What remains, however, is the conception that tabletop, board and card games are based on physical objects (dice, cards, boards, papers, tokens, figurines, maps, etc.) whilst video games are based on information processing. This divide means that the more complex games, like those mentioned above, require an awful lot of bookkeeping to play, dissuading all but the more passionate gamers such as myself. This is seen in extremes with many roleplaying game systems. The rulebooks for HERO System 6th Edition, for instance, cost $80 and weigh in at about 1,000 full-color pages. Players must keep track of endurance, body and stun damage, mental and physical defences, skill level allotments, initiative, position, etc., while the game master (GM) must keep track of all of this and more for each of the antagonists.
My question, then, is what power can be gained by mixing the physical and informational models. Let the computers do what they do best, keeping track of rules and statistics, while the humans do what humans do best: spin stories and build worlds. Of course, many tools exist that nudge in this direction, but very few embrace the fusion of information processing with physical metaphor and human creativity.
Enter Project Umbra: a suite of web-based tools for keeping track of stats and states in Shadowrun 4e. Players will be able to log in to a game hosted by a GM from their smartphones, and will be shown their damage levels, wound modifiers, initiative orders and other vital information. The GM, for his/her part, will be able to use an Android tablet (Honeycomb or later) to view and manipulate entire combats quickly and unobtrusively. Games won't have to be interrupted to ask for initiative rolls from each player in turn; they can simply tap a button on their phones to make that information available to the GM, keeping table talk focused on the characters rather than the rules.
|A player can quickly see what games are available to them from their mobile phones using the web-based Shadowcloud client.|
|A game master can quickly view and manipulate an entire combat by using an unobtrusive tablet, instead of a laptop whose screen blocks their view of players.|
I think the potential for Project Umbra is quite exciting, frankly, and am looking forward to playing more with it and making the most I can of the technology. If you would like to be a part of the project and help in any way, please let me know. Just like any good game, Umbra isn't limited to just one mind.