Update #1 - Game Tools
It's been an arduous process, but I'm finally nailing down the "engine" that Hellstorm
will be working on: Google Drawing.
Those of you who are most accustomed to online RPGs and tabletop will no doubt start rolling in laughter, but do not take this decision for an uneducated one. From the earliest stage where it was to be screen-sharing using Adobe Flash, I've done quite a bit of research into a myriad of tools I never knew existed: Vassal, Maptool and Roll20 were but a few. All of them had remarkable capabilities, right up to the potential of seamless net-play with hard-coded rules and mechanics.
They did not appeal to me for various reasons, the first and foremost being Accessibility. If Hellstorm
is to be tried at all, it will not be by players who have the gumption to fight through broken code and squirrely networks to do it. Google Drawing allows brand new players to simply register/log in with a gmail account and instantly get cracking, with no requirements for downloads, installations or server hosting. Games can be saved and loaded in-progress on Google drive, making it a simple matter to load previously created or mid-game scenarios on the fly.
requires very fluid motion and total control. This places demands on a player's coordination of pieces on the field, much like Battlefleet Gothic, and therefore adds an element of "physical" skill in addition to general tactics. Google Drawing allows you to rotate objects to within a tenth of a degree, with the ability to "aim" towards other objects on the screen by dragging the mouse, all while it actively tracks the "nose position" of every object no longer selected. To say that this is ideal is an understatement, since all it's lacking is the measurement, easily accomplished with the in-game ruler.
And third: You can upload massive satellite images of terrain and zoom out to a significant degree, allowing both a relatively high quality of playing pieces and a decent enough backdrop to play on. For that matter, any backdrop at all will do: Just load it up and expand it like mad. The quality may start suffering when zoomed in too far, but that's a small price to pay.
There are, of course, a handful of issues, none of them too critical for those with a hint of patience. First and foremost is the inability to "lock" images or set them to untouchable layers: Backgrounds can be pushed to the absolute back, but clicking on them anywhere except when pieces are above them results in its selection. Luckily ground objects in Hellstorm
are placed independently on a scenario-by-scenario basis, and so any accidental shifting of the scenery does not impact the game... the "undo" button is nice too.
Another glaring issue, probably the worst offender, is the inability to make playing pieces with detection/engagement rings already surrounding them. Google Drawing's "oval" tool does not seem capable of making a perfect circle by default, and the added grief of making new circle sizes and colors for every game would be a pain. Meanwhile, Flash is unable to produce images larger than 2880x2880 pixels, preventing me from keeping the pieces (and their detail) large enough yet still maintaining the range circles required. This can be fixed by simply resizing independent range circles and aligning them with these units.
... Which brings me to the third issue, which is less critical but still bothersome: At some point, Google Drawing fails to import images to consistent scales. While aircraft and all objects generally below 500x500px hold true, attempts to import an in-game 30" ruler resulted in the image being shrunk. Luckily, Hellstorm
is already designed such that the standard playing piece is 2" in diameter, or 1" in radius, meaning a simple calibration of the first ruler placed down is all that is needed: duplicate rulers, and duplicate range circles, are a simple matter once their initial "calibration" has been completed.
All of this did, however, demand a slight change in design philosophy: Previously, the standard aircraft size of 2" was reserved for all light aircraft such as fighters. Larger pieces were to make referencing bombers easier, although this would also increase their "clout" and hit-detection radius. But since the game scale did not change, it would be wrong to calibrate rulers on them. Moreover, it also hampered the most no-nonsense tool Google Drawing provided: The capacity to see where you are moving something before the object has moved. Combined with corner and 1/2 marks, this allows for rapid movement of pieces along a chosen axis so long as the diameter of the piece remains a constant 2".
Google Drawing also has the delightful capacity to use a bizarre collection of non-standard fonts, several of which are very appropriate for the setting and help to differentiate between factions on the map. I was anticipating a very limited variety, and the need to create images for all of these labels required by the game, but this makes the process totally painless, and even customizable: Who needs to wait for me to publish a picture saying "Blood Pact 3rd Mechanized Corps" when you can just type it yourself, AND make it spikey!
Stay tuned for future updates. The Imperial Navy roster is almost complete, including playing pieces, requiring only a few transports for completeness. These will be given to the PDF as needed. After that, they only need enough land units to justify various scenarios, and 2 factions will be complete.
I'm already started musing about a "tutorial campaign" involving the Imperial Navy putting down a rebellion on a haughty world. But that will have to wait for the rulebook to be finalized and whatnot.
Those of you who would like to join up are still free to contact me based on the contact information in the opening post.