Unhappy Silicon

For some reason my computer has been less than happy since I got back, which makes me less than happy too. I have, of course, tried turning it off and on again. Unfortunately it’s more serious than that.

That aside, I’ve been pondering various computing questions for a while. Partly this is which software is most useful for my daily work, and partly the more interesting question of what’s happening with the DreadBall apps being developed by folk and where board/figure gaming and the digital world can usefully interact in general. It feels to me that we’re on the cusp of digital versions of rulebooks becoming really useful, though I don’t think any of the attempts made so far have really quite fulfilled the promise.

I’ve been deliberately using some digital versions of rulebooks that I also have as hard copies to see how the formats compare, and have a few thoughts on what I’d like to see in a digital version. Now I’m asking you guys what you reckon.

Do you use digital rulebooks much (or at all)? If you do, then what aspect convinced you to make the shift? If not, why not, and what would make you consider them?

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27 Responses to Unhappy Silicon

  1. redfox4242 says:

    I will actually buy both a hard copy and digital rules. I use both. I like being about to copy and paste the special rules relevant to my personal army. I usually gather all the special rules for my army and print them up. I also put a digital copy of the rules on my phone so I can read the rules where ever I am. During games I use the hard copy. When it’s available I prefer the hard copy.

  2. tornquistd says:

    Two quick tips for your personal use. Take a look at Libreoffice. It is free but that is not the reason I use it for me it just works better for general office activities. I have also found that Windows works better if it is run in a virtual machine and not directly on the hardware and it is very easy to backup your Windows system when it is virtual.

    With pdf rules I end up printing them to use during games as tablet screens turn off to quickly and are a bit to small for the layouts used with the rules.

  3. I prefer the hardcopy for when I’m actually playing – it’s so much easier to quickly find a rule that you’re looking for. But I prefer the digital copy for when I’m reading it cover-to-cover – the small size and flexibility of my tablet beats out a large hunk of paper.

    Effectively, this means that the “large coffee table book” of the WHFB rulebook I’d prefer on my tablet, but the mini-rulebook is what I’d like in reality.

    I think the only thing that _could_ make me prefer the digital for play time, is if it had a brutally efficient search engine, an easy way of displaying those search results such that when it got it wrong I could easily look at another option, and faster loading times.

  4. Angus says:

    Digital books is something that I’ve been pondering in my day job. Though my day job is not games related, I am involved with publishing for both print and digital environments.

    Essentially, I’m working on the inclusion of rich-media, to try and make documents more accessible. Within a gaming context this would amount to: animated tutorials on how game rules work or should be applied etc.

  5. Chris says:

    For all board games I use paper rulebooks while playing. I have a nook but the pdf support is horrible. The paper format is still superior. However I also download the digital version for all my popular games. This is so I can refer to the rules conveniently when surfing the web or browsing through BGG and some topic refers to some aspect of the game. Also, sometimes during breaks I’ll refer to rules or something when strategizing about games (or planning my next x-wing squad).

    In the case of RPGs, I only use the online version. the books are too big and online searching is incredibly useful, and I keep adventure logs, characters, and GM information almost always on the computer anymore.

  6. I’ve been playing Dungeon World, an RPG, using a pdf copy on my tablet, a tablet version of Office OneNote, and a pad of paper for making game notes. It’s important that if you are going to offer digital books they must have a robust bookmark system. PDFs can use bookmarks to quickly jump to sections otherwise it can be impossible to find things in a PDF.

    As for software to do what you do. I know people are note liking Office. However, for compatibility you really can’t beat it. Plus now Office comes with the best note-making program: OneNote.

    OneNote mimics a shelf of notebooks. You make a notebook called Game Ideas and put your notes in there. You can have a main section where you put the germs of ideas. Then you have a section on each game you are working on, which can have pages and subpages.

    Once the game gets big enough you create a new notebook and copy the section from the Game Ideas notebook.

    It has a built-in screenshot utility (Windows key – S) which is great for snagging stuff, does character recognition and if you copy anything from a website it notes down the URL so you can find it again.

    You can also attach files to pages, so if you’re working in Word in a longer-form document you can attach it to keep it with your project.

