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Archive for September, 2007

Tabula Rasa abilities and character planners

September 30, 2007 2 comments

In Tabula Rasa there is a hierarchial archetype/class where a character all start out from the same class and one set of abilities. At levels 5, 15 and 30 a choice is made choosing a more specialized class choice, a choice of two each time.

Which means in the end there are 8 different classes in the game. Each and every class choice have a set of skills and abilities which a player can put points into to improve that particular skill/ability. There is not enough points to maximize everything, so some choices have to be made.

Right now any choice that is made is final for that particular character, which makes the decisions rather important. The cloning system could help a bit here, but since it is currently a limited amount of times one can clone a character it is not a substitute for a respec mechanism . It seems Destination Games/NCSoft is considering some respec capability, but that will probably be some time in the future, after release.

I really hope they will include a respec mechanism – actually I would say they will have to if they want to avoid a number of frustrated players. There is a a fair amount of flexibility in the system, but people need to be allowed to make some mistakes especially since it will not be obvious how various skills and abilities plays out until one tries them.

With this system (with our without respec) a need some planning help for a character may be relevant and some people have started creating character planners to help with that. I have seen three character planner efforts and neither of them is “ready” or “finished”, which is not that surprising sicne the game is not released yet.

Two of them are browser-based, the third is a Windows program. I applaud the efforts here and hope they all continue work on their tools.
Tabula Rasa Character Planner (Windows program, download link)

Phaleux’s Tabula Rasa Character Builder

Zeus’ Tabula Rasa Character Builder

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa 24/7

September 25, 2007 2 comments

Today a new patch for the Tabula Rasa beta was put in (the claim is more than 1000 bug fixes) and the beta servers will now run 24/7 until launch – which for the most time they have not so far.

There will be one more beta patch before release as I understand it. Fileplanet has kicked in some beta key promotion for all registered FP users, so I guess they are approaching some real open beta/trial period now.

This means I might be playing a bit less, since there might not be that much more to report that they will correct before release – what devs are working on are two releases ahead of what is on the beta servers. I really do not want to experience too much of the content before I play the game for real, testing the lower level parts have been enough for me.

A bit more than 3 weeks to the release now, I guess Richard Garriott will be very happy when it is finally released. It has been many years and some total redesign and rewrite during that time.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

World of warcraft and anti-social/anti-grouping MMOGs

September 23, 2007 11 comments

Recently I listened to the Shut Up! We’re Talking #9 podcast, which had a number of good topics and discussions. One of the topics was “Do you help new players” and the discussion include that there perhaps were less people around than there were in the old days and this changed with World of Warcraft. More people playing, more bad apples to meet – but also that since one could solo all the way to the top level, there were little opportunity to actually learn how to group and behave well in a group. Brent from Virginworlds also mentioned that he had pretty much soloed all the way up to level 62 in World of Warcraft.

There are a few different items mixed in here. Community spirit is one, grouping is another.

First, I do agree that the community landscape changed around the time that World of Warcraft was released. It was the first MMOG I decided to unsubscribe to a number of the public chat channels because of all the trash talk and frankly annoying “discussions” that were prevalent. However, previous games were not totally lacking that kind of talk, they were just below the threshold what was bearable. Since then I have turned off chat channels in multiple games after that, because I have seen similar trends in other games – even those that I have played befire World of warcraft.

I do not think it is World of warcraft in itself and its soloing friendly environment that causes people to behave like this – there are just other groups of people that have been introduced to the genre and we have less homogenous crowds in the games nowadays. The forced grouping in some MMOGs may certainly have taught people how to work in a group in the game, but not fundamentally changed the social patterns. I would be more inclined to believe that the lack of options in terms of game environments may have contributed more there – with not many MMOGs around it would be more important to make sure one fit into the community or part of the community. The need to belong to a community is not less today, but there are more options and it is not the end of the world if it gets screwed up in one of them.

