News

What’s New in Realm Works

The November release of Realm Works includes a massive number of significant enhancements. Almost everything is now in place for the Content Market, and most aspects are now in the hands of the Beta Team for final testing, making this the perfect opportunity to outline all the new improvements! This write-up is lengthy, but that’s because there are plenty of great new features for everyone. So, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and settle in for a run-down of what’s new in Realm Works!

Before we get started, let’s touch on our release plans. We anticipate at least two releases in November. We pledged to perform big releases early in the week, and next week is a short week due to the Thanksgiving holiday break, so our first release is occurring now. We don’t quite have everything in place for the initial release, so we’re planning a subsequent release with a few remaining items at the end of this week. If there are any issues with the initial release, we’ll get those fixed in the follow-up release.

One important clarification is necessary from the outset. The Content Market is not officially launching until December. Many of the features we describe herein will not be publicly available until the December release. However, we’re outlining them all now so that everyone is up to speed. Each feature below is flagged with the month in which we expect it to be publicly released. So let’s dive in!

Game System Structure [November]

Until now, Realm Works has provided a content structure (i.e. category framework) that is an abstraction of numerous game systems. For many game systems, this structure needs some tailoring and refinement to work ideally. Doing that isn’t hard, but it takes time and involves an extra learning curve. So we’ve decided to do that tailoring for a small number of game systems.

When you create a new realm, you’ll now be prompted to select a game system from a list of a few major RPGs. If you select one of these games, you’ll see new and customized article categories that closely match the official formats used within the game rules. You’ll also see new and different snippets introduced within the various story-side topics. The net result is a content framework that directly maps to what you see in the published rules and adventures for the game.

The initial list of RPGs with customized structures includes Pathfinder, D&D 5th Edition, and Savage Worlds. If you play an RPG other than this initial set, you can instead choose the “Other” option, which is very similar to what everyone has been using for the past few years within Realm Works. There is also a “System Neutral” option, which is intended for content creators who want to distribute material that has no ties to any game system whatsoever. It’s a proper subset of all the supported game systems.

If you create a realm with one of the pre-defined game systems, you can inspect the custom structure via the Manage Tags and Manage Categories interfaces within Realm Works. Aspects that are specific to the game system are identified with a different icon. You may also see some categories marked as inactive, such as Planetary Bodies in a fantasy RPG. That’s just their initial state, and they can be made active with a few mouse clicks. In fact, these custom structures are completely editable. They provide a solid foundation that should work well for most users, but you are free to adapt everything to suit your needs.

A special game system is associated with all existing realms, called the “Legacy” system, and it has now been retired. The “Other” game system should be used in its stead, which is very similar – many users won’t even notice the minor differences.

Game System Conversion [December]

Obviously, with the existence of different game system structures, users will want to convert a realm from one game system to another. Conversion between game systems entails quite a bit of intelligent mapping between the different structures, but it’s basically a complicated version of converting a topic from one category to another. During conversion, new snippet types and even entirely new categories are introduced for the new game system, and all content is transformed accordingly. Where practical, snippets are mapped to the corresponding equivalent for the new game, as are tags.

For story content, the transformed results should yield good results, although some manual adaptation will probably still be required. This is no different from converting a module from Game1 over to Game2 outside of Realm Works. For mechanics content, there is really no practical way of transforming rules from one game system to another, so the results will require significant rework – again, no real difference from converting a rulebook from one game to another.

Game system conversion also plays a key role within the import process. There will be times where users want to import content created for Game1 into a realm configured for Game2. A common example will be using Pathfinder adventures within a D&D 5E realm, or vice versa. When importing content, transformation of the content is automatically performed when there is a mismatch of game systems, ensuring that all material can be used in any realm, albeit with the need for a reasonable amount of manual adaptation.

Exporting [December]

One of the most important aspects of the Realm Works vision is finally coming to fruition. You’ll soon be able to share and re-use all the material you’ve created within Realm Works. This is achieved through the ability to export your content, and there are three different export avenues provided.

