March 22, 2009

Eulogy for Tabula Rasa (Part 2)

This is the second of three posts on successful design decisions in Tabula Rasa.
Read Part 1 here

Tabula Rasa kept players moving

Compared to other MMORPGs I've played, TR gave me a feeling of always being on the move. I think this feeling came from a combination of low downtime, easy travel, clear goals, and a lack of grinding.

Required traveling - The Logos elements scattered around each map in shrines were important to character advancement. Even if a new player wanted to stay in one place and grind or be powerleveled, the required amount of movement discouraged such behavior.

Ease of walking - As I mentioned yesterday, the world was populated less densely than other games, but was supplemented by lots of patrols and ambushes. This meant that it was easier to walk from place to place, and move around the world quite a lot, even without sticking to roads or other safe areas. The fact that every character could sprint also helped quite a bit.

Teleporters - Like WoW, TR had a fast travel hubs that could be used once players had walked to the location once and activated the node. Unlike WoW, TR's travel between hubs was instant. This may have hampered the player's sense of wonder at the world's size and scenery, but it definitely helped to encourage player movement. It was easy (and free) to pop back and forth between any settlements, meaning downtime was always minimized.

Auto Loot - In TR, while you can choose to manually loot a corpse, just walking over its corpse will take everything it has. You'll still see the gear you've picked up in your chat log, but because the moment of looting an enemy was de-emphasized, there was much less reason for each mob to have lots of vendor trash and body parts. This helped storage space to be less of a premium (see below).

Plentiful Storage Space - In WoW, storage space is one of the main resources in the game. Extending backpacks is very expensive, but allows the player to stay away from town longer and longer. In WoW I constantly find myself wasting 20 minutes standing in the middle of the wilderness, trying to decide which item I need to throw away so I can pick up something else.

Between TR's large personal inventory and the footlocker in town, combined with a markedly low amount of junk drops, I never found myself worried about storage space or throwing away items.

Tabbed Inventory - Another feature which minimized downtime was TR's inventory sorting tabs in the backpack. When an item was looted, it was automatically placed into the proper page of the backpack: Equipment, Consumables, Mission Items, and Crafting Items. This made it very quick and easy to find whatever you needed in your backpack, both to use them or to sell them. This usability feature should be applied to every game with an inventory from now on.

Auto Quest Tracking - In a lot of games, it's easy to waste many small chunks of time managing which quests are currently displayed in your quest log. I liked TR's method of just automatically including every quest I had into my HUD's quest log, and giving it a scrollable window. This, combined with the fact that all quests locations where marked on my map made it very easy to decide what to do next

Integrated Achievements - In most games, achievements are an extra layer on top of missions, but they don't often do anything useful. In TR, the type of tasks which would normally be marked as achievements were tracked in the mission system, and called Targets of Opportunity.

Some of these missions seem as though they'd be likely to encourage grinding (eg. "kill 200 Thrax"), but they were tuned to align fairly closely with the number of kills that a player would end up doing in that zone anyway. The most efficient way to achieve them was to simply play normally, and then clean up any last requirements before leaving a zone.
Continue to Part 3


BuGi said...

And even if you didn't have the 200 thrax killed after doing other quests in the area, killing them didn't feel like a tedious task. I found myself just killing enemies 30mins+ multiple times, because it was fun. The enemies were generally pretty fast to kill, and the kills streak xp multiplier kept you going for long periods. "Ooh, 6x multiplier, must.. not.. lose.. it!" Because of that I found myself repeatedly getting higher lvl than the mobs on the area I was currently questing on.

Mike Darga said...

Oh man, I completely forgot about the kill streak multiplier! That was a really cool feature as well, that also encouraged you to keep doing things and avoid downtime. Good catch BuGi.

Des said...

Enemy AI was brilliant in TR. I used to love how the Bane would actually duck behind an object to get out of your firing line or how a Strider would chase you around a tree trying to get you in line of sight.

I played the game in beta and until 3 months after launch. SO many great ideas, such a terrible waste.

Anonymous said...

Well, IMO TR did nothing wrong and nothing failed. It was just that they made a short PVE game that you completed in 1-2 months (With most players closer to 1 month) After you got to lvl50 and did the last instances there was nothing left to do.

I actually think TR lived a Long time for the content it had..

WarheaD said...

What i really liked in TR?
The way the Devs were working with the people for the people:
Instead of implementing a team of Game Managers (or Masters, in short GM)the DEVs were playing main Chars (General British and Sarah Morrison, and other various Bane/AFS main characters).
Also, the Devs were close to the community, and looked at what the people actually want.
Sure they went to nerfing a bit too fast, but I still enjoyed their work.

Next, Missions that made at least some sense...
Well, first of all, I really didn't like missions in WOW...
"Go kill 20 boars"... I mean whats the point? There are so damn many of them and they are all in one place, that it seems god damn unrealistic the way they were placed...
However, in TR it made more sense, the squads of enemies, the random creeps and even the enemy AI was amazing :)

Mike Darga said...

@Des: There really were some great moments with the AI. It wasa bit of a shock at first, coming over from slower games with more sedate enemies.

It isnt' a total waste, as long as we can learn some lessons from it. That's one of the reasons I wanted to start this discussion and make a note of the things we need to remember down the road.

@WarheaD: Yeah, there are some nice missions in WoW sometimes (especially lately), but I did think man of the missions in TR managed to feel much more "in context."

Devs roleplaying important characters must be a lot of work, but it's such a cool thing to experience. My first encounter with this was in the MUD Achaea, where the pantheon of gods was played by a bunch of very mischevious developers/players.

Thanks for the great feedback everybody. I'm going to finish up part 3 and post that before bed.

Damian said...

TR was one of my top games of 2008, there was so much about it that was fresh and dynamic; the combat system worked amazingly well, the instances were incredibly well designed, and the character classes varied and interesting. I still can't believe they've cancelled it, I was gutted.

Mike Darga said...

Yeah, it's been cool to get so many comments and messages from people who really loved the game, and were sad to see it badmouthed so much lately.

There are a lot of MMOs coming out soon that claim to be much more action-focued and dynamic. I hope TR players find a new game to enjoy that much again.

Eolirin said...

Mike, hm, action focused and dynamic? Like a certain project you might be working on? ^_^

Mike Darga said...



Andrew said...

I wish I had tried TR before it was shut down.

Mike Darga said...

Thanks for the comments Andrew, glad you liked the posts.

I think there are some other games coming out soon that will benefit from some lessons TR had to teach, and don't forget that whole team of people has no spread out to make other games.

I just saw yesterday in WoW's new patch notes that they've added maps to their instances, which is a feature from TR, among other games. Bliz is smart, and considers adopting every good idea they see.