Thomas's Ghostwalk campaign runs every other Saturday (roughly), and the players are me, Jerry, Kate, Joe (neither Joe Z. nor Chris's brother, but a Joe that Thomas knows from work), and Rob. A few weeks ago, Rob announced that he had a great new job with Apple. Yay Rob! We're all very happy for him.
Unfortunately, said job is in Sacramento, California. Boo. We are all sad.
Thomas, in particular, was trying to figure out what to do about it because he's written significant amounts of plot around each of the characters, and it would be a lot of work (not to mention disappointing) to just remove the character from the game. What to do?
And then, because we are all massive geex0rs, we came up with the crazy idea: Karen has a nifty Apple laptop. Karen and Thomas have a decent Internet connection at home. Rob has a decent internet connection and a nifty Apple laptop at work. A nice FireWire webcam (the iSight) is only about $150, and we're folks in our 30s with disposable income. (Okay, K+T have disposable income, while Rob has a hefty employee discount and will soon have disposable income. Good enough.)
Why don't we just have Rob play remotely and videoconference the game?
This is a completely crazy idea.
What's even crazier is that it works.
They already had everything set up pretty well by the time Jerry and I got there this afternoon. We game sitting around the dinner table, so Karen's laptop was sitting at one end of the table, screen facing towards the middle, connected by various cables to the wall and to Thomas's office down the hall. Unsightly, but not actually awkward.
We were going to clip the camera to the top edge of the laptop screen, but we didn't have the clip. This turned out to be okay, because we actually ended up putting the camera on top of a box on the counter about five feet behind the laptop. It turns out you need to place it that far back so that it can get a wide enough field of view to see everyone else sitting at the table.
With the video chat on fullscreen mode, Rob is visible on the laptop screen at pretty much life size. A little short, maybe. The voice quality wasn't great-- think speakerphone-- but once we fiddled around with where we put the speakers and the microphone (this turns out to be fairly important), it was amazing how present he was.
That's the thing. Basically, despite the fact that he was a time zone away, he was pretty much there with us, and able to participate in the game along with everybody else. If you think about it, that's kind of astonishing. As Jerry said on the way home, "we're living in the future now".
We ended up rolling the dice for him on our end, but that often happens with whoever's in the kitchen making dinner that night anyway, so that's nothing new. And once we were involved in a combat that used miniatures, we had to move his camera over onto the table so he could see what was going on. (The camera wasn't real excited about focusing on the blank white field of the grid paper, but we stuck some extra stuff on the table for it to look at and everything was fine.)
It took a while to get used to the fact that while the image of Rob's face was at the end of the table, Rob's point of view was over on the counter. So if you wanted to look "at" him, you had to remember to look at the camera, not at this laptop. But we started adapting, on both ends, by the end of the session. We also got a little bit of a delayed echo over the audio connection, which was faintly distracting, but nothing big.
Overall, it was an smashing success. Next time we should have a longer cord for the camera (there was a lot of limbo action this time around), and a real microphone that we'll put closer to the GM and the center of the table, but basically, it worked.
I think I'm going to see if maybe I can write an article for Pyramid about it.