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rob
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Old September 5th, 2020, 02:54 PM
GenCon is now a month in the rearview mirror, and the holiday season is ahead of us. Everything is different for everyone thanks to a world-gripping pandemic. Like many of you, we're navigating uncharted territory and simply trying to figure out the best path forward based on little more than our "best guesses". With that disclaimer in mind, this post provides a brief recap of what we've been up to recently and a glimpse at what's in the pipeline.

Recent Past

Since my last update about seven weeks ago, we've rolled out quite a few enhancements to boost the overall usefulness of HLO. Some of them are noteworthy, just in case you missed any of them:

Advanced Class Guide - This massive tome for Pathfinder 2nd Edition launched at GenCon.

Dice Roller Evolution - The new dice roller got even more love after its debut in early July,. It lets you make just about any roll you might need during play, and it auto-populates with the appropriate roll for attacks, damage, saves, etc. When you have multiple attacks, you can easily roll the entire batch at once or roll them individually, as you choose.

Dice Roll History - When using Campaign Theater, dice rolls are captured and shared with other users in the new Dice Roll History, which is available in the side-panel. GMs can see everyone's rolls, while players can see each other's rolls, making it easy to keep everyone apprised of what transpires during the session.

Revised Stage Workflow - The stage workflow has been reworked to be more intuitive, plus it introduces the concept of a save-point that can be restored if you ever need to roll back to restart a scene.

Player-Safe Window - Not everyone in a gaming group uses HLO, and it's now possible to share the state of everyone on the stage with non-users. The Player-Safe stage window allows GMs to setup a browser window containing everything players normally see, which can be shared on a monitor or via screenshare for all to view.

Fast Evaluation - The Hero Lab engine just got smarter, allowing us to detect aspects of a character that haven't changed and bypass updating those aspects. While this improves our server performance, its more important benefit to users is the next item.

Relaxed Weapon Locker Limit - Weapons are by far the most complex items that we track on characters in volume, so characters carrying numerous weapons (e.g. looted for selling back in town) chewed up significant server resources and slowed it down for everyone. We created the weapon locker for "stored" weapons and instituted a limit on directly usable weapons that achieved a healthy balance on server load, but some users found the limits too severe for their liking. Thanks to the new fast-evaluation performance improvements, we were able to relax the original limit and allow more weapons to be used outside of the locker.

Printing - For those who save their characters to PDF for printing, you can now selectively choose which pieces to include in the output. Your last choices are also saved with each character, so you can setup what you want the first time and not need to fiddle with it again.


Conspicuous Absences

Despite getting all that done, there are still some items that are conspicuously missing. These fall into two general categories, so let me address them separately.

The first category centers on functionality, which is most apparent in the lack of (a) support for starships in Starfinder and (b) the massive beast that is Pathfinder 1st Edition in HLO. As I've outlined previously in these update threads, the original server code written by a former employee simply couldn't support either of these items. It required a complete rewrite, and we're finally getting the remaining infrastructure into place. There's a bunch of work that still needs to be done to actually implement them, but the underlying foundation will finally allow them to become a reality.

The second category is the array of books that are not yet implemented. Our data file team is working through stuff as fast as they can, and we're prioritizing the biggest and most widely wanted books first. Unfortunately, we got behind, and there has simply been more material than we can churn through. A compounding factor has been that we've had at least one member of the data file team continuously working since April on a key piece we need to implement VTT integration (more on that below), so we've also been a "man down" for a protracted period.

Realistically, I don't envision that we'll actually begin catching up until late this year without securing more outside contractor assistance than we already have. So if you have experience writing data files for HLClassic (scripting knowledge IS required) and would be interested in writing data files for HLO (as a paid contractor), please let us know by opening a support ticket. The underlying HLO engine is the same, so writing data files for HLO, sans all the visuals, is very similar.


Near Term

Since GenCon, we've primarily focused our efforts in two main areas. First, we've taken the opportunity to address some of the "tech debt" we've accrued throughout all layers of the product. That way, when we resume building major new features shortly, we can do so on a more capable foundation. In concert with this effort, we've been making various quality-of-life improvements to HLO. None of these items is truly newsworthy individually, but collectively they should make a welcome difference as they roll out over the upcoming weeks.

One of the most glaring areas of tech debt has been within the data files, and this project turned out to be a massive undertaking. It's also been a critical requirement to properly support integration with VTTs. By properly, I mean in a manner that is (a) well-suited for other tools to consume, (b) easy for us to extend in the future, and (c) consistent across all games we support. We finally have everything in place to deploy the necessary changes for Starfinder this coming week, followed by PF2 in October and Shadowrun in November.