Looking at the grouping mechanics here, Brent’s comment about pretty much soloing all of the time in World of warcraft points to a game flaw in my opinion. It is not that the ability to solo is a flaw for grouping, but rather that the grouping mechanics themselves are flawed. If a person is no stranger to grouping in other games and many people say that grouping can be a more rewarding experience, then why would they still solo?

There are many different reasons, a few being:

  • Not enough time to get into a group and play.
  • No friends around or no friends in my level range
  • I may have to leave the computer on short notice, due to various real life issues
  • Do not want to group with strangers, too much risk of grouping with jerks or those who do not know how to play well

Group mechanics have changed very little in any significant ways, even though many other changes have taken place in game mechanics as well as the potential palyer base. The points listed above are things at least I see often as motivation why people do not group, including myself. But why are they not addressed?

Adding the ability to solo thought the game is a good thing, but that is not the way to address flaws in grouping mechanics – both grouping and solo play should be there, but one does not exclude the other. Typically in grouping mechanics today, one has a couple of common features:

  • You have a group leader who is responsible for inviting people to the group or kicking them out. Inviting a person is an explicit action, often initiated by a group looking for more players to fill their needs, or a player looking for a group to fill their needs.
  • You have a limited number of members, typically 5-6. If you want to have more people, you have multiple groups forming a raid.
  • Different characters in a group take on certain roles, often including “the holy trinity” (tank-healer-damage dealer) plus some added support
  • Only members that are part of the group gets credit for kills and can loot the corpses of their fallen victims/enemies.

So what if we challenge those features? Do we need a group leader, do we need to invite and kick out people? Do we need a max limit on group size? And do we need to get people in the group with certain roles and that they play that role thoughout the groups existance?

The first thought here might be – chaos! – no structure, and nothing will work. For the traditinal group setting, this is probably true. But this type of setting is typically a bit strict and provides a number of hurdles. Why not provide some less strict alternatives between solo and the traditional group, without the strict requirements of the group?

This is already happening in games on a regular basis, there is just no or very few mechnics to support it. If you see someone fighting a nasty monster and they seem to be in trouble, maybe you have helped by either healing the character in trouble, or helped killing the monster? This is an example of less strict grouping in my opinion. There is no formal invite, it may have a very short duration and the roles taken may depend on the situation.

Game mechanics should be expanded to provide some rewards and incentives here, but also lower the threshold for setting up and and playing in a traditional group. This may include better abilities to track status for multiple characters (similar to what is available in a traditional group) and potential for some reward or bonus – perhaps a bit less than it would have been in a traditional group, but more than nothing at all.

And traditional groups should allow more flexbility in terms of roles played, number of characters needed, level ranges (if the game has levels). And the groups should be able to set the challenge bar themselves also, since the challenge level will not be one size fits all. Encounters that may be challenging for one group may be dead easy for another and the members may want different levels of challenge as well.

Games like Warhammer Online seem to have included some elements to go beyond the traditional grouping and City of Heroes/Villains is in my opinion the game with the most flexibility within the scope of a traditional group. Tabula Rasa’s setting will enforce the less strict grouping in non-instanced areas, but remains to be seen how well this will work out in terms of the supporting game mechanics.

Categories: MMO Games

Tabula Rasa regional segregation cancelled

September 21, 2007 Comments off

CuppaJo, the Tabula Rasa community manager, made the following announement on the Tabula Rasa forums:

As many of you know, we had planned to segregate the US and EU communities in the near future and going forward for launch. However, after having a worldwide beta that allowed players to play on either server with their friends and guildmates on both sides of the pond, we have decided NOT to segregate players but instead to allow you to login and pick where you want to play – US or EU.

We will still have servers located in both the US and the EU (US servers are West and East Coast – EU servers are in Germany) and events will be run like they have been in beta – US servers have events during US primetime and EU servers will have events in EU primetime.

We have a few support issues to work out – such as /bug working no matter what server you are but we feel this is the right decision for our player community.

