MapTool Mini Interview

How long has your VT been around, do you feel its keeping to it's original "design"?

This is probably more for Trevor, but I'm not really sure he's even that familiar with the current incarnation of MapTool. So I'll answer it based on my knowledge of his goals and those of the original team.

SourceForge has us listed as registering in Feb of 2005. Development actually started quite a bit earlier than that (I believe about 9 months or so). The last build of MapTool 1.0 was 1.0.b112 released in July of 2006. That means 112 builds in just a little over a year! More than one per week!

MapTool has always been about providing gamers of every kind with the tools they need to game. We don't encourage anyone to use a particular ruleset, and we try to provide functionality that will allow gamers to use MapTool in the way that best suits them.

So has it been true to it's original design? I'd have to say "yes", although the design has morphed over the years as we try to give the gaming community what they want most. This is borne out by recognizing how many features have come directly from requests and discussions on our forum.

How many people contribute to developing your VT?

Hundreds!

Anyone who has contributed even a single line of code is listed in the credits for MapTool 1.3 (see the About dialog for a list). Translating MapTool into languages other than English is always an ongoing project, but we now have 9 languages supported (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese). Translation work is no small feat! We have also had artwork donated (our logos, MapTool button images, and even the default set of graphics that come with the tool).

There are currently two people entrusted with the authority to commit code to the public repository at SourceForge besides Trevor: forum users Azhrei (myself) and Craig. However, Craig has left most of the SourceForge administration to me and has focused on coding.

Do you target a specific RPG system, if so why? Is this likely to change?

As mentioned above, we try very hard not to restrict ourselves to a single game system or ruleset. We believe that the most useful tool will be one that anyone can pick up and use for whatever game they want! Because MapTool is open source (covered by the Apache License) we are not beholden to any particular group. This also means that when users request a feature we have to weigh that request against our user base to determine (a) whether the feature will be useful to a wide enough audience and (b) how to implement the feature so that it will be generally useful. A good example is "token properties". We don't tell our gamers that every player-controlled object in the game (we call them "tokens") must have a Strength score, or a Speed score, or a ArmorRating. Instead, we let the gamers choose. We provide an interface so they can define what properties they want their tokens to have.

My wife and I recently used MapTool to play backgammon on a long cross-country flight, for example. In that case, the tokens had no information on them at all except for the colored image!

What system do you feel is the most popular on your VT, do you feel your user base would be affected by an official VT for that system?

Wow, that's tough to answer. Since we try to stay system-agnostic I don't know that I have a good feel for the size of the user base for a particular game system.

If I had to guess I think I would say that the D&D family is the largest, with about an even split between 3.x/Pathfinder and 4e. After that? I couldn't say. I know we have users playing ShadowRun, World of Darkness (both "old" and "new"), GURPS, Hero, and probably a lot of others that I don't recall at the moment. A good cross-section can be seen by browsing our forum, specifically the "Looking for Group" forum.

How do you decide which RPG systems to adapt for your VT?

We don't. Our users do.smile_small.png

Our community has created complete packages that include rules implemented as macros (we call them "frameworks", or just "FW" for short). In general a FW will include a set of token properties, macros to control how those properties are used and manipulated, some type of combat sequencing tool (your readers may be familiar with the term "initiative," taken from a popular pen&paper gamewink_small.png), and so on.

As we develop MapTool 1.4 I really want to see more support for wargaming added to the program. For example, I want to allow the creation of "teams" with one or more connected players assigned to them. This would allow for a lot more flexibility concerning who can see what on the map.

Do you offer accessories for your VT, do you think there is a market for this?

We don't offer them, but again — the community does.

If you're familiar with Jonathan Roberts' work (he's torstan on our forum), he has contributed some very high quality images that are available directly from within MapTool. The gamer making the maps can choose a menu option, add a checkmark to a link in a list that pops up, and then click Install. All done — they now have some professionally created artwork ready to use! Of course, he uses this artwork to encourage gamers to visit his web site at FantasticMaps.com and others have done the same. I'm thinking of DevinNight for instance, who is well-known for his top-down depictions of creatures

Are you seeing an increase in the number of people that use your software, i.e. are VT's becoming more popular?

Short answer: yes, definitely.

Long answer to the question, "How many people are using MapTool?"…

We only have three ways to measure this:

1. Number of registered users on our forum. We are at the 7,000 user mark currently. Many are GMs and their players don't register. But then there are sometimes multiple players from a single gaming group who will register. Make what you will of the number.smile_small.png

2. Number of downloads of the software. This is hard to quantify. We have a single domain, downloads.rptools.net, but looking at just those numbers is misleading. For example, it shows we average about 1.1 million hits per month. That includes people that download the ZIP (Windows/Linux) or DMG (OSX) files just once, plus anyone who uses the Java Web Start launch where pieces are grabbed as-needed the first time the program is executed (which may result in up to 25 downloads).

