Designers weigh in...

back to the Emporium

Whenever someone supplies a contrast and comparison piece, I like to post it on the Emporium site.  This gives desginers an opportunity to compare and contrast features and potential users get an idea of the features that they might like or not like.   This essay is a reply to Richard Hogen's Compare-and-Contrast essay available on his website.   I solicited comments from Jeff Patterson, Todd Zircher and Dale Larson.  Where they respond, in italics, their opinions are their own.

Mr. Hogen is quoted in red-brown font.  My comments are in blue.

Todd Zircher, creator of V_MAP

First of all, a tip of the hat to Richard Hogen. I know EC inspired me to make V_MAP the way it is.

As a programmer I know why V_MAP is (and probably always will be a "poor step-child" of EC). V_MAP is written in Visual Basic and on a shoe string budget. While VB is a way nifty thing, graphics special effects is one of its weakest areas.

> First, here's what I liked about V_MAP and SMS: For people who have time to play games IN REAL >TIME over  the internet, both V_MAP and SMS can apparently talk to other users of those programs >across your ISP link.

It's more e-mail based than real time. But, fairly rapid game play is possible. I've taken some small steps to
make V_MAP truly real time. Some of the V_MAP compatible JAVA applications will probably achieve that before I do.

> The single bitmap "tileset" approach has advantages and
> disadvantages. For the single-session approach that V_MAP
> and SMS take it is nice to choose from a single tile set.

It also offers some nice packaging perks in that gameset will only consist of a few files without a need for

> Here's what I didn't like about V_MAP and SMS compared to
> Electronic Cardboard SMS has a small "temp tray", much
> smaller than EC's holding tray, and V_MAP does not have
> a temp tray at all.

Guilty as charged, I opted in V_MAP's design to allow more space for the map. Since most wargames have boxes on the map dedicated to reserve forces, dead units, etc. I took the route that was more 'game-like' to me. Thus temp trays are a function of the map/game and not the program.

> V_MAP allows you to lock any number of units in place and
> slide the map under them, but I'm not sure of the use of
> such a feature.

Theoretically, it can be used to move units while retaining formation. Also, an older version of V_MAP had a pesky save file problem that created an odd offset. Unlocking the counters from the map would allow you to fix that glitch and salvage older save files..

> Neither of them have "grease pencil mode" for map annotations.
> EC does.

That's one feature that would make ED excellent for Triplanetary. [insert professional jealousy here] :-)

> Neither of them have Snap-to-Grid capability. EC does.

Snap-to-Grid should be in the next release. I've got some Traveller fans that are interested in using V_MAP to make floor plans and deck plans on the fly.

> Neither of them have anywhere near the number of Unit-based
> features that EC has, like hints, rotation (clock position or
> free), translucency, individual unit memos, non-rectangular
> units, undo features, stack management, etc.

All true except for the individual unit memos. Right click on a unit to call up the option menu and type in a 'tool tip' comment. It will appear when a mouse is held over the unit.

> V_MAP's scrolling is jumpy. EC and SMS have scrolling with fine
> control.

Actually, I prefer the phrase 'twitchy as a jackrabbit on speed'.  Maybe I should just replace the scroll bars with buttons.  Dragging the slider on the scroll bar does allow for precision
'jumping'. :-)

> The tileset approach requires all units to be exactly the same
> size. EC allows any combination of bitmaps, so you can have units
> that fill your hexes to define or redefine terrain, or as
> buildings or bridges or whatever.

I've been playing with adding multiple tilesets. I just have not found/built a user interface that I like. Multiple tilesets will allow for units of varying sizes and bitmap masking (non-rectangular
and '3d' units.)

> I'm sure these are not exhaustive lists, but at this point it
> should be clear why EC has serious advantages over the alternatives
> and is worth a couple of trips to the cinema. Feel free to discover
> the reasons for yourself. (there is always the possibility that in
> evaluating the cheaper alternatives I missed something -- if any
> of the facts presented here are wrong let me know and I'll correct
> them)

Thanks for presenting a forum by which we can compare features. As time passes, I think we'll see a drifting apart of the various PBEM gaming aids. For example, EC has strong presentation features
that I'll never be able to match while V_MAP has dice rolling, a LOS/ruler, and (in development) a system for rolling results from user defined tables.

Jeff Patterson, creator of SMS:

Truth is, I never heard of EC before now. V_Map inspired SMS, and I had checked out CyberBoard to see what the competition had to offer, but EC must have slipped through the search cracks...

Check out PBeM Links on the Emporium Navigator sometime, Jeff, EC has been on there from day one... :-)

I guess I'm not a fair judge on EC and its capabilities. It looks like a sharp program, and looks like Richard Hogen knows his stuff. I trust that he is a fair judge of the capabilities of all our programs, and so I have taken all he says about his program vs. SMS and the others for untested truth.

One point to Mr. Hogen in regards to our tileset games requiring all the tiles to be the same size:

Strategic Map Simulator will support up to 5 different tile sets for each game.  I put this together so you could play with different sized tiles - you can even lay tiles on top of other tiles. This is good if you have vehicles (such as ships/tanks) that are large tiles that you are then going to lay small unit tiles on top of. This is a cool feature that could even be used to make playing cards - but that would require making part of your map a "playing space" for the cards. I even had someone who was making a game where he dynamically created the board out of one large tileset, and then played the small tokens on
top of the board from a different, smaller tileset.

Since I've never used EC, I can only talk about some of the things I have planned for SMS.

Anyway, I like the looks of EC. I have to be honest, I would have long since starved to death if I had to survive on the number of people who have registered my product. Let's face it, none of us are in this for the $$. Mine is shareware after all, and there is nothing "making" anyone pay for it - it will work perfectly fine forever on the preview copy. If EC is a viable,real source of income for Mr. Hogen, more power to him. I just hope we can continue to make some people's wargaming lives a little easier.

Dale Larson, creator of Cyberboard

I really can't react to the EC author's comments since I know zero about EC.   Some features he says are missing in CB may or may not be missing (just different) since I didn't understand the features EC as described.

Personally I don't feel CB has an inflexible internal architecture. It models real world game components. The primary inflexibilty is the authors inflexible schedule and his will to change it. ;) That's what slows the introduction of new features.

I think the best reviews would be from some people who have reasonably extensive experience with all the products being reviewed with no particular axe to grind. This review, although offered in kindness, is easy to interpret as a sales tool.