E3 2007: A Closer Look at Tabula Rasa
Today at E3, I got a chance to sit down with Richard Garriott to learn a little bit more about Tabula Rasa. The upcoming near future sci-fi MMORPG first-person shooter from NCSoft has been in development for quite some time, and has consumed something in the neighborhood of $40 million in development money. Luckily, I was also able to jump into Tabula Rasa and get some hands on time with the game.
Tabula Rasa is set on a number of planets, the first named Foreas. In this universe, Earth has been overrun by an alien race known as the Bane. Luckily, the Bane left some human survivors (collectively referred to by Mr. Garriott as ‘subscribers’). These survivors will take up arms to fight off the invaders, and will be aided by another alien race known as the Eloh. Apparently the Eloh are the estranged cousins of the Bane, and the Bane are bent on their annihilation as well. The Eloh, while nebulous and rarely if ever seen, are the source of certain powers that the human survivors learn, described by Mr. Garriott as resembling ‘Force’ powers, much like you would see in Star Wars.
The game has several new features, which you can check out after the break.
Tabula Rasa is unlike a traditional MMO in many ways, most noticeable of which is the combat. Instead of the well known model of toe-to-toe combat with both players preloading their attacks through a click based system, this MMO utilizes a twitch-based, FPS-style combat model. This is augmented by a minimalistic user interface, which contains only vital character information, such as health, ammo, etc. The player will see what weapon they have equipped, and they will be able to load one special attack. Both the weapon and special attack slots can be cycled through using simple key presses, and activated with simple keybinds (by default the left and right mouse buttons).
Combat is also differentiated from other MMOs in that the player’s actions have a large effect on how successful they are. Firing from cover reduces the damage you take from attacks, and firing on the the move can help you dodge attacks from your enemies. Most of the time (as I learned in my hands on time), a player who stands still winds up dead very quickly.
Another area that sets Tabula Rasa apart is their character development system. All players begin as recruits, and don’t begin to specialize until level 10. Once a player reaches level 10, they will have the option of choosing a class. Ten levels later, they will be able to further specialize in their chosen class. As they continue through the leveling process, they can choose more and more specialties to build their character however they desire. However, the most interesting feature of this part of the game actually has nothing to do with gameplay itself. At any point during your character’s leveling process, you can go to the character management screen, and make a clone of your current character. You’ll be able to change the name and appearance of your avatar, and retain the same stats as the character you cloned from. The great thing about this feature is that it almost completely removes the ‘reroll’ aspect of most MMO’s; replacing it instead with a near ‘reset’ button that allows you to start from the point exactly before you made your last clone with the character you had back then.
One other thing worthy of mention is that the quest system in Tabula Rasa is not the typical ‘I’ll get a quest, complete it, and get another quest’ system that we’re all familiar with. Instead, players will be presented with missions that at times may even conflict with one another, and the choice of which quest to complete can impact the player and the world around him. This system, if implemented fully and well, could remove the linear gameplay that has so far characterized most MMO’s.
All in all, Tabula Rasa was impressive. It looked great, it played well, and it has enough of a hook to set it apart from the rapidly growing MMO market. Traditionally, MMO’s based outside the traditional fantasy model have not been large commercial successes (Planetside, Auto Assault, Earth and Beyond), with Eve Online being the notable exception (although it’s not without its problems). Tabula Rasa is poised to set a new standard for non-fantasy MMO’s. If it lives up to the potential it obviously has, who knows how far it could go? Only time will tell, but I can tell you this: I’ll be playing it myself.