I think this is quite good news and I would say a welcome break from a trend where MMO game companies force borders between the different regions.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Adding character

September 20, 2007 Comments off

One of the fun things with City of Heroes/Villains is the character creation, which I think is the best one out there currently among the released MMOG titles. As an altoholic, I create a lot of characters in the various MMOGs I play, although City of Heroes/Villains is probably particularly “bad” in that respect.

It is a fun part of the gaming experience to outfit the character in my opinion, at least if the game mechanics provide some decent functionality in that area. So I decided to put up some of my heroes and villains on a page here, the character gallery.

Categories: City of Heroes

The stories of Pyrissa and Pia

September 19, 2007 1 comment

I played through two story arcs recently when my newest villain Ezrail toured around in Cap au Diable, making his mark on the villainous scene.

One is a short but pretty nice story in its evilness – Ezrail got the assignment to help eliminate the threat of up and coming girl with powerful mutant powers, Pyrissa. As Ezrail is a angel on fire, Pyrissa is quite literally a bit of a hot girl who can put men (and everything else) on fire.

Normal procedures in eliminating the goody guys (or girls) where not to be taken place here. Instead work was to be done to convince the girl to become a villain instead. Pyrissa is an orphan and has been taken care of by a group of do-gooders/vigilantes called Legacy Chain. So the plan was to find some infor that was dear to Pyrissa (info about her dead parents), modify the information to incriminate her benefactors so she would turn on them. Of course this worked out just fine and we got ourselves a new villain.

It is a short but pretty nice story over 3 missions and one that fits in well with being a villain.

The next story arc was the story with Pia Marino, a seer in the service or Arachnos and Lord Recluse who wants to find out the truth behind her brother Paolo’s reported death a few years ago on a mission. This is a story pretty much every villain that has reached at least level 15 will get and it is a quite nice story which involves love, betrayal, murder and also tells a bit of the story how the Arch-villain Ghost Widow came to be. It is about seven missions long

As with many of the stories in City of Heroes/Villains one has to read the clues presented to get the whole story. While some parts are acted directly by the characters in the missions, many story details are provided by the clues. Unfortunately reading these may not always work out so well if you are in a group going for some fast-paced action. This is a shame really, since there are some quite nice stories in the game.

I have probably played the Seer Marino arc around 15 times and the Pyrissa arc at least 7-8 times. It was a few months since the last time though, so it was nice to go through again. It is a bit like picking up an old comic book or magazine and re-read it again – the plot and how it will end comes back to you, but one may still enjoy following the stories as they unfold.

If anyone is playing through some atory arcs for the first time, take the time to read the clues. There might a story there that you will only scratch the surface of if and may not be able to follow thet whole plot if you do not read it.

Categories: City of Heroes

Gods & Heroes preorder

September 17, 2007 6 comments

If one visits the Gods & Heroes website they announce that pre-order of the game is available and beta participants who pre-ordered the full game will get some in-game bonus items. it seems you need to get into the beta to get the items though and they do write thet one is eligble if one is accepted into the beta.

Now, they have pretty much been running sort of a lottery giving out beta keys for some time now, so basically anyone has at least the chance to get a beta key. But it is a bit different from other games where one is given beta access just by pre-ordering.

Looking at the Amazon web site, the game is currently estimated to be released on February 1st, 2008. So there will still be some time. The game has been in closed beta for quite a while now and one would assume they are taking their time to fix issues in the game and get it polished for release, about 4.5 months left if that release date is kept.

Categories: Gods & Heroes

Protecting the wilderness

September 16, 2007 Comments off

About a week ago there was a wipe of all characters in the Tabula Rasa beta, then the servers was brought back up and the NDA was lifted. Which means I can actually starting writing a bit about playsessions in Tabula Rasa as well.

Work and real life has taken its time, so while the wipe was a week ago, I had not really had any change of playing until this weekend. Right now my family of earth invasion survivors has two members, one going for the soldier path (Wolf) and the other for the specialist path (Tatiana).