    OneNote really is the best idea/campaign/wargame projects/whatever note-taking system because it really is just like having a paper notebook – except you can read your writing.

    It comes with most versions of Office (2010 and above) so you may already have it.

  7. Graham Bartram says:

    A fully interactive rulebook has not been done yet anywhere near the standard that it could be taken too. For a start the whole thing should cross reference properly. For example, if a character has an ability one should be able to tap on it and get a pop up off what the rules are for that ability. I consider that the basics.

    Having a Team Roster/ Army List/ Crew List etc.. builder would also be good, but that doesn’t need to be in the book, that’s more for a separate app…. or is it? Where do we draw the line? I would love to see video bits in fluff sections of rulebooks and 360 views of models that I can rotate too. How about books that interact with each other and update properly?

    War Room for Warmachine is an interesting app that includes digital card decks, army builder, rule reference and game tracker. It’s an interesting start but lacks the fluff. With sound and video fluff sections could be truly great. 10 great Dreadball plays in video would be cool, Interactive walk through of a Spaceship/ Combat zone/ Arena sounds fun. Deadzone interactive scenery planner maybe?

    Anyway, my point is the area between digital rulebook and app is amazingly blurry and I would love to see more going into apps like war room. It’s no way perfect but to have a single container app with individual downloadable sections is in my honest opinion the best approach. It allows you to expand the range of the app whilst keeping control so that all the bits interact with each other as they should. It does need more fluff and core rules in the case of war room but the approach is sound.

    In short:
    Downside, it’s an app so different versions are required for different operating systems unlike a pdf.
    Upside: OMG, multimedia. What can’t you do?

  8. Ben says:

    I read novels digitally where I can. It’s so much easier and more convenient to read them on an ereader than have a load of physical books. I avoid using digital copies of academic books as they’re not as easy to use as physical copies. Rulebooks tend to fall into the same category as academic text books, I need to use them rather than just read them, which is much easier to do with a physical copy. If I have a PDF copy of a rulebook then the most likely reason I’ll use it is to quickly check a rule when I’m on my laptop. I don’t have a tablet, though I still can’t see myself using digital rulebooks at the gaming table even if I did have one. I did have a little play with DB interactive rulebook, which I think I’d be more likely to use if I have a tablet, but even then, I think I’d still prefer a physical book.

  9. I tend towards physical books for miniature games. They don’t generally need me to be able to reference more than a couple of books at the table.

    The two exceptions (although I keep physical books handy for them) are Warmachine (since the iOS app for army building is rather good) and Warhammer 40,000 (since the new Space Marine codex is rather well cross referenced with popup explanations of various keywords).

    Most of my use of electronic gaming books is for RPGs where I tend to need a larger number of books and am more likely to be going along to play after work (so wanting to avoid carrying heavy books around all day) and not carrying a big miniature case already.

  10. Dustin says:

    I prefer digital nowadays. I like having the electronic copies available on the phone/tablet/laptop for easy reference wherever and whenever I game.

  11. Upfront disclaimer, I’m on the team working on the Mantic Digital products. We’ve been working the eBook space for a few years now, mostly in education. I’m a gamer myself so I know the problems that come with digital rules first hand and like people have said here and in the survey we carried out at the Mantic Open Day, “digital is slow” which when you think about it is kinda crazy.

    The “book” has been a near perfect format for 1500 years and the approach we’re taking isn’t new, it just isn’t one of the mainstream (iBooks) ways of doing things. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to limit an eBook by the constraints of the printed format; pages, chapters, table of contents are all relatively meaningless. What we’re trying to do is focus on to the context of the rules themselves i.e. you’re playing DreadBall, you have one action left, you have a guard and a striker available. In that case what *can* you do? Right now, you’d need to know what actions a player can perform, and what type of roll you need to make and you don’t want to overlook an ability, so you need to be familiar with the rules and know how the book is structured etc. Well what if you didn’t, what if you could look up your context and find only the suitable rules and go one step further and show exactly what rolls that particular needs to make, taking into account their stat line.

    PS I fully expect to be burnt as a witch by book purists.

