– State of the Wolf 2011 –
Last year, we made a commitment to keep everyone better informed about what we're working on here at Lone Wolf Development. We introduced a monthly newsletter in July, highlighting important updates and previews of future releases. We soon added Facebook pages for Army Builder and Hero Lab, as well as a Twitter feed to make it easier to keep up with our latest news. This report represents another component of the communication effort, providing a brief retrospective of 2010 and a glimpse of the new releases planned for the upcoming year. Read on for the inside story on what to expect in 2011!
Important! Please remember that the plans and timing outlined herein represent our best guesses, based on the information we currently possess. Lone Wolf is a tiny company, with only a few developers working on multiple projects and products. As such, everything is subject to change, and we'll provide status updates as the year progresses and as the projects evolve. With that important caveat in mind, read on!
December marked the release of another big feature update for Army Builder with V3.3. This latest version adds a variety of highly requested features, including personal image support, custom output, optimizations for larger monitors, and much more. We're thrilled by all the positive feedback we've received for these new features, and Army Builder continues to reign as the de facto standard for tabletop miniatures players.
Looking forward to the coming year, we have another major enhancement planned for Army Builder, with V3.4 targeted for release sometime this spring. This new release will simplify the editing of data files for everyone – even the casual player. Our goal is to go well beyond just making it easier for existing data file authors to create Army Builder data files. We want to make it straightforward for regular users to create and edit their own content, too.
Beyond the V3.4 update, we're targeting a couple of additional items for Army Builder this year. The first is the release of a native Mac version, while the second is a potential tablet-based product. More details on these projects will be found in the appropriate sections below.
This past year was a banner year for Hero Lab in every respect. Dozens of new features and enhancements were added with the V3.6 release last spring, and we also released two new officially licensed game systems. We added "Call of Cthulhu" from Chaosium in March, and December saw the full release of "Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition" from Green Ronin Publishing. We also secured official licenses for two more major game systems this past year – the "Pathfinder Roleplaying Game" from Paizo Publishing and "Shadowrun" from Catalyst Game Labs.
The license from Paizo makes Hero Lab the only officially licensed character management tool for Pathfinder. This allows us to work more closely with Paizo, which has drastically improved our support for the game. We also spent a great deal of time getting the Pathfinder back catalog into Hero Lab, and users can now purchase almost every Pathfinder supplement ever published via optional data packages. We're very proud of our support for Pathfinder, and plan to continue in this vein through 2011 and onward.
Beyond continued support for our existing game systems, we have several big plans in the works for Hero Lab this year. First, the eagerly anticipated Shadowrun data package should be released in the spring. We've been working hard on Shadowrun for some time now and everything is finally starting to come together nicely. A sneak peek, in the form of an early screenshot, can be found in our January newsletter, so be sure to check it out!
Before Shadowrun makes its debut, we'll also be releasing a major new feature update for Hero Lab. The V3.7 update is due out before the end of March and includes a number of important new features. At the top of the list is the single most requested feature for Hero Lab – custom output support. You'll be able to define your own XSLT style sheets to create completely customized output, from statblocks to entirely new character sheets. Custom output definitions can be readily shared with other users, so you can easily pick from the various custom definitions that others create and avoid having to do any of the work yourself. If you've been on the fence about buying Hero Lab due to a desire for different output options, this update will be a game-changer for you.
For the latter half of the year, we've got three additional major objectives planned for Hero Lab. The first is support for inter-player communication, allowing a GM to apply changes to a PC on his computer and have it automatically synced to the corresponding player's version on a separate computer – or vice versa. The other two objectives are the same as for Army Builder, consisting of a native Mac version of Hero Lab and a tablet-based product. More details on these last two items will be found in the appropriate sections below.
Two years ago, we came up with an idea for a radically new collaborative campaign creation tool (try saying that three times fast). After creating a prototype, we were convinced the idea had great potential, so we designated 2010 as the year we would turn the Realm Works concept into a fully realized product. Alas, things didn't go the way we planned and other projects proved to be a much bigger distraction than we anticipated. Our lead developer also tore a ligament in his right thumb that needed surgical repair, making it extremely difficult to type (i.e. write code) for about six months.
The original plan with Realm Works was to enter Beta testing right about now. Unfortunately, the above setbacks caused significant delays, and the reality is that we still have many more months of work before Realm Works is ready for public consumption. The silver lining in all this is that, through the process, we've taken the time to refine the architecture to where we can handle a much more diverse set of capabilities, which will ultimately result in a much more powerful and flexible product for users.
So where does this leave us now? Realm Works is finally starting to take shape and it looks like we'll have the initial set of functionality in place for roll-out by the start of summer. Hedging our bets a little, we're targeting an initial release at GenCon this year. The tentative plan is to offer some sort of public Beta to let everyone try out the product, so stay tuned for updates regarding the release and/or Beta process.
