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-   -   Much Needed Status Update (http://forums.wolflair.com/showthread.php?t=64521)

rob July 13th, 2020 01:52 AM

Much Needed Status Update
 
I’ve been dark here on the forums for quite a few weeks now, and it’s time to provide an update on HLO. Please don’t read anything special into my absence. It’s simply that there are limits on what I can accomplish. A few years ago, I worked ridiculous hours on a protracted basis and nearly killed myself in the process (literally). So I’ve imposed some constraints upon myself (which most would still consider ridiculous hours), and I juggle everything within those limits. After spending the past many weeks focused on development tasks, I’m back to recap what we’ve been up to and provide a glimpse into what's coming.

Shift in Focus

Back in April and May, it became clear that Covid-19 was going to be with us for many months, and it was changing the dynamics of gaming. We therefore made some adjustments to our priorities, deferring some of the things that we previously had planned to work on in favor of other features that were becoming more important in the new gaming landscape. As such, various capabilities we had mentioned as “upcoming” earlier this year have been postponed, while some of the new priorities are starting to come to fruition and still others remain in progress.

Dice Roller

One of the things most requested by users was a more flexible and deeply integrated dice roller, which debuted at the start of July. HLO also now features a shared roll history that’s viewable by everyone in the campaign. The overall mechanism will continue evolving in upcoming releases, including support for private rolls between player and GM, customization of rolls, arbitrary rolls, GMs making secret rolls for PCs, and a lot more.

Integration with Other Tools

With the massive shift to online gaming platforms, we’ve been working to expose character content for external consumption. This will enable users to write their own custom output filters (e.g. character sheets) and make integration with VTTs a reality (subject to companion coding on the VTT side, obviously). We had originally hoped to have this available by now, but we ran into an issue.

Since Hero Lab supports multiple game systems, we need a mechanism that is entirely data-driven – i.e. derived directly from the data files. What we discovered was that, in order to do this well, a major overhaul of the data files is required before we can release the new mechanism publicly. We could cut this corner and produce an inferior result, but we’re taking the long view, since this is a mechanism we hope will be adopted and used for many years.

Unfortunately, the data file team has also been grappling with multiple massive rulebooks for all the various RPGs, so the overhaul has been performed at a much slower rate than we would have preferred. The current expectation is that this mechanism will debut in early August for Starfinder, with Pathfinder 2E and Shadowrun 6E likely following in September and October, respectively.

Campaign Theater

A cornerstone of HLO is Campaign Theater, and it has been steadily evolving with a long list of enhancements being introduced over the past few months. An even longer list lies ahead, with new capabilities that should make running game sessions even more enjoyable. We’ve also taken a hard look at some of the features we’ve already released and how we can improve upon them. One key area is the overall Stage workflow, where certain aspects can be made clearer, so we’re reworking it. The net result will hopefully yield a more intuitive model that further streamlines game play. The next wave of changes should debut in time for GenConOnline at the end of the month.

General User Experience Improvements

The past few months have featured some significant refinements in how HLO operates, both in how it presents information and handles a wide range of situations. The product should now feel both smoother and easier to use, as well as more responsive overall. Many of the “rough edges” have now been polished to yield a more pleasant experience using the product, and further refinements should appear in the weeks ahead.

New Rule Books

As is typical, spring and summer are a busy period for RPG book releases. We’ve been hard at work getting these books into place within HLO in parallel with all of the new features outlined above. Here’s a quick recap of recently released and upcoming books:
  • Starfinder Near Space – Available now
  • Pathfinder 2E Lost Omens: Gods & Magic – Available now
  • Shadowrun 6E Firing Squad – We received this book well after its release, and we’ve been inundated with all the other books, so it’s still in the queue.
  • Pathfinder 2E Bestiary 2 – Available now
  • Pathfinder 2E Advanced Player’s Guide – On track to release at the end of July, in time for GenConOnline
  • Starfinder Starship Operations Manual – HLO support will not coincide with the book’s release. We originally planned to fully support starships within HLO in conjunction with this book, but we shifted our priorities as outlined above. When we integrate starship support into HLO, this book will be part of that effort.
Adventure Paths and Modules

We receive a steady stream of requests to put all the missing adventure paths and modules into HLO – both player and GM content. We absolutely want to get all that material into place. Unfortunately, the data file team is at its limit with all the big rule books and the rework needed to integrate with external tools, so we have been unable to make headway in that area.

