could be as crude as incementing a single variable, or as sophisticated as modeling the physics every time the armour collides with a sword.

        If I were a barbarian in a fantasy world, I wouldn't be rejoicing because my HP had increased. I would be reflecting on how I

        • Yeah, but in never winter nights since you could see the dice rolls /etc if you walked by someone who was a thief and pick pocketed you, you'd suddenly see that our money was reduced by 3 coins...

          I always thought it was awesome that they stayed so true to D&D, even if it made the graphical game play clunky at times.
    • it can hide the whole "combat system" from you, and just allow you to roleplay.

      That would be awesomely terrifying! You'd have no idea if you were just unlucky, or if you couldn't actually hit something. If you succeed the first few times with no problem, it could be your skill, or it could be your luck. That would destroy the powergamers.

      The more I think about it, the more awesome that sounds. Your ability levels would quickly transform into "awesome", "ok", "bad", and "sucks". You level up, and say, "I want to be a better fighter." Computer says, "Your fighting has improved"

  • Cool tech, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dr00g911 ( 531736 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @09:44AM (#29793275)

    It's a pretty cool proof of concept, but I absolutely shudder at the amount of additional setup time something like this would require for campaigns.

    I've run a couple of 4E campaigns after finally letting go of my 1E rules, and not to put too fine a point on things... combat takes way the hell too long when you're forced to deal with miniatures and it just bogs everything down -- don't get me started on the amount of stickers and markers that are required for bookkeeping now.

    A couple people at my table like the more strategic combat options that minis offer, but the majority prefer that the story advances more than a paragraph per play session. As the DM, I'm one of them. I'd rather roll initiative and talk through fast-paced combat.

    WOTC wants to sell their absolutely hideous plastic minis, and lots of them, so it's in their best interest to make the game mini focused. There are so many rules that depend on movement and proximity that you've basically got to remove the entire combat system and house-rule over it if you forego the minis.

    I've seen some folks that use an LCD projector and Photoshop in lieu of a battlemat, but that's still an enormous amount of prep time for a campaign.

    • by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @09:46AM (#29793305)

      This... is why I'm an FPS gamer. It doesn't usually get more complicated than "loud end points at the other guy".

    • by slim ( 1652 )

      However, there's a lot of scope for re-use of that setup. Not great for the creative DM who writes his own campaigns, but if you treat it as a way to ship commercially designed campaigns it could well work.

      In that scenario (in a hypothetical world where something Surface-like is affordable for the home), you'd buy the scenario, click a couple of buttons, and everything would be set up and ready to go.

      How about if all the players had e-ink character sheets, updated wirelessly, too? :D

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fredjh ( 1602699 )

      I agree with you 100%. I haven't played since before my college days (my HS friends and I all went to different colleges... and the college kids where I ended up were "too cool" to play... or, maybe I just could find the right ones). Now we're talking almost 25 years.

      So I started getting interested again, hoping that my son would become interested. When 4E was released last year, I bought all the main books and some extras, the first level adventure, and then... and then it was like trying to run through

    • by zx75 ( 304335 )

      I use a (homemade) grid mat, erasable markers, and little colored stone gems that I got at the dollar store that I wrote numbers and symbols on with a paint pen.

      The only reason I started using this setup was that my players preferred it because it gave them a better ability to visualize a combat area and *gasp* speed up combat! They no longer had to ask me about positioning, if they could do one thing or another, they could see it and decide for themselves. Made combat quicker because everyone was now prepa

    • Fed up with complexity and commerce? Want brevity and simplicity? []

      Core rules fit on 8 sides of A6 paper.

      Alternatively, dig around in the second hand bookshops for Fighting Fantasy Role Playing Game. The rule system from the "choose your own adventure" d6-based novels, but adapted for multiplayer RPGs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        How about Tunnels & Trolls where your character sheet is index card-sized? I haven't gamed for years, but I always found that all of the complex combat rules hindered the storytelling, the part I enjoyed the most. After a while, my group adopted a 'if you don't know the rule, don't look it up, just improvise' rule and it made the games a lot more fun.
        • Yeah, we were the same way. No rules lawyering at the table, 30 sec max for lookups then best judgement. Keep everything rolling so the laughs and momentum didn't start to lag.

          Funny you mentioned Tunnels & Trolls. I'm still using the old grievous injury chart from that set just to spice stuff up and give the folks a little acting fodder for their characters.

