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TVG chats to the Producer of NCSoft`s forthcoming MMORPG...
You will not be alone as you travel to distant worlds, participate in a wide variety of challenging, scripted missions, or jump into an array of shared frontline battlefields. Tabula Rasa is the latest massively multiplayer entertainment experience to come from the legendary creative minds of Richard Garriott and the Destination Games development team. Derek dela Fuente spoke with Starr Long about what Tabula Rasa will offer and what it is like working alongside Richard Garriott!
There has been some slight mystery/confusion regarding the game over the last year or so. Can you enlighten our readers about the project, what is industry luminary Richard Garriot's involvement in the project and have there been any major design changes since heâ??s been brought in?
Richard Garriott and I (Starr Long) started this project together with other key team members so he has been involved since the beginning. For the first couple of years we took the project down a path that was more fantasy oriented, with a very unique combat system and focused entirely on instanced adventure spaces for small groups. After bringing it to E3 in 2004 we realised that the setting and visuals were getting in the way of the game we wanted to make so we decided to make some major changes. We moved the game towards a more science fiction direction for the visuals and setting. We also changed the design towards a focus on large persistent battlefields where playerâ??s actions can impact the state of the battle. We also changed combat to feel much more like a shooter-style game while retaining RPG systems underneath everything. This means while you are shooting your weapon via a mouse click and cycling through weapons like a shooter, the outcome of each shot is being determined mainly by your characterâ??s skills that you have built up over time.
Could you explain what you see as the interesting areas/features of the game, within the RPG world and perhaps also talk about one of its innovations? Can you further clarify a company statement on the game -Developed from the ground up to be stable, fast and fun, Tabula Rasa represents a refreshing new approach to the design of multiplayer online games?
As mentioned above the game focuses on large shared persistent battlefields. These battlefields have features that allow players to have an impact on the state of the battle at any time. Even instanced missions that are launched from the battlefield are linked to the battleâ??s status. For instance the players may get a mission to rescue a group of commandos from an enemy prison (an instanced space). When the players return to the battlefield they might see a dropship swoop in and unload those same commandos they just rescued. This will in turn give the good guys a temporary advantage. However the enemy will hopefully detect this and counter by bringing out the Boss for the level. So the players are directly triggering the ebb and flow of the battle by their actions. Also there will be control points scattered across these battlefields that the AI is programmed to seek and hold. Whichever side is holding a control point gains some advantages. Again the situation on the battlefield is directly affected by players and AI events. Integrated voice chat for player squads will really help players coordinate with each other in the faster pace of the game, more so than most other online games.
What has the development team on the game worked on before and where do they see their expertise shining through?
Many of us worked on Ultima Online. In fact I was on UO from the day it was conceived and through the first six months of live service. Many other folks worked on UO throughout its lifetime, some as recently as six months ago. We also have folks who have worked on other ancestral ground breaking online games like Air Warrior. So I believe we have a real expertise in making online games.
The game offers a real earthy, organic and detailed look. What 3D engine are you using and perhaps once again you can tell us about some of its features?
We are using an engine that was developed in house by our Core Technology Group. It is called Palantir. We are using the latest shader technology to provide some of the most realistic looking visuals yet in a massively multiplayer game. Techniques like Normal Mapping allow us to really push the level of realism we can achieve.
Tell us about the story to the game; what kind of thought process and pre-planning went into the story to the game?
A malevolent alien race known as the Bane has conquered the known universe, including Earth. They are enslaving, destroying, and/or exploiting every planet and species they come in contact with. You are a soldier in a loose band of sentient races that are fighting a resistance across a handful of worlds still on the edge. A mysterious angelic race known as the Eloh is our strongest ally in this war even though their power and numbers have been shattered by the Bane. They have incredible powers known as Logos that allow them to freely convert matter and energy. They are gradually teaching us these powers which are providing us an edge in the war. Richard has even created an entire symbolic language that they use to communicate with us. As you accumulate these symbols from the Eloh and remnants of their once mighty civilization, you use them in the game to unlock everything from powers to secret areas.
Can you tell us about the character development system and what elements you have implemented to please both the novice and experienced players?
We feel very strongly that players should only be making informed choices for their characters. In most games you have to choose the class you want to play at the beginning of the game. At that point how can you know which class you will like the best? In Tabula Rasa everyone starts as the same class: The Recruit. As you advance in levels you get periodic opportunities to specialize in the other classes in the game. At each of these points you can choose a further specialization. This way you are making decisions based on what kinds of gameplay you enjoyed each time. We also believe that you should not have to start over every time you want to try a different class. So in TR you can make a copy of your character at any time and make different choices for that new character without having to start over. In a way this is like having a save game feature in an online game.
How sophisticated is the gameâ??s combat system and, considering you are going for a fast pace, does designing a really interesting collection of weapons give a different vision?
We are modeling a lot of our combat system from shooter-style games. In those games there is no best overall weapon. Instead there is the right weapon for the right circumstance. Also every weapon has advantages and disadvantages. For instance our Flamethrower can hit multiple targets and because it lights the targets on fire it adds a damage-over-time (DOT) effect on them. It also suffers almost no penalties for movement. However it has an extremely short range so you have to get dangerously close to use it. In contrast the Rifle can only hit one target at a time but it does more damage and has much longer range. However it does suffer penalties if you are moving so you have to stay relatively still for maximum effect.
Would we be correct in saying that getting the AI perfect is perhaps the hardest, most critical, aspect and so do you offer a nice collection of baddies?
We want almost every creature you encounter to have unique behaviours or characteristics. For instance the Stalkers are huge three legged walkers. In addition to a gun turret they have an energy sphere they build up over time that, when released, has a devastating large area effect. So the trick is to maintain your distance and take them out before they can drop the energy sphere.
TVG thanks Starr Long for taking the time to answer our questions â?“ weâ??ll have more on Tabula Rasa shortly.
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