Sharing maps with poor Internet connections

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Apologies in advance for the length of this post. I think it is necessary for anyone knowledgeable about this stuff to understand what my situation is and what I've tried and it may be interesting to others in similar situations.

A while back I started a job that involves spending most of my time in locations where Internet access is spotty. Since this is a pretty international group of folks on this forum, and also lots of techies, I'm hoping someone will have suggestions that I haven't thought of. Others may find my experiments interesting.

First, I'm working for a UN agency in a country with civil unrest, so the government will regularly shut down certain internet services. The agency provides its own Internet but they'll often throttle streaming services to give priority to more important uses or just to ensure their is sufficient bandwidth for everyone.

I'm continuing to run a campaign with a long-term gaming group and the main challenge is sharing maps as they explore. I really don't require lots of bells and whistles, like digital tokens and macros to automate rolls. I'm playing 5e and am running Rappan Athuk. Rappan Athuk is a mega dungeon with a LOT of maps. My players have gotten used to seeing maps being progressively revealed as they explore and none of us want to go back to 100% theater of the mind. For years now I've been using Realm Works to display player-facing maps, removing "fog-of-war" as they explore. It works great for in person games and can work with on-line games if you just share the player window with whatever conferencing app you are using.

I've been experimenting with ways to continue the game from an area with terrible Internet, including explorer alternatives to Realm Works. The rest of this post details what I've tried and what I'm considering trying.

Right now as I'm typing this I'm getting 65.98 Mbps download, 104.38 Mbps upload, and a 262 ms ping to a server in the same city (using the Ookla for the speed test).

As a back up to my work Internet, I bought a Google Fi SIM card, it allows me to toggle among three mobile providers. Google Fi is awesome but is still limited by what the mobile providers in the country you are in provide, 3G is the fastest available mobile internet available by any provider in this country. 4G is not available here.

I've joined games others have run using Roll20 and Discord, but had to stop as more often then not, I keep dropping on Discord. So Discord is out. Besides I absolutely hate the Discord interface.

I've had the best luck with Google Meet. I have a personal Google Apps account and Google Meet has been great for voice.

I using use Realm Works to run my games but I can't install it on my work laptop. I have a Dell XPS 13 for my personal laptop but it doesn't have an ethernet port and the Wifi is very spotty. I tried running Google Hangouts on my work laptop for voice connected via ethernet cable and then on my personal computer I would connect to Hangouts and present the player view window. But the wifi was too spotty, and juggling computers was a pain. It just wasn't working.

So, next I set up a virtual desktop. I tested two platforms: Microsoft Azure and Amazon Workspaces. Amazon Workspaces was a failure from the get go. The Amazon Workspaces client could never connect. Either the internet is to poor or something is blocking it.

With Azure, I was able to set up a Windows 10 VM, and connect to it via Remote Desktop Connection. I installed Realmworks and did the map sharing from there. The advantage is that there was no lag for my players as the VM was in a data center in the USA. But after last night's 6-hour session I gave up on this approach. The RDC session froze and dropped on multiple occasions even though I had no issues with the voice connection on Google Meet.

Beside connectivity issues, I'm pretty much done with RealmWorks. The product is no longer supported by the developer and I'm also having issues with it freezing and crashing when I try to navigate among and share several maps. What will be hard for me to replace is that Realmworks makes it so darn easy to just load in a map and reveal portions on the fly as the party explores. I loved it when running in-person games with a horizontal display, but it is not at all suited for remote play.

I tried Roll20, but I had issues with it hanging when I tried to play games other people were running. Also, I find it involved too much prep work and I don't really need most of its features. I just want a way to throw up a map and reveal it on the fly. I'm willing to admit I may just need to get over the learning curve but my experiences with it indicate that I just don't have the bandwidth needed to run games on it.

With Fantasy Grounds, my main issue is that I can't install the software on my work computer. Basically it would put me in the same situation as Realmworks. Also, again, I don't need most of its functionality and it seems like a big investment of money and time to learn.

I have thought of creating a local VM using Oracle VM virtual box and try to run Realmworks, or maybe Fantasy Grounds in it. But again, it seems like a lot of work to just share a map. I'll be testing this approach and will update this post after I try it.

I've looked into on-line campaign management tools like World Anvil and Obsidian Portal, hoping that with a Website-based system I could reveal content that would be easy for players to get. Instead of streaming they could refresh their screens, but neither seem to have the ability to selectively reveal maps. I know Frog God Games is working to make their Lost Lands campaign available in World Anvil. I might consider ditching RealmWorks for World Anvil if they ever release Rappan Athuk on it. But that still wouldn't address my need to progressively reveal maps.

