Playing Dungeons & Dragons on the Microsoft Surface

Playing Dungeons & Dragons on the Microsoft Surface

Kattan-Wright (center) speaking at GDC while the rest of the team (right) demonstrate playing D&D on the Surface.
Kattan-Wright (center) speaking at GDC while the rest of the team (right) demonstrate playing D&D on the Surface.

Several years ago, Microsoft began a seed program to install Surface devices in healthcare and educational institutions around the world. Part test program, part humanitarian gesture, the Surface seeding has yielded many useful and interesting results for Microsoft, but the result with perhaps the greatest impact for all of mankind was a computer design program at Carnegie Mellon University that encouraged a small group of graduate students to design an application that would allow them to use the Surface to play Dungeons & Dragons

"We use Surface to enrich the D&D experience," says Dyala Kattan-Wright, the spokesperson for the group, who says Surface was an obvious choice for D&D-related development "because of its form factor: the table."

Players of pen and paper role-playing games, like D&D have long sought to employ the power of computing technology to smooth over some of the hobby's rough edges, such an abundance of rule-heavy literature and sometimes tedious accounting and combat mechanics. Attempts to merge paper gaming with computers vary in both their manner and effectiveness, but with their Surface application, the Carnegie Mellon team thinks what they've managed to accomplish is the first and best true marriage between the two.

"Surface allows us to automate some of the complexity of D&D," says Kattan-Wright, but unlike previous D&D computer programs, preserves what players find most unique about the experience: the tactile control of miniatures and dice rolling, and the social aspect of playing a game at a table with friends.

The Surface device's ability to recognize objects allows the players to register their character miniatures with the program, which will afterward recognize the presence of that character wherever their miniature is placed. Players can then cast spells and manage their character's abilities and inventories through use of a radial menu orbiting around the base of their miniature, and the program will even keep track of line-of-sight, spell effects and damage, making the game an almost seamless narrative experience.

The Dungeon master controls the game and can view secret information away from the eyes of the players by use of a networked laptop, and can display suggestive imagery and dungeon maps directly on the surface of the Surface, allowing players to interact directly with the game in real time. The effect is akin to a marriage between a standard RPG game map pad and a holodeck.

Kattan-Wright says the automation "allows players to focus on what's really important about D&D - the narrative." And lowers the "barrier to entry" for newcomers.

The team developed their program over the course of two semesters at Carnegie Mellon using Microsoft's XNA development tools. They're currently planning a larger scale demonstration at PAX East in Boston later this month.

A video demonstration of the program in action and further details on how it works are to be had here.

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...... AWESOME, next up: Warhammer 40k and Fantasy, BFG, Blood Bowl and the like!

I remember hearing about this at the last Consumer Electronics thingo.

I'm totally stoked.

While I would love to have this I feel that the start up cost and the potential for extreme damage by drink and food make me hesitant to throw myself at such a thing, though creating it so that other games (like interacting with an Xbox by turning the table up to be a giant touch screen) and programs could be used (like designing power point presentations like building virtual blocks and photo albums) that would make it a really potent piece of home entertainment software.

Rainboq:
...... AWESOME, next up: Warhammer 40k and Fantasy, BFG, Blood Bowl and the like!

Yes!

This is great. I hope it becomes affordable in a few years, before I am too old to admit in public I play D&D.

I wonder, will you be able to link up on the internet with friends to for games like this? It'd sure make getting together and playing a hell of a lot easier, providing that everyone had access to one anyways.

Doc Cannon:
This is great. I hope it becomes affordable in a few years, before I am too old to admit in public I play D&D.

you are NEVER too old to admit you play D&D.

OT: we can has online mode for D&D now?

Kalezian:

Doc Cannon:
This is great. I hope it becomes affordable in a few years, before I am too old to admit in public I play D&D.

you are NEVER too old to admit you play D&D.

Damn right! The youngest player in my D&D group is 26 (me), everyone else is in their 30s, or they're my dad, who's 51. None of us would even think twice about admitting we play D&D - admitting is of course the entirely wrong word, since that implies a sense of shame. Nerd pride!

I believe the article is missing the most important piece of information, when can I buy one of those?

Doc Cannon:
This is great. I hope it becomes affordable in a few years, before I am too old to admit in public I play D&D.

A friend of mine was playing D&D right up until his death at 75. Never let people tell you you're too old.

At what point does the game stop being a paper and pencil game and become a new type of video game?

This would be absolutely awesome; too bad I'd have to sell my soul to afford it.

Pity these things cost THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS, while a wet-erase battle map will cost less than one hundred.