To hopefully mitigate this situation, we will shortly be seeking one or two contractors to help us with data file development. If you or anyone you know has experience writing data files for HLClassic (the underlying Hero Lab language is the same) and is seeking work opportunities, stay tuned for that announcement.

What’s Next?

The plan for the next month or two was outlined above. After that, we are weighing a number of options. An important consideration in our deliberations is what users tell us they want, so please continue sharing your ideas and suggestions with us on the forums. We may not be directly responding, but we ARE reading them and factoring them into how we prioritize what to work on next.

Thank you for your continued support!

flyteach July 13th, 2020 04:07 PM

You asked for it, here it is. I've been asking for starships in Starfinder since HLO started beta as starships are, well, kinda crucial to Starfinder. Now I see it's put off indefinitely.

rob July 13th, 2020 05:58 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by flyteach (Post 289670)
You asked for it, here it is. I've been asking for starships in Starfinder since HLO started beta as starships are, well, kinda crucial to Starfinder. Now I see it's put off indefinitely.

I'm truly confused. Could you please explain how you've drawn this conclusion that starships are being "put off indefinitely"? They won't be out for GenCon, but that is far from "indefinitely".

You may also wish to review my response in the linked thread (post #11) for greater context on the situation on our end: http://forums.wolflair.com/showthread.php?t=64429

talsharien July 14th, 2020 03:26 AM

Thanks for the summary Rob, it is nice to have a central post where we can see everything that has changed, as I use PF2 only it is sometimes easy to forget that there are other games being worked on here as well.

The campaign theatre and subsequent dice roller have been received well, with my campaigns now fully adopting both of these items. I agree that with what has been happening in the world, the priority of these areas certainly increased (all my games are now completely online).

There are two things that I would really like to congratulate the HL team on.

1. Your response to serious faults has been nothing short of superb, on two occassions I have raised help through your FB page (at odd times as I am UK based) and had problems resolved mid gaming session. The bug report system has also worked well.

2. Releasing books for HL in line with actual releases from Paizo etc has impressed. One of my returning players (from HLC) asked how long it would be before he could build a character in HLO with an APG class and my response was "HLO support will be pretty much straight away".

All in all, thanks and keep up the good work.

flyteach July 14th, 2020 05:43 PM

Rob,
It's clear that other priorities come before Starships. Since there's always something new and shiny, it's hard to tell when this'll be available. Indefinite: lasting for an unknown or unstated length of time. I'd say that definition holds in this case.

thaX July 15th, 2020 06:52 AM

As the jump from Computer Program located on the user's computer went to the Online App via web portal, my overall concern had been pretty simple. Can I use this as a character generator and have the printed character sheet at the table?

The answer is "well...."

I hope that some sort of character sheet print out is being worked on that will use the standard format for the system it is printing, or have choices of what "character sheet format" can be used. Thus far, the current (vastly improved, thank you) sheet is serviceable, though I did put in a bug report about not having the notes section on the main sheet. (or in any of the printouts, for that matter)

With the online sessions being used almost exclusively for the time being, having the VTT compatibility will be nice, and the new books being in as released (or in a timely manner) is awesome, and I don't begrudge the hard work put in thus far.

Thank you for the update, Rob.

NCCraftBeer July 18th, 2020 09:30 AM

Thanks for the update. Please take care of yourself. Is there anyway to either sign up for notification when items like the PF2e Advanced Players Guide are available or pre-order?

Thanks for all your work and for the great product.

dacoobob July 18th, 2020 04:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rob (Post 289677)
I'm truly confused. Could you please explain how you've drawn this conclusion that starships are being "put off indefinitely"? They won't be out for GenCon, but that is far from "indefinitely".[/url]

No hint of a target date has been offered, so the delay is by definition "indefinite". Could be three weeks after GenCon, could be three years. We have no way of knowing until you tell us.

EDIT: I'll add that the reluctance to give a time estimate is worrisome, considering that starship management was supposed to be a core feature of HLO and was one of the main justifications given for moving to an online model in the first place. The fact that there's still no firm plan for implementation nearly three years later doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

markelphoenix July 19th, 2020 01:45 PM

I am concerned by the development focus. For me as a customer, I have used Hero Labs products to generate my characters using all available rule books (which on Hero Labs Classic, I was prompt to pay for the additional content as soon as it was available).

As a customer, it appears as if the 'plot has been lost' with focus being on trying to simulate virtual tabletops, when the market is already inundated with virtual tabletop offerings. What the market is not inundated with is character generators for these games.

As a long time customer of the HL Classic who promptly bought every available source material release to continue to give me the option to create new and interesting characters, am kind of baffled by this.

