I recently found out that Tabula Rasa was going to be shutting its doors after just one year on the market. In addition to this, Richard Garriott, whom largely is thought of as one of the major pioneers in MMORPG design, is leaving NCSoft as well. While this isn’t entirely surprising, the move is still rather amazing to me and quite sad to see it come to this.
When Tabula Rasa was first announced, I was somewhat excited. A sci-fi MMO is desperately needed at this point in time and finally we have one. What’s more we finally had Richard Garriott returning to the MMORPG field which he hadn’t really touched since he left Ultima Online years ago. The combination seemed great. At first, I almost thought that perhaps finally we would see the re-energizing of the genre that we desperately needed.
Then, largely due to an internal struggle in the development which caused them to restart the project, I largely forgot about the game. When I finally started hearing about it, I found out that it wasn’t really going to be an RPG, but really more of an Action-Adventure. I give Garriott lots of credit for trying to do something new in the field, that is great. But this type of gameplay has yet to take hold in an MMO format. Thus far, it only seems to work as a multiplayer aspect and that is it.
Still, the game did give me enough of an eagerness to look at it due to some of the talk both Garriott and producer Starr Long both put out in the months leading up to the release. Some of what they spoke of (can’t even remember what exactly) held really true to me and I wanted to try it out to see if they followed through. So, with this in mind I went out and got into the beta test to give it a shot.
What ended up happening was quite shocking to me in a lot of respects. I played the tutorial. Now this tutorial happens to be what I consider the best tutorial I’ve ever played. This is actually pretty all-encompassing really. I don’t think I’ve played a tutorial that was this good in single-player or online games. I don’t know what it was about it, it was face-paced, the gameplay was great, the quests were good, the story was good. Everything was good and the tutorial made me really excited to play. I thought that while it wasn’t like other MMOs, it might be ok because this really was a ton of fun!
However, this fun never really translated into the rest of the game. The game itself seemed very random. I went in and the first couple of quests were ok, and despite having a decent mapping system I kept on getting lost in further ones. I think the quest tracker was actually broken so maybe that got better, but at the time I could never figure out where stuff was supposed to be even though it told me and described it to me as well. The design of the geography just never made sense. In addition, the feel of the game completely changed. It went from this fast-paced in your face action game to a slow, monotoneous game in which combat completely relied on strafing. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t different.
These were largely reasons why it failed, not to mention its brokenness and complete lack of balance, and so now that it is shutting down, I don’t feel surprised at all. I do feel sorrow because it was an MMO where they tried something different and they didn’t have a bad idea either. The world they created was great and had a lot of room for improvement. It was a very unique game and not only because it was sci-fi in a fantasy genre, but because of its kick ass storyline as well, and yet it very much felt like a Star Wars game which I think could have done a good job at bringing in the sci-fi fan. It had a very dynamic feel to it that is lacking in the design of other MMORPGs, and even though I think some of this dynamicness was broken, it showed a lot of promise in this area.
As for Garriott, I hope that this doesn’t dissuade him any and I doubt it will. But I would like to see him return to the genre one more time in the future. And hopefully in that particular MMORPG that he creates the project doesn’t get ripped apart in the middle that forces them to start from scratch. If that happens maybe the bugginess won’t be there in particular and some of his vision that he has can be brought to life.
NCSoft I doubt will ever be in a world of hurt as a company. They have 2 of the top 5 MMOs in the world. I think they currently rank #3 and #4 worldwide, and those games are Lineage and Lineage 2. However, they can’t be very happy with their prospects at all. Auto Assault also went dead fairly quickly which was another of their attempts to branch out into different areas. One of their other bigger games, City of Heroes is dieing a slow and painful death which is an even bigger shame as that game is just phenomenal, just not really well supported expansion-wise. But has anyone even heard of another game that NCSoft has coming out in the future? They must have something right?