With the Starfinder overhaul deploying this week, we can finish putting together the actual VTT integration mechanisms and publish the API. The goal is to provide a generalized mechanism that enables the full spectrum of integration. Users can extract character snapshots, which makes custom character sheet output possible. For VTTs, some will simply want to snapshot everything from HLO for a one-time import, while others will want a live feed of HLO changes as they occur. We'll be supporting both.

I expect it will take another couple weeks to have the initial VTT integration API fully tested and ready for live deployment. Please keep in mind that this is just our half of the puzzle. It will take time for domain experts in each VTT to familiarize themselves with our API and work to integrate everything. All the puzzle pieces should be available, but then the actual assembly begins.

One other thing coming this month is practical limits being imposed on just about every aspect of characters. We've discovered that a few users have been creating outlandish, unplayable characters (e.g. 100 levels, 100 feats), which results in sudden server lags when they are manipulated. That lag impacts all users on a shared server, so we must enforce limits to stop the silliness and ensure the server remains highly responsive for everyone. We're striving to pick limits that are reasonable, but we might overlook a scenario, so please let us know if a character runs afoul of the new limits when they appear.


What's Next?

Now that we're finally finishing up the remaining infrastructure pieces, we're assessing the big question of "what's next?" The three options looming largest right now are adding starships to Starfinder, porting Pathfinder 1st Edition, and the Loot Locker. If you're unfamiliar with the Loot Locker, think of it as a shared party resource where you can stash gear that isn't being actively carried and through which you can transfer gear between characters. Obviously, each of these options has a different target audience, so each has a different set of pros and cons. Also obviously, we can't tackle them all at once, so we have to pick an order. I will hopefully be able to share which one we select in an update next month.

Beyond the "big three", there are various smaller features we're targeting for the upcoming months. These include both evolutionary steps with Campaign Theater and some nifty enhancements for characters in general. Everything is still being figured out, though, so I'll share more once those are finalized.

Thanks for the continued support!
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Dragnmoon
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Old September 5th, 2020, 10:16 PM
One important aspect with the VTT is the ability to be able to play with players that don't have HLO.

You have me worried on that front when you mentioned "Custom Sheets", The vast majority of Roll20 already use a set sheet and it would be near impossible to have them move over to a new sheet. I am hoping you are working on the ability of importing HLO using the sheets already implemented into the game.
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rob
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Old September 6th, 2020, 12:30 AM
The "custom character sheets" has absolutely nothing to do with VTT integration. We've had plenty of users say they want to create custom character sheets for their personal use - along the lines of what AncientOne created for PF1 in HLClassic. The mechanism will support that capability by letting users export the character data, which can then be consumed by an external custom character sheet tool.

For VTT integration, we'll be spitting out all the data we have for a character that a VTT might want to use in that same canonical format. Then the import side of the process will select the subset of data the VTT actually consumes and put it into the format the VTT expects, at which point it can be loaded into the VTT. This process will be something that can be externally triggered, so a VTT could initiate the request, or an intermediate translation tool could trigger it, or whatever. For a truly manual process, the user could export the character data from HLO and then import it into the VTT, but that process will quickly become tedious for users, hence the ability to externally trigger it from our end.

Hope that makes more sense!
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Dragnmoon
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Old September 6th, 2020, 08:55 AM
Ahh, you put that in the line talking about VTT so was confused..

And your explanation does not help me, it just confuses me more... I mean I understand every word in that paragraph but not in that order .

Will VTT integration allow us to import the data into the character sheets on the VTTs? Or will it be doing something totally different?

What does integration mean to Lone Wolf?

I was always assuming I would just be able to export all the data into the character sheet I am using on Roll20, but I have never been clear what actually you are working on and I am still not.
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alientude
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Old September 6th, 2020, 10:22 AM
I'll try to explain how it will work, based on a generic understanding of APIs and programming in general.

HLO is going to have an API (Application Programming Interface) created and made available that allows data about characters to be exported from HLO. Think of the API as a set of tools. In order to get the data from HLO, whoever wants to get it, whether it be a user, a VTT, or something else, will use those tools to get the data.

Because it would be impractical to expect HLO to support exporting the data into the specific format required for every VTT out there (not to mention future VTTs that might not exist yet), HLO will export the data into a format designed by Lone Wolf. The VTT importing the data will not know how to read that format when the HLO API is released - it's something that will need to be added to the VTT.

