Massively multiplayer games have come a long way since the days of creating a character (usually some kind of elf) and repeatedly bashing skeletons and goblins until they dropped a few measly copper coins and netted you a few experience points to go up a level. NCsoft's Tabula Rasa, which is being developed under the supervision of the same designers that created the Ultima series and Ultima Online, will instead attempt to offer one of the most highly evolved massively multiplayer experiences to date. The game will take place in a sci-fi universe under siege by an invasion of aliens known as the "Bane," and your character will be a supersoldier who will become a master of both field warfare and supernatural powers. When the game launches later this year, your struggle will begin with the liberation of two of the game's major planets, Foreas (the planet on which you start), and later, the war-torn world of Arieki. In this designer diary, the Tabula Rasa team takes you on a tour of the contested world of Arieki. Tabula Rasa is scheduled to launch later this year.
The Tabula Rasa Guide to Arieki
By Tabula Rasa Development Team, NCsoft
In many ways, Arieki is very different from Foreas. This harsh, volcanic world stuns many humans who experience it for the first time, especially if they are coming from the beautiful, lush Foreas. Large areas of Arieki are very barren and rugged, pockmarked with numerous active volcanoes and volcanic fissures. In fact, much of the surface is geologically active in one form or another; a volcanologist would be in heaven on Arieki. Aside from the massive stratovolcanos, visitors may find hydrothermal vents, subterranean lava flows, and burning pits of liquid, such as tar or other flammable material.
The sky takes on a sickly greenish hue in the daytime; however, ground visibility can be extremely limited due to dense atmosphere close to the ground, caused by the presence of ash and other expelled materials. Clouds of toxic gas sweep the landscape, and powerfully violent electrical storms are a constant danger. A particular metal ore infused in the planet's crust, nicknamed "fluxite," seems to be the root of the numerous electrical storms. It has also been discovered that the Bane use this ore to amplify the intensity of their energy weapons.
Despite the toxicity of the planet, there is more than enough oxygen in the atmosphere to sustain life on many levels, and certain life-forms actually thrive in this environment. The plant life is generally scrubby, thorny, and sharply contoured. Arieki's native creatures are tough, squat creatures and mostly insect-like. While they have an interesting capacity of taking on the destructive qualities of the environment around them, Arieki's flora and fauna represent a remarkable display of persistent life. However, planetary scientists believe that life did not evolve naturally on Arieki; early analysis revealed a massive impact crater from a comet, pegging this event as the turning point in Arieki's evolutionary track.
The sentient race currently inhabiting Arieki wasn't native to the planet either. The Brann contingent was transported from Arieki's sister planet, Erdas, some years before...as a penal colony. The Erdas leadership sent thousands of Brann to Arieki as punishment for various crimes. Some are petty criminals, convicted of "white-collar" crimes, while others belong to massive, hardcore crime syndicates. Unfortunately, these two major groups, the "reformists" and the "syndicates," represent all that remains of the Brann after the Bane overran Erdas and slaughtered the planet's population.
As the humans begin to ally themselves with the remaining Brann, the Bane have finally cast their eyes upon Arieki as well. There are rumors of an Eloh refugee amongst the Brann, and it's more than likely the Bane have uncovered this very same rumor as well. The Brann have also been at constant struggle with the Atta, an indigenous species of multilegged ant-like creatures that previously sat atop the planet's food chain. Humans will have to navigate their way through the various Brann groups and subgroups when battling the Bane, and sometimes there are no easy choices.
Arieki's two most accessible landmasses that members of the "Allied Free Sentients" faction (to which players belong) currently need to know about are Torden and Ligo. Torden, which means "Thunder," is a large region located to the west of the immense volcano Mount Moeru. Large regions of Torden are actively volcanic, featuring various magma fissures, burning lakes, tar pits, earthquakes, and dangerous electrical storms. In the areas that are less active, life has managed to flourish. AFS members should take careful note of Ligo as well, located near one of Arieki's magnetic poles. At night, a luminous ribbon of aurora continually lights the sky, and is plainly visible through clouds. The topography and geology of Ligo is similar to Torden in many respects. The central region features a massive rift, with areas of wide, fast-moving flows of lava, and desert-like plains strewn with volcanic rock. The Bane have several footholds on Arieki in both landmasses, and it will take a concerted effort to turn the tide on this world. Cartographers spread each landmass into a number of geographical regions, six of which are readily accessible.
The region known as the Torden Plains is where the base of human operations on Arieki is situated. Here, new arrivals become familiar with this new, more hostile environment. Facilities include Fort Irendas (the main human habitation) and the former Irendas penal colony and support infrastructure--massive self-sustaining constructs that hint at the Brann's technological achievements. The Bane maintain a presence, though it is not particularly strong. North of the Plains lies the Torden Incline, which is geologically unusual since it's not nearly as active as the bulk of the planet. In comparison to the rest of Arieki, the Incline is ecologically diverse, with numerous species of plant life, and it serves as a natural habitat for the Atta. The Bane presence on Torden is strongest in the Torden Mires, in the southwestern area of the region. As the name suggests, the Mires feature numerous burning lakes, tar pits, and superheated mudflows, and a thick toxic smoke hugs the terrain. Because the Mires make it entirely easy to mine fluxite ore, this particular region is especially valuable to the Bane operations on Arieki.
