Monday, June 9, 2008

4th Time's a Charm

I was very excited about the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, I pre-ordered the boxed set from Amazon. Unfortunately the delivery date was not the same as the release date. So I found myself buying a copy of the Player's Handbook from Border's (it never hurts to have multiple copies of the PH anyways).

One of the things I was looking forward to the most was the online table top. I don't like OpenRPG, which is why I helped co-develop d20 Chat. Both of course have their limitations, and I was hoping that the solution Wizards of the Coast was offering would bridge this gap, and more. I was looking forward to the character generator, the table top, the rules database, all of it! They called it D&D Insider.

When I got my PH, I saw in the back that there was a 10 day free trial of the tools. Which I thought was great (even though I planned on paying regardless, although I was not sure of the price at the time... but I was willing to pay quite a bit).

However, after much research, I could not figure out sign up for the tools. I have a forums account, I have a Gleemax account, I have the book, what more do I need? Where do I go? What's going on? After much research, I discovered that the toolset is not out yet. This annoyed me. I mean, we had previously been told they were planning to release them together, the books and the tools. Bummer.

I looked deeper, trying to figure out when they would be released. The answer? No ETA. Six months ago, this product was planning to be released at the beginning of June, and now there is no estimate. That is not a good thing. The direct quote was "I'd say a safe bet is at least a few months from now, probably longer". Wait, how long have they known this was going to be an issue? 05/07/2008. On that date, an article was posted talking about D&D Insider. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to read every individual column on Wizards. On top of that, in order to view the article you have to be signed into D&D Insider. Which means that info wasn't exactly a public press release.

I feel that we were mislead. We were promised a product, and it did not happen. I know that sometimes software does not make it's deadlines, I'm a programmer after all. Deadlines are moving targets. But in most lines of work, if you miss a MAJOR deadline like this one, you are in trouble. If a video game does not come out when it says, and instead no ETA is given, it is usually referred to as vaporware.

I know, it's only a few months, right? Except for the fact that they say they will only release one component at a time, and that it will likely be a month or so in between each iteration. The piece I REALLY want is the game table (my gaming group is spread across multiple states). This means it could be a year before I get the game table. That is, if it even happens.

Let us examine the track record of Wizards of the Coast regarding D&D software.

First, there was "Character Generator", it came with the original 3.0 PH. It was very buggy, and lots of the equations and data was simply incorrect. It was made by Fluid Entertainment. Later it did receive an update, which made it functional, and correct, albeit still not very useful.

They announced a big upcoming tool called Master Tools, it was going to be a character generator, 3d map builder, monster generator, and tons of other wonderful tools. It didn't really pan out, most features got cut, and it became "E-Tools: Character and Monster Generator". Which was not very impressive, and very buggy.

Wizards realized that maybe Fluid Entertainment was not doing them well, so they switched to Code Monkey Publishing. CMP worked very hard fixing major bugs, and adding more datasets. They also supported the open source project PCGen, and they supplied files that worked with PCGen. This was an excellent move. However, they expected miracles from CMP, and CMP simply wasn't fast enough about performing them. Perhaps CMP should have hired more people. Wizards dropped CMP just when everyone was starting to trust and like CMP (I purchased quite a few data sets to use with PCGen through them).

And here we are now. Waiting for D&D Insider to pan out.

This makes me hope that PCGen is going to support 4th edition. It also makes me think I need to get to work adding a battle grid to d20 Chat, as that is one of the most glaring missing features.


Michael said...

Well said, keep spreading the word!

Elaine said...

See, this is why our gang is sticking to....

Now I have no idea how to describe what it is we're sticking to! An unholy hybrid of 3.5, 1st Ed., and Basic, I guess, plus whatever sounds like a good idea at the time. :)

I'm incredibly distrustful of WotC, especially since the Hasbro buyout. Plus, jeez, we have so many books already!

samuraigunslinger said...

Well Done Blue Sun!

Can't even speak about how dissapointed I am.

I will definitely keep an eye out for the d20chat, any way to get a chance to play what I think is really a great new game in 4th ed.