About Me

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Seattle, Washington, United States
I'm an old time roleplayer who became a soldier who became a veteran who became a developer who became a dba who became a manager who never gave up his dream of a better world. Even if I have to create it myself.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Random Thoughts on Software

The Wall Street Journal published an article on why many software hiring tools are hurting the US economy.

You can read the article here.

Or if you want the part that's relevant to my post today, it's this bit that caught my attention:

"A Philadelphia-area human-resources executive told Mr. Cappelli that he applied anonymously for a job in his own company as an experiment. He didn't make it through the screening process."

He had these problems because of the software.

I have 15ish years in software design, development, and management, and I am constantly amazed at the lack of basic concepts understood by some companies and engineers, to say nothing of my fellow managers.

Now, this isn't a business blog, so how does this relate to tabletop gaming?

Part of usability - just like most production activities - is knowing the audience.  Who are the users?  What do they need?

In the world of tabletop gaming, users are creative folk with lots of unique ideas.  Publishing a tool - such as a character creator - that doesn't allow for expression of unique ideas is not friendly to the tool's primary market segment.

When an HR professional complains that, out of a thousand applicants, not a single one is qualified, then the software (and the company) have failed.  Completely.  (Also, many companies need to learn that missing 1 out of 100 skills doesn't mean "unqualified")

When a roleplayer complains that they can't add a custom spell or a custom religion to their character creator program, then the program and the company have also failed.

One of the reasons I find that MapTool works so well, for instance, is because it doesn't impose a lot of restrictions.  Sure, you can move through walls.  Turns out you can do that on the tabletop, too, and it doesn't make it any more legal.  What MapTool recognizes - either on purpose or by accident - is that every so often in an RPG, you need to be able to move through a wall.  Therefore, you can't code restrictions with walls unless you also have options that let GMs & players get around that restriction.

In the world of character creators, I don't have much use for software that lets me pick a Religion, but doesn't let me enter my own Religion.  I don't have much use for selecting spells if I can't enter the cool new spell my GM plopped out of his arse in the last session.

Spreadsheets, word documents, and interactive PDF files will remain superior - for me - until software development teams at tabletop companies can appreciate these fundamental requirements.  Although to be honest, I truly prefer a pencil and a nice sheet of paper anyways.  Part of me wonders if computers sometimes get in the way of the tabletop experience too much.

And if character creation is so complicated that noone can create a mathematically accurate toon without software, then something else is wrong entirely, that has nothing to do with software.

It's all about fundamental design.


People are individuals, so any hiring software needs to include that in the design.  Likewise, characters are individuals - a character I make tomorrow will, in some way, be different than any other character ever made, and for software to be useful, it must take that into consideration.


  1. I agree with of the points you made. I would only add that one advantage to character creation via computer software is ease of use. I do find it easier to create a character when only my option based on the selections I have already made are what appear before me. That allows me to weed out all the information I don't currently need.

    Having said that, the lack of the ability to create new things, such as religions or spells as you pointed out, is a big restriction.

    Perhaps it is my age or what I grew up with, but I find it easier to identify with the old paper and pencil character as that character is my creation. I feel attuned to that creation. This also allows for fun stuff like holding a funeral for one of my characters in which the character sheet was burned in ceremony, because he died on the elemental plane of fire. All character information and stats were burned in the cermony. He is gone forever only to be a memory...

  2. Generally agree with your post (i.e. bad software is bad, good software is good).

    "Although to be honest, I truly prefer a pencil and a nice sheet of paper anyways. Part of me wonders if computers sometimes get in the way of the tabletop experience too much."
    Personally, I'm more comfortable with a laptop than with a pen and paper. But then I could type before I could speak (or my father says). To each his own I guess.


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