The first to jump in the fight was Tatiana. Starting off at the home base in Concordia wilderness, she was eager to give something back to the Bane – preferably small, fast and deadly type of things.

Tatiana at the home base

Right when arriving from the bootcamp (tutorial area) Tatiana was presented with a Targets of Opportunity mission. ToO is pretty much something similar to badges in City of Heroes/Villains, or deeds in Lord of the Ring Online if one want to compare with fantasy games. You visit certain areas, kill certain things and docertain missions and you get at the very least some titles for it. Bug Zapper and Exterminator Tatiana at your service!

Missions are obtained from various military persons in the outposts, as well as from the local Foreans (our allies here in the fight). Most of the fighting involves the Thrax, the bio-enhanced Bane soldiers that keep pouring in at various locations all the time, but also Forean “automatons” and some of the local wildlife might want to take a bite at you.

And they keep on trying. While one will learn after a while where the Thrax soldiers are dropped fromt he dropships (i.e. spwans), they do at least drop instead of re-appear and they also do not just stand there waiting for somethign to happen, they attack and/or patrol. There are allied NPCs all around the place who are defending the outposts and attacking the Thrax also. Overall it is a more active environment, which gives a quite different feeling to the environment, even though not all mechanics involved are that different. It is good fun in reasonable doses.

You got something on your teeth, mister

Some of the outposts can be taken control over by the Bane, these tend to have constant attacks poured over them. At one time while Tatiana was in an outpost the defense barrier was breached and the Thrax soldiers started pouring in! We fought back and the barrier was set again. The attacks from the Thrax continued of course. A bit later the outpost was taken by the Bane and Tatiana could not teleport in to complete some missions, so she started off on foot to get there and take it back. There is no rage like that of a player that cannot complete their missions – the Bane should know better…

Imperial Valley fighting

For one of the outposts (Imperial Valley) in the Concordia Wilderness area there are also specific missions involving collecting assault or defense tokens. One token can be collected from the attacking forces when defending the outpost, the other when one has to take back the outpost from the Bane.

I really like the surroundings, a bit of lush forest mixed with mountain areas and caverns and some deadly enemies around the corner. It does encourage the explorer in me. And the main goal in this area beside fighting off the Bane forces is to collect a number of Logos, the symbolic language left by an ancient race (the Eloh) which is the source to unlock some powers in all who happen to have the right gene – strangely enough, all player characters have that gene! 🙂

Travelling is mostly on foot, but if you collect the waypoints at different outposts one can use a teleport pad to travel between these points, which speeds up travel a bit.

A romantic evening out?

Most of the missions are in the Concordia Wilderness zone itself, although there are a few instances/dungeons also. In these areas one may have or get a few different missions running through a certain storylines. The defeated enemies do not seem to respawn and while content at least pertially are aimed at groups, it is possible to do them solo also with a bit of work – although one may die a couple of times in the process.

Fighting spiders in Caves of Donn instance

The outdoor areas (Concordia Wilderness in this case) also have multiple instances, for the Euro beta server they have 9 instances running. It is easy to switch between these outdoor area instances, since one can select which instance to go to when using the teleport pad.

The multiple instances are a necessity in my opinion, since the game like many other MMOGs has its share of “kill ten rats” or “collect ten rat tails” type of missions. Enemies are not “tagged” to belong to anybody in particular and it pretty much seems those who do enough damage gets credit for the kill and can loot the corpse. This can be multiple people that get credit for it. For the fast-paced combat environment Tabula Rasa is, this makes more sense than that something should “belong” to the character or group that made the first hit. But it cannot avoid the problem with these colelct/kill quests when too many people are in the area – too few mobs to kill and get credit for. So the many instances of the outdoor areas helps a lot here when one can go to a less crowded area and continue there.