    • rythos42 says:

      No burning here – that sounds like a good, if not wickedly difficult, plan!

      Reminds me of this KS I was watching a while ago – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1613260297/golem-arcana. And it’s definitely another way to get the digital rules to be “faster” – give it enough context, and it will only display the information that is useful in that situation.

      • colonelgrib says:

        I saw that Kickstarter, but I don’t know if that crosses the line. On one hand you want to cut down on the “administration” of playing a game, but on the other that’s part of the charm. We’re experimenting with DICE+ but it’s a gimmick and for fun (and expensive too) but it’s still tactile, whereas I don’t think any of us would ever want to have automatic dice roller in the app.

      • Troy Baker says:

        I’d prefer not to go as far as Golem Arcana (or Ex Illis) but I appreciate some gamers don’t have time to paint their figures, read rules or roll dice…

  12. Troy Baker says:

    I think GW are going in the right direction with keyword popups in their digital books however as always their pricing is incorrect (I’m in Australia so I’m bitter about it). There’s something annoying about having a physical copy of a book then feeling obliged to also buy a digital copy. In ancient times owning a copy in one format gave you permission to own all formats but that seems to have been waived in recent years.

    Anyway I think digital is useful with solid context-sensitive cross-referencing; when I tap on a rule I see an explanation and don’t need to swipe through the whole book trying to find a meaning.

  13. Jonathan R says:

    I prefer to have a paper book for 3 reasons
    1, I find it easer to find the information I’m looking for
    2. I feel that I’m sopprting the game as getting ebooks for free is easy
    3, I like the feel of books

  14. Slim Chaney says:

    I’m a fan of the “smaller” version rulebooks. I ride a motorbike and the full size ones are too heavy to carry more than a few. I tried the tablet idea but it really seemed to slow the game down and I went back to paper. For some reason I also felt that using the tablet disconnected me from the game in a way that a rulebook doesn’t, weird I know.
    In a recent timed game of Warmahordes I ran out o ftime, even though I went second, due to my opponent being unsure of his rules and taking an age to consult his PP App. I’m sure he would have been faster using the card deck and a rulebook.
    I also think everybody can use a book where as tablets, and apps, use unfamiliar formats. I couldn’t grab my opponents tablet to check a routine question for him whilst he continues to move other models.

  15. Sami Mahmoud says:

    TL;DR: I like both, and each has there place

    I find digital books great for reading if I want to work through either all or it or a chunk of it, particularly as it allows me to push fun times into my commute. It’s also handy for generally having to hand if I’m bored/waiting somewhere away from home with a little time to kill. For me one of the biggest plusses of digital content is the ability for designers to integrate amendments, FAQs, clarifications and re-balancing directly into the rules*. For example, if the summary sheets at the end of the S3 DB rulebook were always up to date in the digital version those few pages would be an insanely useful tool to have to hand when playing games.

    Where digital falls down for me is in two/three areas. Firstly, as others have said, searching for a particular rule is much quicker with a physical copy apart from the rare situation when you “know it’s there but just can’t see it”.

    Secondly, back in the day I’d often find myself casually browsing rulebooks or codices just scanning over rules or points costs to see if there was anything I’d missed or not considered using or some interesting rule or combo I fancied trying out – digital copies don’t lend themselves well to the casual browser IMO.

    That second point links into or is part of my third point – casual list making. If I’m playing with ideas then I might want to play with drafting some lists, or parts of lists to complete later, when a physical book is appropriate to be using, most of the time it’s no problem to have something else (paper, phone, pc etc) to draft lists on. If you’re in a situation where physical copy is not really appropriate (eg commuting) then I’m already using the device to read the rules and army list, I can’t also draft lists on it unless people start adding integrated army builder** software (which would be ace btw). This can be exacerbated if a lot of information is stored on cards etc for the game where having the digital rules doesn’t even give you all the information you need to think about the game or army (the difference between the Deadzone standard digital release and the backer release that has faction cards at the back being an example).

    *I would also like to see most if not all systems look at following the Dreadball method of incorporating FAQs and changes into each subsequent book, or some other structured update system for physical copy.

