On November 16th 2010, WOTC birthed a new online character builder to replace its tried but true offline version.
Like so many others, I decided to give the new shiny online version a try.
Here are some of my thoughts and experiences with the early version of their new creation.
The first character import went smoothly. However when trying to print, I got a cute but unsettling error saying that Silverlight had crashed. Needless to say, I was worried that the rest of my experience with the tool would be no better.
Fortunately, the system was able to recover and reloading the page prompted me to attempt a recovery of the character on which I had been working. That process went smoothly and I was back in the game. I was really impressed with the ease of the recovery and decided to remain optimistic. Within minutes I saw some real benefit in the new version, but realized that there were still some layout issues that needed to be worked out
The new Character Builder has two preformatted layouts. They are “Essentials” view and “Character Builder” view. Both layouts are graphically rich and well designed. However, the added "bling” will come at a cost to your checking account if you plan to print the sheets every time you make an update to the character. This is a real factor to consider when deciding how to use the application.
There is a definite difference between using the Character Builder sheets on screen versus using them on paper. Expenses mount as you have to print sheet after sheet out when inventories or character attributes change. All of the new graphics and color usage on the sheets compound this issue.
The new sheet views can be hard to read in certain areas. Unintended text overlapping occurs periodically. Background watermarks, which are meant to identify field types, interfere with foreground information. To make matters worse, font sizes still shrink to microscopic levels in order to squeeze content into the preformatted frames of this version.
Unfortunately, the screen views are not resizable within the application. The previous version had a zoom feature that remedied some of the micro font issues. The new version was released without a way to enlarge the sheet on the screen. The Silverlight plug-in also seems to ignore screen resolutions. There was no appreciable change between 800X600, 1024X768, or larger settings on my monitors. While this feature may be good for forcing content to the page, it means you will be doing a lot of printing if you really want to read some of the smaller print.
Page layout varies depending on the format chosen. Both the Essentials and Character Builder layouts have intended purposes. Basically, it is an option between a beginner’s and an advanced user’s view.
The Essentials format caters to beginners by adding annotations, captions, and (pesky) watermarks to commonly used fields. It is designed to help the gamers and hobbyist new to the system and does so well.
The Character Builder format is a roomier version of the older format. In certain areas, it sports a layout similar to the Essentials sheet. Yet, it manages to retain some of the flavor of the original Character Builder sheets in other regions. If you've played for a while, the Character Builder format is the one that you will likely choose. Its layout harkens to sheets from previous editions and will be easier to follow for seasoned players.
All in all the new online Character Builder needs some polish and fine tuning, but the nice thing about online applications is that these things can be done behind the scenes without impacting the user or forcing updates to be downloaded.
Here is to hoping that WOTC can keep the momentum going and is able to add the important features that its many users are already requesting.