Tabula Rasa Q&A - Alien Races, Setting, and Combat Details

Famed designer Richard Garriott and producer Starr Long talk about alien races and the cool setting of this upcoming sci-fi massively multiplayer role-playing game.

Most massively multiplayer role-playing games are set in fantasy realms that wouldn't seem out of place in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel. That can't be said of Tabula Rasa, the upcoming sci-fi game that ditches the two-handed swords and plate armor that the genre loves so much and replaces them with lasers and interstellar warfare. Tabula Rasa has had a long development period, but it's finally set to launch later this year. To learn more, we turned to two pioneers in the history of role-playing games. Richard Garriott is the executive producer and creative director of Tabula Rasa, as well as the creator of the legendary Ultima series, along with Ultima Online. Starr Long is the producer of Tabula Rasa and served as the project director on Ultima Online.

Medieval weapons are ancient history in Tabula Rasa.

GameSpot: Tabula Rasa has been in development for quite some time and has changed drastically from its original design of what seemed like a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid. Tell us about the evolution process that the game went through to change from what it was to what it is.

Richard Garriott: We prefer to think of it as the aging of a fine wine. You are correct that Tabula Rasa has had a very long development cycle. We are committed to only releasing a game we believe will be great. When we started the project we tried to make a game that would appeal to the East and the West equally. Unfortunately, we created something that appealed to neither. So after a few years, we rebooted the project and went in a more obvious science-fiction direction while retaining some of the key storyline elements and the symbolic language. We also decided to concentrate on making a fun game versus trying to please different markets simultaneously. The decision to take this extra time is a testament to NCsoft's commitment to quality.

GS: What kind of characters can you create in the game? Are you limited to human characters, or can you make alien ones? What kind of characters can players choose to play, and how do players develop them?

Starr Long: Our story starts with the invasion of Earth and the scattering of humanity across the galaxy. As with the Ultima series, the idea is that your character is you, a human, transported into another place. To that end, you will only play a human at launch. As we continue to expand the game, there may be options in the future for you to play one of the aliens who are our allies in the Allied Free Sentients.

Even though you are a human, there are many classes, abilities, customizations, armor, and so on that allow you to create a truly unique character. You can be an engineer who specializes in turrets (placing auto-defenses) or a biotechnician who specializes in using armor-piercing injection guns that poison your enemies. What makes Tabula Rasa truly unique, though, is that at any point, you can create a clone of your character so you can explore all the variations of our class tree without starting over each time.

GS: Tell us a bit about the game's sci-fi world. Considering that the story involves refugees from multiple planets in the universe who are fighting against the alien invasion, exactly how big will the world be? Will players travel to different planets and star systems?

SL: We will be starting with two very distinct planets to which humanity has been dislocated. Each planet has a unique environment as well as a unique storyline. Foreas is a lush, wooded world. The Foreans are very in tune with nature and can almost feel the suffering of their world as the alien Bane ruthlessly devastate the landscape and the inhabitants. Arieki is a volcanic planet where the very air can be hostile. It was a prison planet where the alien Brann exiled their criminals. Both planets have multiple continents and hundreds of missions scattered across both instanced and shared maps.

GS: The combat system in Tabula Rasa is pretty interesting, in that it seems a lot faster and more intense than traditional massively multiplayer role-playing combat. At the same time, it's not a flat-out action game that requires fast reflexes. Tell us about how the combat is being "tactical" without using "twitch" action.

You'll play as a human character trying to carve out a living on alien worlds.

RG: We really wanted to make combat in Tabula Rasa feel different than the "whack-a-mole" combat of most online games. We wanted to combine the character progression of a role-playing game with the pace of an action game, without making it based on reflexes. We mix real-time elements like crouching (increases damage done) and cover (reduces damage taken) with role-playing elements like special powers (lightning, crab mines, and so on). Tactical decisions happen on many levels, from unique artificial intelligence (like shield drones who protect enemies) to damage types (EMP weapons take down shields, virulent weapons don't work on mechanicals, and so on).

On top of all this, non-player characters are constantly fighting each other (Bane versus AFS, predators versus prey, and so on) instead of just standing around waiting for you to kill them. We also try to make the AI as challenging as possible. Run behind cover to get away from being shot, and that Thrax soldier you messed with may just run around the corner and kick you in the face. It's not your typical massively multiplayer online game by any means.

The Bane of Your Existence

GS: Tell us about the invading aliens and what kind of challenge they'll pose as enemies. We understand that they seek to conquer everything and are insidious enough to even reanimate the corpses of fallen soldiers as slaves. What are their motivations? How does the alien invasion tie into the game's story and its regular, day-to-day gameplay?

