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An Ongoing Tribute to my own lameness.....

General random thoughts about gaming, both within and outside of the MMO genre.

Author: Jimmy_Scythe

The Obligatory Tabula Rasa Entry

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Monday January 21 2008 at 6:45PM
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When I found out that there was a three day trial for this thing I decided to ignore the nay sayers and give it good hardcore run through. Biggest. Mistake. Ever!

As far as MMORPGs go, Tabula Rasa actually has some things going for it: It's Sci-fi in a genre dominated by elves and fairies, the combat is an order of magnitude faster than most mainstream MMOs though that isn't  really saying much since it's basically the equivalent of outrunning a glacier, and it's got enough content to keep the normal non-mmorpg gamer occupied through a nuclear winter or two. So what could go wrong? Plenty.

The first thing that jumps out is that the game seems to play like a standard third-person action game mixed with a kind of Diablo mouse usage, i.e. left mouse button attacks while the right mouse button uses logos (magic). This is all actually lie and you notice this the first time you get charged by a monster and get yourself cornered. In this situation, you simply hold down the left mouse button and your character will continue attacking, breaking to auto-reload, until either you or the mob are dead. The result is something the resembles the combat of every single MMORPG every made.

Surprise, surprise, it is the same! There's even a feature to change to a traditional MMORPG interface with targetting. Not that you need to make the switch since you can target with the TAB key even in the default FPS setup. They just did a half-ass'd conversion and removed the cooldown times of character abilities in order to fool you into feeling like you were actually playing a shooter. Unfortunately, I actually bought this scam long enough to seriously gimp my character and waste several hours in frustration because I was trying to play it like Max Payne when it was designed more like Diablo 2.

I didn't realize just how wrong I was playing until I hit the cavern at Pinhole Falls. The cavern is filled with rather largish floating octopus things that kept one hitting me into oblivion. It also seemed to be all too  common that after I would return from respawning that some fuckwit would be fleeing the cavern with a huge heard of pissed off purple cephalopods in tote, thus hastening my next visit to the hospital. The best was when you'd be half way to the end of the cavern and someone would kite a stampede toward you and all the mobs you killed previously would have respawned making escape impossible.

You see, while I had been pwning up on thrax and boargars in the wild, it escaped my attention that the top bar on the status display was the energy of my armor. Apparently my amor had more HP than I did because once it was depleted, I would fall with a single hit. If your amor condition is at 0% you'll just fall over and die to a stiff wind.

Did I mention that armor and weapons on starting characters deteriorate like ice cubes in a toaster oven? Yeah, and to make it even more pleasant the UI doesn't inform you when your equipment starts to get a little shabby. You're just doing your thing and suddenly you have no armor and your weapons start overheating within three shots. I can't count how many deaths I suffered before I actually figured this out. Of course by this time I decided to finish some of my other missions and leave Pinhole Falls to itself for awhile.

Somewhat pissed, I decided to explore the rest of the first area that I found myself in. In doing so, I unearthed many easy quests, about ten different logos and five titles. I also visited every base and teleporter which shortened my travel time quite a bit. The most important discovery though was the surplus store (auction house) at Twin Pillars outpost. This was the turning point where all of my frustration melted away and the natural momentum of MMORPGs began to set in.

Even though I had died several frustrating and humiliating deaths at Pinhole Falls, I had acquired a large number of odds and ends that, when sold, gave me way more money than I would ever need for ammo and equipment repair. Taking all that cash to the surplus store proved to be an eye opening experience because I was able to kit myself out with the highest rated amor and most damaging firearms available for my character's level. There was an audible "click" as I suddenly realized that this game was just like Diablo 2 in the sense that you ARE your gear. A couple of easy levels later, I was able to go just about anywhere without getting so much as a scratch. And like all MMORPGs, the combat became an annoying speed bump on the gear grinding treadmill. The real payoff was getting that next set of amor and guns.

