Rare exceptions aside, game development troubles are kept quieter than a case of royal herpes. Guess that qualifies Tabula Rasa as a 'rare' title. Earlier this year the team suffered a fairly public meltdown. Originally announced for winter 2004/05, the game ran into trouble with 'modifications and refinements'. That intentionally vague statement bodes ill, but more telling were the actions of executive producer Richard 'Lord Bloody British' Garriott, who installed himself as lead designer in the wake of departures by former designer Carly Staehlin and other team members.
Where Are They Now?
Pressed on the current state of development, Garriott was succinct: "We are in the long push for sufficient content quantity. MMOs need a large amount of content, so that's our focus now." Sounds suspiciously like a total tear-down, but Garriott wouldn't be drawn on anything more specific. "While the subject, back story, and missions have remained largely the same, we have made some structural adjustments to how these missions are accessed and how the players perceive the results. These changes are linked to large battlefield spaces, which I'll discuss more at a later date." Based on other isolated comments made by Garriott and the TR team, we project that those "battlefield spaces" will be more constant, changing the background conflict into a foreground issue.
With key minds in design, programming and art out the door, expect to see some obvious differences from what we last viewed at E3. "The biggest change has come in the area of player costume. We felt the previous costume direction did not create an 'aspirational fantasy' that players would want to embody. So, we have done some major rework in that area."
Does that mean more hardcore? Tinfoil trousers? Good questions all, but apparently the idea is that players begin with fairly everyday gear and abilities before powering up via the influence of the Benefactors, the interstellar race who have bestowed technology and power upon
the player's race. Costume changes seem superficial, but these seem to point to greater shifts in the underlying design - the better to convey a sense of intergalactic war.
Garriott was most pointed when discussing the game's role in the MMO market. "Most MMOs still target the core of devoted players who can spend 40-plus hours a month, and scare off players who can only afford half that or less. These are avid gamers who are looking for the advantages of playing with others in a persistent space, while also looking to achieve in ways previously found only in solo player games."
Hardcore it is, then. No EverQuest II pussyfooting around here. But beta is still a speck on the horizon, leaving a hard and fast release date a fever dream, at best. When pressed for a date, Garriott proves he's learned well from the lessons of Gabe Newell. "When Tabula Rasa is done!"