The spawn saturation with the many collect/kill quests in LoTRO was one thing that killed that game for me, so I am at least happy to see that they have done something about that in Tabula Rasa. They do not seem to be able to get rid of that type of mission entirely though.

While I have played through much of the content before in this zone, it was still fun to go though it with Tatiana and one can see that they have made changes/improvements since previous times. Still, I actually prefer to do discoveries and experience things for the first time after release. I still have some missions I have not completed and I probably won’t do them, but save it for release.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa thoughts

September 9, 2007 Comments off

After the Tabula Rasa NDA was lifted, a number of people have written their views of the game as it is now. I would not say reviews, since it is still in beta and changes are still happening. Calling comments on beta reviews is a bit unfair at this point.

That being said, I have also played a bit in the Tabula Rasa beta – not as long as some people and I have not tested out all aspects of the game yet. Some aspects of the game may also change – there has certainly been some changes during the time I have beta tested it.

Overall, I like the game set-up. It is a SciFi themed environment where Earth is gone fater an alien invasion. The small remains of mankind that still remains and are able to fight have joined up with other alien, but friendly races to fight the bad guys. It is a refreshing change from the mostly fantasy-oriented MMOGs out there, although the setting is a bit niched. Far from everyone will enjoy running around as a soldier in a war that is constantly going on around you. While almost all MMOGs do have fighting as a major ingredient, the setting is usually not a literal war going at all times. Rather other MMOGs have worlds in which there are many small skirmishes happening among a number of other things.

For me this setting lends itself to a game that you should not spend long sessions and lots of hours in – perhaps 30 minutes to 2 hours at most in a session and not every day. I think this perfectly fine and I would suspect there will be more niched theme MMOGs coming out in the future. Adaptation for shorter play sessions and more niched themes is to me the path the MMOGs will have to go to attract a wider audience in total than today and Tabula Rasa seems to be going in that direction. This game itself will not attact a huge number of players, at least not a huge number that will spend a lot of time in the game.

Tabula Rasa’s character creation is a bit so and so to me. There is not a huge amount of options on outfits and characteristics. While I can understand that too many options on outfits would perhaps not work out so well with the military theme, a few more options for face and hair would have been nice. I am spoiled with the character creation in City of Heroes/Villains and the creation in Tabula Rasa pales in comparision. But frankly, it is just as bad as in most other MMOGs to me. It is possible to get characters that look cool/nice, even though the variations are limited.

Character management after creation has both its good and bad points. You can colour you armor/outfit, so you are not necessarily stuck with a particular look and there can still be some differentiation between players , which is a good point. The cloning mechanism is also excellent – if you want to make a new character one can clone an existing one and the character will start from the point of cloning and not from level 1 again. I just wonder why it took so many years for MMOG developers with this simple yet brilliant feature.
All clones/characters will share the same last name though – and this does not matter whether you have actually created a new character from scratch or whether they were cloned. There is both good and bad points about this. A good point is that it is easier to find your friends regardless of which character they are playing. I am not certain whether the last name will be globally unique or just for a specific server – there has only been one server for each region and I have only played on the Euro side. A good and bad thing is that you loose an anonymity option, you can be found if the last name is known. It is bad if you want to spend some time for yourself for a while, but good that griefers have less options to hide. I would have preferred the City of Heroes/Villains approach with a global handle which is completely separate from the character names. It is a bit better than not having any mechanism at all to tie characters together though.

All characters share the same footlocker in game, so one can easily pass equipment and money between characters. This is a very nice feature which one can see in Everquest 2 also and it only makes sense to have that in place with the cloning system.

The main activity you do in Tabula Rasa is fight. There is a war going on and one has to fight the main enemy, the Bane and its various troops. The critters in the environment can sometimes be hostile as well, but the major enemy is the Bane troops. Combat is fairly fluid, fastpaced and good fun.