In the three days of the trial, I got my character to level 12. After my epiphany about the gear, I stopped playing the game like a shooter completely. Ducking behind cover was useless since I had been hit while concealed behind sandbags, trees, or even hills in the terrain itself. Circle strafing also didn't do any good since it lowered the amount of damage you dealt, raised your chance to miss, and did nothing to avoid the shots of the largely stationary mobs. It didn't even make sense to sidestep the mobs that charged right at you since you could just stand still and kill them before they could even get through your armor.

By the time my account expired, my character was more twinked out than a gay pride festival from using the surplus store and had visited two of the three instances in the Concordia Wilderness, soloing through one, and had helped defendand / or take back the Landing Zone and Imperial Valley ouposts more times than I cared to count. And this fighting for control point bases is what Tabula Rasa offers instead of endgame raiding.

We've all thought that it would be totally cool if the evil intelligent mobs from our favorite MMORPG would suddenly attack a random town and we'd have to defend it. Better yet, the mobs would be able to take the town and we'd have to go and take it back. Tabula Rasa proves that, in practice, this idea is really not that great.

There are two control points in the Concordia Wilderness and I don't think I ever visited either of them at a time that they weren't under attack by the bane. Having these places be taken over was especially annoying when there was a quest objective nearby and I couldn't teleport there since we didn't have control of the outpost. Of course, actually teleporting to these outposts meant that you would jump out the gate fighting and end up kiting a train of bad guys all the way to your quest objective and back.

Yeah, you can kill most of the mobs that follow you, but if you get a train of killer cyborgs you'll be stuck with them until you duck into another base and teleport away. The reason for this is because they don't stay dead. By the time you finish the second cyborg in the group, the first one you killed comes back to life and starts attacking you. You can try to take them all out all at once with chainguns, shotguns, explosives, etc., but by the time you've walked five feet away, they've all rezzed and are back to chasing and shooting at you. I got stuck with this exact train every time I left the Landing Zone or Imperial Valley base on foot.

Aside from these issues there were several bugs, glitches, and unfinished bits. Among these were mobs that looked active but were actually dead, mobs stuck inside world geometry where you could see them but you couldn't damage them and they couldn't see you so wouldn't attack, a few totally broken quests that couldn't be completed, and the mystery of the shaving helmet. I call it the "shaving" helmet because my character has a full beard until he puts on a reflective armor helmet, rendering his face as bald as a baby's ass. I also like the fact that when you respawn at the hospital, your character retains the spatial orientation they had at death. Basically, if you're standing on a hill at a 45% angle, you'll spawn in the hospital at a 45% angle with one foot in the air and the other clipped through the floor in a standard pose as though nothing is out of the ordinary.

Ultimately, this game innovates but fails to impress. If you approach it as a shooter / RPG hybrid, you're going to be disappointed to find that it leans entirely on the RPG side of the fence. If you're an MMORPG fanatic, you're going to find the game shallow and short. If you're Joe Sixpack, you'll probably quit about the third time you get trampled by purple octopods.

Random Brainsnot...

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Saturday January 5 2008 at 1:07AM
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So it's been about two weeks since my last entry.....

I really don't have anything to say about MMORPGs at the moment and common sense tells me that I should just stop typing right now and back away from the keyboard slowly. Unfortunately I've never listened to common sense so I'm just going to spill my game related stream of consciousness out onto the screen and hope for the best.

To begin with, I've abandoned my attempt at making an Atari 2600 "de-make" of the first level of God of War. It isn't so much the extreme limitations of memory and processing power as it is the complexity of programming the 2600's TIA (Television Interface Adaptor).

You see, by the time I started making games as a hobby (1995) hardware manufacturers had made video cards that handled much of the timing for you. You could wait for the card to tell you when the vertical and horizontal blank was and then just write to the appropriate register from whatever block of memory that you wanted transferred to the screen.

This just isn't the case with the 2600 since you have to do everything yourself. The programmer has to practically be a TV repairman and time everything in his / her code to sync up correctly. It's a little bit like writing down music since you have to count everything out in nanoseconds and be absolutely precise about it. Long story short: I'm just not that fucking bright.