    **Something else that would be really cool from a digital point of view is a website that allowed league/campaign organisers to manage their competitions online eg tracking results of games/battles, standings, injuries/deaths, model advancements, newsletters etc. Looking at some of the online sports management games I don’t think this is unachievable.

  16. crimsonsun says:

    I use both formats but truly I doubt I will ever willingly go fully digital over physical books. I use digital versions for reference and when I want to know something while at my PC or when on a train/bus but for actual reading be it rulebooks or novels I will always choose paper copies. I find it difficult to read digitally for more than a few hours at a time and that any longer will lead to headaches. I also find it far quicker to look things up in a book than it is to via my pc or on my phone though this could be as much to do with me not having a tablet as I do realise that would greatly improve the ease of using digital books.

    Another issue I have with digital formats is cost with them being almost that of hard copies and no matter useful digital books are at times I do in now way feel they equate to a physical copy.

    I guess like someone said above I prefer the feel of a real book, the ease of looking things up and also a digital copy is never going to have that smell that a book does, its possibly my favourite smell in the world that of a new book or opening a boxed game with a new book inside its fantastic…


  17. Ed Lowe says:

    Call me old fashioned but I prefer the tactile feel of a physical book. Theres something much more rewarding about having a shelf of books rather than some pdf files. Now I do read alot of short stories online which is great so a one off short hit, but I find it much easier to navigate a physical book, finding rules and flipping though pages.

    Also you cant beat that new book smell 🙂

  18. The future of Digital rules as I foresee it lies in the integration of a much better “siri” like function where you can either give a rule name, or describe it, and the book will go retrieve what you’re after.

    (C) Jimmi 13 🙂

  19. I like books especially if they’ve been distilled down to a 1-2 page quick ref. sheet. If not then I’ll stick post-it tab labels on the book pages. I like electronic rules but that means bringing my ipad or android tablet to the FLGS on a crowded Sat./Sunday afternoon with all sorts of activities with gamers of all ages going on. It’s not unusual for tables to get bumped and your stuff falling on the floor or models getting misplaced or even stolen. I don’t want to bring an e-reader to keep an eye on along with all my other belongings that I don’t want stolen. Losing a book sucks but not as much as losing an ipad.

  20. Torkel says:

    Physical books all the way. If it’s digital and I need to use it, I print it out.
    (I’m a computer science student)

  21. cantgohomeagain says:

    I’m going for both myself – paper books have their place but sometimes the ability to SEARCH trumps everything.

    I REALLY wish companies would sell both at the same time for the price of the physical book. It’s galling to pay $50 for a paper rulebook and then $40 more for it’s ebook equivalent. (Kudos to Mantic, as a Kickstarter backer I’ve gotten Kings of War, Dreadball and Deadzone in both paper AND ebook format….now I wish the Dreadball rules were better organized as an Ebook, but that’s another matter)

    • Graham Bartram says:

      +1 to that. Even though I prefer digital I play against others that prefer physical books and I also forget to charge my tablet sometimes… Doh!

  22. Definitely like that context search idea. I like pdfs and all, and do indeed get rpg/game pdfs from time to time, and sometimes I can find things faster in digital than in hard copy cos I know where it is in the pdf and can just tap in a page number and be there, but sometimes I run afoul of ‘what I think I’m looking for’s “name”..’ and ‘What the makers of this game have ACTUALLY called it in their make-believe universe’s rules.’ One example: I read through all of a certain game’s rules, remembered something about snapshots and overwatch then wound up hunting for what felt like ages for the specific rules governing the situation I was trying to resolve.

    Project Pandora had me trying to find where Dodge was in the book (prior to me seeing it listed in brackets on the back of the book along with page number reference) quickly, going through it in a hurry. Eventually discovering where it was, I slapped the legend ‘Dodge’ in between the first two paragraphs in case I ever went through the same game rule location blindness again.

    I do love Dreadball and DeadZone. They’ve been one of the EASIEST to navigate rulesets for finding specific rules and those rules have usually stopped us from having to hunt through blogs forums and FAQs to address certain scenarios that spring up from time to time.

    So… more like that, please.

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