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rob
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Old June 11th, 2016, 03:07 AM
In the late-April status update, I indicated a major Realm Works release was in the offing, and it’s now ready to go! We’ll be rolling it out at the beginning of next week. This status update offers insight into the assorted changes and enhancements you’ll find in the new version, as well as a brief look ahead at what’s on the immediate horizon.

Before I dive in, I want to remind everyone that this is not the initial Content Market release. As I outlined in the April update, this release includes various new product features and extensive infrastructure for the Content Market, but the Content Market itself won’t debut for a little bit longer. I’ll provide further details below.

Broad Scope

The new release is extensive and touches virtually every aspect of the product in some manner. As such, there’s probably something useful for just about everyone. However, the primary focus of this release is laying foundation for the Content Market, so numerous changes we’ve made won’t be outwardly visible. I’ll be highlighting the most important new capabilities you’ll see in this update, but I won’t cover everything, so I encourage you to read through the release notes to ensure you don’t miss anything you can leverage for your game.

We have everything in place for the release, but we’re waiting to roll it out at the beginning of next week instead of pushing it out now. We promised to avoid major releases right before weekends, and we’re keeping that promise here. For those of you worried this release may experience major complications like the previous big release, the likelihood is incredibly low, primarily because the nature of the changes are radically different. Back in October, we had to completely overhaul everyone’s data, converting it from Rich Text to HTML, which is about as invasive and risky as it gets. This time, our focus is on new capabilities and extensions to existing mechanisms, so anything that breaks should be pretty localized. Given the scope of this new version, we’d be foolish to assume there won’t be any bugs that slip through and need to be fixed, but we expect those bugs to be things that are merely annoying and that we can fix in relatively short order.

Snippet Handling

There are two new snippet types being introduced in this version. The first is labelled text snippets, which are probably almost self-explanatory. These snippets are standard text snippets, except that they have a label on the left, just like tag-based snippets. This makes it easy to have your topics provide a simple, fill-in-the-blanks form for things like spells, equipment, traps, etc.

The other new snippet type is a hybrid tag snippet. These snippets can operate as either a standard tag-based snippet or a labelled text snippet. When entering material of your own, it’s often easiest to pick appropriate tags from a list (e.g. race, class, etc.). However, when bringing content in from published material, it’s typically easier to just use the text directly from the book. With “hybrid tag” snippets, you can mix and match the two approaches, with some topics using labelled text and other topics using tags. The behavior for new snippets is dictated by a new preference that’s accessed via the Manage Realm interface.

It’s now possible to move or copy snippets between topics/articles. In the past, once a snippet was added to a given topic or article, there was no way to move it elsewhere. You can freely move individual snippets to another topic by selecting the desired topic and section. The snippet will appear at the top of that section when you next view the topic.

Display Changes

A number of key changes to the overall interface will be apparent. The first of these is the big “Create” button at the upper left, below the ribbon bar and above the navigation pane. Clicking this button brings up the “Quick Create” mechanism, which is by far the fastest and easiest means of creating new topics in Realm Works. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the “Quick Create” mechanism, that’s our fault, because we didn’t make it very discoverable before now. However, that mistake has been corrected, so click this button or use the <Ctrl+Q> keyboard shortcut to discover an incredibly conveniently way of adding new content to your world.

With the introduction of the “Create” button, the two buttons that used to be in that location have been moved. You’ll now find them just to the left of the “Home” button above the central content pane. The behavior of these two buttons hasn’t changed (navigation pane history and scoping filters, respectively) – only their size and placement.

Another readily visible change is that snippet styles can now be assigned to all types of snippets instead of merely text-based snippets. In addition, when a non-transparent style is assigned to a snippet, the background region of the entire snippet area is now shown with the designated color. The only exception is the region at the far left, behind the reveal button, which is shown with either the green background (when revealed) or no background (when concealed). There is also a new snippet style for callout regions (aka sidebars) that can be used just like any of the others.

The last significant visual changes are seen in the Manage Categories and Manage Tags interfaces. The categories and tag domains designated as “not shown” (i.e. the “Shown” checkbox is unchecked) are now moved into a separate "Inactive" grouping within the list on the left. When you toggle the checkbox and save the change, the category or domain moves to the alternate grouping. The structure of each category (i.e. section and snippet types) should also now be clearer to understand due to some stylistic changes within the form.

Smart Images and Plots

Probably the biggest thing introduced for smart images is an overlay image. The overlay image allows you to maintain two separate images – one for the players to view and one for the GM’s eyes only. The new image behaves as an overlay, so it can be a transparent layer with only labels and icons that will be superimposed on the primary image. Alternately, it can just be a second version of the image that contains all the extra annotations (e.g. secret doors, traps, etc.). Having the separate GM version of the map makes it vastly easier to view everything you need to run the game while ensuring the players only see what they should. The Player View mechanism only shows the player version of the map, and Player Edition will only ever grant access to the player version as well.