So I've decided that I'll just do the whole thing with in text mode with color ANSI in under 100K instead. Not sure if that's possible even in a Win32 console program, but it'll achieve mostly the same effect. I'll still be using a joystick ( or arrow keys) and one button (or spacebar) for the controls though. It wouldn't be a de-make if I didn't step it completely back.

In other news, I recently acquired an Xbox for free. No, not a 360... just a regular Xbox. one of my neighbors was moving and he told me that he had thrown away an old Xbox that didn't work anymore. He had already bought a 360 so it didn't really matter to him anyway. Being the cheap bastard that I am, I fished the poor thing out of the dumpster, cleaned it up, plugged it into the TV and hit the power. Lo and behold, it booted up. I then rented Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil for $1 at the local video store and tried it out. Sadly, it didn't play. Not to give up so easily, I broke out the 12oz. air duster can and blew out the drive. This time the machine read the disk and I was able to play all the way through RoE.  Haven't had any problems with the machine since. Currently killing time with Unreal Championship 2 when I don't feel like being hunched over the keyboard in Battlefield 2142.

I haven't played any MMOs for several months now. Sure, I played Wolf Team for awhile, but that isn't an MMO. I had to leave since I encountered blatant hackers in three different games, one right after another, all on the same day. I have Guild Wars installed, but I couldn't tell you the last time I actually ran it.

Looking at that current crop of MMORPGs and those that are soon to be on the shelves, i can't really see myself laying down any money for any of them. Sure, I thought about spending some money on a FFXI trial disk, but my curiosity about this game isn't worth $3.

I think the real problem is that I've played almost every game that has a free trail out and of the P2P games that I haven't tried, they're all too new to actually have trails to play yet. I lost interest in F2P games at about the same time I uninstalled Archlord.

It goes a little deeper than that though. I would say that it's a flaw with the RPG genre itself, but that would be a lie. I've played one hell of a lot of RPGs in my time, online, offline, and tabletop. MMORPGs just don't have that nebulous "something" that makes a compelling RPG experience. Instead, they offer community as a consolation prize. Like a community of shit talking, macho insecure, socially retard teenagers that think Chuck Norris jokes are the height of wit is really worth $15 a month.

I could go over my favorite RPG list and point out exactly the elements that make them compelling and then turn around and point the suspicious absence thereof in MMORPGs, but I think I've pointed that out in earlier posts. Just to recap though....

1) Exploration - MMORPGs just don't have this. Everything is already mapped out for you with big exclamation marks to let you know where all the important NPCs are.

2) Tension - I remember in Dragon Warrior on the NES I used to actually have to make hard decisions about pressing on in a dungeon or turning back because I was running low on health, mana, and potions. Even this simple level of logistical planning isn't required in MMORPGs since you can just wander into a safe spot and wait for your health and mana to replenish.

3) Interesting Combat - Remember Vagrant Story? Remember Fallout? Yes, the combat is done with dice rolls and charts, we know that. The catch is that we still want as much control over what's happening on the screen as possible. Unfortunately, MMORPGs give us automatic combat with just the occasional button spamming. It looks something like this. To be fair, it also looks like this. That's still a far cry away from the way it should be. It's definitely nowhere near what most of us really want.

4) Story - It's funny, I never felt like skipping any of the text in FFIII (actually VI) on the SNES) but I usually just skimmed the "flavor text" in most MMORPG quests for the objectives. I realize that the community is supposed to be the story here, but it just doesn't fill the void.

Aside from that, all the most boring aspects of RPGs are included. Grinding, restating, unnecessarily long travel times.... you get the idea.

I may not love RPGs to the exclusion of all else, but I'm not someone that hates RPGs either. You'd think that a never ending RPG would be great, and it would be.... If it was a good RPG to begin with. Sadly, none of the current or upcoming MMORPGs qualify.


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