We don't know what that is, but it looks tough.

RG: The Bane believe they are saving us from ourselves. By imposing their version of order on the cosmos, they will prevent galaxy-spanning conflict. The irony, of course, is that the imposition of that order has escalated so far that it has become its own sustaining event that has nothing to do with the original goal. In order to feed the immense effort, the Bane have to constantly wage war, invade planets, and use all available resources. To that end, they invade any planets they perceive as possible threats, like Earth. They then enslave the inhabitants to be soldiers and workers. They also use up any and all available resources, to the point that at later stages the invaded planets almost appear like Swiss cheese.

Once the Bane have used all the resources, they explode the planet and use the fragments as invasion ships to hit the next planet. Those planetary fragments are a combination of troop transport and gigantic bioweapons filled with invasive species, diseases, and so on. Players experience the Bane army seizing territory, and go on missions to save native inhabitants, destroy enslavement facilities (including ones making cyber zombies), and so on. Control points scattered throughout the maps are key points that can change ownership between the AFS and the Bane. Availability of missions, vendors, waypoints, hospitals, NPCs, and so on are all linked to who owns particular control points. This dynamic change in environment is one of the unique elements to Tabula Rasa and a very visceral way for players to feel part of the war.

GS: Could you give us an update on the game's development? What's the team working on at the moment?

SL: We just started closed beta testing. We are wrapping up game features very soon and are moving on to finalizing content right after that. Our main focus right now is adding more maps and missions to Arieki, finishing all the Tier 4 abilities and weapons, crafting, and clan versus clan warfare.

GS: How has the "family and friends" testing that began late last year gone so far? Are there certain aspects of the game that players really seem to be gravitating toward?

After years of development, Tabula Rasa is finally set to launch later this year.

RG: Our friends and family testing has gone very well. We have gotten really good feedback on how to make the game better. So far, the favorite aspects of the game are the refreshing sci-fi environments (a welcome change from medieval fantasy) and the pace of adventuring and combat. Our favorite response is people saying they get so involved in the action that they start to forget about collecting experience points and leveling and are just in it for the fun.

GS: Tabula Rasa is finally nearing completion. Roughly when can we expect it to launch and what does it feel like to get near the end?

RG: It has been a very long road, and we are incredibly excited to be getting close to launch. Of course, we all know that with online games, the launch is not the "end"; it is the beginning. We can't wait to see everyone in the game by the end of the year!

GS: Thank you, gentlemen.

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Discussion

57 comments
dj-feltersnatch
dj-feltersnatch

sounds cool, i like how there changing the standard MMO type of combat and play style, im definatly picking this up

Riverhippo
Riverhippo

I can certainly wait a little longer. I'd rather have an amazing game later than a buggy, shoddy game immediately. leafdj mentioned the cost... That *is* something to consider. A game like this is bound to be expensive as all get out. At least there won't be a monthly fee. That's why I love NC! :D

MashtaPoPo
MashtaPoPo

Hey screw you gamecrazy101. Covenant SUPREMACY!! I agree wit the MMOFPS for H3 though :P

jknight5422
jknight5422

Sounds like fun. I wish they would come out with a 360 version as well so I can put the console to use with this game...now I have to divide time between 360 & PC gaming...darn-it-all..

gameCRAZY101
gameCRAZY101

Seems cool enough. I wanted Halo 3 like this, a MMOFPS (gain ranks, new gear, etc.) while you fight the Covenant. Spartans would be a limited number and only through a set of missions or whatever you could become one, etc. A great new feel for an MMO.

ranbla
ranbla

Players actually having fun without worrying about experience and levelling? That's crazy talk! Nice to hear, but I will have to see it for myself to believe it. Oh, and WoW blows.

chikahiro94
chikahiro94

Wonderful. I'm tired of all the swords and sorcery games out there. A little more variety in terms of genre is much needed.

leafdj
leafdj

Depending on the cost, I might look into this. It looks like it has potential, though I'm not a major fan of Sci-Fi games.

ekisom
ekisom

that "taking our time to make the game the best game ever" statement is starting to get old. so far we havnt seen any proof of developers making good on this. waiting sucks and this game sounds a bit like anarchy online

nrt25
nrt25

Looks like it has potential. Definitely going to have to keep an eye on this game. The MMORPG genre definately could use a new twist, and Garriott is the perfect man for the job.

g8summit
g8summit

Sounds different from most MMOs i might actually be interested in this one

lime05
lime05

Man whats up with that pallete ? . Those colours are way over-saturated :( Like someone has chundered over the screen !?.......... Still Ncsoft ROCK HARD!!.......... as does GUILD WARS :) !!