If team is currently inundated with source material, shouldn't that take a higher priority over additional tabletop functionality? Shadowrun is a great example, where Firing Squad, Adversary, Krime Katalogue, Shadowrun: Shadow Stock: Ingentis Athletes, and No Future content have not been added or offered for the HLO offering.

Further concerning is that from the above list, the only source material mentioned to be added is Firing Squad.

As a customer for a character generation tool, my expectation is of rapid offering of released source material that adds options to character creation. Perhaps I have rose colored glasses of the Hero Lab Classic days and am just remembering prompt and verbose delivery on content releases.

Was initially excited about Hero Labs Online, given my experience with Hero Labs Classic....sad to say that that excitement has been replaced with disappointment.

Farling July 19th, 2020 03:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by markelphoenix (Post 289773)
As a customer, it appears as if the 'plot has been lost' with focus being on trying to simulate virtual tabletops, when the market is already inundated with virtual tabletop offerings. What the market is not inundated with is character generators for these games.

LWD are not creating a VTT, they are providing integration so that your character sheet can be used online alongside other VTTs (where the VTT supplier, or their community, have created the relevant links to the LWD web site to access the character sheet).

markelphoenix July 19th, 2020 04:21 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Farling (Post 289774)
LWD are not creating a VTT, they are providing integration so that your character sheet can be used online alongside other VTTs (where the VTT supplier, or their community, have created the relevant links to the LWD web site to access the character sheet).

The campaign screen with the rolling and what not definitely gives off a replacement for VTT roller/state tracking.

I guess for me, I would expect that content was the priority. From my understanding, their bread and butter was Character Generators that promptly updated once new source material was released.

My expectation would be content first. Provide the same value that you made your name on, which was pretty awesome character generators that stayed up to date with material release.

If meeting that expectation, and able to continue to deliver on the core value proposition, then explore/prioritize on VTT integration.

Part that's confusing for me, is if they focused on the first priority, the VTT's could consume a JSON of a character, then when session was done, the VTT could export back out JSON for HLO to consume to update any character growth or new items.

flyteach July 19th, 2020 06:56 PM

I think @markelphoenix is onto something here. For playing around a table, with everyone on HLO and linked to the campaign, then some of the functionality may be useful. However, for a VTT, the dice rolling and encounters are already set up. So, while CT may be useful for in person play, there's a different paradigm for integrating with a VTT (and, quite frankly, I believe quite a bit less work if we stick with the bread and butter character generator/tracker). We don't need/want to recreate encounters, stat blocks, and rolls outside of the VTT when we're online.

charlieluce July 19th, 2020 09:00 PM

My groups have been using MapTool for maps for years, even in face to face games, but we just use it as a substitute for physical maps, not for character sheets or combat control or even the fancier movement/lighting options. If I had an interface that would let me link tokens on the MapTool map to characters running in a Campaign Theater script and display different condition markers when appropriate then that would be pretty much all I needed. I'm not sure how much work that's going to end up being, though.

Farling July 20th, 2020 01:27 AM

For me, the main benefit of HL was that it would dynamically update all the stats when a character received a buff or debuff. The added benefit to this for HLO is that a group buff can (in the future?) be applied as a single action, rather than having to edit each character individually.

When GMing, I've always run the monsters from within HL, never using whatever map system is being used for live or online play; for the same reasons, that PCs can debuff monsters and all the stats will be updated live.

For me, Integration of HLO with a VTT would allow the HP to be displayed on the character's token (effectively providing a health bar for other players to see the party member's health).

Frodie July 20th, 2020 06:45 AM

I guess our 2 cents, we use HLO just for character management and vtt (Fantasy Grounds) for everything else. Don't really use CT, so can't really say one way or the other. But we are happy with HLO so far.

markelphoenix July 20th, 2020 06:58 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by charlieluce (Post 289778)
My groups have been using MapTool for maps for years, even in face to face games, but we just use it as a substitute for physical maps, not for character sheets or combat control or even the fancier movement/lighting options. If I had an interface that would let me link tokens on the MapTool map to characters running in a Campaign Theater script and display different condition markers when appropriate then that would be pretty much all I needed. I'm not sure how much work that's going to end up being, though.

Question is how much do you value certain functionality.

Do you prefer source materials being available to create new characters and opponents within a few days or weeks of release, or do you prefer them spending time developing down the VTT route?

For me, it's the large lag time between new source material releases being available for character and NPC generation.

