Thursday, December 30, 2010

D&D BattleMap Using the UDK - The Setup

So, if you've seen this video you know we do actually use this to play D&D:

But how do we get that UDK map onto the table?  First, it starts with an Optoma Pro350W projector. 

My wife had one requirement when we started this project: I had to be able to completely break down the entire setup and put her dining room back to a presentable state.  That meant no permanent fixtures.  We explored various ways of positioning the projector on top of cabinets, building an overhanging stand for it or (gasp!) hanging it from the chandelier.  Then, one of our brilliant players came up with the idea of the mirror -- that way we wouldn't be restricted to aiming the projector at the table.  That's a cheap $5 Wal-mart kids' room mirror that I removed the framing and backing from.  It's plastic, very light weight, and hung with binder clips and picture wire from white hooks.  (My wife's first compromise about "no permanent fixtures".)

The projector itself sits on a heavy duty Redmond Laptop Stand, so that we could adjust the angle if necessary.  That sits on a decorative shelf.  (My patient wife's second compromise.)

And those are the only two modifications we made to the room.  After D&D night, I can remove every trace of the battlemap setup, save for the decorative shelf and the camouflaged hooks.

Ok, I said "only two" and you're probably thinking, "what is that huge statue looming over the room?!"  Yes, well, that's a statue from the old Wizards of the Coast brick-and-mortar stores that used to be in the malls in our area.  When the stores were closing, I bought a set.  That was very early in our marriage.  (My advice to young lovers: buy all your mid-life crisis toys early, cause you're not getting them later when you want them...)  So, that's been "grandfathered" in, and doesn't count.

Makes a great conversation piece, though.  And scares the pizza delivery guys.  :)

Anyway, where we used to have a battlemat or paper maps, we now use a sheet of bright white vinyl from a fabric store to project the map onto.

No grid marks, so we can position the map anyway/anywhere we want to.  And it's tough as leather, so we don't worry about drink stains or die rolls on the table.

Ok, so we now have the projector setup but what's it connected to?  You may notice that our DM's laptop is running Excel, not the UDK...

It's prohibitively more expensive to buy a gaming capable laptop than a productivity laptop.  That is an inexpensive HP G56 laptop.  It runs the UDK at a laughable 2 fps.  But even if it could run it, it's not practical: we use an Excel based combat tracker.  Flipping projected screens between the UDK and Excel would kill the immersion and probably cause seizures in at least one of us.  So, what's driving the projector?

My monster of a gaming rig sporting dual GTX-285s sits in the very next room.  All it took was:
  • 50 feet of VGA extension cables
  • Input Director, to remotely control my rig from the DM's laptop
(Just a side note about Input Director: this is one of the most useful applications I have ever downloaded.  If you have more than one computer turned on at any one time time, it'll save you time, desk space, and body strain.  I love this thing.  I used to think dual-boxing gamers were ambidextrous, ADD, narcissistic, power gamers.  I've tried it using Input Director and it's shockingly easy.)

The last thing we did was replace the light switch in the room with a dimmer.  When building a map, it can be difficult to determine how bright to light it.  Using a dimmer, we could adjust the light in the room without having to rebuild the map on the fly.  (And it didn't count against my "no permanent fixtures" limitation, since it benefited the room during normal use.)

And that's all the hardware we needed.  The room can be completely returned to normal after all the monsters have been slain.  The next blog will start explaining the UDK code itself.


  1. So, how do you deal with an inverted image? I'm not aware of any software that can redirect input to compensate for mirrors...

    1. Some projectors themselves have an option to fix this. Check your settings for a mirror function.

  2. I just came across the youtube videos today that led me here. I'm already learning how to use the UDK because I desperately want to do this with my group, and yesterday was only my second ever D&D session.

    Needless to say, I'm waiting with baited breath on your next installment. I've figured out how to do a top-down map view (sorta) using tutorials scattered around the net, but I have lots of unanswered questions. Foremost in my mind is, can you, on the fly, add marks, area effects and such onto the board without needing to rebuild and relaunch the map every time? Oh, and how are you accomplishing the gridlines?

  3. While we're at it, how are you setting up your measuring units? 1 UDK unit = how many grid squares?

  4. Can't wait for the UDK code :3c

  5. For any of those who are curious, I've started on the path to creating my own without assistance from our host here (though I'm still itching to see the next installment).

    I created a very simple base map by grabbing a scan of the kobold base camp from the Shadowfell campaign. Using a combination of Maya models and the modeling tools inside the UDK, I built out a playfield (to game scale, i.e. a grid of 5 foot squares) and textured it with the scan. Then I imported a few low polygon wall and rock models to match the map. Next came the lighting and special effects, dragged and dropped from within the UDK. Finally, I used the top-down game tutorials found here to anchor the camera to a fixed point, high enough above the playfield to view the entire map.

    I haven't rigged the projector or mirror yet, but that comes this weekend. Since our GM prefers his players not know his maps ahead of time, we're probably going to stick with static JPG images that he's created, but the UDK practice has been good and our GM has started learning it himself for future games.

  6. Oh, and since I'm here, the following are the unit conversion formulas I used:

    Paper grid = 1" squares.
    1 paper square is commonly assumed as 5 feet (real life).
    16uu (UDK units) = 1ft
    1 paper grid square = 80uu
    UDK player models are approx. 96uu (6 ft)

    And if you're using Maya to do your modeling:
    1uu = 1mu (maya unit)

    Hope those are helpful.

  7. I thought I'd share my version. I didn't have much luck with the UDK, but simple photoshop image layers still make for an satisfying replacement.

    I may still keep working with the UDK, but the rest of my group is sufficiently impressed.

  8. What is the dimension of that mirror?

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.