Greaverbrother
Greaverbrother

What makes this game so diffrent form other m.m.o.'s and the graphics do look a bit shabby

Zero_Space
Zero_Space

Sci Fi MMO + Richard Garriott = Must Buy for me...

bodylotion
bodylotion

it looks cool but dont know if i want a MMORPG again

thestrateger
thestrateger

cool game, but the monsters are very wierd

kevydillon
kevydillon

huh... no-one claimed that the game was meant to be some auto-aim FPS or super action game. Its just like any other MMO combat system, except with extra strategic concepts like crouch and cover; you cant make a claim that somethings dumb when its exactly the same as what exists with extra features...

jack4571
jack4571

come out on time just come out on time and i will get it

Kanaric
Kanaric

first person shooter that autoaims for you.... yawntastic.

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

wow it looks ugly. it better be fun because those graphics are pretty nasty. there is no style and it will not be able to compete with conan

imrlybord7
imrlybord7

I think they are trying to combine action with standard mmo elements too much. They should stick more with one or more with the other. I would say 75% action and 25% my great axe's delay is so low that I can do 400 DPS. And this is coming from someone who loved FFXI.

haesuse
haesuse

its a MMO RPG gohan7424. as for the game itself, while the developer/creator has a good track record i absolutely cannot stand anythign made by NC Soft. Played L2 for a long time and just wound up hating it in the end. But as it is, TR is a whole new idea on standard MMO so it may be worth, based on what they said, to at least track and maybe even get into beta!

TryDaBeardON
TryDaBeardON

Cloning sounds like an extra save file and if it is, then it's totally freaking brilliant. Can this be the first MMO I try?

Gohan7424
Gohan7424

Is this a first person shooter style of play or what? I mean do you point and aim your guns, and then click shoot and your missing and hitting is based on whether you aimed right? I'll watch the rest of the movies and probably figure it out myself tho.

BigDaveyDogz
BigDaveyDogz

I'm liking this game, but I'm gonna wait for Conan & Huxley. :|

PR_GMR
PR_GMR

This game sounds better and better with each new preview I read. I'm looking forward to it.

Legir
Legir

I'm not tired of fantasy but I have always prefered Sci-Fi themes. Like I enjoyed FF8 better than the rest. I hope it does turn out good. There's some good sci-fi stuff coming out.

-Supahstah-
-Supahstah-

I'm looking forward to it. As stated in the article, I'm getting tired of all the fantasy MMOs and can't wait to start seeing some more SciFi ones!

SkarFace7331
SkarFace7331

Age of Conan, Aion and this....I'm gonna give up wow :D

Digz005
Digz005

Sign me up this game has taken forever but has proved interesting since they first announced it!

KillingRemmie
KillingRemmie

this is soooo cool game :D i like this style more then the previous one

beckoflight
beckoflight

Sounds promising .. hope it will be good !

Lazyimperial
Lazyimperial

Well, Tabula Rasa is actually going to be released. I'm glad that it didn't go the way of Duke Nukem Forever. Har har

monco59
monco59

This, AoC and G&H:RR are looking pretty impressive, and I don't even like MMOGs!

Makhdoom82
Makhdoom82

If Tabula Rasa then what if Rasa Tabula ... Hmmmmm !!! :D

MasterBlade7123
MasterBlade7123

This looks like one of the best New MMO and Age of Conan. I'll try it.

Slompey
Slompey

This sounds and look awesome!!! Too bad I got a crappy computer!!

barne1dr
barne1dr

i'm banking everything to do with my sanity and personal welfare on this game being a success because I really, really need a sci-fi mmo to play right now. I'm tired of swords and I don't want to hear another word about WoW.....please fill the gap that SoE forced on my gaming life....please NC, don't suck k thanks

GMafia
GMafia

I havent heard really anything about this game, but reading this I might just buy it (or at least try it) =)

Glordit
Glordit

WOW! sounds like a great Idea... LOL since its a NC soft gam? is it Dail Up freindly?

DoctorFu
DoctorFu

Woah, this looks like a cool idea.

zsc4
zsc4

Interesting, lets just hope it works out fine.

Hitmansrc
Hitmansrc

I hope they have space flight and combat to make it a all around good game with out it, I don't know.