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Adding Asynchronicity
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Adding Asynchronicity

October 18, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

3. Device agnosticism

Because Conclave doesn't place any restrictions on when or how you play, new activity in the game can occur at any time. That presents an additional challenge if we want asynchronous play to be convenient: you need to have a device that can access the game whenever you want (and are able) to play. Furthermore, you might prefer to use a different device -- smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop -- at different times. Mobile devices offer portability so that you can play on the go, but for some games it's hard to pass up a larger screen when one is available.

As a tiny development team, we doubted that developing native versions of the game for a variety of platforms would be the best use of our limited resources. Since we planned to regularly add to and improve the game, we wanted to minimize the amount of work required to deploy changes to all players.

Consequently, we chose to implement Conclave's client with HTML5 and JavaScript -- to be precise, with the parts of those technologies that are reasonably (and increasingly) well supported by modern browsers. All game data is stored on our servers, making it possible for players to pick up right where they left off regardless of which device they happen to be using at any given time.

Here the trade-off was clear from the beginning. Pretty much any device with a recent web browser is a platform for Conclave, and that includes iPhones and iPads since the game doesn't rely on Flash. On the other hand, the game can't take advantage of all the functionality provided to native apps, and the tools for developing HTML5/JavaScript apps are still evolving, to put it kindly.

Fortunately, Conclave's technological and aesthetic requirements are relatively modest, and the tools for building web apps continue to expand and improve.

4. Maintaining connections between players

Asynchronicity presents a final challenge: making sure players agree upon and share a pace of play. Many play-by-mail and play-by-posts tackle this problem by setting explicit deadlines: a PBM Diplomacy game might require players to submit orders every two weeks or every month, while a PBP D&D game might require players to post at least once a day.

As a starting point, Conclave takes its cue from the latter. By default, all players must submit their turns within 24 hours; if a player doesn't, the game will take defensive action for the turn on his or her character's behalf. The timer can of course be turned off for cases where a player expects to be away for longer than a day, and it doesn't apply if you're playing solo.

The Adventurer's Hall (Click for large version)

This is a reactive approach to the problem, but Conclave pairs it with a couple of proactive ones. In the game's Adventurers Hall, parties looking to fill out their ranks can advertise their preferred pace and primary time zone. In addition, groups playing asynchronously receive email notifications when significant events occur, such as a new round beginning or a quest ending in failure. Players therefore don't need to continually check the game's status.

Finally, we give each party its own persistent chat room. When playing synchronously, players can use it to communicate in realtime; when playing asynchronously, they can use it to leave messages for each other instead. Here a single user interface satisfies both modes of play, making it easier for players to build camaraderie and share in the experience without thinking about the mode they're in.

Where to Next?

Conclave is in open beta, and we're still refining how we handle the shift between asynchronous and synchronous play based on player feedback. In particular, we're looking at other ways for asynchronous players to stay in the loop besides triggered notifications, and we're working to prevent conflicting turns between synchronous players through better UI feedback and design. You can keep an eye on what we're doing at

Meanwhile, we look forward to seeing more games -- and more genres -- experiment with supporting both synchronous and asynchronous play.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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