So, when HLO's API is released, VTTs will not immediately support importing data from HLO - they'll need time to learn how the API works, and they'll need to come up with a way to translate the HLO format to the format their VTT can read and understand. Each VTT that wants to support importing from HLO will need to do this process.

Hopefully that helps clear things up. Keep in mind that I'm not affiliated with Lone Wolf (and heck, I don't even use HLO), so there's a chance I'm off-base with this description. I'm pretty confident I'm correct, however, since this is pretty standard API interaction.
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Phrll
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Old September 6th, 2020, 10:51 AM
To expand a bit on Alientude's answer, the VTTs I've looked at have at least some sort of API of their own. Once Lone Wolf gets their export functions complete, someone could write their own program to use the VTT API to import the character (assuming Lone Wolf makes the export file format public).
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Farling
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Old September 6th, 2020, 11:04 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phrll View Post
To expand a bit on Alientude's answer, the VTTs I've looked at have at least some sort of API of their own. Once Lone Wolf gets their export functions complete, someone could write their own program to use the VTT API to import the character (assuming Lone Wolf makes the export file format public).
Ideally the addition to the VTT will be able to periodically (or via a button press) go and fetch the information from HLO again.

And, if the VTT can support it, HLO can tell the VTT when something changes on the character sheet (e.g. HP or AC) as soon as you make the change on HLO.

Farling

Author of the Realm Works Import (http://forums.wolflair.com/showthread.php?t=58156) and Output tools (http://forums.wolflair.com/showthread.php?t=59981)
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rob
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Old September 6th, 2020, 11:53 AM
What they said.

Sorry for the confusion. To sum up a little differently, there are three pieces involved:
1. Get the data IN to the VTT (which most already provide, but in very different ways)
2. Get the data OUT of HLO
3. Translate the data that comes out of HLO into the format needed for input by the VTT

We're focused on that second step right now. The third step will be different for every VTT. And we'll be looking to the VTT users who know how to do the first step to assist with the third one.
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Roadie
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Old September 7th, 2020, 09:47 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by rob View Post
One other thing coming this month is practical limits being imposed on just about every aspect of characters. We've discovered that a few users have been creating outlandish, unplayable characters (e.g. 100 levels, 100 feats), which results in sudden server lags when they are manipulated. That lag impacts all users on a shared server, so we must enforce limits to stop the silliness and ensure the server remains highly responsive for everyone. We're striving to pick limits that are reasonable, but we might overlook a scenario, so please let us know if a character runs afoul of the new limits when they appear.
For the theoretical maximums one might reasonably expect to appear here in an actual game once Pathfinder 1e gets involved, I'd say to look at some of the 1E third party material.

For example:

A level 20 Incanter from Spheres of Power will have 30 magic talents (roughly equivalent to feats in mechanical complexity, or potentially moreso because many will have on/off toggles), +10 more if they spend every feat slot on Extra Magic Talent.

A level 20 vigilante using Legendary Vigilantes (not currently part of the 3PP community pack, but I've been working on it) will potentially have 40 bonus feats from class levels, as many of the vigilante talents grant 3 bonus feats at a time and many of the social talents each grant 1 bonus feat.

A level 20 vizier from Akashic Mysteries will have 11 veils, each of which of which is potentially equivalent to several feats (a base effect plus several toggle effects), and has variable effects that can regularly change every round in combat.

If you mix things the combinations rapidly explode. A vigilante with Legendary Vigilantes and Spheres of Might could have 3 feats each from 10 vigilante talents, 1 feat each from the 10 social talents, and 15 one-to-two-feat equivalent martial talents from the Shadow Warrior archetype, for a total of 60+ feat equivalents on a single-class character.
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Farling
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Old September 8th, 2020, 02:25 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Roadie View Post
If you mix things the combinations rapidly explode. A vigilante with Legendary Vigilantes and Spheres of Might could have 3 feats each from 10 vigilante talents, 1 feat each from the 10 social talents, and 15 one-to-two-feat equivalent martial talents from the Shadow Warrior archetype, for a total of 60+ feat equivalents on a single-class character.
How is any human player supposed to be able to cope with so many different options on their character?

Farling

Author of the Realm Works Import (http://forums.wolflair.com/showthread.php?t=58156) and Output tools (http://forums.wolflair.com/showthread.php?t=59981)
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