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Tabula Rasa

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: NCSoft
Developer: NCSoft

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PC Preview - 'Tabula Rasa'

by Mark Crump on June 9, 2004 @ 12:40 a.m. PDT

A heroic task awaits you. Just beyond your galaxy, an ancient malevolence has embarked upon a covetous rampage. This demonic juggernaut seeks nothing less than the total enslavement of every world it encounters. Your world could be next. 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.

Genre : MMORPG
Developer : Destination Games
Publisher : NCSoft
Release Date : TBA

Tabula Rasa is Richard Garriot’s follow up effort to his first success, Ultima Online. While EverQuest stole the limelight when it launched in 1999, Ultima Online’s launch in 1997 was the true birth of the graphical MMOG in North America. Richard left Origon/EA a few years back and the non-compete clause of his separation agreement finally ran out; he celebrated that event by announcing the formation of his new company, Destination Games – a company that seems to be mostly made up of Origon ex-staffers.

Tabula Rasa is making a conscious effort to avoid wasting the player’s time; they believe the player should always be doing something fun while playing the game. Therefore, they are eliminating a lot of the setup time getting a group together requires. If you played one of these games before, you’re no doubt familiar with how time consuming this process is – first you have to see what’s going on, then find out where your friends are, work your way there and finally hook up with your friends. On a good day this can take a half hour; on a bad day well over an hour. To reduce this time in Tabula Rasa you can instantly teleport to any place you’ve ever been, or a place where your friends are.

Another big time-waster in MMOGs is developing a character, only to find out dislike the class. You’re then stuck with either dealing with the consequences of a moment’s bad decision, putting months into a class only to have the developers nerf it into something unrecognizable, or worse, wasting lot of time by starting over. To counter this, Tabula Rasa allows you to have save-points throughout your character’s development, which you can then recall and change your decisions on. You can have 15 characters with 5 “bookmarks” each, and you can move a bookmark into an active character slot, allowing you to take the same character down multiple careers. There are only two things you can’t change about your character from when you create it: its name and gender.

Tabula Rasa uses a skill-based development scheme that’s loosely based off Diablo II’s where you work your way down 3 skill trees – Mind, Body and Spirit. Mind attacks the brain, Body attacks the physical body and Spirit uses music and sound as a weapon. Every class can wield a weapon and cast spells, with certain classes being more specialized in each of the disciplines. The combat system isn’t “fire and forget” either, where you can initiate an attack and then go pop some popcorn; the designers are working hard to make the combat a reactive system where if you do walk away from the keyboard while fighting, you’ll die.

The PvP in the game isn’t about killing players of an opposing realm or faction – it’s more like the Army’s war games, where the goal is to get better at fighting a common enemy by practicing on one another. You’ll just pick a side to join in, like you do in Battlefield; one time you may be fighting with your best friend, the next time against him.

You are given a house at the start of a game, where you can customize the interior to your heart’s content as well as set up a vendor to sell goods. The housing areas are on floating rocks, which, while looking a bit weird, helps explain away why you never run out of physical land to put houses on.

The game uses missions, similar to Anarchy Online, where your group can go get their own instanced area to fight baddies. If you die during the mission you have three options: respawn and take an XP hit; start the mission over; or just call it a day and quit the mission.

Graphically, I felt an Asian influence to the game, especially in the character models. They seemed reminiscent of the Lineage II characters – albeit with more clothes on. The various areas also had a very organic feel to them. One mission, an interior of a building had architectural elements that were bone-like in their appearance – “ribs” as wall elements and the like. The game isn’t strictly fantasy, medieval or sci-fi, but the art design feels like fantasy/sci-fi. The game will also support voice chat, which is a great way of being able to communicate with your group without worrying about being able to type fast. You’ll also be able to tell if the person playing that hot chick in your group is really a female.

I came away from the game with a mixed impression. There design elements I like a lot, like the shortened travel time, the ability to change your character’s development path, and design decision make fun the focal point – this game looks very casual player friendly which is great. I’m not thrilled with some of the art direction, though. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks and sounds fantastic, I’m just not a big fan of the art style. It’s going to be an interesting game to watch, and I’m looking forward to when it goes into beta later this year. A lot of the key people involved in this project already have the success of UO under their belt, so I’m curious to see if they can repeat it.


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