Back in October, I had a chance to chat with Marc Hutcheson, one member of the team working on InKarnate, a new suite of RPG tools that’s been under development for a while. I first came across InKarnate a couple of months earlier when they kicked off a Kickstarter to get funding for the project. The tools had hope, but the Kickstarter didn’t achieve critical mass to hit their funding goal.
Thankfully the story doesn’t stop there. The team is still hard at work on the tool set and there may be hope yet to see it come to fruition. When I was able to play with what they have done so far, the character generator looks great but I was most excited about their mapping tool – which even an artistically-challenged person like myself could use to create something really slick.
Marc was kind enough to answer a few questions about the project so you can get excited too!
Q: What is the goal for the InKarnate tool set for RPGs? First you started with a character generator and then moved to a mapping application. One tool is for players and the other for GMs – what’s the goal for these tools?
The ultimate goal that we are building toward is a better experience sitting at the table playing RPGs. We also intend to support online gaming, but in our opinion the best experience for this type of gaming is typically everyone in a room together. Game prep is a massive time sink right now, and our goal with InKarnate is to help with this problem. Given that, the first two tools—the Map Builder and Character Creator—are intended to help with those issues. For players (particularly someone fairly new to tabletop RPGs), creating a character will be quick and easy—along with some nice visuals to help get the player into the mindset of RPing the character. For GMs, the task of charting out the worlds in your head will also be a quick and fun thing to do.
Q: What are the challenges for becoming adopted as a new tool set in an age where electronic devices are a divisive topic around the physical game table and new virtual tabletop tools are appearing more frequently? How will your tools succeed when similar tools (especially the Character Creator) have been tried again and again by companies like Wizards of the Coast with little success?
These tools are not an easy thing to build to a level that will actually aid gamers in a real, tangible way. There’re a lot of good ideas out in the market, but no one has yet distilled all of those down into a single, easy and fun to use set of tools. We think that, once all of the major components of InKarnate are completed, adoption will spike because it will make playing much better and players will see the value in making InKarnate part of their preparation and gaming sessions.
Q: In an age where the tooling platform (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Web) can make or break an application, why did you choose to go with the Web in HTML 5 over iOS or Android, which seem to be the two mobile platforms of choice these days?
We want to make sure that players have a wide range of devices to choose from. It’s one thing for the GM to request that everyone in a party create a character in InKarnate, and quite another to demand all the players have an iPad as well. Odds are pretty good that everyone around the table has a PC, Mac, smart phone, or tablet computer. With that range of options it becomes much easier for everyone to play.
Q: Though the Kickstarter was unsuccessful in reaching your funding target, what did you learn during the process and what can we expect next?
We learned a lot. For example, the Map Builder is a more compelling concept than we’d realized. We were also pleasantly surprised at the demand implied by all the responses we received. Right now, the market is cluttered with many different teams attempting what seem—on the surface—to be similar apps. A lot of what makes InKarnate better will only be proven once players have the app in their hands. Saying that it will be intuitive to use and will help with game prep, etc. etc. all sound nice as bullet points—but these are things that can only be proven with usage. Another important point we learned is that getting to beta with at least a portion of the tool set as quickly as possible is a critical goal.
We are still evaluting exactly what the beta will look like. Given that the Map Builder and Character Creator are the furthest along in development those are the most likely choices as going up first for testing. We also are seriously considering putting tools up one at a time to shorten the gap between now and the launch of the beta. In terms of feedback, we want everyone to use InKarnate in as many different types of games as possible. There’s a real challenge in making the tools as flexible as possible while also making sure they are easy to use and automate as many ditch-digging tasks as possible. So letting us know how we’re doing on that balance is as important as finding bugs and errors and reporting t
Q: Imagine a few years down the line. The InKarnate tools are done and in the hands of players and GMs around the globe. How do you envision the perfect game session around a physical table? How about a virtual table?
The perfect game around the table would have the GM equipped with as much adventuring material as he wants—and all of it having been created in an exponentially faster timeframe. Players would have inspiring artwork representing their characters and hard-earned treasures in front of them, as well as the ability to very quickly look up key stats and make rolls without having to memorize or look up all the math. Essentially, the rules would get out of the way and the actual role-playing and adventuring would occur as a much higher percentage of the time spent playing.
Q: What are the main development challenges in front of your team right now?
That’s an easy one—time. To make InKarnate an app that really does change how tabletop RPGs are played takes a lot more than most players and GMs realize. Hopefully we can pull it all together quickly enough so we don’t lose the momentum we are starting to build in terms of interest and awareness. That is our key challenge at the moment, but luckily we’ve already built a lot and have solved many of the foundational level issues—so we’re very positive on our ability to deliver in a reasonable time frame.
Q: How can players and GMs help?
The main way to help right now is to sign up for our future beta testing at InKarnate.com. Continue to follow the project there. In the near term, we intend to upgrade the site to allow for more exchanges of information and once that happens, letting us know what you’d like to see from InKarnate is the most helpful thing that can be done. There’s a tremendous breadth to these games—and while that’s exactly what makes them awesome it is also what makes building InKarnate such a challenge. Helping us prioritize features and testing them would be a massive help to the development.
A big thank you goes out to Marc and the whole InKarnate team for their time and all the work they’ve done so far (not to mention the work that’s still left to do!)!
Do you feel like getting involved? They’re hoping for a beta sometime in the next 6 months and are looking for testers! Head to InKarnate.com for more details and how to sign up!