Microsoft Surface Becomes the Ultimate Interactive Gaming Table

The stuff dreams are made of.

The stuff dreams are made of.

What if your battle mat was interactive? What if you had a virtually infinite set of map tiles and 3D miniatures? What if the your playing surface automatically tracked line of sight, range and movement? What if a team at Carnegie Mellon peered into our gamer dreams and made this all actually happen?

Microsoft Surface is a touch sensitive screen that lays flat on a desktop. There are many potential uses for this still in-development technology (I have a feeling artists and architects are going to love it), but perhaps the ultimate use is the interactive D&D tabletop demoed here. The feature set sounds strikingly similar to a couple of D&D-loving 12-year-olds sitting around the gaming gaming table throwing out “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” ideas. In fact, I probably had this exact idea with my friends 18 or so years ago, when the actual technology to make it happen was pure science-fiction material.

Now, I’m aware that there is a whole contingent of gamers who abhor this type of thing, who hate the extent to which miniatures and grid maps have infiltrated D&D, and who will compare this to the ultimate “video-gamization” of our classic pen and paper RPG. They have a certain point — no pens or papers here, just control objects. And the virtual dice are straight up awful. Take a look at the video and decide for yourself. Personally, I’m just trying not to drool.

Surfacescapes Demo Walkthrough from Surfacescapes on Vimeo.

6 Responses to Microsoft Surface Becomes the Ultimate Interactive Gaming Table

  1. Yeah, I saw this! I think this is how the future of EVERYTHING will look, though. All/most surfaces will be reactive, & your “control object” will be a device part iphone, part wii remote.

  2. That being said, either A) use real dice or B) get rid of dice! Make the randomization invisible– click, fireball shoots, monster is burned. Click, sword cuts.

    Of course, that limits descriptive, or inventive combat manouvers….which is a damn shame.

  3. Very cool interface for a number of applications. I wonder if they could make dice into control objects, so you could roll a set of physical dice and feed the results into the software.

    The downside is that this sort of thing works really well with D&D 4E and games like it, but seems to have less use for less tactical games. Still it would be handy for a slide-show in many other games, assuming the game you’re playing has a GM.

  4. One of our players said in an email that the screen might be able to read the number on the bottom of the die and infer what’s on top. Or you might need special “control object” dice.

    At first glance, it would seem to have less use for a game not focused so much on tactical combat. But you know what really struck me in the demo vid, more than anything else? The ambient nature sounds you could hear. Imagine characters meeting at the inn, and on the screen there’s a crackling fire giving off a ruddy glow, and you hear the sounds of glasses clinking and conversations at other tables, plus the NPC bard playing a lute and singing a mournful song in the corner. I think that sort of thing would really encourage better role-playing, and help more reluctant role-players get into character.

  5. That’s true–if it’s useful for ambiance and visual & auditory aids, it’s still useful. Don’t get me wrong–I totally want one of these!

  6. I have tried to pull off sort of “foley engineering” in games– I find it distracts me too much. Still, I’d like an easy interface to go between “bar” & “wilderness”– what I really need is probably a public domain sound source!

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