          I'm still considering going back to 1E right now... the interesting bit is that the wives/kids that get pulled into my games now "get" the talent tr

        • If we take that the "A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming []" is reasonably representative of a sizable number of OD&D fans, it is surprising how little coverage Tunnels & Trolls gets. By the standards of the "Quick Primer," T&T stomps OD&D all over, but it doesn't get the love. It makes me suspect that the old-school movement is more dominated by nostalgia than they care to admit.

          (There is also really interesting work done on rules light systems since then, much of it in the "indie games"

      • You guys would HATE our Spacemaster campaign... a 15-second firefight takes two hours to resolve.

        But then, we insist on using grenades.

        And we're usually drunk.

    • by kieran ( 20691 )

      I'd have thought that the real promise of this Surfacescapes concept is that it could speed things up a lot and remove most of the minis into the bargain.

      Lose the stupid virtual dice and either use an RNG or read in real dice rolls. Have the system handle all the status effects and crap for you automatically, and display them as little icons. The D&M would just need to enter any custom creatures and create (or download and customise) the maps.

      All in all, it should mean more time to focus on story and st

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Abreu ( 173023 )

      You don't need to buy the "hideous plastic minis".

      In fact, I use cheap colored glass beads and I find that it helps my players focus on the game itself and not on the minis.

      In regards to the more complicated combat rules, I find it a lot more interesting to allow positional options, tactical movement and making use of terrain to gain advantages than the old "I hit it with my sword"

      And if you feel that 4th edition requires too much prep time and is too slow, then I imagine you never played third edition...

    • by Kagato ( 116051 )

      I think you could use some of the game engine ideas from Never Winter Nights as a starting point. It would show you the die rolls in a scrolling window as you proceeded through the game. In combat it would determine dozens of rolls and saves almost instantly. I think you could expand that metaphor to the surface to create fairly quick combat rounds.

      As far as housekeeping, wouldn't the whole point of the surface be to automate all that crap? I would think if anything the automation would allow people who

    • by Cabriel ( 803429 )

      I have to completely disagree. In the game I'm playing with my brothers and friends (five players +a DM), we each plan our turn during the other players' (or NPCs') turns. When it gets to us, we move our mini to our desired spot, announce our attack and roll dice. Overall, it adds about 5 to 10 seconds per person. This is in contrast with the GURPS game I'm playing where the GM abhores combat maps and grids and yet every player has to ask where the other enemies are in relation to them which adds a lot more

    • I'd say you're doing it wrong. The best investment I ever made was when I liberated a disused 2'x4' dry-erase board from a previous employer. It's got a 1" grid on it, and is fantastic for simplifying what you're talking about. Draw in the terrain, even ahead of the time if you want to. Steal props from any nearby kids, and you can have castles and trees to slap on it. You can write statuses next to anything on the board, and as long as you can remember to move them with any mobile things, it's all good.

  • then I just closed the window. I hope their D&D table isn't as horridly optimised.
  • by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @09:53AM (#29793395)

    When I started, I didn't have much spare cash, and it was hard to justify investing in Microsoft Surface for a pet project. (Not when I was already in process for a do-it-yourself kitchen, bathroom, and stone patio set of projects)

    For my gaming group, I designed a do-it-yourself surface structure. It's a simple design, but robust enough that you can easily customize it for your own needs.

    Once I finish up and polish the plans, I'm going to publish them on my site, along with a components list of what I found worked (and didn't work), for putting together a pretty nice table that could seat about 6 comfortably.

    The main goals I had in mind when developing the surface was (in no particular order or completeness:

    1. Portability (We didn't always play at the same location)
    2. Universality (I didn't want it to matter if you played warhammer or dnd or battletech, etc)
    3. Unobtrusiveness (Don't let the tool get in the way of the game)
    4. The surface had to improve the gameplay experience (sister requirement of number 3)

    The part that I wish I had some assistance with was specialized coding for the modules. I'd love for you to be able to select a game, and have the engine running the display account for differing needs of each game. As of right now, it simply provides the basic components that someone would want in a surface system.

    It was mostly a hobby of mine, I'm a systems engineer and enjoy my work, so I treated the whole thing like a full scale project to keep my skills sharp. It needs cleaned up for public release, but given the interest there seems to be in the subject, I'll try to make it entertaining enough for a writeup here on Slashdot.

  • by Knx ( 743893 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @09:55AM (#29793415) Homepage
    1. Set up a website [] with a 5.45 MB background image
    2. Submit it on Slashdot
    3. You're done
  • by Sabalon ( 1684 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @09:57AM (#29793459)

    Let the wookie win.