IF they offered ability for people to create custom packs for certain rulesets so that the community could effectively develop for it, I would be happy. I don't know how that plays with licensing, though...I just am tired of waiting for source material to be made available by a delay of many months.

charlieluce July 20th, 2020 07:13 PM

Since I'm running Pathfinder Second, I haven't had a lack of content issue. I realize that I'm lucky that way; way back when I originally got Hero Lab it was for Mutants & Masterminds, and it used to drive me crazy that M&M bugs were not getting fixed while there was a steady release of material and fixes for Pathfinder.

As for the bigger question, I could be wrong but it looks to me that the same functionality that is being developed for VTT integration will also contribute to things like customized character sheets and character export/import, which I think are good things even if I never try my hand at doing a simple MapTool framework.

rob July 20th, 2020 11:31 PM

@flyteach and others:
After reading your responses, I see the disconnect. My reaction was to the phrasing "Now I see it's put off indefinitely.". The critical words here are "put off". To me, that translated to an intentional choice to "put off" something, when that's not the reality on our end. As outlined in the separate thread I flagged above, the necessary foundational pieces for starships simply have not existed until the current development work is complete. So it wasn't a choice.

The actual completion timeframe of starships IS "indefinite" at this moment in time, since we haven't settled on what's next after GenCon. However, I can categorically state that the delays behind starships have NOT been borne out of having something AGAINST them, which is how I (perhaps wrongly) read the statement that left me confused.

Yes, this is obviously a subject that I'm very sensitive to. I still feel betrayed by the ex-employee that was entrusted with the botched server code. That failure forced us to lay off multiple good people who were blameless. And I've spent almost a year rewriting everything to get us back to where we were supposed to be last August. So there's no end of frustration for me with how this has all unfolded. <sigh>

Now that we're all on the same page, I'll move on to some of the other topics brought up over the past week...

rob July 20th, 2020 11:38 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by NCCraftBeer (Post 289751)
Thanks for the update. Please take care of yourself. Is there anyway to either sign up for notification when items like the PF2e Advanced Players Guide are available or pre-order?

We don't currently do pre-orders. It's one of the myriad items in the Book of Infinite Tasks, so we'll get to it at some point.

We strive to release the material for rulebooks on the "street date" set by the publisher for the physical book. As such, the APG will be available on July 29th. Based on where we stand right now, it looks like we'll have a few days of material that won't make it on time, so we'll have 95% of the book complete on the 29th, with the remainder being in place on August 5th.

rob July 21st, 2020 12:41 AM

<spanning multiple posts with extensive snipping>

Quote:

Originally Posted by markelphoenix (Post 289773)
As a customer, it appears as if the 'plot has been lost' with focus being on trying to simulate virtual tabletops, when the market is already inundated with virtual tabletop offerings. What the market is not inundated with is character generators for these games.

We are in NO WAY working on another VTT. I agree that there are lots of VTTs out there. The current talk centering on VTTs with HLO is in regards to enabling data to be fed out of HLO and into the existing VTTs.

The work on Campaign Theater is in no way seeking to replace VTTs. The current VTTs do not get down into all the gritty details of character creation, so they gloss over lots of that. This extends to all the nuances of items and abilities that are used during play. However, that's all critical information when running a game. Campaign Theater seeks to give GMs control over all of those aspects, and share that information across the gaming group, with a suitable level of detail for the game system. All of the visual aspects of maps and the like are ignored, as those are the areas where the VTTs focus their efforts. CT focuses on the data that the VTTs largely gloss over.

See below for more details on this...

Quote:

Originally Posted by markelphoenix (Post 289773)
If team is currently inundated with source material, shouldn't that take a higher priority over additional tabletop functionality?

As a customer for a character generation tool, my expectation is of rapid offering of released source material that adds options to character creation. Perhaps I have rose colored glasses of the Hero Lab Classic days and am just remembering prompt and verbose delivery on content releases.

My expectation would be content first. Provide the same value that you made your name on, which was pretty awesome character generators that stayed up to date with material release.

Allow me to dispel this misconception straightaway. We have more more data file developers on staff than all other developers COMBINED. So, yes, our focus is absolutely on CONTENT FIRST.

Beyond that, there also seems to be an incorrect assumption that our staff is all interchangeable pieces. Our staff includes both software developers (including myself) and data file developers. They are in no way interchangeable. Think of a football team. Does it make sense to have a quarterback playing middle linebacker? Or an offensive tackle playing quarterback? In case you're not a football fan, it doesn't.