3. Number of MapTool servers registered with the RPTools Registry. This is a list of the MapTool servers that are running right now. The problem is that home games might not be connected to the Internet at all — obviously they won't be counted. And even games that run over the Internet might not show up in the list (some users are behind firewalls that might require them to use a VPN package to get through the firewall and using the registry is pointless in that situation).

So in summary I would say that we have roughly 18,000 servers registering with the RPTools Registry every month. Some of those might be simple "test connection" servers.

Now that you've asked this question, I think I'll go back and tweak the way we track some of our statistics so that I can better answer this question in the future!

How have the tight financial times affected your product?

Free stuff isn't affected by lean times. Well, at least, not in a negative way.wink_small.png

To be honest, I don't have logs going back far enough to know what the web statistics looked like back in 2006/2007. But I can tell you that our forum only becomes more and more active!

What do you think the strengths and weaknesses of your VT are?

We have a lot of things we'd "like to do" with MapTool 1.4. But there are really three things that are our biggest weaknesses right now:

1. Perception. We are perceived as having a huge learning curve. In reality, gamers only need to learn as much as they want to use. That backgammon game I mentioned earlier was played "manually" — without any macros to control movement. But a gaming group that wants the "full monty" (and I mean that in a good way!) will want to use a pre-existing framework most likely, and that means learning how the FW is setup. That has nothing to do with MapTool itself, but new users typically don't think about that.

2. Documentation. Related to #1, above, is the lack of written documentation for a new user. Brad, one of our forum users, put together a huge collection of screencast tutorials to help people new to MapTool (both players and game masters). They are a godsend to anyone wanting to see how MapTool works by just watching a quick video. But we need written documentation. We have a couple forum users who are planning out such a job right now. They've been thinking about it for quite awhile but have been holding off on the hard work until MapTool 1.3 became finalized. And that's now.

3. Visibility. We need to get the word out: we have a free, open source, cross-platform tool that can help alleviate the "grunge work" of running a game. Any game, not just the stalwart D&D game. The fact that it works on all platforms that support Java (every desktop machine?), is free and thus has no barrier to trying it out, and can handle just about anything you can through it game system-wise… That should attract a HUGE crowd!

What do you have on the cards next, what should we look forward to?

Wow, where do I start?!

Existing users know that we can already do vision blocking (define a wall on the map and player tokens won't be able to see past it), fog-of-war (with individual fog for each token on the map), and "real" sight lines (meaning the game master can define how far a token can see with the light source it's carrying and that's how much fog will be cleared). We have plans for movement blocking as well, integration of JavaScript instead of the custom "MTscript" scripting language we currently have, better network communication, completely revisiting every dialog and window and redesigning them with ease-of-use in mind (with techniques like "wizards"), theme support (so the user can customize the look and feel of the app), and support for third-party plugins (so if there's something we don't implement in MapTool itself, it can be added by our user community).

We want MapTool to be the "Wal-Mart" of virtual tabletop applications. Your one-stop shopping location. "If MapTool can't do it, you don't need it done!"wink_small.png

Where do you think RPGs and / or VTs will go next?

I'd love to see some virtual reality integrated into the online gaming experience. There are always products that can overlay a virtual experience on top of a physical one. Imagine an empty battlemat that when viewed through a pair of VR glasses would depict images of creatures on the mat!! Obviously, I'm talking about far in the future before such technology becomes cost effective for home use, but we have dozens of users who have built custom gaming tables that include HDTVs or HD projectors and then run MapTool on those devices — how far away can virtual reality be?

In one sentence tell me why I should use your VT, over the competition?

As I said above, RPTools provides a free, real-time, extendable, flexible, networkable, multi-user, cross-platform, and [i]rapidly developing[/i] tool for gamers of any genre: role-playing, wargaming, card gaming, and even board games.

Whew. Your readers will really need to see it — "seeing is believing". I've been hooked on MapTool since I started using it back in June of 2006. I've only been on the development team since late 2009. I try to use other tools and I feel restricted and constrained by the arbitrary limits imposed by the application. We try very hard to have no limits. (There is no limit on the size of the map, for example. Or the number of tokens. Or the number of macros. Well, no limit other than the amount of memory you have available.shades_small.png)

Thanks to Azhrei at the RPTools forums for taking the time to answer the questions.

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