Tabula Rasa : A post beta review

I've been testing the MMORPG Tabula Rasa for a couple of months and with the game due to be released in the next few days and since the NDA was lifted, I thought I'd write up some notes on my experience. Before I start, this review isn't going to be about artwork or how good or bad the graphics are, it's going to be purely about the gameplay, user-experience and longevity.

I last played the beta 2 weeks ago, but have been following the releases to see if any of the following has been altered. To my knowledge these notes are up todate.

“Perhaps you'd better start at the beginning…”

tb_box.jpgThe character creation isn't that great, you can customise armour on your character and their general appearance, but that's about it. You will look like alot of other avatars in the game and when you start getting armour drops in various colours you'll look more like a harlequin than a solider.
I nearly died laughing at the way the name system works. Effectively you choose a first name and surname and all characters on that account will take that surname. I'm not sure if that is a unique surname just to your account or on that server. This is going to be a nasty sticking point if alot of people sign up to play, with all common names being taken.

One sore point I came to notice very quickly is the keymapping, it is very unique to the game and I found it to be non-intuitive and awkward at times. Like the location of the auto-run key (numlock).A nice feature is the way that the Q key cycles through your weapons and the E key cycles through your secondary skills, although if you have accidentally swapped weapons without knowing it, it can lead to horrible nasty things. I also hated the fact that sprint is a skill that can be selected in the list, but if you end up swapping by accident you end up running out of endurance as it take time to swap back to the skill and turn it off.

Another area of the game that I found very poor was the User Interface, it is extremely limited, as it doesn't allow the user to re-scale or move the windows to suite. The last time I played the game (about 2 weeks ago) the UI hadn't improved. Infact when switching between resolutions the UI looked exactly the same taking up the same percentage of the screen and when running at 1600 x 1200 that sort of inflexible design is a very big stumbling block to a game with alot of expectations.
On top of all that when you have a window open, like for your backpack, your characters movement is limited due to the method used to direct your character.

The game-play follows the standard method I mentioned in my last entry, Mission/kills = XP = Levels. Mission based games can get highly annoying when you do the same missions over and over for each new character you attempt to progress with. There are lots of missions to pick up and you'll always have something to do or somewhere to go.
The default ingame camera is a behind the character view, swapping to an over the shoulder view when zoomed in. this works pretty well allowing you to focus on ranged targets.

When I used it, I found the in game chat very confusing and found it difficult to understand where I was typing and to whom, also it vanishes quite quickly that you often miss a message.

Conclusion
I feel that TB is a decent game and will appeal to the shooter type of player that isn't that fond or interested in WOW. To be brutality honest there are elements of the game that need some serious re-design to make this a MUST-PLAY type of game rather than an OK-ISH type of game. Unless the points above are resolved the lifespan of the game is going to be limited by the amount of time gamers are willing to subscribe.

What to expect.
WOW with guns
Mission after mission
Grinding levels
Built in Voice Comms
Invention system for weapons, armour and equipment

What not to expect.
A highly customisable character
Help from other players in the swamped chat channels
Moveable, scaleable interfaces
Anything new

MMO Games limited to Orcs & Spaceships?

Earlier this week I visited the Guardian website, and I found this post by Aleks Krotoski.

Now I've been playing online games for many moons now and have tried many of the game offerings that are on the market and I don't argee that all MMO games are Orc and Spaceship based, many are but not all. Also I feel that the reasons for so many fantasy-based games originates in the model, the gaming industry inherited.

thumb_planetside1.jpgFirst let us look at the alternatives that are about on the market for people to play:
Planetside is a 'true' MMOFPS, admittedly a bit long in the tooth now, yet it doesn't use instanced maps like many of the recent games plus it's not full of orcs or spaceships (yet).
Also under SOE are Star Wars galaxies and Matrix online, again these games aren't swimming with Orcs, although elements of SWG have space combat. SOE's Everquest and Vanguard cater for the fantasy genre.
There is also the 'City of' games (heroes/villains) that are based around a comic book theme.
About to arrive on the scene is Tabula Rasa, while not everyone's cup of tea, it uses the tried and tested missions & kills = xp = levels, plus it's got guns and aliens. A break from the normal fantasy genre to Sci-fi but the underlying game structure is the same, just with a different skin.

It's apparent that many MMO games are based around the old D&D style of play. Hence it was an easier progression from turn based (paper and pencil) to real-time (mouse and keyboard) play styles. World of Warcraft captures the imagination of the old D&D players, while EVE expands on that old classic 'Elite'.
Old games become new games just with prettier graphics and newer interfaces but the basis of the games remains the same, become the best.

I believe there are 2 types of MMO game, those based around progression/levels and those that are not.
The level based games are the most common as the publishers can ensure a player is likely to remain playing for a long period, thus generating more money, because lets face it, it all comes down to money at the end of the day.

cov-coh-pack.jpgThe other type of game is going to be the easiest to fit into multiple genres. As there is no progression it's not going to be something people are going to part with money to play on a subscription basis, nor is it likely to retain player interrest for a long period.
Ok, I know there are some exceptions to this grouping, like level based Guild Wars which is not subscription based, yet still retains a large player base.

Levels should be easy to start and get progressively harder the higher you rise. The top level shouldn't be too easily obtainable to keep players in a state of progression for longer.
The game developer has be careful not to make progression too taxing, making players 'grind' up the levels, can destroy any good feelings towards the game from players and they will end up swapping to another game.
On the other hand make it too easy and the top level status has less appeal when a new player can obtain max level by continued playing.

So in conclusion, until new methods of leveling are realised and tested, there is unlikely to be a massive break from the traditional methods used to retain players (leveling). Additionally the fantasy genre works exceptionally well with this format and I think that until the former changes the latter's dominance over MMO's won't budge.

We all scream for IMAP

It appears that Google is now offering IMAP on their email accounts. Although POP3 support has been in place since late 2004, the one key element that was missing was the Internet Message Access Protocol.

This has been a missing feature that has been a barrier for many potential users looking to migrate to google mail. With the introduction of this feature users will be able to access and interact with their inbox from multiple devices (PC, Laptop, Mobile, PDA). This provide users with more flexibility on how they manage and manipulate their inbox, no-matter which device they choose logon from.

This sole feature could be the element that opens the door for Google where business customers are concerned. As part of their Google Apps (http://www.google.com/a/) for Businesses, Gmail is thrown in, as part of the bundle.

While POP3 was the only method for retrieving emails from devices unless you used the Ajax-rich online client, the users' experience was somewhat limited.

I doubt if I'd be wrong in saying the targetted/potential audience for this protocol is more within the business sector, moreso than your standard home user.

Source: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/10/free-imap-for-gmail.html