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

My Guide to starting a MMO Guild/Group/Clan/Outfit

There a many MMO games out there, many of which have built in functionality for clan/group/outfit. For the most part you start to play a game and you get invited to join up to one of these groups.

If you decide at some point to start your own here are some lessons that I have learnt in the past few years playing MMO's and managing an active group.

First a little background.

Way back in January 2005 I started to play a massive-multiplayer game called Planetside after a gaming friend told me all about it and I got a free trail key. Within the first couple of days i'd been invited to an outfit within the game.

During the summer months there was a lot of activity and teamwork within the ranks of the group. By September time the top-level command had reduced the amount of time they played. Another member and myself attempted to keep things going and promote teamwork whenever possible. We hosted a teamspeak server and ran a simple forum system to allow communication between members.

The straw that broke the camels back was the lack of appreciation we gained from the top level members who infact demoted us to make way for a new 'ideal' structure and management.

So on October 17th 2005 ChaosNC was born, created by Dok, MK and myself.

The three of us had only a handful of ideas in mind but we felt that they were a solid basis with which we could move forward.

Ideas

Our main goal has always been 'Have fun'. If we made the group too structured and limited, then it isn't fun and people will end up leaving.
Our second aim was to have multiple leaders, rather than just 1 top level person commanding the whole group, we decided on three people to allow discussion and debate over items that concerned the group.

Rules

Rules make up the backbone of the group and they should be brief and exact. You can and should expand on other group guidelines elsewhere but try and keep the basic ones in plain sight and make them easy to understand.

For example our rules have altered a little since the start of the game but only to clarify the meaning of them, our rules currently state:

  • No Teamkilling!
  • Squad Leaders MUST use Teamspeak and actively lead the squad.
  • Public attacks and personal abuse on other players / Outfits is strictly prohibited.

These rules are simple and directly state what we expect of each member, a higher ranked members of the group should examine any breach of these rules.

Group-wide ideas/policies

Before introducing a new idea to the whole group, ensure it has been discussed by the leaders first. We managed this by opening up the discussion to include members from next level down in the group structure. This insures that we haven't missed anything out and that our senior members were buying in to the proposed ideas.

If you are still unsure then try a group-wide poll/vote on the subject.

Pitfalls

Now there are certain things you don't think of the first time you start up an ingame group, there are many pitfalls that you can and can't avoid. I'll start to detail a few of these so you can get a feel for them.

Size

It's acceptable to think you will start off small. If you are actively inviting new members this number can grow extremely fast and can be quite difficult to manage. Make sure you have your rules/guidelines in place and make sure people can see/read them.

Roles/Training

If you work as a team ensure everyone know their roles, if you have new players try and take the time to explain the game if they are very new and/or the way your group works. Don't expect everyone to automatically understand everything you expect of them outside of the main rules.

If you have veterans in the group suggest scheduling some training sessions and tips/hints guides.

VoiceComms

Try and gain access to a Teamspeak or Ventrillo server, this can help you to rally members and can be useful for high ranked members meetings. Not to meantion the fact that Voice comms always a bonus in any game. But beware of give members to many rights at the start, only give it to those people you trust.

Removing Members

If you need to remove a member do so quickly, also make sure that you inform other members of thhe reason why you kicked someone ( if they aren't that clear). Don't keep quite about it unless they is a very good reason, else you members will be wondering if it's their turn next.

Active Leaders / Subleaders

This is a difficult goal to reach, you need to have the right balance of players at the command level to keep things ticking over. As i said before if all the top ranking members stop playing can the remaining officers manage without them? If you have hardly no body playing at the command level think about demoting some of them and moving up some trusted active players. If member see that nobody is leading them, they will leave without a second thought.

Problematic Members

There is little you can do you avoid getting problematic members but you can reduce the amount of disruption and damage to the group by identifying them as early as possible.

Annoying/controlling/wannabe type:

You will always get these people in your group if you are actively inviting. At first they will seem like an all-round nice person but you will start to get indications something is up. Look out for people that always what to be the first to obtain something, the example I can give is the squad leader function in Planetside (Squad Leaders earn different XP to others in the squad, harder to obtain).

Childish/Immature type:

There will be time that we all have a laugh and joke on teamspeak or on the forums. Keep an eye open for people fooling around with members on teamspeak or in game especially if higher ranked members aren't around.

“While the cats away..”

Veteran Players:

You need to be careful with veteran players; they can cause a lot of damage to a group. Remember that a veteran player has a lot to offer you and your group but they can also bring a lot of bad habits with them, like teamkilling spawncamping or killstealing.

Ok so you think we'll kick the player out, but be careful the player may have made some allies among your ranks and will drag them out too. Also a veteran player may try and blacken your name and tell lies about how/why they left. Also unless you know the person very, very well don't give them too high a rank within the group.

Overview

Here is a quick list of the items I've discussed above:

  • Set clear guidelines that are easily followed, don't over complicate matters with too many details.
  • Ensure members know whom to contact if they have a problem and avoid publicly airing disputes.
  • Promote members that show dedication towards the group and those that have stuck by you
  • Always give members a second chance. If they screwed up once they may not do it again. ( Unwritten Warning)
  • If you have to remove a member from the group, explain to the other members why and give your reasoning. Don't keep them in the dark unless you absolutely need too, it can breed ill feelings and mistrust.
  • If the top-level members aren't activate ensure that you have dependable senior member that can handle problems or report them to you if not.
  • Give members input on ideas and hold senior member meetings to discuss issues and ideas when possible.
  • If a new member joins ensure the higher ranking members greet them, also ensure they read the rules and supply help if they need it.
  • Remember new members may not be suited to your group, if others within the group comment on this, keep an eye on them.

Thanks for reading this guide I hope it will help you to manage and plan your own groups' future.

Happy gaming.

Out and about with books

nw_graphic.jpg Tuesday morning we went out with my parents to Abergavenny. After walking around the market we went to what used to be Ottakars, but since the company was bought the shop was no Waterstones.

I managed to get the graphic novel of Neverwhere and V for Vendetta, both of which I've wanted to read, but for entirely different reasons.

After reading any book you build up mental images of the characters portrayed within them, I wanted to see how the characters from the Neverwhere graphical novel, compared to my vision of them. Richard was very near the mark and his expressions denoted the emotions that he was obviously experiencing. Mr Croup & Vandemar were very well done, although I wasn't sure on the colour of Vandemars' clothes.

With V for Vendetta I wanted to read how Alan Moore wanted it to be rather than the Hollywood cinematic version. I've only read 1 of the 4 books so far and it is easy to see how much it was altered, no wonder he asked for his name to be removed from the film.

skirrid-inn.jpgOn leaving Abergavenny my parents took us for lunch at the oldest pub in Wales, the Skirrid Mountain Inn. After navigating the cobbled road outside to come to a large wooden door that dates back to the 14th century. Inside there is a fire burning away in the hearth and we get drinks from the very welcoming barman/owner.

After claiming seats we set about deciding on our meals, there was alot to choose from on the main menu, plus there were additional items on a chalk board.

Afterwards Rach, my mum and I took the landlord up on his offer and went to have a look around upstairs. As you climb up the stairs the is the old cell room, Now stacked with glasses and the like and used for storage.
Further up the stairs are the guest rooms, converted from what was believed to be the courtrooms. Both the rooms we looked at had wonderful 4 poster beds in them.