We have people who are experts in browser-based client applications written in JavaScript, C# on the server, C++ for the Hero Lab engine, databases, IT, and a myriad other areas. We also have staff who are experts in writing Hero Lab data files, which uses its own completely unique language that is tailored for modeling RPG mechanics. There are many here on the forums who will affirm that expertise in any one of those is hard won, and an expert in one area will frequently not even be functionally literate in another. So we all work together, each serving our position on the team.

For reference, a big book like the APG requires roughly 600 hours of work in the data files alone to complete. That does NOT include time to augment the engine to support new capabilities that are needed, nor time to add/improve behaviors within the UI for the book, nor server support for those pieces. Add all that together and the total approaches 1000 hours.

That's more than SIX MONTHS of work for ONE BOOK, and it necessitates expertise across a broad range of technical arenas. Now multiply that the by the number of books, and there's a ton of work to be done.

Quote:

Originally Posted by markelphoenix (Post 289773)
Part that's confusing for me, is if they focused on the first priority, the VTT's could consume a JSON of a character, then when session was done, the VTT could export back out JSON for HLO to consume to update any character growth or new items.

Maybe you've missed it, but we've been spending a significant amount of time working to achieve the first half of that. The data needs to be in a format that can be readily consumed by a VTT (or other tool). It also needs to be done in a manner that remains valid despite years of continual release of new books that revise and expand the rules. And since we need to support multiple, ever-evolving game systems, it must be done in a manner that is entirely data-driven. That's no cakewalk.

The second half is not likely to ever happen. The reason for that is that many of the details the HL requires are simply not maintained by the VTTs. Even if we export them, the VTT throws them away. Since those details don't exist within the VTT, they can't be exported and fed back into HL. This is something we pursued with a couple VTTs years ago, it proved to be a major gotcha.

The reality of that second half of the problem is the motivation behind Campaign Theater. We have all the data, including all the gory details that the VTT doesn't track. So we focus on the material that the VTTs gloss over and present it to the gaming group in a clean manner. We allow it to be controlled by the GM and shared appropriately through the CT interface. Shortly, we'll be exporting all that data so the VTT can retain what it wants and ignore the rest. The net result will be two tools working in unison with one another, each focusing on its own areas of expertise.

rob July 21st, 2020 12:50 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by flyteach (Post 289777)
I think @markelphoenix is onto something here. For playing around a table, with everyone on HLO and linked to the campaign, then some of the functionality may be useful. However, for a VTT, the dice rolling and encounters are already set up. So, while CT may be useful for in person play, there's a different paradigm for integrating with a VTT (and, quite frankly, I believe quite a bit less work if we stick with the bread and butter character generator/tracker). We don't need/want to recreate encounters, stat blocks, and rolls outside of the VTT when we're online.

This argument runs counter to many of the comments littered across these forums, where users lament how poorly things like dice rollers behave within some VTTs. There is also the question of the level of granularity provided by dice rollers. For example, our dice roller breaks down damage rolls into all of their constituent elements (e.g. 5 point slashing plus 4 point fire). We can also toggle criticals on/off without losing the original roll. This has all been designed with an eye to the future, where we'll be able to automatically detect resistances and apply those appropriately. The VTTs don't even have the necessary information to manage all of that, but we do, so we can leverage it to further streamline all the bookkeeping for a game.

That's just the dice roller. There are many other aspects where CT will be able to do things that VTTs simply cannot hope to do, unless they want to start tracking all of the gory details for each game system they support.

rob July 21st, 2020 12:52 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Farling (Post 289780)
For me, the main benefit of HL was that it would dynamically update all the stats when a character received a buff or debuff. The added benefit to this for HLO is that a group buff can (in the future?) be applied as a single action, rather than having to edit each character individually.

When GMing, I've always run the monsters from within HL, never using whatever map system is being used for live or online play; for the same reasons, that PCs can debuff monsters and all the stats will be updated live.

For me, Integration of HLO with a VTT would allow the HP to be displayed on the character's token (effectively providing a health bar for other players to see the party member's health).

^^^ THIS ^^^ is the driving concept behind HLO, Campaign Theater, and ultimately VTT integration.

rob July 21st, 2020 12:59 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by charlieluce (Post 289789)
Since I'm running Pathfinder Second, I haven't had a lack of content issue. I realize that I'm lucky that way; way back when I originally got Hero Lab it was for Mutants & Masterminds, and it used to drive me crazy that M&M bugs were not getting fixed while there was a steady release of material and fixes for Pathfinder.

