Monday, November 10, 2008

D&D Insider - The Character Builder Beta

Okay, first off, as a slight caveat, I know that the Character Builder is in Beta, as well as what it means for software to still be in beta. I've worked in the customer service and information technology industry for over a decade, be it as a customer service technician, corporate help desk, or field services, so I'm familiar with the concept of  beta and its expectations.

Now, with that said, the only real displeasure I found with the D&D Insider Character Builder was the installer, as it was not that user friendly and had a major hanging point with the confirmation of the web install of Microsoft .Net's 3.5 SP 1. It'd just get to the end of what should be a normal install point and hang, seemingly forever, before giving up and telling you that your net connection was the issue. But, after a quick run to Microsoft's .Net website, as well as a download, I just re-installed the Service Pack and all was well.

But, it really shouldn't be that hard, the install package for software is the one thing that a company should always have down pat, since it is one of the more memorable parts of the software experience, when things go wrong, and heavily effects a customer's view of the software, right or wrong. While the Character Builder is a beta software, it is a beta that people are technically paying for, at least with respect for D&D Insider subscribers, so you'd expect the installer to be a bit more tight than it is. However, glitches are to be expected in a beta and, hopefully, Wizards of the Coast are paying attention to this and it'll be fixed, or tightened up, down the line.

We shall see, but now onto the more pleasurable aspect of  this beta, the usage of the Character Builder.

Overall, I'm really enjoying the Character Builder, as it does what it is expected to do and it does it quite well, almost seamlessly. While there are some layout issues with the window, such as it not working well with small displays on laptops that are a bit older and running at a modest desktop size, even on a more modern laptop (convertible to a tablet), the Bug Report link, from the bottom left, is a bit out of sight. But, as said, it is a beta, so these things, more than the installer issue, are expected and should be understandable, so long as they're fixed.

Usage of the character builder is quite impressive, as it walks through a standard character build, step by step, including options from releases outside of the initial core, such as Dragon content and the Forgotten Realms. Also, there is the ability to select a portrait for your character from a minor list of art from the core books, but there is the obvious fact that you could add your own images to the gallery, too. One of the biggest "It" factors for me, though, is the finished product of character building, the character sheet.

With the Character Builder, not only do you get a filled our, detailed, and useful character sheet, but it also includes your power cards in what is quite obviously a print out that promotes cutouts. While the install had some issues, the usage of the application, thus far, is going quite smoothly, doesn't seem to have any math issues (that I've noticed, yet), and produces something that a lot of folk have wanted since the release of 4e, which is detailed, printable power cards.

If you're someone who is sitting on the fence, with respect to buying D&D Insider, the Character Builder beta is a good selling point, currently, and would easily be worth a monthly subscription to check it out, if not a full year. One good thing to think of, too, when it comes to the DDI, is that the subscription pays for further development and features. Now, all WotC needs to do, is tighten up that install so that folks don't have to need customer service and tech support without even getting the software installed.

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