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Published on June 21st, 2008 | by simeon


Tabula Rasa

I was able to get an interview with producer, Starr Long, and lead designer, Paul Sage about their pending MMORPG Tabula Rasa. With E 3 looming, I wanted to thank Paul and Starr as well as Valerie Massey for taking the time to make this interview happen.

What is the background and setting for the game please?

Starr: Long ago the alien race known as the Eloh were the first star faring species. They were masters of the science of Logos, the ability to manipulate matter and energy through the power of the mind. They traveled the universe sharing their knowledge with less advanced species. One of these species used this knowledge to war with the Eloh. This led to a schism among the Eloh. Some wanted to continue sharing the knowledge; others wanted to use the knowledge to control the universe, to protect species from themselves. This latter group became known as The Bane. The Bane waged a galactic war against the Eloh of which Earth is one of the latest victims. Earth is invaded by the Bane and humanity is scattered to the stars. Tabula Rasa takes place on various planets that are under siege by the Bane.

What are some of the player types and their abilities?

Starr: In most RPGs, you have to choose your character class before the game starts. This is before you even know how the game plays and which play style most appeals to you. In contrast, Tabula Rasa uses a progressive class tree. Everyone starts as a recruit. You gain experience from killing enemies and completing missions. This experience increases your level. At each level you are given points to apply to your attributes and/or new abilities and/or pump points for your abilities. At certain levels you can make a choice of which branch of the class tree to keep progressing.

Paul: The initial class, the recruit, covers the basics of fighting and even some triage on the battlefield. Therefore, each character in the game will be able to fight effectively. The first choice is between Soldier and Specialist. The players can opt for more firepower in the Soldier class or the ability to keep the team up and going in the Specialist class. You won’t lose your fighting prowess by becoming a Specialist though, as you will still be able to knock off a few rounds of your pistol. As a Soldier, if you have studied up on your healing disc proficiency, you will still be able to be an effective triage medic. Your guns and skills influence the way you play, they don’t determine it.

Starr: In addition to normal skills like Rifle, Pistol, Armor, Salvage, etc., each character class has a set of Logos powers that are beyond normal human skills. These include things like Lightning, Knockback, and Energy Wave. At any point, you can use our Character Cloning System to save your character state and use that as a starting point for a new character. This allows you to explore all the branches of the tree.

What are some of the weapons players will be able to use and will vehicles be included?

Starr: We have a large variety of weapons, all of which have varying characteristics that make them more useful in certain situations. We have rifles, pistols, grenade launchers, machine guns, propellant guns (flamethrower), rocket launchers, shotguns, etc. The shotgun can hit multiple targets and knock them down but has a shorter range than the rifle which can only hit single targets. In addition each weapon comes in a variety of damage types including electric, laser, poison, cryogenic, incendiary, etc.

Paul: Our plan is to add vehicles after ship.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered blending a MMORPG and a 3D Shooter?

Paul: Obviously, our biggest challenge has been and is “feel.” We will continue to tweak until ship, even though we are largely happy with it. When we were using die rolls for the determination of hitting a target we felt the rolls could make someone feel cheated if the crosshairs were on a target and they missed. So we had to really look closely at what missing meant, and we decided that people shouldn’t miss if they have a target, but that hitting the target in less than ideal situations should reduce damage. So this is one example of how we had to veer away from conventional RPG “math” to get the proper responsive feel showing that the player is “in control.”

How will Player VS Player be handled in the release?

Paul: PvP will be handled through our Clan system. Clans are similar to guilds in other MMOGs. Should a clan decide to “declare war” on another clan, the two clans can battle for a specified period of time. We believe supporting PvP in this way makes it consensual, but also gives the thrill of an unexpected enemy coming into view for players who like the challenge of playing against other people.

What game engine are you using for the game and what are some of the features it allows you to include that are new to the genre?

Starr: We are using our own internal proprietary engine.

In MMORPGs, the challenge is often to keep the game fresh for players after the newness of the game has worn off. How do you propose to introduce new content, and keep the game evolving to meet the needs of players?

Paul: Our current plan is to introduce new content and tweaks to the game through our patching system. Like any MMOG, the game grows in concert with the will of the community and the desires of the development team. Future expansions could include more planets, vehicles, and more classes. When a large amount of content is ready for the game we may release expansions through retail channels. Supporting a live product well means being responsive, so explaining now what will be available after ship and how it will be available is a bit premature. Right now, we really just want to get the game in the hands of the players.

How are missions assigned in the game and what are some mission types players will see?

Starr: Missions can be obtained from various characters in the game. Those missions are tied to the story line for the planet you find them on and they are all part of the overall war effort. A large variety of missions can be found in the game including escorting valuable personnel, patrolling, collecting intelligence, holding positions, taking positions, freeing prisoners of war, destroying enemy installations, intercepting enemy patrols, etc. Missions inside instanced spaces are even more detailed, story driven, and intertwined so that depending on which missions you take or which order you do them in can affect how events in that instance space occur. For example you could charge straight up an occupied hill or before you do that you could circle around to a landing pad to secure some reinforcements to back you up on that charge up the hill.

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