This is an unfortunate reality of RPG software. There are the bigger ones that bring in the revenue and the ones that we support simply because we love the games. The ones that pay the bills need to be given priority so that we can later devote the time to the ones that don't. If all we cared about was making money, half the games we've supported over the years never would have been touched.

Quote:

Originally Posted by charlieluce (Post 289789)
As for the bigger question, I could be wrong but it looks to me that the same functionality that is being developed for VTT integration will also contribute to things like customized character sheets and character export/import, which I think are good things even if I never try my hand at doing a simple MapTool framework.

That's exactly the idea. The same mechanism should support both purposes.

markelphoenix July 23rd, 2020 05:38 AM

Thank you for your replies.

In regards to prioritization of game setting source books,
is there anyway to crowd source materials? So people could use unofficial 'compilations' from the community or 'home brew' while we wait for the official implementation?

bruuuuuu July 23rd, 2020 07:32 AM

There is currently no user-accessible editor for data files, or content of any sort, which can be used outside of a single character for one user. For a single character, there are a variety of custom items and abilities you can add, along with manual adjustments to the character, but nothing more formal than that yet.

Duggan July 23rd, 2020 09:50 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by bruuuuuu (Post 289831)
There is currently no user-accessible editor for data files, or content of any sort, which can be used outside of a single character for one user. For a single character, there are a variety of custom items and abilities you can add, along with manual adjustments to the character, but nothing more formal than that yet.

Something which I definitely hope will change in the future since one of the great advantages of Hero Lab (and one of the things that helped let Lone Wolf support some of the less popular systems) was the editing system. It let GMs create their own custom material for their campaigns and it let users submit fixes, expansions, and the like for supplemental material.

Sylverlock July 24th, 2020 06:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rob (Post 289650)
[*]Pathfinder 2E Advanced Player’s Guide – On track to release at the end of July, in time for GenConOnline

I was wondering, do you had a firm release date for the APG yet? I've got my PDF from Paizo and I'm signed up to play GenCon Online in 6 days and I need to make a new character. I really would love to have HLO help me with that. Any update?

rob July 24th, 2020 06:38 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Duggan (Post 289833)
Something which I definitely hope will change in the future since one of the great advantages of Hero Lab (and one of the things that helped let Lone Wolf support some of the less popular systems) was the editing system. It let GMs create their own custom material for their campaigns and it let users submit fixes, expansions, and the like for supplemental material.

This is vastly harder within HLO than Classic for one very simple reason. We need to safeguard against user errors with PERFECT success. HLO is a shared resource on a common server that all users access. If a user error is not caught, it can cause everything to fail for everyone. Within Classic, the only one impacted by a user error is the user himself. Not within HLO.

This gets even more complex due HL scripting being an pretty powerful language. For example, it would be trivial in a script to introduce an infinite loop. It's also quite possible to accomplish that in a non-obvious way that spans multiple scripts and procedures. Obviously, an infinite loop would completely screw all other users on the server at that time, so we'd have to detect such errors and deal with them in some reasonable way that doesn't negatively impact the system while giving reasonable feedback to the creating user.

That's just one basic example of hundreds (perhaps thousands) that need to be dealt with.

We've made some inroads towards this goal, but we still have a LOT of work yet to do. So this is something that's still quite a ways off from being exposed to users.

As an interim solution, we've been providing significantly more flexibility to let users customize elements of characters directly within the product, which I believe has greatly reduced the need for the editing system. We have more enhancements along these lines planned, which should allow users to more readily fill in the remaining gaps.

rob July 24th, 2020 06:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sylverlock (Post 289851)
I was wondering, do you had a firm release date for the APG yet? I've got my PDF from Paizo and I'm signed up to play GenCon Online in 6 days and I need to make a new character. I really would love to have HLO help me with that. Any update?

The street date for the book is this Thursday, so you should be able to get it in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

Based on where things stand today, it looks like we'll have about 95% of the book ready for Thursday. The few remaining bits should be available the following Wednesday in an update.

Snow Crash July 25th, 2020 11:56 PM

Just generally disappointed. Was a long time supporter of herolab classic while playing pathfinder 1.
Was not excited to hear about switching to an online supscription based service. But gave you the benefit of the doubt and signed up when we started playing Shadowrun 6.

i understand things are difficult on your end. But understand it from my point. You've happily taken my money and the money of all my players and yet support has dwindled rapidly and I am left in limbo with a character generator that has only partial functionality. Players begging to use equipment and options that have been out for several gaming sessions now but can't unless we go back to manually adding the options with a pen and paper which begs the question, why are we paying you money?

rob July 26th, 2020 05:01 AM

@snow crash:
All of these setbacks have been disappointing for us, as well. Having an employee do what we experienced was incredibly painful. I wish I could just snap my fingers to fix things overnight, but I can't. The only thing we can do is work to steadily dig ourselves out of the hole that we got into, which is exactly what we've been doing. And it's gonna take time for us to complete that process.

