Author Archives: Micah

8
Nov

Search Reloaded

Ryan made some awesome updates to search over the past couple weeks, and they finally went out last night. I thought I’d give a quick rundown, although the best thing to do is try it out for yourself.

Cool new search stuff

More context

The formatting for the results is much nicer now, with more text for the wiki pages and adventure log posts. Before, a search hit just showed the name of the page and a link to it. As a bonus, the contextual text displayed is text where the search term was found.

Keyword highlighting

The search term you are looking for is automatically highlighted where found. This makes it much easier to quickly scan through the results.

Type filtering

By default, a search will return all kinds of results: characters, wiki pages, adventure log posts, and more. But, if you know exactly where you want to look, you can filter to restrict it to only the type of data you are looking for.

Go Ascendant for campaign-specific search

Remember, if you’re Ascendant, all your campaigns will have campaign-specific search enabled. This is much handier than using the sitewide search, since you can restrict the search to only your campaign’s content. It’s extremely handy, trust me! If you want to enable this awesome feature, tell your GM to Ascend Today!

6
Nov

Creating an API – First Steps

Let's Connect!Over our lifetime, we’ve gotten a handful of requests for an API. In every case, our answer was, “We really want to do this, but just don’t have the time right now.” Well, we’re tired of that answer, and have decided to make some time. We’re super-excited about the idea of third-party developers making cool integrations with Obsidian Portal, and we can’t wait to see what cool stuff you all come up with.

Getting Started

Obsidian Portal is a fairly complex system now, with lots of heterogeneous data. Users, campaigns, wiki pages, adventure log posts, characters, items, maps, images, and surely some other stuff I’m forgetting. It would take forever to build API hooks for all of that data, so we’re going to take some baby steps first. The first phase will (probably) be read-only that exposes a fraction of our data for consumption by third party apps. This is where we need your help: What do you want?

There’s no point in us making an API unless some of you are writing apps to consume our data. We’ve got a few people we’re already talking to, but we want to include as much feedback as possible. If you’re interested, please let us know what you’re thinking.

Basically, I need answers to the following questions:

  1. What are you planning to do?
  2. What data do you need from Obsidian Portal?

If you have ideas, come to the forum and discuss it in the API thread.

Keep it serious

Before anyone starts throwing out ideas and requests, I’d like to make it clear that we plan to focus on actual developers and actual applications. I don’t want to get dragged into theoretical “It’d be cool if…” brainstorming. There are a lot of possibilities here, and I want the initial push to be in the direction of something concrete, even if it’s not earth-shattering.

Timeline

Our motto is “Under promise, Over deliver” and I intend to hold to that here. I’m not going to give a definitive timeline, and instead say that hopefully we will have something stable by the end of 2010, or early 2011.

3
Nov

Thoughts on the new DDI Character Builder

Since everyone else is pontificating about the new web-only character builder, I thought I’d jump in and give my totally unqualified opinion. I don’t even have a DDI subscription, mainly because I’m on a Mac. But, I do know a little about running a tabletop gaming web application, so I’ll weigh in from that perspective.

20
Oct

My Life as Tech Support

Every now and then I like to pull back the curtain a little and give a glimpse into what it’s like to run Obsidian Portal. It’s pretty much an endless stream of putting out fires and fixing bugs. I really love to do it, but I like to pour cold water on anyone who thinks it’s all fun and glory. For example, today I had two support emails that caused me quite a bit of grief. Enjoy…

Ascension without consent

I never gave my permission to “ascend” or be charged anything, you don’t even have my information. so, yeah, please take off this “ascended” title, because, I’m not going to be charged. so, again, nobody has my consent in anyway for any reason for anything ever. the end.

As it happens, the issue here was that the person in question signed up with a promo code when creating their account. The promo code gave 1 month of free Ascendant time to new signups.

I understand that we could be a little clearer about “complimentary” vs “paid” Ascendant accounts, but frankly I’d rather work on cool features. Some other people have inquired about their strange Ascendant status, and I was happy to answer. In this case, I did exactly as was requested and deleted the complimentary subscription. Be careful what you wish for, I might just give it to you.

My wiki is gone, I hate you

Pages on my XXXX page were deleted. I want them back, along with my money.

These emails always fill me with dread. Did I accidentally delete someone’s work? How long has this been going on? Is this just the first of a flood of hate heading my way?

Luckily, I’ve been hit with a lot of these by now, so I know not to panic. In almost all cases, it’s a misunderstanding. In this particular case, it is a legitimate bug…but not one where data was lost. Instead, there is a case-sensitivity bug for some of the wiki links. In other words, Places isn’t the same as places. The pages are all still there, but some links in the wiki are broken. Definitely something I need to fix.

