E3 '07: Tabula Rasa Impressions

We met up with Richard Garriott, aka Lord British, to discuss the progress he's made on his brand-new online RPG.

Richard Garriott was at E3 2007 dressed in full military garb. It's just about the only thing he doesn't choose to explain during his energetic talk about Tabula Rasa, the first massively multiplayer role-playing game he's developed for NCSoft. The game is set for release before the end of the year and it's already going through its beta stages, meaning that there's not much left to do other than iron out the bugs and polish the game up a bit. Despite the huge number of MMORPGs in development right now, Garriott clearly has a great deal of faith in his team to deliver. Judging from the impressive demo that we saw at this year's convention, it looks like his confidence is well placed.

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The E3 demo of Tabula Rasa served to highlight just how different the game is from most other online RPGs. The interface is slick and lacking the huge amount of buttons and icons that can be found on the majority of the genre's GUIs. Secondly, there's much more of a focus on providing a compelling combat engine, mainly thanks to convincing enemy artificial intelligence and a duck-and-cover system that can be used both to your and the enemy's advantage. In one section, the human character that was being controlled by a member of the team was able to duck behind some sandbags. The enemy robot looked around for alternative positions as soon as possible, but because the human had the tactical advantage, he was able to pop up and land plenty of shots before the robot could move. By the same token, we're also promised enemies that will perform melee attacks once they get close to you, plus a tactical attack system that rewards you for offensive strikes on the back and sides of your opponents.

It's clear from speaking to Garriott that Tabula Rasa has a strong moral element. The story basically concerns an end-of-the-world scenario that could happen tomorrow, leaving only the characters in the game as survivors. One example of the moralistic choices you'll have to make is in the power plant that we see during our demonstration. It looks beautiful, drawing power and routing it through a huge building, but it transpires that the source of this power comes from a human sacrifice, and one that has to be chosen by you. You'll have to select from people that you've met or who may have helped you in-game to be sacrificed for the greater good, and the team says it's just one of many situations that will test the character of its players.

Still, this depth doesn't seem to have detracted from the combat and the general explosive nature of the game. Like many console titles, Tabula Rasa utilises an auto-aiming system that makes it easy to lock onto enemies and pound them with futuristic weapons such as lightning fists and energy guns. The focus has been on creating a science fiction-based title that has a clear and distinct balance between both action and role-playing game elements. Perhaps the most impressive nature of the combat is how the action occurs all around you. Even on the closed servers that were being used to show the game, the action buzzed with NPCs who were fighting alongside the person playing the demo.

As for the character system, it works so that when you hit level 5, you can choose to either be a specialist skilled character or a soldier. Not all is finalised once you choose to enter one specific skill set, though, as you can clone your player at any stage and then use footlockers around the world to store and swap equipment between them. Perhaps one of the nicest touches that we saw during the demo was the symbol translation system, which has been fully imagined and realised by Garriott himself. Basically, you will see a number of different alien symbols around the world--some easy to find and some difficult--which can then be deciphered to use as skills in the game. The person playing the game had access to all such skills, and showed us how he'd combined the words 'summon,' 'friend,' and 'here' to bring allies into the game mid-fight.

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Tabula Rasa is currently in the closed beta stage, and it's apparently proving useful for the team as they head toward their October 2007 release date. It's clear that the game is one of the most ambitious MMOs coming to market, and with such a talented team behind it there's every chance that it could live up to expectations. The developer undoubtedly has more up its sleeve, though, so keep an eye on GameSpot for more information on Tabula Rasa as we get it.

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Discussion

28 comments
Cycloptis
Cycloptis

"The spell casting system in Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (Gamecube launch title) worked in the exact same way." As did Ultima Underworld before it.

slamthebowler
slamthebowler

Now I haven't read anything about this game at all and I still haven't I will probably in the future just not now, but all of the videos and screenshots I have seen seem alot like Star Wars Galaxies

teh_leeto
teh_leeto

Garriott and NCsoft are brilliant, and this game looks like its gonna be really good. Plus it comes the day after my birthday

CyphenX
CyphenX

This looks really great. I gotta say that the "symbol translation" thing isn't actually original as Garriott claims. The spell casting system in Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (Gamecube launch title) worked in the exact same way.

saris340
saris340

sounds like a SWG type flop to me.

concealedview
concealedview

This is the only MMO I've been interested in for a while now. The only other MMO i ever actually got into was WoW and the expansion was huge let down. WoW is definetly running out of ways to keep me playing. In WoW the level cap is pretty much the end of fun haha.

jjdomo
jjdomo

I'm excited. WoW is starting to get a little old.

zorkzat
zorkzat

canceling my WoW account for this if i get to beta it and i like it

fissure000
fissure000

Gonna be a tough choice for me this october, it's between TR and AoC, both games look great...Grrr.

astro64th
astro64th

I've never played an MMO but I've been interested in this one since first hearing about it. When I get a new computer it's definitely a game I'd like to try out.

magicmo
magicmo

I like the concepts of these games. But I hate having to pay for it to play online.

icytower
icytower

Graphics are looking good.

hump
hump

I'm in the closed beta. Can't say much except that I dont normally consider myself a MMOG fan but I am having more fun than I've had with any game in quite awhile. The best part? not a single Orc, Elf or piece of chainmail to be found in the game.

veveqa
veveqa

I had my doubts about TR for a long time. Indeed, I thought it was probably vapourware, but we've been hearing better and better things about it, and honestly, it's MMO I'm most anticipating this year, now (considering Warhammer: Age of Reckoning is scheduled for 2008). I really hope it lives up to it's promise.

DouglasBuffone
DouglasBuffone

I think that this is good, they are trying to make games easier, lets see if it is easy

Pete5506
Pete5506

WEll yes less buttens is good, but it also sounds good too

GMAN32X
GMAN32X

LOL, less buttons/icons on screen = always a good thing. Yay for innovation.

comthitnuong
comthitnuong

Yay for less buttons filling up 40% of the whole screen.

chutup
chutup

that sacrificing thing sounds cool but in practice it is going to be **** annoying, people will spam it for sure and sacrifice everyone they can, hopefully there is a limit on it.

monco59
monco59

This is one of the more promising MMOs out there.

D1rty_Dawg
D1rty_Dawg

Awesome, I can't wait to give this a try :)

kasco
kasco

Damn!!! i cant w8 for this game to come out!!! get out already!!!