Map Tools also seems like too much prep time, but I'm looking into it as a lighter weight option. I'd likely run it from a local VM, but then I might as well stay with RealmWorks.

Lastly, I've considered just using a graphics program like GIMP with layers. But I would have to constantly toggle presenting the map on and off when progressively revealing the map.

As I consider to experiment with various options, I'll update this thread.

I'd be interested in what others are doing, especially anyone dealing with low bandwidth.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Can't say it's something I've had to deal with.

Have you considered using a service like Google Drive or Dropbox? You could upload the maps in advance. Then, generate a share link, and just chat the link to your players whenever you're ready to reveal it to them.

In any case, good luck!
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
@Fanaelialae Thanks for responding. What I'm really looking for is something that will let me progressively review maps. I'm not just throwing up an occasional battlemap. I'm running a massive mega-dungeon, many locations of which are complicated and I want to show the players the map as they explore it. The more I've looked into online tools the more I'm convinced that I'll need to stick with software running on my computer.

For one, I have a LOT of maps. The nature of the dungeon and style of game I'm running makes it hard to know exactly which maps I'll need during the session. File-size and overall space limitations are an issue with the online tools I've looked at.

The next challenge is having an easy way to reveal portions of the map as the party explores. Roll20 seems to need far too much prep and the reveal tools are hard to use when you need to reveal anything not in straight lines.

What RealmWorks has been brilliant at is that I can load two versions of a map, player and DM. I see the the DM version but the player window shows the players version. When I reveal a portion of the map, I can do it on the DM version and the same area will be revealed on the player version. Also the reveal tools include the ability to not only select areas with rectangles, but I can also click multiple points to review irregular areas or use a reveal paint brush. This is especially useful on a touch-screen computer as I can just use a finger to wipe away areas of the masking layer to reveal areas, even twisty, bending natural caverns.

At this time I think I'm stuck with RealmWorks. I'll either buy a new personal computer or I'll set up a VM on my work computer.

Streaming a shared window on Google Meet can still suffer performance issues though and I'm wondering if there is a way to share just a snaphot of a window or my screen that I can continually update. In prior jobs I used web conferencing software and educational software that would do this with slide shows but those were pre-prepared. Anyway, I'll update this tread with my experiments.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
Right now as I'm typing this I'm getting 65.98 Mbps download, 104.38 Mbps upload, and a 262 ms
That's actually pretty impressive. My home internet is 40 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up, mind you it typically has a 40 to 50 ms response time to a server half way across the continent (ie. SE Ontario, to Colorado in this case). If that speed is consistent, you only issue is the response time which just means a delay in what you see vs what you do.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Yeah, but things are weird here because the government clamping down on various services. Also, my players are in the US so latency is an issue. I can even get Amazon Workspaces client to run. Discord is unreliable.

Google Meet has been great, but few companies have the global reach of Google. Even then, streaming video can be dicey.

My next experiment is running RealmWorks on a local VM using Hyper-V so that I can run the game from my work laptop connected by Ethernet.
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
So have you looked at a VPN to see if you can avoid the local government restrictions? I use PureVPN (with dedicated IP for Fantasy Grounds) when I travel, but that's only to circumvent hotel firewalls. That might prevent some of your service outages and unreliability.

I tend to think you'll want to go to a hosted/remote server approach that would allow you have the server running someone not local to you. Hence your Amazon/Azure ideas. But unless a VPN solves those for you... Instead of RPC, you could try another remote desktop/terminal applications such as TeamViewer or VNC.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I use Nord VPN on my phone. But I'm using employer provided internet with my laptop in employer provided housing. That's not restricted in the same way, except that they will throttle streaming services to ensure sufficient bandwidth for other services on occasion.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Streaming a shared window on Google Meet can still suffer performance issues though and I'm wondering if there is a way to share just a snaphot of a window or my screen that I can continually update.
Are you familiar with the Windows Snippet tool? It allows you to take screenshots of a selected portion of your screen very easily, although I believe it can only do rectangular selections.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Are you familiar with the Windows Snippet tool? It allows you to take screenshots of a selected portion of your screen very easily, although I believe it can only do rectangular selections.
Yes. I also have Snagit, which makes it even easier. It isn't an ideal process but it is an option, but I can keep the Snagit application window open and share that with Google Meet and then hit print screen when i want to share a map after revealing more of it and that image will automatically appear in the Snagit screen, replacing the prior one.
 

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