Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Skype Me

I tend to think of myself as a bit of a techno-luddite. I simultaneously try to understand my tech while also trying to use as little of it as possible. Unfortunately, life doesn't let me do the latter enough.

It took me a long time to move into the mobile phone world. I kept resisting it. I knew that when you have instant access to people, and they have instant access to you, that you lose your strategic planning skills. After all, you no longer have to coordinate your day, arrange pick-up and plan contingencies. You can just wing it, assuming that you will be able to contact whomever it is when you get close to them.

But with a wife, an ex-wife, and four children all going to different schools, I knew that I had to give in after my umpteenth missed connection.

Of course, once I decided to do it, I had to do it whole hog. That meant reading through the phone manuals to understand all of the phone's features, checking on Google for any unlisted features, and ensuring that everyone in my family knew how to use the phones for calling, messages, voicemail, received calls, and so on (all except my wife, who can't be bothered).

I had been keeping the same distance from IM for almost as long. I couldn't figure out why IM was necessary when you have email. However, once voice over IM joined in, and it was free and easy, I knew I had to give in. VOIM, available with Skype, as well as other IM clients, is just peachy. Yeah, you need to be sitting in front of your computer and have it turned on all the time. But if your computer is turned on anyway, it's totally worth it to learn how to use it.

As far as regular IM goes, I remember using the VM/CMS talk program back in the late 80's when calling people was still expensive. I used to talk from the computers in Cornell to my friends in Boston. I still have no desire to send SMS using my mobile phone, since the interface is too difficult. But it is pretty fast and nifty to send a quick message to someone without having to use a full email. Google's Gmail/Google Talk, which doesn't require you to even download a client, kind of did it for me.

What I like about Google Talk is that is has nothing but chat. What I hate about all the other chat programs (except Trillian) is that they want to control your world, just like other obnoxious software programs, such as music and word processors. That means that after I had installed one of the IM clients, I had to slam down on the firewall several times, quickly go through everything that was installed and uninstall all but the chat part, check my registry and remove the program from starting up with Windows (sorry, wish I was using Linux or Mac; what can you do?), disable all unnecessary programs by changing their extensions, turn off almost every feature in the client, and so on. And I still get occasional popups and animated advertisements. With Google Talk, I have a box, a list of people, and a button. Dat's it. And dat's all I want.

So, now that I'm seriously able to be online with IM and Skype, I feel closer to people around the world. And that means that we can play games.

What should we play?

Now, I'm not talking about playing games online interactively with other people, like you can do on various sites. I'm not even talking about the excellent Vassal server which can be used to help people track game positions. I'm more interested in real games to play with people who are not physically present, but can be heard. And in some cases, poorly seen. Since Skype allows you to include up to five people on a party line, I'm looking for games that can be played by five people over Skype in real-time.

Back in the mid-nineties I used to play Magic over the phone with my friend. We would put down proxy cards representing whatever the other person said they played. Sometimes it was the only way we could get time to play. It was fun, but labor intensive.

But generally speaking, games with decks are a problem for 3-5 players not physically present in the same room. Games with secret negotiations are a problem. Games where you have to see the other people are a problem.

Basic abstracts with no hidden information would work well, so long as each player has a copy. Chess, Dvonn, and so on. When one of you makes a move, you just tell the other person. People have been doing this by phone for a while. Heck, they've been doing this by e-mail and even snail mail for a while.

Do we assume that for any game to work, each player must have their own copy? For instance, for Settlers of Catan to work, one person must set up the board and then all players have to keep carbon copies of the game going in front of them. That's also kind of labor intensive, but maybe not too bad. Oops. But then you've got the development cards. A problem.

Suggestions welcome.

Once we have a list ... let's play some games.



Melissa said...

We're running quite a lot of Werewolf online these days, through various IM applications. We're considering how we can use Skype - although their limit is one person too few for a 5p + mod game. We think it will be useful for private wolfy discussions, though.

Other thoughts of games that could be played on air are modified word games - scattergories, apples to apples (probably without cards) or attribut.

I also think voice chat would be a great add-on to any online gaming - eg at BSW. Particularly for pre-arranged or friendly games, the chatting would work well.

So far, though, my experiences have shown that the first couple of conversations will consist almost entirely of
"Wow this is so weird"
"I love your voice!"
"I can't believe we're really doing this!"
"Is my microphone on?"
"I am just showing my wife how this works"
and other similarly exciting observations.

Use of webcams in the early morning is not recommended, either ;)

ekted said...

I saw some message in Skype the other day that it now supports 8-way conference calls.

Anonymous said...

melissa, where's a good place to hook up for Werewolf online? Is it chat or email?


al.t of mtnhdw.com

Melissa said...

Al, look in the forums at Boardgamegeek.com - Play by email - werewolf. We run lots of forum-based games there, and also announce chat-based games as they start.