So yeah, my value for money is right out on this. It's cool, but impractically expensive.

They demonstrated one of these at a fair of sorts I was on yesterday, didn't get to see much (and I'm fairly certain that they did not play D&D), but the concept seems pretty cool.

Too bad i dont use any miniature when i play D&D and other table top RPG...
Only character's sheets, dice and the books that all we need

I remember seeing this some time ago and I have to say it does look really really awesome. But the thing is it costs $12k. Seriously how many D&D players are going to shell out that much cash why they can just continue playing how the always do. Though I would LOVE it if they could somehow do the same with the Warhammer 40k Tabletop. Hell Games Workshop earns that much they could probably install one in every store they have.

Doc Cannon:
This is great. I hope it becomes affordable in a few years, before I am too old to admit in public I play D&D.

Hehe. It would certainly rejuvinate my love for it, thats for sure.

But...the price tag...Please Microsfot, bring it down so us normal people can afford it!

Gildan Bladeborn:
Damn right! The youngest player in my D&D group is 26 (me), everyone else is in their 30s, or they're my dad, who's 51. None of us would even think twice about admitting we play D&D - admitting is of course the entirely wrong word, since that implies a sense of shame. Nerd pride!

Man, I wish I could find a group like that in my area.
I went to this hobby store where they play every Sunday, and I was the oldest by at least 12 years, and I'm 25. That was not fun. You need people relatively your own age, or who at least experienced your age to have the most fun, I find.

So now I own the rulebook for 4th Ed. and nobody to play with.
Poop.

More on topic, this is awesome! I'm hesitant only because of start-up costs, but the concept is freaking sweet. If it's too expensive for the average DnD player, Hobby stores could invest in this, allowing people to come in and use it for a small fee or something. Could be an interesting business!
Plus it would be wicked cool in my 'man room'.

Won't this reduce the ability to houserule and make homebrew items/monsters?

Looks like you were ninja'd right here on this very site =P

The forums are over here, answers to most questions can be found there. Also I'd like to take this opportunity to once again brag that my parents own a Surface, so chances are I'm gonna be playing this in the future =D

I had first heard about Surface a year or two ago and I knew it was only a matter of time before this application would be developed for it. Frankly, I'm surprised it took this long. And as Talvrae said, not everyone uses miniatures. Some of the other features could still work, like the virtual dice and the slide show for when the DEM narrates their boring ass story for their wholly generic fantasy world. Pretty pictures can help the time pass, I guess. The obvious problem is that this is an application where not only would the GM want his own screen but so would every player. I suppose in the future when Surface is in every home and everyone owns a surface laptop, this would be just the same game only without all the papers.

But the battle map function does bother me. This does just make it into a video game. Heck, it could even use virtual miniatures so you don't have to lug fifty pounds of pewter around all the time. Of course, battle map combat is essentially a video game anyway. it was only a matter of time before someone programmed a computer to handle it, and Surface provides a tool to make that even easier.

However can it play Pathfinder?

pantsoffdanceoff:
I believe the article is missing the most important piece of information, when can I buy one of those?

If you have $12k to throw around, I think you need to order it from the Microsoft site.

OT: I'm going to watch the video later, due to me being on crappy WiFi, but I assume that this is going to be awesome. The Surface is already awesome, and I'm sure this will increase the fervor of it amongst gamers.

Heart of Darkness:
If you have $12k to throw around, I think you need to order it from the Microsoft site.

I went and checked. the PDF order form for the US says

$12,500 for a commercial unit + $720 install ($1,000 install after hours) + $240 3-5 day shipping ($530 1-2 day expedited shipping)

$15,000 for the developer unit which will no doubt incur the shipping charges at least. So that's at least $13,460. And that's just in the US. Other countries have different order forms and it's only available in certain countries.

So, basically this is like when it was a grand for a CD player. Only rich people will be shelling out for these things to give Microsoft their biscuit for developing the thing, and then the price will come down for the rest of us. I suspect at some point all computers will use a similar technology. Just not yet.

Oh, my goodness, pardon me...I have to wipe up my drool. How embarrassing.

Oh geez, I could totally see the Penny Arcade folks adopting this. They already get the most awesome and nerdiest stuff anyway, whats one more thing to add to the list?

The_root_of_all_evil:

Doc Cannon:
This is great. I hope it becomes affordable in a few years, before I am too old to admit in public I play D&D.

A friend of mine was playing D&D right up until his death at 75. Never let people tell you you're too old.

75?
Awesome, I hope I am still playing it when I'm 75 (but I'd just be happy to live that long).

 

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