  • Full Export – This generates a formalized representation of the realm contents, and it’s intended for import back into Realm Works. A full export can be readily used within other realms by simply importing it into them. This makes it possible to re-use content you’ve created in multiple other realms. You can even give other users access to your creations, which they can import into their own realms.
  • Compact Output – This is an alternate format that’s intended for external consumption of the content, such as viewing your content outside of Realm Works or even printing. All the complex extra details needed for re-import that are present in the full export are omitted here. In addition, content is re-structured in important ways to make it easier to use for common purposes.
  • Structure-Only Export – This is a proper subset of the Full Export that includes only the realm structure and none of the content. This option makes it possible to re-use the structure from one realm in another. You can now tailor Realm Works for your favorite game system in one realm and then re-use that structure in many others. It’s also possible for users to share their crafted game system structures with each other.

There are a number of common aspects that span all different export avenues. First of all, export (and import) operations are accessed through a new “Share” ribbon within Realm Works, so it’s all in one place. Everything to do with export uses XML, so consuming exported content can be done with virtually any tool you choose. Giving material to players is easy, since you can target an export for players and only include revealed content. Exported files can be password secured, providing a modicum of security. It’s also easy to include credits, legal text, and details like that to allow more formalized publishing of material. Lastly, the export and import mechanisms do NOT require server access to leverage.

When exporting, you can restrict the export to an arbitrary subset of the entire realm, and these subsets are persisted for easy re-export. Establishing a subset is initiated through the export mechanism, which will automatically define a new tag within the “Export” tag domain. Once the tag is defined, you can assign that tag to the individual topics/articles that you want to include within the export. There are some new capabilities focused on assigning tags to topics/articles en masse (see below), so this is now a reasonably efficient process.

Each export can (and ideally should) designate an initial topic/article of interest for anyone importing the material. The purpose of this topic/article is to serve as a starting point that provides users with an overview of everything included and includes references and links to the most important aspects of the material. The use and value of the starting point topic is more easily demonstrated than explained, so look for this starting topic/article in the free samples we’ll be making available when the Content Market launches.

In an earlier release this year, we made some changes to how content is represented internally. We opted to apply these changes on an as-needed basis instead of inconveniencing everyone with a complete fixup of all content. However, all content must be fixed up prior to being exported to ensure that it’s all in a consistent format. This fixup is performed automatically during export, but it introduces potentially significant overhead. To avoid the overhead, there’s an option allowing you to simply perform the fixup on your entire realm.

Import [December]

Once you export your content, you’ll probably want to re-use it in another realm, and that’s achieved via the import mechanism. There are a variety of aspects associated with import that warrant elaboration. The most important of these is the automatic detection of updates to previously import content. When content is exported, its “origin” is tracked, and that origin accompanies the imported material. This allows Realm Works to recognize when you attempt to import a newer version of content that you’ve already imported before, as well as detecting when you’ve modified aspects of previously imported content. The net result is that you can continually develop content in one realm, exporting it as it evolves, and then import the evolving content into another realm.

All imported content is automatically tagged to identify where the material came from. There is an “Import” tag domain containing a separate tag for each distinct file you import. You can quickly identify the material from a single import file by filtering on the corresponding tag. If you want to filter on the content from a collection of import files, you can simply include all the corresponding tags in your filter.

Every import file is logged within each realm into which it is brought. On the “Share” ribbon, there is a button to “View Imports”, which provides the details for all the different imports. For each import, you can view all the pertinent details, including description, credits, legal text, and a variety of other things. Each import also presents a link to the topic/article designated as the initial starting point. You can use this link to quickly get oriented to everything in the import and begin using the material.

Any Structure-Only export files can be leveraged during realm creation. When you create a new realm, you can optionally select a Structure-Only export file to be imported along with it. The net effect is that you can tailor your realm to have a custom structure from its very inception. So you can create the optimal structure within one realm, then re-use it for all your other realms, including all new realms you create. And if someone else creates the ideal structure for your favorite game system and shares it, you can use that for all your realms, too.

The only real limitation of importing content is that there is no way to directly preview it before importing it. So we’ve implemented a work-around that offers a pretty good alternative. You can have Realm Works import material into a special preview. This puts all the content into separate grouping within Realm Works that can be fully inspected. Once you’ve verified that the content is something you want to bring in fully, you can delete it and then re-import without the preview.

Using the import mechanism, it is possible to bring content into Realm Works from other sources in automated fashion. To facilitate users pursuing this objective, a formal XSD will be furnished that details the exact structure of an import file. The full Realm Works data structure is extensive, but very little of it is actually required. Consequently, getting simple content into the product can be achieved without a great deal of complexity.

