Monday, November 05, 2007

Tabula Rasa - Success or Flop?

Someone recently asked me in-game whether or not I thought Tabula-Rasa was going to be a success... or a flop. My answer was... it depends, and it depends on a lot of different factors. Yes, the name Richard Garriot is a huge draw to the game as is. The fact that it is a shooter is also a huge draw. Yet... that isn't all there is to it.

The example I like to use is Sony Planetside. Back when Planetside came out we gave it a relatively high score, I think an 8 or above if memory serves. When Core Combat came out, since I was the one actively playing the game, I gave it a very low score, I think a 2 or something, in a badly written rant. One of the charges I laid against Planetside is that the developers forgot what made the game Planetside. I stated, on multiple occasions, that Planetside went after what was popular, but not what was Planetside. The long campaigns, tactical and strategic planning, and the heavy use of vehicles set Planetside apart from any First Person Shooter, much less any other Massive Multiplayer Online game.

As time went on, as I saw it, the developers focused on including features and items found in the hottest selling game of the day. For example, BFR's came into development as MechAssault was running away as a smash hit. The game play was changed to a more session based format where there was no long term goal or planning involved. The last time I logged into Planetside, which was last month, the core gameplay was barely different from Unreal Tournament 2004's Onslaught mode on a larger scale. The sense that Planetside was an ongoing RPG set in a planetary warfare enviroment... was gone.

It is my opinion that if Destination Games isn't careful, the same could happen with Tabula Rasa. Now, I am going to name the person. The name is Rosemont. Rosemont is not explicitly a troll, and it is my opinion naive is a much better term. Over the past several days of Tabula Rasa's launch I have seen many players in general chat attempt to cram their favorite features from World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XI, Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, and other such titles into the Tabula Rasa setting.

I have seen multiple comments, plots, and schemes laid out on how to integrate the missing killer feature into Tabula Rasa, and I have seen it constantly from both day and nighttime players. While Tabula Rasa does rely on several aspects of a traditional MMO gam, it in turn seeks to break several of the traditional aspects.

One of the key features of Tabula Rasa is the cloning system, which seeks to end the level grind players must go through in order to have different classifications of characters. Players only have to get their character to a certain level where they choose their classification, and before they choose they have the option to save a clone with all of the experience earned so far. Thus, upon activating the clone the player can take the other option and play the other class without having to start from lvl 1 again.

Tabula Rasa also seeks to change the way players look at the game. One of the problems Richard Garriot noticed with Lineage II, and confirmed by Cryptic's City of Heroes and the NCSoft developed/published Guild Wars, is that players were spending more time looking at their power and abilities than paying attention to the world itself. The game developers were building these huge beautiful worlds that collectively nobody was paying attention to. So, by utilizing a 3rd person shooter format, Tabula Rasa allows players to view the world without having to lock attention to their power bar.

Right now, Richard Garriot and his development team have a very clear goal of how to make Tabula Rasa. They have a very clear vision of how the world will come together, and how everything will interact. I, personally, cannot wait for maps that can only be navigated by using Logos, and for missions to be given in LogosSpeak only.

My concern is that the development team will lose focus on what makes Tabula Rasa unique, and instead focus on answering the demands and suggestions made by players within the game.

Okay, fine, I personally like my idea of how to solve Clan housing. Clans can defeat a Bane Lord in a special Task Force, and then the clans get access to the Bane Lords Spaceship. Hook the spaceship up with a wormgate to tie into Foreas base or another location, and poof, clan housing solved. It is an in-game method of delivering a clan housing that doesn't break the feel of the game itself.

But, when players ask for things like Black armor paint, white armor paint, or more extensive crafting, such players don't realize that they are missing the scope of the game. The crafting in Tabula Rasa is specifically designed as a checklist feature. It is there, but the general recommendation is that players use a clone token and dedicate an avatar to crafting alone. The design is similar to Cryptic's Implementation in City of Heroes. Players do not need to use crafting. It is not a requirement to enjoy the game, to progress in levels, or to achieve certain rewards. For those who want to take their character and do a little bit of tweaking, crafting is there.

Then there is the Auction House. I, personally, am adamantly against an auction house. I think an Auction House is only going to generate problems for the developers and players. However, the setup is again, similar to City of Heroes. Players do not need to partake in using the Auction House, much less visiting the trade channel (which incidentally has almost no posts being made to it) in order to appreciate, enjoy, or simply play the game.

This is where Rosemont comes in. What Rosemont does not understand, and this is representative of several players, is that requests and suggestions that change the fundamental nature of how the game is played, or the style of the game, need to be shut down as soon as they are brought up. No, there is not going to be a discussion about adding black or white armor paint. Such paint was left out, on purpose, at least as far back as 2005 (remembering my way too much time being spent on the E3 2005 demo).

At some point, the idiocy has got to end. Somebody has to stand up and make it clear that players need to let their old games go. I've already watched as one game I liked tried to include everything that was popular... and I'm willing to more vocal about preventing that from happening again.

As I see it, if Tabula Rasa does not remain unique, if it does not remain different, players are going to see no reason to pay for it when they already have established characters in other games that do the same exact thing... all over again.
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