Friday, August 15, 2008

Tabula Rasa - Operation Immortality

Since I'm a previous player of Tabula Rasa I've been asked what exactly is my take on the current Operation Immortality promotion. For those who haven't heard, Richard Garriot is going to visit the international space station. Tabula Rasa is spinning the story that the real reason the General is going into space is because the Bane are coming. Select soldiers will have the opportunity to have their DNA preserved aboard the space station so that they can be cloned for the upcoming fight. All soldiers will be able to leave a personal message of their choosing, along with having their avatar preserved about the space station.

It is, hands down, the most creative and best promotion, ever, for any video game... and I couldn't care less.

For me, I left Tabula Rasa because the development team just didn't get it. I
dinged Tabula Rasa because the beta worked on Windows 2000. Then the developers implemented a coding change that wrecked Windows 2000 compatibility, a coding change that couldn't be justified. On top that there still is no Linux client, and even with the latest updates from Cedega and WINE, Tabula Rasa still isn't playable. As I went over on Gamenikki, Linux support is a requirement for the modern PC game. It's not something developers can just slag off.

The disconnect between the developers and the paying gamers are why Tabula Rasa grabbed the lowest amount of sales in NCSoft's financial report. I went over what I saw as the faults of the games a couple of times, both in Oh how Trolls Congregate and Success or Flop, and hit on the subject in Why Trolls should be perma banned. I went over it again on Gamenikki, not only in the review, but also in a comparison against Planetside.

Tabula Rasa's strength was it's team play and PvE combat. It's strength was it's epic storyline, a storyline I liked so much I started writing a fan-fic set in the Tabula Rasa World. It's strength in 2007 was the adamant position of the developers that Player versus Player combat did not belong in the story, and was to be depreciated as much as possible.

Then... things changed. As I wrote on the Gamenikki.com blogging system, which unfortunately isn't exactly configured for consistent linking, the developers kept messing with various settings. Then, Richard Garriot got promoted, and a new design leader took over whose letter on PlayNC.com indicated he was going to focus on PvP content.

No. No. No. No. No.

I couldn't say no loud enough, or fast enough to respond. Ryeata, who aids in a lot of the multiplayer testing that I go through, commented that Tabula Rasa was following the same path as Guild Wars. You spent the entire game speccing for team play and PvE combat, then on the last level, you suddenly respec and set yourself up for PvP combat. Guild Wars made the PvP approach work because you didn't have to level up every single character to the level cap to go PvP.

In fact, this is what I said in the Gamenikki.com blog:
Also, Tabula Rasa has been out for a while now, and the performance problems reported in our review have largely been addressed. This isn't a formal going over, so we'll keep it short. Right now the game is in a serious state of overhaul as various abilities and skills are swapped around and some of the classes are re-worked. The basic concept hasn't changed, but there are some concerns about forward development.

My personal concern about Tabula Rasa is that the General (Mr. Garriott) and other developers will focus on adding end-game PvP content and designing the game around the Guild Wars model of high-level player versus player combat. I find myself heavily disagreeing with many players who want Tabula Rasa to go full-on PvP for the end game, as I think it's a recipe for failure. We'll probably go a little bit more in depth again with Tabula Rasa next year.

Well, not to blow my own horn too much, but after the sales numbers? I was right. Tabula Rasa hasn't been selling. It hasn't been retaining player numbers.

Yes, Operation Immortality is a great promotion... but if the game itself hasn't kicked the PvP idea to the curb? Players who sign up aren't going to stick around. Even if Destination Games did get a Linux client out this week? I wouldn't be sticking around either.

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