  • As ideas go it's really in the same tradition as various others than have been created over the years, including OHP, as someone else mentioned.

    I think the only thing I really don't like about it is the clunky dice rolling. I'd far rather it just showed the result of a dice roll, rather than doing a laborious animation of the rolling dice. In fact I'd rather it just showed the damage over the monster.

    I would also point out that Surface units cost something like £8,500 ea. for a commercial unit. You

    • As ideas go it's really in the same tradition as various others than have been created over the years, including OHP, as someone else mentioned.

      Apart from the "touch to interact" and "can be made aware of physical objects" bit. They didn't make particularly good use of it in the demo (they did the touch gestures and they used an object at the start for player selection) but it could be much better. According to a MS rep I talked to, the US DoD has had a look at some units for the "battlefield planning" situ

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @10:20AM (#29793769) Homepage
    On the other hand, it would let my D&D group get together create a rich and vivid shared history without all that awkward talking that we currently have to endure. Now if they could just find a way to remove the requirement to be physically present as well we could be on to a winner [].
  • Speaking as a DM... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ritorix ( 668826 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @10:27AM (#29793877)

    For D&D I would like a Surface that can:
    -bring up maps as needed, to be played on with Surface-aware miniatures that track positions
    -display a combat state tracker, like a game scoreboard, with initative, hit points, state tracking (dazed, on fire, etc) in clear view for all players
    -combat-aware board that determines flanking, cover and similar bonuses based on mini locations
    -dice that auto-sense the roll and calculates your bonuses, displaying the results
    -full web integration with the D&D sites if you need to reference a quick rule (there are already Iphone apps that do this)

    Actually that sounds like more trouble than its worth. These days we use a clear piece of acrylic and dry-erase markers over a grid map. Simple and effective.

    Computers already have a place at our gaming table, for some it substitutes for a paper character sheet and its nice having a full rules library within reach. It may have gone a bit far when the other week three players were screwing around on their Blackberries at the same time. Turned out they were plotting something they didnt want the DM to listen in on.

  • Nice wolfie walks right around them, and past them and is on his way into the forest, and they blow his ass off unprovoked.

    Bad Magic User! Bad Paladin! Bad whatever the heck your character was.

  • Awesome Potential (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AP31R0N ( 723649 ) on Monday October 19, 2009 @10:41AM (#29794095)

    4E is built for this sort of application. This might be better than what WotC had planned (at least for a meatspace game). If WotC is smart, they will build this on their own and then build modules for it. The potential is astounding. /4E is my favorite edition. //OWoD is my favorite RPG

    • don't you think that this would represent a pretty significant financial investment?
      • by AP31R0N ( 723649 )

        i don't know how to not think something, or how i'd know i was not thinking it.

        Would it be a significant financial investment?

        Do you mean to develop it or to own it? For the former, yes, but WotC could recover that cost by making it part of DDI. In the later, yes, but there are always people with more money than sense... or just willing to cough up the dough. Like any toy, the early adopters will pay through the nose to have the newest gadget, but will fund the infrastructure to make the next version che

        • Actually, that's rather insightful. Hasbro has a lot more games than just D&D that a touchscreen table can be used for.
  • I actually did something like this for my senior year project. We tried to make a Warhammer 40k game. We didn't use MS surface we used Reactivision, to do the tracking. And Reactivision was actually much better than most of the other implementations because it could also track an objects orientation. We never really got it to work that well but it was a fun project []
  • Since the computer is deciding what dice to provide, why slow it down by having a stupid gesture to make get them to roll?

  • Right about now, I'm sure their loving the guy who decided they needed a 5.5mb background jpeg [] on their page.

  • ...I hope they code the Surface better than they code the website. Wow, is that pokey and pointless.

    That said, if I could get the faintest whiff of a donation of a Surface system and a grant to write D&D software for it (including extensive real-world testing) I'd be pretty damn eager too.

    D&D 4.0, being more of a skirmish adventure game than a RPG, is really perfect for it.

    I can see it work tho, you could have the maps dynamic, and fog-of-war'd. You could have the surface character- and stat-aware

  • they are using a fundamentally flawed game system. I've played Pen-n-Paper rpg's since the mid 70's and the current D&D system is really really REALLY Bad. Try GURPS for a far better game playing experience.

Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject -- the actual enemy is the unknown. -- Thomas Mann