RogerBW's Blog

How To Hangouts 20 March 2020

I've been playing RPGs over Google Hangouts for a while, and recently several people have asked how to go about this as their regular groups move on-line. So here are my notes.

You will, alas, need a Google account. Also an up-to-date web browser and some sort of camera and microphone. Headphones are strongly recommended but not usually essential; echo cancellation usually works reasonably well.

Start at https://hangouts.google.com/ and select "video call". Log in as prompted. That'll spawn a new window, but the important thing is to copy the call URL (e.g. https://hangouts.google.com/call/XoCxXRTXB47HXLB1-SSkAEEI) and send that to the other people. It should be valid pretty much indefinitely. (You can invite people within Google, but yuk.)

That puts you in a "lobby" screen where you can check settings, and from which you can join the actual conference. The cogwheel icon lets you select camera and audio devices; the camera and audio output can be tested there, but for some reason they've never set up a way of testing audio input other than joining a chat and finding out whether people can hear you.

People should be ready to adjust their microphone input levels (don't ask me how to do this in Windows or MacOS). If one person is much louder or softer than the others, that's the only way to fix it.

Once in the actual hangout, the main part of the screen switches to whoever's talking; everyone else is shown in the bottom right corner. If you want to lock onto a particular person, click their icon; click again to unlock. (I hardly ever do this.) There's also a text chat off to the left, useful mostly in emergencies though I've sometimes used it to give URLs for handouts.

The system copes very poorly with multiple simultaneous speakers. Everyone has to learn to back off if someone else is talking. (There's also quite a bit of lag, which makes this harder.)

There's no built-in dice roller or anything of that sort; I just use dice.

If someone's connection drops, their icon will usually freeze and stay that way for several minutes before it vanishes.

To leave the hangout, just close the window/tab.

I find that the video transcoding is fairly hard work for the CPU, and I tend not to use the Hangouts laptop for anything else at the same time.

Tags: computing

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 08:45pm on 21 March 2020

    I've done two hangouts RPG sessions on my iPad Air2. On iOS 13.3.1 it will run directly in Safari browser, and there is also an App that someone else used that I will try.

    Both App and browser hangouts are a real power hog on iPad. A 10W charger I was using kept pace, but the chap on the App used a 5W charger and his battery went flat by the end of the session. For my second session a 12W charger added 2% to the battery over 3 hours.

  2. Posted by Dr Bob at 01:22pm on 23 March 2020

    Worth mentioning that you should save the Hangout URL as it remains valid for aeons. So you can use the same link for every session, and don't need to create a new one and send out invites every time you play.

  3. Posted by david pulver at 10:11pm on 23 March 2020

    Good and timely advice! I tried using Google Hangouts for a short sci-fi campaign a few years ago, with a single GM and three players, and it worked pretty well, with the caveats you discuss.

    It worked best when everyone involved was using a desktop/ laptop; a few tries with tablets or smartphones often ended up having mike problems. Lack of die rollers etc. wasn't a problem (I just trusted everyone to be honest). Ran it straight "theater of the mind" with no grids etc.

    I've heard some people have had good luck running games with Discord but I haven't tried that myself.

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