I’m sure most of you have head of Google’s latest product Google Wave by now. Though still in the beta phase (and invite only), the concept behind it is the next step in connectivity. That’s not to say that it is without its glaring flaws: it has plenty. If it manages to reach what it aims to be though, it will be quite the feat.

I’m not going to go into the various ways you can have newsfeeds, Facebook updates, Twitter uploads, or any of that other crap integrated into Wave because, frankly, I don’t want to have anything to do with those. What I immediately saw as an application for Google Wave was RPGs. This looks like it could be the latest and greatest way to get the “Pen and Paper” experience since the advent of MUDs.

As it currently stands, Wave is basically a giant, fancy IM service. Yes, you can watch text editing in real time and embed video and images, but that’s nothing dozens of other IM services were not already doing. However, it is open source, and fully supports plug-ins, making it ripe for nerds to run rampant.

In the basic setup, you possess the ability to create a wave: basically just a channel which is viewable and editable by only the people invited. In function, there is very little difference between this and IRC chatrooms, private channels in WoW, or a GDoc. In a RPG, you’ll likely have two such waves: one for gameplay/roleplay, and the other for OOC chatter. You’ll also have to have (depending on the size of your group), a half dozen private message windows open, and well as character sheets, maps, records of previous sessions, and maybe even a dice roller. All of that can get quite messy, and this is where Google Wave really starts to shine.

You could open a private wave for every member of your party and your GM. Or you could use the “Private” reply in the main wave itself, and have relevant comments be viewable only to those you wanted to. Not only does this cut down on the clutter of one-on-one chat, but the headache of trying to keep up conversations that involve two or three other party members, but not all.

Because Google Wave allows posting text and images directly into waves, this makes tracking, updating, and sharing things like character sheets a snap. Your GM won’t have to keep asking for this stat or that, you won’t have eraser marks all over your sheet and have to wonder if you remembered to add in your XP from last session, and you can choose if your sheet is viewable to other party members or not (to vary your level of immurshunz).

Where Wave stumbles is in combat. Ideally your third main wave, alongside OOC and RP would be a Combat wave.  For a dice based game (and possibly a combat grid as well), Google Wave has zero built in support. No mutual image editing (which is surprising given that some IM services already do this), no random number generator, nothing.

Never fear, I’m not the only one that thought this would be great for gaming, and the nerd community is already hard at work creating addons and bots to deliver this functionality. While there’s nothing like an addon that allows me to go “Okay, so, I have this image, and I want to scale it and overlay a grid onto it, and them be able to move these character/monster designators from grid location to grid location with possible annotations attached and can it also do the dishes please?”, the machine has already churned out some results.

To start, there’s a dice bot. While it might be nice to eventually have an integrated RNG, the dice bot is a longstanding tradition in online P&P. To use it, you add the bot (in this case, randomleetwenty@appspot.com) to the list of users. After that, it will preform the usual function of transforming XdY+Z into some numeric result. Other potentially useful bots include a quote bot (multi-wave@appspot.com), and a bot to directly link hosted images instead of uploading them (imbeddable@appspot.com).

Then there’s the image editor. These come in form of “gadgets” (addons), and have to actually be added into the blip (Google’s attempt to make a new word to mean “individual entry”) of a wave. I’ve found two: the Ajex Animator Gadget and Vector Editor, both of which are basically MSPaint with multiple users. To add them, use the “Add Gadget” option on your blip, and put in the URL from above hyperlinks. Hopefully more robust gadgets are in the works, but these are serviceable enough.

So, while Google Wave may still be in beta, and filled with all the bugs and lack of functionality, it looks to have a bright future ahead. Imagine an application where you can have video and sound streaming from each of your friends, a digital playboard complete with miniatures, and no need to foot the bill for pizza. Pretty sweet, huh?


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