Sharing Content [December]

The export/import mechanism makes it very easy for users to share material with each other. Both content and structure can be shared, as outlined earlier. There are a few aspects to sharing that should be discussed here.

By default, Realm Works exports content without any security, but you can easily add password protection to any Full Export file you generate. This allows aspiring content developers to restrict access to their creations. Secured content can be freely imported into any realm, but it cannot be re-exported back out again. If re-export were allowed, then users could freely redistribute material, and publishers would be very unhappy. This restriction only applies to the secured content. If you import secured content into a realm with your own creations, you can freely export everything you’ve created. Only the secured content is blocked and excluded from export, with the rest being emitted.

In contrast, Structure-Only export files cannot be secured. Structure definitions are fundamentally considered “open” within the Realm Works ecosystem. No actual content is involved within a structure definition – only the way that content is organized and laid out – so they contain nothing that is generally considered protectable intellectual property.

When it comes to sharing, some users will be tempted to share material they’ve entered into Realm Works that comes from some other published source, such as adventures, settings, or rulebooks. Please keep in mind that doing this may actually be a violation of the original publisher’s intellectual property rights – and therefore illegal. It depends entirely on the nature of the material itself, so please consider this a caution to find out what is and isn’t valid for each property before sharing it with others. We don’t want anyone getting into trouble for doing something they shouldn’t.

Content Market [December]

All of the export and import mechanisms come together to form the Content Market. This is something we’ll go into in more depth separately, but let’s cover a few aspects here.

  • Everything purchased through the Content Market will be secured to each user’s account and provided as a downloadable file. This means that you do NOT need server access to utilize the Content Market, and you can use purchased material from any computer where you’ve installed Realm Works and logged into your account.
  • The initial Content Market launch will consist exclusively of content we’ve entered. We’ll be starting with a relatively small assortment of options and then introducing more content over time.
  • We’ll be putting together a “best practices” guide after the initial launch. This guide will outline the approaches we’ve adopted within the content we’ve put together. Our goal is to maximize the usefulness of all content everyone puts together and establish a certain level of consistency. While Realm Works allows you the flexibility to do just about anything you want, there is still room for standard conventions to handle various common situations.
  • At some point after the initial launch, probably in January or February, we plan to begin accepting submissions from users of material they wish to sell. Please note that this will be done on a very limited basis, as we intend to keep the quality high.

Copying Realms [December]

As mentioned above, the use of secured content precludes re-exporting that material, which has the potential to limit how secured material can be adapted and re-used. To mitigate these situations, realms can be copied without involving the export/import mechanism. Users can import secured content into a realm, adapt it as they see fit, and then copy the realm. The copy can then be used to run a campaign, leaving the original intact for future re-use.

Out-of-Memory Issues [November/December]

A number of users have been reporting crashes due to running out of memory. After investigating this, we’ve discovered that the memory available to Realm Works can vary wildly on different users’ computers. The primary culprit on various users’ computers is the presence of a vast number of fonts, which all get loaded into Realm Works. On some computers, the fonts alone can consume nearly half the memory available to Realm Works, which greatly reduces the memory available for loading things like smart images and significantly contributes to running out of memory. More importantly, many users are unaware that all these fonts even exist on their system, since the fonts are silently installed by a wide range of programs. To help with this, Realm Works now checks if it has a comfortable amount of memory available when you load your first realm, reporting a problem if not. It is entirely up to you regarding how many fonts you wish to remove, if any, but many users will be very surprised by what’s actually on their system.

We’ve outlined additional safeguards for dealing with memory constraints, but we don’t have those implemented yet. We’ll be working to get those into place in time for the big December release.

Assign/Delete Tag to Selected Content [November]

Topics and articles can now be tagged en masse. Through the use of text filtering, custom views, and any other means you find useful, you can pare down the topics/articles shown within the navigation pane on the left. You can then assign the same tag to all the topics/articles shown. You can also remove the same tag from all topics/articles shown. This mechanism is invaluable when exporting subsets of a realm, but it also has plenty of additional utility.

Delete Topic or Plot Group Plus All Children [November]

Until now, if you wanted to delete a topic and all of its child topics, you had to delete them one at a time. Same for deleting a plot group and all of the plots therein. These little conveniences are even more important with the ability to import content for preview. Once you’ve finished the preview and are ready to do the full import, you’ll want to delete the preview material, which can be achieved with two quick operations using these handy tricks.