As to whether you should continue using HLO while we undertake this effort, that's a question only you can answer. HLO absolutely offers a long and growing list of great features for SR6, albeit without the latest supplements. Some groups will be content to hold off introducing those supplements into their games until we can get them added, while others will require all the new shiny bits now and explore other options. Whatever you choose on your end, we're gonna continue making headway on our end - slower than everyone wishes were possible, ourselves included, but headway nonetheless.

markelphoenix July 26th, 2020 08:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rob (Post 289873)
@snow crash:
All of these setbacks have been disappointing for us, as well. Having an employee do what we experienced was incredibly painful. I wish I could just snap my fingers to fix things overnight, but I can't. The only thing we can do is work to steadily dig ourselves out of the hole that we got into, which is exactly what we've been doing. And it's gonna take time for us to complete that process.

As to whether you should continue using HLO while we undertake this effort, that's a question only you can answer. HLO absolutely offers a long and growing list of great features for SR6, albeit without the latest supplements. Some groups will be content to hold off introducing those supplements into their games until we can get them added, while others will require all the new shiny bits now and explore other options. Whatever you choose on your end, we're gonna continue making headway on our end - slower than everyone wishes were possible, ourselves included, but headway nonetheless.

Wait, employee did what? If y'all got done dirty that buys a lot of forgiveness in my eyes.

Duggan July 27th, 2020 07:13 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by markelphoenix (Post 289885)
Wait, employee did what? If y'all got done dirty that buys a lot of forgiveness in my eyes.

I don't think they've elaborated on it too much, but the impression I got was that the server code for Hero Lab Online (and maybe as far back as RealmWorks) wasn't written properly, which is part of the reason for all of the outages. And it sounds so far like it wasn't anything malicious, just an employee who didn't quite make the bar (and boy am I familiar with that situation...), but when your flagship product keeps going down, it's not good.

Honestly, it's one of those situations where being nice can really come back to bite you, since an underperforming developer (or worse, one who looks to be putting out good output only for it to turn out their code is buggy and needs to be rewritten) not only puts you in the hole for their wages, but also for the cost of fixing their work. You want to give people a chance, but you have your company to look out for.

dacoobob July 27th, 2020 10:49 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Duggan (Post 289893)
Honestly, it's one of those situations where being nice can really come back to bite you, since an underperforming developer (or worse, one who looks to be putting out good output only for it to turn out their code is buggy and needs to be rewritten) not only puts you in the hole for their wages, but also for the cost of fixing their work.

There's a big difference between "being nice" and failing to implement an effective QA process. My boss is a super nice guy, but he also reviews my work before we send it out-- which i appreciate.

markelphoenix July 27th, 2020 12:14 PM

Kind of curious if they use Test Driven Development with gated deploys around a CI/CD pipeline. May be harder for a smaller outfit as well, but pair programming creates interesting environment of collaboration and skill sharing. Also reduces doom states by making sure that a sole developer can't continue to spiral down a pit of doom, given that they always have a co-pilot to step on the breaks. Earlier, the better.

rob July 27th, 2020 03:08 PM

I have avoided going into too many details, since that's just airing dirty laundry, but I guess it's important for context on how we got here.

About 3.5 years ago, I nearly died, and the recovery was protracted. I was on truly nasty meds that both clouded my brain AND made it so I could only sleep about 3 hours out of every 24, which just compounded the brain fog. I talked regularly with the developer that messed up, and I provided what guidance I could in that mental state. This was a VERY senior developer, and I beseeched him to bring his "A" game, since I was seriously gimped. Alas, it turns out he was going through issues outside of work, and that massively impacted his work performance. So I wasn't able to provide the necessary oversight, and he brought his "D" game (the server limped with lots of issues). It wasn't malicious on his part, but it certainly was bad timing, and I was in no state to recognize the problems as they were unfolding.

After finally getting off the meds, it took me a full 18 months to finally flush them all out of my system. I began regaining a little clarity last spring (7-8 months after stopping the meds), and I finally was able to actually get a good night's sleep (read: 6 hours) this past April. Having some semblance of clarity last summer, it became apparent things were messed up with the server code, but I assumed it was a handful of issues that could be addressed and worked with the developer to address them. When that merely uncovered new issues, I launched a detailed code review and discovered the extent of the problems - they were fundamental design failures. At that point, all I could do was accept the reality of the situation and figure out how to salvage things, which is why the server code has now been rewritten.