Smart images now provide the option to save the image out to a file. Individual images can be saved, or the composited image (overlay on top of primary image) can be saved. The image file is saved out in the same format that it was originally imported, so if you import a JPEG image, you’ll be able to export it as the original JPEG image.

While not anything complex, we’ve also added a simplification when dealing with smart images and plots. You can now reveal a map pin and its associated topic in a single operation. Similarly, you can now reveal a plot point and its associated topic in a single operation. This will speed things up during play for many users.

Extending Recent Improvements

In the last big release, we introduced a modicum of control over the thumbnails shown for images within topics (both pictures and smart images). We’ve taken that further, so you now have extensive control over thumbnails. There is still the realm preference, just as before, but you can now individually control the thumbnail size for each snippet. That’s probably a bit too fiddly for most users, so thumbnail size can also be controlled for groups of related snippets by separately configuring the behavior for distinct snippet types. The one gotcha with all this control is that all thumbnails need to first be normalized to match your realm preference, which will be performed when getting started with the new version. After that, you can tailor the thumbnails to your heart’s content.

We also completely redid the logic for naming topics and automatic link detection in the previous big release, which allowed a lot more control over things. However, there was a nagging issue that didn’t get sorted out, specifically with the handling of parentheses, since parentheses can be used within topic names. This new version addresses that issue with maximum flexibility. If a topic name (or alias) contains no parentheses, then Realm Works will treat any parentheses within the snippet text being scanned as punctuation and detect the match. However, if the topic contains parentheses, those parentheses are considered an integral part of the name and become required to match the name. We also treat square brackets and curly braces the same as normal parentheses for these behaviors.

Miscellaneous Enhancements

There are a variety of additional things that warrant comment in this update, so I’ll run through them quickly here. These are in no particular order…

Customizing the category structure is something that lots of users are interested in, tailoring the structure to optimally suit their game. However, even simple changes typically required users to “remove protection” from the category, which sounded scary and had some rather significant ramifications. All of that has been reworked so that there is now a distinct separation between “cosmetic” changes and “structural” changes, and protection only needs to be removed when you want to make structural changes (which most users aren’t looking to do). If you want to rename something, you can do it freely now without removing protection. If you want to change the thumbnail size of a snippet type, you can do it freely. In fact, most things that used to require removing protection no longer have that requirement. And similar changes have been applied to tag domains. The icing on the cake for all of this is that the upgrade logic will restore protection to your categories whenever it can safely determine that you’ve only modified the things that no longer require protection removal.

On the subject of categories, a number of extensions have been added to the existing category structure. One new article category has been added, some new section types have been added to various categories, and new snippet types have been added to sections in various categories. For complete details on exactly what’s been added, please see the release notes. However, it’s worth pointing out how to take advantage of these extension. If you want existing topics to incorporate them, you can do so by triggering the “Synchronize the Structure to Match the Category Definition” option. An important further detail is that, if you removed protection from any of the affected categories (and your changes preclude restoring it), these new extensions will simply be appended at the end of the revised structure. You’ll need to modify the category structure to move them into the desired position in the sequence, after which you can use the “Synchronize” option on your topics.

When a Hero Lab portfolio is loaded into a corresponding snippet, viewing a detailed statblock for the portfolio internally within Realm Works was easy. However, you couldn’t do anything with that statblock beyond view it. It’s now possible to copy the statblock to the clipboard for reuse, either for pasting into another tool or a separate topic. The copy will intelligently throw away any images so you get a traditional statblock that can be used virtually anywhere.

Due to popular demand, two usability improvements have been introduced. First, there are now keyboard shortcuts (aka hotkeys) available to expand and collapse all groupings within the navigation pane (e.g. category families and/or categories). We’ve also hooked up the forward and backward navigation buttons on five-button mice to streamline navigating through your content.

Last, but not least, a few users have reported problems being able to use Realm Works offline due to the special ways that VPN software behaves, which conflicts with the way Realm Works ensures you don’t end up with data integrity issues across computers. We’ve implemented a solution, although it’s something that we’ll need to assist any impacted users with directly via support. If you are one of the few who have encountered this problem, please open a new support ticket so we can get you running smoothly offline.

Game System Tailoring Shortly

There’s one other significant change in the offing that I want to outline here. It’s something that is baked into the imminent release, but it won’t be visible to anyone outside of the Beta team until it receives further testing. We’re introducing more tailored category structures for specific game systems. When you create a new realm, you’ll be able to select a game system, after which the initial category structure will be customized to the game system. The tags available on snippets will similarly match the rules and terminology of the game system.

On the Story side of things, the assortment of categories will be largely unchanged, but various categories will be tweaked and augmented with new pre-defined snippet types that more closely reflect the specifics of a given game system. For example, the “Community” category is renamed to “Settlement” for Pathfinder and gains snippet types like “Alignment” and “Qualities” that match the published Pathfinder rules. Categories that don’t really fit the game system will start out as disabled, such as “Region: Celestial” and “Planetary Body” not appearing for high fantasy.

