By Jason Van Horn
Richard Garriott is often considered one of the fathers of massively
multiplayer online role-playing games, so it's only natural for Garriott to be
around when it seems that the genre is about to evolve, and Tabula Rasa is the
game at the forefront of the revolution. How can a story about humanity's end
really be the start of something new and grand for the MMO genre? We talked with
April Burba to find out a little bit more about Tabula Rasa and what we can
expect when the game ships shortly.
Jason: For those who haven't got into the beta yet, how much of the final
build are players experiencing right now? Is the current beta going to be a good
indicator of ultimately what the final product is going to be like? How much of
the beta right now is tweaking final things that were already in play and
planned, and how much tweaking is being done specifically in regards to comments
you've seen from players?
April: We have about one more patch before ship – we are getting
pretty close. We have some big crafting changes coming before then and of course
some balance passes, but we are close. Lots of tweaking is being done based on
QA and Player feedback on ‘fun factor’ and balance.
Jason: What trends are you seeing in the choices of the players and
their reaction to what they are seeing so far? Are players flocking one way or
another to certain features or roles in the game?
April: Reactions have been pretty good. Players seem to enjoy the fast
paced combat style TR has and people are having a fun time. There seems to be a
tendency towards the soldier side of the fence – that is the more ‘damage
dealing’ path that also has the chaingun option that people seem to really
like. It eats ammo like crazy, but man is it fun to fire.
Jason: Tabula Rasa is departing from the usual fighting mechanics, in
that it isn't so much the auto combat of a World of Warcraft, and is instead
much more action oriented and involving. Some players are taking to the new
control scheme without issue, but others are having difficulties using the mouse
in a more FPS reticule type way. Why, ultimately, was the more action system
decided upon, and do you think that the gamers more weaned on traditional MMOs
will be able to casually jump in and enjoy the game, having to conform tradition
in a way to adopt a more FPS control scheme.
April: I think so – we actually added a more MMO-style control scheme
as an option, however you have to aim and control your camera with your mouse
with either control scheme and some people really don’t like that. It seems
that people who play a ton of games, not just MMOs, get it much easier than
people who mainly play MMOs. I think that is because if you play a wide variety
of games you don’t come into TR with as much of an expectation of how the
controls are ‘supposed’ to work than a heavy MMO player. Instead, you just
learn the controls and the rules to the game and you go play. It’s about a 15
minute learning curve for some, but once you learn it suddenly you are much more
immersed in the action than any other MMO I have ever played. My least favorite
MMOs are the ones where you click on a target and then wait for the computer to
finish the combat for you. TR is the opposite of that type of gaming.
Jason: Though the game has a lock-on feature in combat, it seems like
more advanced players and those seeking the utmost control will favor the
free-based mouse movement system for aiming. We've seen the game running on a
low-end system and the game running on a high-end, and control in regards to
aiming is difficult on the low-end side. A big reason for World of Warcraft's
success has often come from the fact that the system requirements are fairly low
to be able to play it. With that in mind, do you see the requirement specs for
the game being perhaps a bit too high to get the more casual player, or going to
be an issue in hampering the game or its success in anyway?
April: I think if we had released a year ago, yes. Now? I don’t know.
We have done a ton of optimization to make the game playable at min-spec. There
is always the argument that if you want a gazillion players, make the game
playable on a 10 year old PC with an integrated video card. There is a huge
casual market there, and make no mistake about it, NCsoft is going after that
market with some of our upcoming products. Tabula Rasa is not that product. We
put a ton of art effort in making TR look different than other MMOs, especially
in the higher levels, and making the game be a visual feast for the senses. So
no, it probably won’t run on your 5 year old laptop that's outside our
min-spec, but for the segment of the gaming market that seeks out a less ‘cartoon-like’
gaming experience – TR is ready to play.
Jason: It's been said the title – Tabula Rasa – came from the team's
desire to change up the MMO traditions, but yet many things still seem the same
in some regards when looking at Tabula Rasa. When looking at traditions that
perhaps needed to be done away with, what, if anything, did you realize was
perfect the way it is, and thus it was included; or is it not so much that
system in play was already perfect, but perhaps it was needed in some way so the
game didn't break too far away from the norm people are used to when it comes to
April: TR is different, to be sure, but it’s still an MMO. While we
want to expand the market, it’s hard to get very far without exciting the core
of that market. It’s not so much revolution as evolution.
Jason: At least on one occasion, we've seen people bring up the issue
of both running out of bullets and not having the money to buy bullets to
resupply. Typically, only the bow and arrow players have had to constantly worry
about an issue like this, with regards to having arrows, but now everyone has to
rely on bullets/projectiles. Are there any safeguards in play to try and
minimize or keep this problem from not happening at all, and why did you choose
not to focus on melee combat really for Tabula Rasa?
April: Actually – any player can melee. There is a trainable melee
skill you get at Recruit and there are filament swords and staffs in some
classes. We also encourage melee with our ‘finishing moves’ for critical
hits. It’s just the melee focus is more based on “would you bring a stick to
a gunfight’ type mentality. Spies use filament swords – they can get into
melee and do damage because they are sneaky and thus do a killing blow from
behind. Staffs are ranged + melee for the best of both worlds.As far as ammo
goes – we are tweaking ammo drop rates/cost/credit earning to find a good
balance of wise ammo use (no – you can’t just turn your chaingun on and walk
around blasting everything in sight) and making sure troops never really get
into a situation where they can’t get enough ammo to get the job done. Little
hint – if you run out of cash and need ammo, check your footlocker. General
British stored a little extra cash in there for you just in case.
Jason: The clone system is a very unique feature, which seems like it
will be cloned itself for possible future MMOs down the line. Can you talk about
why you went with the cloning option instead of the regular re-roll and
subsequent grind? Also, though players seem to praise the cloning fundamentals,
they aren't exactly thrilled all their characters are tied to the same last
name. What was the reasoning behind making all your shared characters follow the
same last name set?
April: I think you answered your own question by saying ‘the regular
re-roll and grind’ with grind being the operative word here. Looking at game
data we find that when people finish with one class and think about starting
another that this is often an exit-point for them. If you want to start a new
character, chances are decent that you would be just as interested in starting
another character in a whole other game rather than playing content over again.
Also, the longer you play in an MMO the more frustrating it is to start over.
You get used to having cool, powerful powers/armor/weapons. This way you don’t
have to start all the way over, just at your last clone point.
Thank you April for taking the time to answer these questions.
For every Lord of the Rings read there are others basking in the sci-fi
adventures of a Ender's Game, but in the MMO genre sci-fi fans have had very
little to occupy their mouse clicking fingers. For those MMO fans craving a new
sci-fi endeavor, Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa looks to be a sure winner, and
we hope the answers in this Q&A has excited you just as much as us. For more
information on Tabula Rasa you can go to http://www.rgtr.com/index.html.