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Jon Wood Posted:
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GDC Progress Report: Tabula Rasa

At the Game Developers Conference, Jon Wood had the opportunity to sit down for a look at the upcoming NCsoft title, Tabula Rasa. The demonstration was made by Richard "Lord British" Garriot, the man behind the Ultima series, and now Tabula Rasa.

Tabula Rasa is one of those games that we haven't heard a great deal about during its development cycle, which began back in May of 2001. That's not to say that the game today has had six years of development, as Tabula Rasa has gone through some sweeping changes since its original concept.

Today, Tabula Rasa is a game that, at first glance, integrates the fast-paced action of an FPS with the detailed story and advancement of an MMORPG. Set in a post apocalyptic Earth, after an alien species came to us and invaded wiping many of us out entirely, this game is seen as something new and exciting for many players.

Garriott describes the game as "a step forward in the design of MMOs", integrating combat that is real-time, fast-paced and strategic. Character placement is just as important in Tabula Rasa combat as you would expect it to be in any FPS. If you character is standing behind waist-high sandbags, for example, he becomes more difficult for an enemy on the other side of those sandbags to shoot at accurately. The catch for the players is that once the AI enemies realize that they can't hit you, they will take appropriate action to fight you. In short, the combat appears more reactive than many MMO players are used to in their genre.

Even though it plays a valuable role in TR, or any MMO for that matter, combat is not the be all and end all of this game. Things like missions and character growth also take a front seat in the game's design. As players collect missions, they can and will be given more missions from different factions in the game that conflict with one another. We are told that players will be forced to make specific and difficult decisions about which path they will take. The detail continues as side-missions can be undertaken within the larger scope of a main mission that will have consequences on the overall arc. The example that we saw required that players destroy an enormous machine. In one of the side missions, the player learns that the machine has a weak-point, thus aiding him / her in his /her final objective.

"Players," says Garriott, "have to be adaptable and use strategy rather than just hack and slash."

The game, which is now in Closed Beta, will make use of both instanced and non-instanced areas, with the instanced areas being party-based and heavily scripted for story advancement. Tabula Rasa will also launch with fully-integrated voice chat, a feature that is becoming almost a necessity for a modern MMORPG.

Tabula Rasa is a game about war. As the humans fight for their lives against the invading Bane, players can participate in special battlefield scenarios. On one such map, there is a Human base and there is a Bane base. In between, there is contested area, areas that must be fought over. These spaces in between function like control points in a standard MMOFPS, as each side struggles for control.

There are, of course, consequences to failure in the battlefields. If your side loses an area, it becomes un-friendly to them. If there was, for example, an NPC provisioner or trainer there when your side held the area, that resource is no longer available to you (until your side wins the battle once again).

Character creation is another area of the game that gets some special attention from Garriott and his team. Players can now "clone" their characters so that, if they want to try something new and exciting in terms of class, they don't have to start over again at level one and play through content that the player has already experienced. Instead, players can use these "clones" to keep pace with their game.

While this report might seem fragmented, we saw a great deal of gameplay in our meeting with Richard Garriott, and continue to learn more about this long-awaited game. In a short time, for example, MMORPG.com will be exploring the new, pictographic language that will make an appearance in the game.


Jon Wood