In our last game there was some confusion during combat that might have been avoided if we’d been using miniatures. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a very good option since we were playing via video chat. We’ve tried using virtual game tables online but I haven’t been impressed. So I’m building our own game table - I’ve wanted to do this anyhow, but our last session pushed me to get started on it today (I’ll post more on it later this week.)
But why build a game table for voice-over-IP games? I’ve been thinking how it might be cool if I could run a separate video stream so that in addition to our video conference, they could see the actual game table and minis and just say where they want their characters to move using coordinates or other directions. Today I decided to try this out - basically I'm having a second webcam upload a fresh image to a server every time a motion sensor is triggered. Players can refresh a web page in their browser to see the updated positions of their characters relative to their surroundings or opponents. If they use Firefox and the “ReloadEvery” extension, they can have the page automatically reload at regular intervals so that they don’t have to manually refresh it.
This seems like a pretty cheap solution if it works - I’ve only tested it with a crappy second webcam. If it looks like it’ll work out in game play, I'll get a better cam with higher resolution or wide angle and zoom, or look at using our camcorder for this purpose. I have a little concern over hosting and individual bandwidth capabilities, but it looks promising so far.
I like this approach because of the personal touch it affords (our minis instead of someone else’s avatars, not to mention terrain details etc.) I'm already thinking about dungeon clues I can subtly add and special effects with lighting or smoke/fog.