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Join Date: May 2005
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Old September 5th, 2020, 03:54 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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