Brave New World
In the southernmost section of Ligo lies a region known as the Crucible, where lava flows down huge shelves that descend from west to east. The Brann maintain a communication tower in the Crucible, and thus it's strategically important for the AFS, though the Bane wiped out the recent human base at Fort Intrepid in a surprise attack. Far to the north is the Ashen Desert, a somewhat barren and, at times, rocky region that harbors some plant life. The Humans and Brann settlements in this region are recovering from a recent volcanic eruption. The Bane have an active interest in this region, though the specific reason is unknown. The Ligo Thunderhead is centrally located on this landmass, marked by an enormous tectonic rift that runs through the area from east to west. Here, the Bane are the strongest. This is where they plan their next strategic moves and conduct numerous scientific experiments.
Below are some of the life-forms you'll encounter on the planet.
Brann: The Brann are a bipedal humanoid race native to the planet Erdas, a lush, idyllic sister planet to Arieki. They share some physical characteristics of humans and Foreans, but have a light blue skin tone and elongated ears, with three digits on their hands and feet. Long ago, the Eloh revealed the power of "logos"--the mystical runes that grant special powers to your character--to the Brann, who revered them as gods and showed great aptitude for logos. The Brann wanted to emulate the Eloh society and they strove to create a utopian civilization of learning, wisdom, and spiritual tranquility. They viewed unstable elements such as aggression and greed as destructive, and forced unwanted Brann who displayed these tendencies into penal and reeducation colonies off-world, on Arieki. While the ostracized Brann on Arieki would theoretically rehabilitate themselves through self-sustenance and mutually beneficial societies (or die trying), the Brann on Erdas would concentrate on their utopia and the learning of logos.
Unfortunately for the Brann, a Bane expeditionary force discovered them. Seeing the Brann's vast knowledge of logos as an imminent threat, they descended quickly upon Erdas and eradicated the peaceful Brann completely. There are rumors that a few scattering remnants made it to Arieki and may have found refuge with the Irendas Colony. Petty criminals and those convicted of other "light" crimes originally inhabited the colony, and are currently attempting to remake themselves in the Brann tradition (called the Reformists). Meanwhile, the hard-core criminals in the Staal Facility revolted and formed a number of self-ruling Syndicates. While AFS members are encouraged to cooperate with both groups of Brann, the Syndicates seem to be more inclined to engage the enemy, and may be of great help on the battlefield.
Atta: The global indigenous species of Arieki, the ant-like Atta is a collective society of colony workers. They are at odds with the other major inhabitants of Arieki (Brann, humans, and Bane), as they plainly see incursions into their perceived territory as a threat, not only to themselves but the ecosystem that sustains them on a whole. Exobiologists have discerned that the Atta are probably solely responsible for maintaining Arieki's ecosystems and maintaining the habitability of the planet. However, the Atta occasionally attack Brann and human settlements, and are to be considered hostile.
Barb Tick: These small, colony-based creatures live beneath the blasted sands of Arieki. They grind food for nutrition and sustenance, and the high mineral content of Arieki's soil collects in their bodies over time, allowing the barb tick to spit out these chunks at high velocity. Barb ticks also have a symbiotic relationship with another Arieki species, the beam manta, as they rely on the beam mantas to kill large prey.
Beam Manta: Large, floating creatures that meander lazily close to the surface of Arieki, beam mantas use a unique method of attack to bring down prey. Beam mantas gather electrical energy with their long, slender tails and store this energy in muscle tissue arranged across their backs. When the beam manta attacks, it bridges a connection between its forward appendages, allowing it to direct a strong electrical pulse at its target. The beam manta is incapable of eating large prey on its own, and relies on barb ticks to reduce its food to manageable size.
Geyser Hopper: One of the lowest creatures on the Arieki food chain, geyser hoppers serve an important role in sustaining life on the planet. Hoppers sustain themselves on bacteria and other organic material that can be found near Arieki's numerous sulfur geysers. As a byproduct of this feeding, they produce and store oxygen and hydrogen in gas form, using it to propel themselves from one place to the next in the ever-constant search for more food. Hence, not only do these nonviolent creatures replenish the breathable air, they serve as a constant source for food for nearly everything else.
Magmonix: These large, four-legged, hairless creatures evolved into a territorially aggressive species on Arieki. While they generally move slowly, magmonix walk in a head-forward posture in anticipation of ramming anything they don't like. A magmonix's flanks typically consist of thick plates of hide, charred heavily in places due to enormous heat. They like to live around extremely hot areas such as lava flows and other volcanic regions, and AFS members are encouraged to use their heads before attacking one.