That doesn't change the fact that we are now more than a year behind where we should be in terms of progress. And all the frustrations of users due to these setbacks is a reality we're slowing working to repair.

As for instituting things like pair programming, that's not really feasible with a development team of only 4, especially when spread across a range of dissimilar technologies (JS-client, C#, C++, etc.) and domains (client, server, HL engine, licensing/sales). We utilize peer-review of all checkins within the client, where we have two very capable developers with that expertise. However, we don't do that on the servers (C#) and in the HL engine (C++), where only a single developer has good domain knowledge right now.

We also employ peer-review of all checkins within the data file team, where we have a team of 6 working on those.

FWIW, we do use a CI/CD pipeline for the client-side development. And we have a dedicated QA person.

I'm not sure if that answers all the questions that people have, but that ought to at least provide some useful context.

markelphoenix July 27th, 2020 06:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rob (Post 289915)
I have avoided going into too many details, since that's just airing dirty laundry, but I guess it's important for context on how we got here.

About 3.5 years ago, I nearly died, and the recovery was protracted. I was on truly nasty meds that both clouded my brain AND made it so I could only sleep about 3 hours out of every 24, which just compounded the brain fog. I talked regularly with the developer that messed up, and I provided what guidance I could in that mental state. This was a VERY senior developer, and I beseeched him to bring his "A" game, since I was seriously gimped. Alas, it turns out he was going through issues outside of work, and that massively impacted his work performance. So I wasn't able to provide the necessary oversight, and he brought his "D" game (the server limped with lots of issues). It wasn't malicious on his part, but it certainly was bad timing, and I was in no state to recognize the problems as they were unfolding.

After finally getting off the meds, it took me a full 18 months to finally flush them all out of my system. I began regaining a little clarity last spring (7-8 months after stopping the meds), and I finally was able to actually get a good night's sleep (read: 6 hours) this past April. Having some semblance of clarity last summer, it became apparent things were messed up with the server code, but I assumed it was a handful of issues that could be addressed and worked with the developer to address them. When that merely uncovered new issues, I launched a detailed code review and discovered the extent of the problems - they were fundamental design failures. At that point, all I could do was accept the reality of the situation and figure out how to salvage things, which is why the server code has now been rewritten.

That doesn't change the fact that we are now more than a year behind where we should be in terms of progress. And all the frustrations of users due to these setbacks is a reality we're slowing working to repair.

As for instituting things like pair programming, that's not really feasible with a development team of only 4, especially when spread across a range of dissimilar technologies (JS-client, C#, C++, etc.) and domains (client, server, HL engine, licensing/sales). We utilize peer-review of all checkins within the client, where we have two very capable developers with that expertise. However, we don't do that on the servers (C#) and in the HL engine (C++), where only a single developer has good domain knowledge right now.

We also employ peer-review of all checkins within the data file team, where we have a team of 6 working on those.

FWIW, we do use a CI/CD pipeline for the client-side development. And we have a dedicated QA person.

I'm not sure if that answers all the questions that people have, but that ought to at least provide some useful context.

It answered a lot. Thank you for the honesty, vulnerability, and clarity. LoneWolf will continue to have my business and support.

Given that my day job is in Enterprise Software Engineering, I am not sure what if any support I can provide given my contractual obligations, but if there is ever any volunteer opportunities, I'm pretty sure volunteer passion projects done on personal hardware would not count as moon lighting.

thaX July 29th, 2020 01:50 PM

Thank you, Rob, for your very candid insights on the background of company woes.

I am glad that you are better and hope that you are treating yourself and your time with care.

The whole situation seems like one big problem that the crew you have and yourself is tackling one piece at a time, and I have seen the improvements with the App over time. With the influx of revenue as the new features have been implemented, I hope you can get a couple of more people in to help out with the catch up.

markelphoenix August 1st, 2020 02:06 PM

Rob, is there any way to open source the Shadowrun source material, or allow volunteer efforts?

Right now, I know of Genesis Character Generator and an Excel Character Generator that is being maintained by community. If given the opportunity, I would be surprised if people did not contribute.

VaultScrolls August 11th, 2020 02:39 PM

You still have my support, both rob & LW! If I can provide any help with the data file work just let me know! I use HLO about everyday in some way with PC management for playing Starfinder. I couldn't imagine not having it!


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