Thursday, May 27, 2010

The iPad As A Gaming Aid

After using the iPad for a week at WBC West as a gaming aid, I thought I'd relate my experiences with the device. Keep in mind that this is very new tech, less than two months old at the time of the gaming event, and it will almost certainly improve as it's been such a huge success.

I used the iPad in a couple of ways, at least I planned to. First was to use the device as a wargame ruleset aid, allowing me to have the most recent copy of rulesets, playbooks, and errata/FAQs. In this sense, with one notable exception of The Burning Blue (which looked like Latin for some reason in PDF, perhaps due to the font used in the original rulebook), it was a huge success, but only after I had created extensive bookmarks for each rulebook.

For this task, I used GoodReader for several reasons - it was easy to get the rulesets into the iPad without any other device (other than getting 'Net access through WiFi - my iPad doesn't do 3G). I could organize the rulesets in folders, make changes to the file names, and other basic management tasks. The program also had a "soft" rotation hold feature so that I could turn the iPad and not have the text do gymnastics, although I had to do this every time I turned it on. I could zoom either by tapping (which I turned off after the 50th time I did this inadvertently) or by the standard pinch/expand method that you use on the iPhone.

The text was very clear, search was pretty useful (it would move forward *or* backward with a touch), and once I had useful bookmarks in place it helped considerably, and I found myself finding rules much faster than if I was using hardcopy, especially on larger rulesets such as Battle for Normandy. Of course, I also had something like 40 bookmarks! Organizing the bookmarks was also possible, if a bit time consuming - you drag them into place, but the software only displays around 12 or so at a time so I had to stage them if Artillery was at the bottom of the list. On the other hand, inserting them required me to go to a page, decide what bookmarks I wanted, then type them in.

For wargame rules access, it was an unmitigated success with the caveat that some prep was required, which I find to be perfectly acceptable. I missed it dearly in the last game of the week I played, and I hope to figure out why those rules were easily printable on my home Mac but not viewable on the iPad. And yes, I did try zooming in with no luck.

If I could change one thing, it would be to allow me to go to the next page via either touching the sides of the existing page vs the top/bottom, which is the default. The Kindle reader I use touches the sides, as does the iBooks reader, and I constantly had to remember that with GoodReader it was the top/bottom instead. That should be something that the dev team can add easily, and I plan to pass it on to them.

The other thing I hoped to do was to blog as I played. This turned out not to work well at all. I tried using a piece of software called Mover Lite to transfer photos from the iPhone to the iPad, but it worked about 20% of the time, and the rest of the time it just disconnected the iPad from the WiFi system (despite me being about 15 feet from the router with no intervening media other than air). I resorted to emailing the photo, but then Blogger wouldn't allow me to type data in - the keyboard wouldn't come up, and I couldn't even select the text body field. I resorted to using the built-in Notepad feature rather than fuss with Pages, which required me to first select the text I wanted to include and copy it to the clipboard, then go to the Photo app, select the photos I wanted to include, send them to the Mail app, then paste in the text into the email body, then send it off to Blogger. This worked, but photos always appeared at the top of the entry and formatting was occasionally lost.

I abandoned that idea after my third game and chose to blog once I got home to a desktop system instead. To be honest, trying to keep track of every turn was a lot of work, and while I thought it was effective (especially with A Most Dangerous Time), it was more work than I was willing to do in a week already filled with a lot of brain activity.

For blogging, especially if you want to make use of photos, right now it's a fail. Fortunately, this is really the only situation that I see it as something I'd want to use the iPad for, mostly because it takes up so much less room on the game table than a laptop.

I ended up using the iPad in a way I had not actually expected to for gaming. Near the end of the week, Chuck, Matt, Eric, and Dave were playing Rise of Empires using a copy that was missing the board that holds all of the various tiles. In and of itself, that's not a big deal, except that the Trade option chart is on that board, and you need it to play the game. Someone had drawn a hasty scrawl on a piece of paper, but I had another idea. Grabbing the iPad from their room to the sarcastic cries of "The iPad will save us!", I went on the 'Geek and downloaded a photo of the board in question, zoomed in to the relevant section, and lo and behold they used it for the rest of the game. Only problem - the screen time out, which I could have turned off for them had they asked.

Here's a shot of what they used:

Yes, I'm brilliant. And there was no further sarcasm. 

They even used the markers on the iPad screen. 

There were some other things that I thought the iPad could have done with some coding on my part that would have been nice as well:
  • Pre-paragraph look up tasks (through the Encounter Matrix) for Tales of the Arabian Nights;
  • Step Loss, Air Point, Combat Supply Point, and other record keeping in BfN;
  • Luftwaffe Raid Planning in The Burning Blue;
I'm sure there were more possibilities, but that gives you an idea of what is possible.

I briefly considered playing Race for the Galaxy with the hands on your iPhone and the systems on a common iPad for all players to see, but the screen is simply too small to display that much information. It sure would make shuffling the deck easier, though...

I did not use programs such as Score or Diceinomicon that are intended for gaming as they weren't really needed so much. Dice towers and built in scoring systems worked just fine for the most part. We did use the Diceinomicon at our final dinner, however, to determine who got the excess cash after we've over paid the bill, although that was using the iPhone rather than the iPad. 

I also used the iPad extensively for email, Web surfing, watching a couple of movies via Netflix or Stargate episodes I'd previously downloaded, and doing some puzzles via Puzzle Maniak. 

I did have one negative experience outside of blogging - after watching one movie the first night, I found myself unable to get video and other bugginess, which required a soft reset. A hard reset was out of the question as the iPad was not synced to the iMac we have at the vacation house. Fortunately, it did what it was supposed to do, and I had no further wackiness. Perhaps the problem was using GoodReader as my video player, more as an experiment than anything else.

I am also increasingly enamored of the Apple branded sleeve/cover for the iPad. Mike continues to keep his "naked" and I'm far too nervous about scratching the screen of mine to do that. Given the problems of getting a protector onto the screen without bubbles or foreign material, the Apple case does what it needs to do, and I continue to marvel at how much it feels like I'm holding a book when I read in the dark. There's no question that the Kindle device, while not touch sensitive, is a superior reading experience - the e-ink is incredible, and the screen is nowhere near as reflective as on the iPad - but given the price points and the flexibility of the iPad, it wins hands down on versatility alone, at least for my purposes. 

I give the iPad as a gaming aid (in the uses I made of it) a B+, and if you don't plan to blog with it, a solid A. I should also mention that I used a wireless Apple keyboard with it, and was impressed with how seamless an interaction that was once paired (which was a simple process as well). Hitting the space bar on the keyboard woke the iPad, just like on my desktop system! And having the complete character set available made entering text so much easier than using the onscreen keyboard. It works, but it takes about three times as long to type material in. 

I may well decide to take on one of the above mentioned coding projects in the near future, as they all seem pretty easy (other than drawing on the Luftwaffe planning maps for TBB, which I may be able to do using drawing software that allows me to use a PDF or other graphic file as a background. 

All in all, I'm very happy with the device so far, even if I do have to carry a cleaning cloth to wipe the screen a few times a day. The touch screen is completely worth it.

1 comment:

9train said...

I enjoyed reading about this! I'm hoping to acquire an iPad in the future so it's helpful to see how this would work in a face-to-face gaming situation. Kudos for pushing the envelope!