Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Interview with Trevor Croft, creator of MapTool

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With a full-time job, a newborn baby, and a virtual tabletop software application project all consuming his schedule, Trevor Croft, creator and caretaker of MapTool, was kind enough to take a few moments from his own busy life to answer a few questions.

(Article originally appeared in The Dice of Life )

Q: How did you get started gaming?

I started in elementary school, probably 8-10yrs old, with a buddy of mine. We didn't really get the concept, but we enjoyed making characters and the dungeons they would explore. That lasted a couple years, then I didn't play after that.
Truth be told, I'm still not a big gamer. I have played in a few games over the past couple years by invitation, and those have been fun.

Q: What's your favorite gaming memory?

As a kid, I had a character named Kilomino, a monk, that I thought was the coolest. Hmmm, now that I think about it, he eventually met his demise by a jerk GM that didn't like me/the way I was playing/had a bad day/had a thistle up his butt/whatever and dropped him into an instant death spike pit. Wait a minute, that's not such a great memory after all...
Next would have to be the night my parents brought me home the original basic box set (I had begged them for it), with the green dragon on the front. I poured over the manuals a thousand times. That was awesome. I spent way more time preparing and planning than I did actually playing.

Q: How did MapTool come about?

I was into graphics programming and was working on a couple side projects to that end, such as an isometric MMO (hence the networking and graphics background). I was working with a guy, giliath on the forums, that was big into gaming. They had been using kLoOge but found it too cumbersome. When I showed him the projects I was working on, he said he had and idea. So we hammered out some basic ideas for what we wanted it to do. He supplied the direction and I supplied the coding (although, he did contribute to the non graphical programming, he wrote the dice parser, for example).
The rest, as they say, is history. :)

Q: What was it like in its first incarnation?

It was a background texture with a grid, that you could drag images onto and move around, we were pretty excited the first time we connected our clients together and we could see each other moving tokens around. I have a picture of it around here somewhere...

Q: Why did you decide to make it an open source project?

It's never been about money, but about having a good time. Making things for-pay turns them into a job. That's no fun, I already have a full time job.

Q: When did it turn from a tool you and your group used into a tool driven primarily by user input?

It was roughly after 1.2 was released. Giliath's group had all the features they were immediately interested in, so were less and less involved. About that time the community was gaining some great momentum, so the new feature requests from the community started driving the tool. It's been that way ever since.

Q: Describe the process by which others contribute code to the project. How are they given coding assignments?

It's interest motivated. Most contributors submit patches for functionality that they are personally interested in. Other contributors who just want to help out look through the feature request or bug fix forums and find something to work on. Then they contact me to let me know so that I don't work on it at the same time, and so I can offer insight into how I think it should be approached given the context of the system as a whole.

Q: I see on the forum titles like MapTool Staff? Are these the original contributors? (feel free to describe the current team)

There are "staff" and there are "founders". The founders are: trevor, giliath, Mr.Ice, and jay. Today, I'm the only original founder that still contributes regularly. Dorpond came on board shortly after the initial release of MT as a voice to the community.
Currently the "staff" list is pretty vague. There are some members that help out with forum administration and moderation, and a couple regular contributors. That said, it's about time to sit down and formalize the growth we've had over the past year or two, bringing in new people as official staff, and formalize the development process a little more.
I don't want to publish a formal list of people at this point because I would certainly forget someone, but super big props to Azhrei who has taken point on all things related to the web site (i.e. - forums, launching, content, etc). That's been a huge help. And Craig has been a monster contributor on the macro system and is lining up to do some fantastic work on other aspects as well. Dorpond has assumed the role of lead tester and does a great job finding and helping to track down bugs.

Q: Its easy for an artist to be critical of their own work. Do you feel good about where MapTool is today or do you find it lacking?

Yikes. That's the truth. Personally, I think MT is a hodge podge of a few neat features loosely tied together by a horrid UI. It doesn't come anywhere near where I see it in my head. I have such great plans! Unfortunately, time is limited so progress is slow.

Q: What is MapTool's primary strength compared to other Virtual Tabletops (VTTs)?

Its line of sight is the primary distinguishing feature; no other VTT has such a system. It has an unbounded map size so you can have absolutely massive scale battles. It also has built-in drawing tools which make it pretty easy to whip something up on the fly pretty easily. The macro system has also bloomed into a very powerful tool that exceeds most other VTTs.

Q: What functionality would you love to see in MapTool?

A javascript based scripting engine. Decks. And a massively overhauled interface, which would include the ability to look at more than one map at a time.

Q: Where are you in the development cycle for the current version?

Right at the tail end, which is the hardest. It's painful to restrain from adding new features. :)

Q: What are the major new functionalities planned for the next version?

See "What functionality would you love to see in MapTool?" above. ;)

Q: At what point will you consider the project 'done'?

When the community no longer asks for more features.

Q: How do you manage time with family, career and working on MapTool?

I get a couple hours of "me" time at night after everyone else has gone to bed. That's when I get to work on MapTool. So, I can generally spend up to 10 hours a week on RPTools. Lately though that time has been allocated for baby duty, but things are slowly getting back to normal.

Q: My favorite non sequitur interview question of all time: If you were a tree what kind would it be?

Being an amateur woodworker, I have a great deal of love for trees and the wood they contain. That said, I'd be a bubinga tree.

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