Tuesday, August 7, 2012

War Room - What Happened?

Oh War Room. I want so badly to like you. I remember how excited I was when PP first announced the upcoming app, and all the cool things it would do. Then the release got pushed (in increments) from April to yesterday (August). During that time, PP lost a lot of steam with the product. All the hype they built up petered off well before the app came out. The first few weeks after the initial announcement, there were numerous threads full of people talking about how awesome it was going to be, and how they would buy the full $60 bundle as soon as possible. Today, the forum is full of threads complaining about errors, poor functionality (or no functionality), and disappointments. Seems like very few people are actually going to shell out for the big bundle.

So what happened?

As a consumer, I am fairly disappointing with the new app. I am not nearly as upset as some of the folks raging over on the PP forums, but I am definitely not happy with the app. There was a lot of potential here, but the end result is just not what it was cracked up to be. After only having the app for a day, here are some things I have seen that make the app less than ideal:

1. lack of theme forces
This is the big one. The official stance on this issue is that it was never intended functionality. If you want to run tier lists, it's going to be up to you to figure out whether your list actually meets requirements for the tier, and you'll just have to explain to your opponent why it looks like your list is 2-5 points over what it should be. Really, this stance is very disappointing. First of all, iBodger had it. If one guy making an app in his free time could program in every possible theme list, why can't THG do it? As an application developer, this seems like a trivial matter that could have been easily implemented. Making dynamic filters with something as simple as an XML file is very simple. we have dozens of them in our catalog at my company. not only are they easy to write, but they can be maintained and updated easily, without having to push a major release or patch. THG really dropped the ball on this one.

2. List sharing
This on really bothers me. from the start, Privateer has said that you will be able to access your lists across devices. In fact, the War Room FAQ still says:

"Will I be able to access army lists I create on one device from a different device?

Yes. All your user data, including army lists, will sync to your account regardless of which device you use to create that data."

Of course, that isn't the case. if you want to have your army lists on multiple devices, you'll need to put them in by hand. Maybe I'm just being lazy, but that's an annoying issue. This was something that PP said they would offer and it's not there. and now the official word is that it was never intended functionality, that the only thing you're going to be sharing between devices is your deck purchases.

3. Missing merc/minion models in deck purchases.
This is another thing that Privateer said would be done. When you buy a deck for a faction, you should have access to the Merc/minion cards that will work for your faction. So if I buy the skorne deck, I should get a card for Orin Midwinter, and the minion models that work for Skorne. this doesn't seem like too much to ask. We even get copies of those cards in the physical card decks we buy. why did this change? I am not going to spend 7 bucks for an orin midwinter card. Guess I'll just have to bring his physical card with me all the time.

4. General functionality
I got lucky. Both my phone and tablet are able to run War Room. a lot of users weren't so lucky. War room doesn't seem to be compatible with a large list of android devices. Seems like it wasn't really tested very well on anything other than an ipad. really sloppy. even on my devices, it will crash occasionally. it doesn't seem to be able to exit gracefully. there's no button to press in the app to exit, and it doesn't respond to the back button on the device. so the only way to exit is to hit the "home" button. problem is, when you come back after doing that, it crashes and forces a close. as others have pointed out, not letting your app work with the "back" button on major devices is really sloppy and amateur. it would be like making a web page that doesn't respond to "enter" or "tab". come on guys...

Also, the app is really really slow. there are a lot of really simple ways they could have increased app speed. there doesn't seem to be any caching of any kind in the app (every time you load a list or card it takes the same amount of time. after I look at a card, it should save some data so that I can see it quickly next time). the background image reloads every time you hit a new page, even if the image isn't visible. nothing saves automatically, you have to go into the menu and save your data every time...

5. Validation
List validation is something we relied on ibodger for a lot. if someone had a list in ibodger, you could be fairly certain it wouldn't be an illegal list. you could double-check an opponent's list after the game. theme forces were validated, point levels were validated, and you couldn't bring illegal allies/mercs/minions. War room doesn't do any of that. if you want to take a thrulg with Carver, go for it. you want to put a Swamp horror in makeda's battlegroup? no problem. not to mention the large list of models that have incorrect or missing stats. Hopefully those will get ironed out over time, but that could take a while.

And of course, if people really want to cheat, they can. take a look at this Denegra stat card:

see anything wrong? of course you can't get away with something silly liek that, but you sure could change some rules around if you wanted to. I'm not saying people will, but the possibility makes it very hard for PP to officially sanction the use of War Room in tournaments. I am really hoping they reverse that decision, or it's only a matter of time before you get some very... interesting results at tournaments.

OK, so that's enough of the negatives of war room. While it obviously has it's shortcomings, there are still plenty of good things about this app. We were all hoping for a replacement (hopefully a newer nicer replacement) for iBodger. unfortunately, that little black and white, no-nonsense app is way better than what THG put out. War Room does give us some things we haven't had before, however, and I think it could be worth getting just for that.

1. full color card reference library
as long as you own the deck, you can see a card's stats and rules at any time. and the library will be updated whenever new stuff comes out. this is the meat fo the app, and it works well. Again, I would have loved to get some mercs/minions with my deck, but the Skorne models are all there. maybe eventually I'll even buy some other decks to see my opponents' cards. not yet, but someday. the cards are large enough that I can view them comfortably on my phone or tablet, and the swipe to see the backs of cards is nice. I really like this part of the app.

2. Rules reference
Similar to ibodger, but much more complete. so far I haven't thought up any rule that I couldn't find easily in the reference section. most sections have the full text from prime/primal which is awesome. it's also very handy to access these rules from the card itself. tap on a card and you get quick links to any rules that apply to that model. tap on the Bronzeback's weapons and you get links to open fists, P+S, pow, etc. very well executed IMO

3. Damage tracking
the damage tracking system is pretty cool. pick a column, swipe for damage and apply. your summary list shows how many HP each model has left, and what systems are out. and when they die, they get a nice little PP skull over their portrait. I really like this, I'm looking forward to trying it in a game.

4. lots of updates
So far I've had the app for less than a day. and already several updates have gone out to fix some issues. it's good that they recognize there are bugs and are working to fix them. it might take a while, but most of the major stat issues at the very least should be dealt with. Once again PP shows that they are good at listening to the community and working on solutions to try to keep their fans happy.

In conclusion, there are definitely problems with the app. there are big gaps, and things we were promised and haven't received. but really, War Room does a good job of being a good card and rules resource. it isn't a full replacement for iBodger, but it's not bad. Yes, the ball was dropped. yes it's not what it should be. It doesn't make me like PP any less. hopefully next time they'll hire a good programmer instead of dealing with the work they got from THG. but that's not PP's fault, they still make one of the best mini games on the market. Let's try to keep that in mind before flaming PP for one failed product.

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