Unfortunately, it took several back-and-forth emails to discover the actual problem. The original email didn’t have any real information, only anger. I know it’s frustrating when things aren’t working right, but a “You screwed me” email is pretty worthless in terms of diagnosing the problem and finding a fix.

The moral?

There are essentially two morals to this story, one for me and one for you:

For me: Can’t please ‘em all

I am the first to admit that Obsidian Portal has bugs and problems…a LOT! But, wonder of wonders, it limps along enough to provide thousands of gamers with the tools they need to manage their games. That provides me a lot of comfort when I deal with irate users. I have to remind myself that even as I’m working to fix one person’s problem, hundreds of people are managing their games and having a great time doing it.

For you (and me too): Take a breath before sending

When I get a support email, my initial gut reaction goes one of 2 ways: I want to help this person, or I want to hurt this person. If the email is asking for help, I want to help them. If they are lashing out at me or the site, I want to hurt them. I can usually swallow my pride and do the right thing, but it’s always tempting to just reflect back the anger and hate coming my way.

The point is to realize that most websites (and small businesses) out there are like this. When you send an email, it doesn’t go to a customer service person. It goes to the head-honcho, the person who pours their heart and soul into the site. If you have a problem, ask for help, and you’ll probably get it. Accusations and rage will send your email straight to the trash bin, or worse, the site owner might flip out and declare war on you. I’ll admit, I’ve come very close to doing this in the past.

Blow your top, or solve your problem?

Before sending a support email (to anyone, not just me), ask yourself: “What’s my goal here?” Do you want to get your problem solved? Or, do you want to unleash your anger and surrender to the Dark Side? If it’s the former, then do your best to describe the exact problem, what you did when the problem manifested, and have a little patience. If it’s the latter, tap into your deepest hatred and let me know how you really feel. Just don’t be surprised when I don’t respond and you suddenly find your account disabled.

15
Oct

Crash fix for Android browsers

android
We know that many of you have been having problems loading the site on Android browsers. It took us a while to get our hands on an Android device and pin the problem down, but we’ve finally got a fix.

Basically, the login system we use that allows for Google, Twitter, Facebook, and all the rest has some parts that are incompatible with Android 2.1 and below. Whenever the login section would load, the browser would crash. The upside is that we can intercept that and keep it from loading on those Android devices. The downside is that login with 3rd party is unavailable on those same devices. If this causes problems for you, send us an email and we’ll help get you sorted out.

If you’re still having crashing problems on your Android device, please let us know and we’ll keep looking into it. Otherwise, thanks for all the bug reports, and enjoy!

11
Oct

Character Quick Select popup

It took me a few hours on Saturday and a few more on Sunday, but I’m ready to announce our coolest new feature: The Character Quick Select popup!

The old way

One complaint we heard long ago was that it was a real pain to be writing a wiki page and want to reference a character. You’d have to open another browser window, navigate to the characters tab, and look up the slug or ID of the character in order to link them. To fix this, we added the sidebar with the dropdown box containing all your characters.

This was a decent solution, but I was never pleased with it. For one, it’s cumbersome if there are a lot of characters. Plus, it doesn’t help when you’re busy writing and want to define a brand new NPC. This happens to me A LOT when I’m planning out an adventure or new area.

The new way

To help with this process, I’ve revamped the lookup process to be much friendlier, and moved it to the textarea toolbar.

Quick Select Toolbar

Simply click the little character-in-a-folder button, and voila! You’re looking at the new quick select popup.

Quick Select Popup

New Characters

You can create a new NPC for your campaign, right from here. No more need to go add them via the characters tab then come back to where you were editing. Click the New Character button, fill out the basics, click save, and your new character is added to the list, ready for immediate insertion into your post.

Filtering

Just start typing a character’s name or a tag. As you type, the list will automatically filter itself to the characters you’re looking for.

Insert

Found the character you’re looking for? Click the Insert button to insert the link tag right into the post.

Known Issue

There is one main irritating bug that I’m aware of. Sometimes the textarea you were originally editing loses the place of the cursor. When you click the button to insert a character, the wiki tag is inserted at the start of the textarea, instead of where the cursor was originally. This is a limitation of how textareas work, but I’ll see if I can find some sort of workaround.

Like it? Hate it?

I’m very proud of the quick select popup, as I’ve needed it many times in the past. Let me know what you think, and if there are any ways it could be improved.

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Obsidian Portal is the award winning Online Campaign Management System for tabletop role-playing games. It’s free to use, it can be accessed from any web browser and it's built from the ground up for gamers by gamers.

We host a huge community of tabletop RPG players who are all looking to get the most out of their tabletop gaming experience. You play your campaign and we help you manage it. It’s that simple.
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