Similar changes will take place on the Mechanics side, but they will be much more extensive. Many new categories will appear for a rules-heavy game system like Pathfinder, but even a much “lighter” game like Savage Worlds will feature some new categories. Some of the built-in categories will be wholly replaced by new categories tailored to the game system, while other categories will be hidden, and still others will be enhanced (and sometimes renamed) to more accurately reflect the rules structure of the game system.

Of course, you aren’t required to use any of this stuff. In keeping with our philosophy of giving maximum control to users, you can continue to use the original structure that we’ve had in place since the early days of Realm Works. Or, if you start with one of the game system structures we’ve defined, you’re free to modify it as much or as little as you want. If your Pathfinder game includes alternate worlds to explore, you can simply add the “Planetary Body” category back in with a couple mouse clicks. Or you can add your own custom elements. We’re just providing a solid starting point for anyone who plays a particular game system. From there, it’s your world and your game.

We’ll initially be starting with a handful of major game systems. Our focus is on the game systems for which we’ll have published material available in the Content Market, but you can freely use these structures for your own games without the need to purchase anything. If users like what we’ve done for these first few games, we’ll work with the community to provide structures for numerous other game systems. And we’ll make this new feature available as soon as it passes muster with the Beta team.

Release Plan

Our plan is to roll out this release on either Monday or Tuesday. At some point Monday morning (the 13th), we’ll take the server down and begin the deployment process. There are lots of complexities with deploying this release, so we anticipate it will take multiple hours to complete the roll-out. Once everything is in place, we’ll bring the server back online, then everyone can dive in. It’s possible that we’ll run into some unexpected deployment issue during the roll-out on Monday, in which case we’ll abort, resolve the issue, and proceed again on Tuesday.

A key aspect of this new release is that everyone needs to login to the server and sync their realms before they can get started. This means that you should wait to install this version until you can let the sync run for a while (depending on how large your realms are). If you want to delay upgrading, you can do so, although you’ll need to run the product offline and use the backup/restore mechanism to move data between computers until you complete the upgrade. When you are ready to upgrade, make sure to do it from the computer that is up-to-date with all your latest changes.

Please remember that the various changes outlined in this status update are only the highlights. There are numerous other changes and enhancements in the imminent release, and some of them will likely be useful to you. So please take the time to read through the release notes when they appear within the product.

What’s Next?

Once this release is out, our focus will be on bringing the Content Market live. There will probably be a number of smaller product releases in the weeks ahead, as we make various new features available to everyone. These smaller releases will officially introduce all the game system tailoring that was outlined above, plus a few other things. They will also include Content Market mechanisms for the Beta team to exercise.

As I laid out in the late-April update, the Content Market itself will be rolled out in multiple stages. Please do not expect everything to suddenly become available in one mammoth release, since that’s not going to happen. We’ll be introducing assorted Content Market capabilities incrementally, starting with more basic things and then adding more complexity. This way, we can deploy everything in manageable chunks and ensure that everything works well in Phase #1 before progressing to Phase #2, and so on. We’ll similarly be starting with a small number of content options for purchase, then adding more over time.

I’ll be putting together another status update in the very near future. In it, I’ll outline the experimental Q&A model we’ll be employing. We’ll be putting that into operation in the next week or two, and the status update will explain the approach and how to submit questions. After that, I’ll start delving into details about the Content Market and the roll-out plan when I’m not eyeball deep in code.

That covers it for this update. Stay tuned for further updates in the weeks ahead, and get ready for the big Realm Works release early next week. I hope everybody finds something they like in this new version!
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Acenoid
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Old June 11th, 2016, 03:18 AM
thats terrific news can't wait

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ibecker
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Old June 11th, 2016, 06:07 AM
This is fantastic news - I can't wait to see this update!

-Ian
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Vargr
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Old June 11th, 2016, 07:46 AM
Thank you for the update. Looking good - lot's of nice features. Looking forward to try it out next weekend :-)

Vargr
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Sleet entered History when he managed to get on the back of a Tarrasque only to be ridden out of History shortly after.

Using Realm Works, Worldographer (Hexographer 2), LibreOffice, Daz3D Studio, pen & paper for the realm World of Temeon and the system LEFD - both homebrewed.

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Gord
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Old June 11th, 2016, 07:54 AM
With a big update like this, I really appreciate you delaying it until Monday or Tuesday. For those of us with no willpower what also have a game running this weekend, it solves a lot of potential problems.
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rob
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Old June 11th, 2016, 01:11 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gord View Post
For those of us with no willpower what also have a game running this weekend, it solves a lot of potential problems.
No SAN save required.
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Exmortis
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Old June 13th, 2016, 05:50 AM
Great stuff!!!

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evildmguy
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Old June 13th, 2016, 11:40 AM
Great news!

Congrats!

Looking forward to the update!

edg
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Acenoid
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Old June 13th, 2016, 01:29 PM
Seems to be ongoing now...

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rob
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Old June 13th, 2016, 05:07 PM
Yep. We've been going since midday. Had a couple hiccups that have been resolved. Still doing lots of testing...

We'll post when everything is back online the thread linked below:
http://forums.wolflair.com/showthread.php?t=56018
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