Global Name Fixups [November]

One of our personal pet peeves with Realm Works has been when you change the name of something you must then fixup all uses of the name in other topics, and following all the inbound links to fix every reference to the name is annoying. Happily, this is now a thing of the past. Whenever you change the name of a topic/article – or an alias – Realm Works will offer to automatically fixup all those references, swapping out the old name with the new one throughout your realm.

Instantly Add a Plural Alias [November]

How many times have you found yourself creating an alias for a topic/article with the plural form? While it’s not that common within story content, it’s a frequent issue for mechanics, especially things like monsters, weapons, gear, etc. A single button automatically creates an alias with the common plural form of the topic/article name, and it’s pre-configured to not be shown within the navigation pane. Entering goblins, swords, backpacks, and the like just got a little bit easier.

Standard Formatting Styles [November]

All of the published content we’re entering into Realm Works follows a variety of standard conventions to ensure that everything is relatively consistent. This includes formatting styles for text, paragraphs, tables, etc. We’ve introduced a new Styles grouping on the Format ribbon that provides one-click access to these various formatting styles. Just click the appropriate button and your text is formatted using our conventions. There is no requirement to use these conventions, but we’re guessing that many users who plan to share their creations will want to maintain that consistency, so help yourself.

Preference to Disable Automatic Snippet Creation [November]

For many users, it’s a welcome sight to have a newly created topic/article provide an extensive outline that can be readily fleshed out. For others, they would rather start with very little and add exactly what they need. This latter group will enjoy a new preference that controls whether text snippets are automatically created for each section within a new topic/article.

Improved Shortcuts for Topic Saving and Automatic Link Detection [November]

When working on topics that are more extensive, it’s usually a good idea to regularly save your changes at various points along the way. This ensures you don’t lose lots of material if something goes wrong. The drawback with frequent saving is that automatic link detection is initiated with every save, which needs to be cancelled out of. The new <Ctrl+Shift+S> keyboard shortcut will trigger a save without initiating automatic link detection. After the topic/article is completed, a subsequent <Ctrl+S> or normal save will perform the automatic link detection. The new <Ctrl+Shift+D> keyboard shortcut can be used to initiate automatic link detection, even if the topic/article does not need to be saved. A new preference is available to swap the behaviors of <Ctrl+S> and <Ctrl+Shift+S>, in case you want the default save keystroke to avoid automatic link detection.

Assorted Refinements to Use of Player View [December]

There are a variety of refinements coming for Player View. The most important of these is a more streamlined workflow for adding content to Player View and manipulating it. Beyond that, we’re introducing an option to show the names of selected map pins on smart images, plus another option to use a black background instead of white.

Reset Reveal State for Entire Realm [December]

Every now and then, it can be incredibly useful to press the giant “reset” button on a realm. Everything that has been revealed is reset back to its concealed state, allowing the realm to start over with a new campaign. This will now be possible. The biggest use for this will likely be realms that have already been used for campaigns. Users can copy those realms, leaving the original intact, and then reset the reveal state of the copy for a clean start with the new realm.

Improve Usability of Link Web [December]

The radial display used for the Link Web doesn’t scale well for content that is more heavily linked. To address this, we’re overhauling the way that the Link Web is presented and switching to an alternate layout. The goal is to make the Link Web an invaluable resource, especially when working with imported content from others (including purchased content).

Optionally Remember Password and Auto-Populate [December]

We’ve had lots of requests to eliminate the need for users to type in their password every time they login. This makes sense for computers that are in secure areas or already have security in place, such as password-protected Windows logins. It will now be possible to have Realm Works remember your password and automatically restore it when you next launch the product.

Closing

That rounds out the list of the substantive changes and enhancements coming to Realm Works. There are many more small refinements, as well as plenty of bug fixes, that aren’t covered here. For details on all of those, please see the release notes installed with the product.

Thank you for taking the time to read through this lengthy discourse. We hope this overview has piqued your excitement for the new version, especially the big release in December. There are still more things we want to include in the December release, but we’re not yet sure whether they will make it in. Keep your fingers crossed that we’re able to get them all added!

May the dice be with you!

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