Tournament Ace was another project that didn't proceed as we had hoped last year. The original plan was to create the product in collaboration with another developer, with Lone Wolf Development publishing the software and him doing most of the development work. If the plan had held, we would have begun Beta testing last summer.
In the months leading up to Beta, though, we found ourselves re-evaluating the product. It became clear that the current state of Tournament Ace was not where it needed to be, as the software couldn't support some of the core capabilities we believed were necessary for the product to be a success. Rather than go to Beta with something we weren't happy with, we took stock and made some significant changes to our development plan.
At this point, real life constraints forced the developer working with us to withdraw from the project, as he couldn't commit to its increased scope. We seriously considered abandoning Tournament Ace, but we had received so much enthusiastic feedback from prospective users that we were convinced the product was worth pursuing. So we brought the project in-house and committed to completing the product ourselves.
We set out to hire a new developer to work on Tournament Ace and ultimately found a candidate we thought would be excellent to take over the project. Unfortunately, the candidate was not a fit for what we needed. We parted ways with negligible progress having been made, leaving Tournament Ace no closer to completion and even further behind schedule.
Which brings us to now. We're absolutely confident in Tournament Ace as a product. We simply need to find the right developer to help us get the product implemented, and we've just begun our new search for that person. If you or someone you know might be interested in this opportunity, please keep an eye out for the job posting that will include details of how to apply (we're in Silicon Valley).
Assuming we're able to find the right candidate and have him/her start within the next 6-8 weeks, we're pretty confident we can get the initial Tournament Ace release out around GenCon. However, as we discovered this past year, finding the right candidate is a critical hurdle. Without another developer, we just don't have enough staff to complete this project in addition to everything else we're working on. We'll keep everyone updated on our progress in the months to come.
In late 2009, we hired a company to port both Army Builder and Hero Lab to the Mac. This company was well established and had been porting Windows products to the Mac for years, so our hopes were high that we'd have a working version of both products by the middle of 2010. Alas, the results produced by the company didn't meet our expectations, so we were forced to abandon the approach and figure out a Plan B.
After exploring the various options again, we finally concluded that the only way to properly get our products to the Mac was to rewrite them as native Mac applications. Both Army Builder and Hero Lab were originally written with portability in mind, so all of the platform-specific code was neatly encapsulated and separate from the rest of the code. However, this still left over 50,000 lines of code to completely rewrite for the Mac, representing a significant chunk of work we'd have to juggle along with all our other projects. Without a good alternative, we bit the bullet and began the rewrite in late spring.
At the time of this report, the Mac port is now roughly 70% complete. There are still a couple of risk areas that lie ahead, which means unexpected setbacks are still quite possible. Assuming there are no major surprises, though, we're targeting the start of Beta testing in April or May, with an official release around the middle of the year. To keep things simpler, we will probably release Army Builder and Hero Lab in a staggered manner on the Mac, with one following the other by a couple of months. Keep an eye on our newsletter for details on both the release and the start of Beta testing.
This past spring marked a sea change for computing devices with the introduction of the iPad. The potential of tablets is huge for tabletop gaming, and a flood of new tablet devices is due out this year, based on an assortment of technologies. However, the market is still rife with uncertainty. Apple is clearly dominant out of the gate, but they haven't been tested by the competition yet, and new offerings are due soon based on the Android and Windows platforms.
Lone Wolf Development will be creating its first products for tablets this year. The big problem we face is that each of these platforms has profound differences from the others when it comes to software development. Major portions of the code written for one platform will need to be completely rewritten for the other platforms. For a tiny company like Lone Wolf, we simply don't have the resources to develop products for all three tablet platforms at the same time, so we'll have to choose one and then follow with the others. We also face the very real dilemma that, if we choose incorrectly and fail to support whatever emerges as the dominant platform, the company could be dealt a serious blow from investing heavily to develop a product that never comes close to selling sufficient copies to recoup that investment. The perils of being a tiny company make for interesting times, indeed.
By now, some of you have already decided which tablet platform you prefer and are voicing your preferences on our forums. Many more of you will be making your tablet selection in the months to come. We're closely monitoring the market to see what's being released and how well each new product is received, as we have not yet chosen which platform we'll embrace first. We expect to make our choice in the upcoming months, with an eye to releasing our first tablet-based product in the latter half of this year. Once we make our initial selection, we'll be sure to let everyone know, so stay tuned for future announcements and feel free to lobby for your favorite platform on our support forums.
That covers it! This promises to be a big year for Lone Wolf Development, as we roll out a diverse range of cool new software for gamers. We've got a pipeline full of major additions to existing products, support for entirely new platforms, and completely new products that synergize with our current lines. We hope you're as excited about all this as we are!
As always, you can subscribe to our newsletter to stay abreast of the latest happenings, or you can keep an eye on our Facebook pages and Twitter to keep up with all the news. We wish everyone a successful and enjoyable 2011.
- Lone Wolf Development Team
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