The user interface mechanics are a bit different for target selection, although I do not think it is a huge difference compared to traditional MMOGs. The user interface is simplified a bit compared to traditional MMOGs with fewer skills and actions available though hotkeys – tactical decisions focus more on movement, positioning, type of weaponry and ammunition rather than a broad variation of skills/powers. I applaud that they try to clean up and simplify the interface and provide more space for viewing the game rather than the user interface on top of it.

Missions is one area where Richard Garriott has been talking about the differences that Tabula Rasa brings to the table, with the ethical parables – i.e. there may be multiple options to choose from at some point in a mission and the choices may have consequences further down the road. While there certainly are such missions and I have played some, that is not the bulk of the mission content, nor should it be. There are both good and bad missions and you can find the “kill 10 boars” types of quests as well – I really hope they keep these to a low amount and tie them in with a good storyline, which I do not think they have always done today. But the actual mission content seems to me that it is still in a bit of flux and the end result may perhaps be a bit different from what is in the game at the moment.

One type of mission that was recently introduced was “target of opportunity” missions – these are mission objectives that essentially may pop up at various points and which may earn you some titles/badges at least. This seems to be a bit similar to the badge mechanism in City of Heroes/Villains (or titles in EQ2 and deeds in LoTRO).

You improve your character with experience points, which you of couse obtain by killing mobs. Fast and furious killing is rewarded, the faster you kill mobs, the more experience points you get for each kill – up to 6 times the base experience. You also get more experience from doing a “finishing move” on a mob, when opportunity arises. This encourages “thinking on your feet” and also makes a voice communication option more interesting to have when grouping. As I undertand it that is a planned option in game and I think that will be an important part to have in the game.

Overall the environment I have seen, i.e. parts of the planet Foreas, are pretty nice. It does give a bit sense of exploration and wondering what is around the corner. I have not seen that many parts though, so I am not sure how much variation there actually is at the moment. I do not want to exploe to much though, since I prefer to do that after release and in conjunction the advancement of my real characters. Crafting is one area I have not tried yet, although that is on my to-do list.

I have not seen any mention of what business model NCSoft will be using for Tabula Rasa. Some people seem to have assumed that it will be a regular $15/month subscription model, but until I see an official statement on what options players will have for playing the game I am not assuming anything. In the long run I think the regular subscription model used for many other MMOGs in the Western hemisphere will not be the best option. As the MMOG genre develops, I think this will change in general as well.

To me Tabula Rasa share some similarities with The Agency from SOE. They both seem to be fastpaced and fairly simple-to-get-into games, aimed at providing some good fun in reasonably short time and with a bit of a niched theme. SOE has announced that The Agency will be free-to-play with microtransactions and I would not be surprised if Tabula Rasa goes with some similar model.

I have not really grouped in Tabula Rasa, not have joined a clan or managed a clan in the game. These are important parts which I have yet to say something about. Also, community aspects will also need some time to flesh out a bit, but is a vital part for the game. Most what I have seen so far is good enough for me to want to continue play the game. But longetivy for a game like this is about the people you play with and how group, clan and general community is handled is what I think can make or break long term committment to this game.

My favourite MMOG at the moment is City of Heroes/Villains, which is also the MMOG that I have played for the longest time, even though it is considered by some to be “shallow” and Tabula Rasa also gets such remarks. To me it is not the amount of features available in the game that makes or breaks the game, it is how well people interaction is supported throughout the game. It is the people that makes the game in the long run and without that no game will hold interest for particularly long.

When the game is released I will buy it, got the pre-order bonus pack already and will get the rest later. I think the game shows some promise and some good fun and it will be added as another MMOG title to play – not replacing any old titles though.

Categories: Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa NDA lifted

September 6, 2007 Comments off

NCSoft has now announced that the NDA for the Tabula Rasa beta has been lifted. So those of us who have played the beta are free to talk about it now.

I will write a bit more about Tabula Rasa when I get more time, right now real life and work has to take priority. I will buy the game and my comments will be mostly positive, but that is for another blog entry later.

Categories: Tabula Rasa