CartographR is an app that aims to bring AR visualization to tabletop RPGs like D&D

Designer Joanna Liu is designing an app to meet the desires of DMs and tabletop players that want to bring more life to their tabletop games.

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Technology specialist, researcher, and developer Joanna Liu is a tabletop gaming enthusiast. She’s played her way around the likes of Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop experiences long enough to know that she wanted to create something that was an extension of that passion. And so she and co-developer Rivelle have been working on CartographR: an augmented reality application that will allow users to create holographic AR visualizations of tabletop gaming elements in a shared experience and also share them with other creators across a planned network. We recently got to sit down, see a demonstration of an early version of CartographR, and learn about how it came into conception and what the future plans are for the app.

An AR extension of your imagination

Joanna Liu started the conception of CartographR as part of her college thesis at New York University in 2019. According to her, it began with knowing she wanted to pursue a project that involved D&D from an early point, and to gain a direction for her project, she began by interviewing numerous players to find out what they felt was missing or something they would have liked out of the game that wasn’t available yet.

“I interviewed around 100 DMs,” Liu told me. “And a common thread among the conversations was that they ideally wanted a shared holographic experience related to the core D&D game that could then also be shared as a practical experience with other players.”

Liu explained that what began as a slightly selfish desire to create something applicable to the D&D space began to take formation with the input of the players with which she spoke. CartographR is a visualization application inspired by those conversations, as well as creative and shareable elements of various user creation apps. Meant for use on everything from an applicable phone with a camera up to AR HMDs like Microsoft HoloLens, CartographR allows users to place pre-made or user-made assets to set a fantasy scene which can then be played with and manipulated as users want to aid in the storytelling aspect of their own D&D adventures and campaigns.

The app is built on Unity Engine, Firebase, and Google Cloud Anchor technology and allows users to assemble 3D assets with simple drag and drop to create a scene. Meanwhile, the AR functionality allows users to create something that could fill a living room floor or be scaled down to the size of a tabletop setting. During the demonstration, Liu assembled a small trading post full of stalls and a quest board in a manner of minutes and set the scene for the humble beginnings of an adventure. She also showed me a rather large cave setting she had put together, complete with treasure chests, doors, and many other objects, complete with the ability to add, remove, and interact with most elements at will. Most elements in the demonstration featured rudimentary animation, but Liu and Rivelle intend to create further assets and animation to convey further scenes and activity.

In terms of space, I also got to see in realtime how it could be scaled from the size of her living room floor to the size of the full room or down to the seize of a desktop space. Moreover, while the system will come with pre-made assets, Liu claimed she intends to work on a system that will also allow players to add their own custom assets through 3D design and scans. As CartographR is simply a visualization tool, its use could be applied to tabletop games beyond D&D and this option for user-created assets could help.

Shareability and a user ecosystem

The versatility of this experience doesn’t end at being able to create scenes with pre-made and custom assets. Liu not only wants to create the tools to help D&D and other tabletop gaming DMs realize their quests and narratives, but she also wants CartographR to become a social tool. That is to say, there are plans for CartographR that would include allowing users to upload their creations to a network and then allow other users to sift through, look at, and even download fellow user creations.

“Ideally, CartographR should also act as a social media app where players can upload and share map creations,” Liu told me. “I’m inspired by the likes of Minecraft and LEGO where people often share what they’ve put together with others. With the features we’re planning, CartographR should also feature a community ecosystem where people can upload and enjoy each other’s creations if they want.”

The design of the ecosystem will feature both free and premium options. CartographR will be free to download with pre-built assets included. There are also plans for a $5/month subscription option to enjoy things like infinite map creation, increased asset limit per map, music options, and more. Moreover, creators will be able to sell their custom-built assets and other users will be able to purchase them directly via the app. Overall, it’s an interesting social design that should make for a fun marketplace of creativity.

The future of CartographR

I came away from CartographR generally impressed with the concepts of its versatility and application. The designs players will be able to put together as well as the scaling mechanisms and shareable elements make it an interesting tool that those looking to up their D&D and further tabletop gaming endeavors should keep their eyes on. Ultimately, Liu would like to go as far as to put CartographR in front of Wizards of the Coast and see if its is a project that D&D’s creators would be interested in supporting.

That said, Liu and Rivelle have a roadmap for CartographR that includes planning for an alpha test in July 2021, a beta test before the end of the year, and finally a 1.0 release in March 2022. If you want to keep up on the project, you can check out its website or follow the CartographR Twitter for more details and updates as they become available. You can learn even more in a recently posted Q&A session about the app via its YouTube page.

News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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