Dev Corner

August 19, 2008Dev Corner: Tabula Rasa's Newest Deployment

Starr Long, the Producer of Tabula Rasa® at NCsoft® North America, talks about the newest changes to the game with Deployment 11 and the impact of Operation Immortality™.

We've seen a lot of attention focused on Tabula Rasa® within the last few months, culminating with the release of Deployment 11 last week and the launch of Operation Immortality™ in July. The influx of new players from our promotions has been great, and with the monthly updates we're continually keeping our veteran players happy with new and interesting content. While we push forward with continuing to develop and promote Tabula Rasa, it's important to examine how we're accomplishing this and there's no better example than Deployment 11.

starr_long.JPGWith all these new players coming into the game, we knew we had to look at our new user experience and make sure it was the best we could possibly have. We engaged in video-taped usability sessions and other metrics to determine what new players were doing and what we could do better. Then we re-examined the course of the game, as well as the storyline, to see how we could integrate new players better into our universe. When a new player finishes watching the intro trailer to Tabula Rasa, their first moments afterwards should be a continuation of that story. The new player experience needed to convey that Tabula Rasa is a science fiction game, and you're put into the meat of the drama almost immediately. We also wanted to manage the tutorial system better, as well as the context and delivery of the gameplay tips. Our incoming players and even the veterans who have gone through the new player experience agree: it's awesome.

Speaking of the veterans, we can't just concentrate on the new players. Our community and support teams do a terrific job supporting a constant slew of activities for everyone to participate in, many of which the community creates themselves. There are plenty of fun events and feature exclusive content on the public test server (PTS), like the Friday Night Fights boxing matches—including a bout you might have heard about, featuring General British trading blows with Jesus Chavez. We have a player vs. player (PvP) wargame map and even something else that's very current to the times, a Tabula Rasa-themed Olympics created by the PlanetTR fansite staff.

Of course the players get to try out the Deployments up to three weeks before the Deployment gets to live. A lot of feedback from the community gets absorbed and fed back into our Deployments, making Tabula Rasa more fun and interesting along the way. Sometimes they can seem pretty simple, but still make a lot of sense. For instance, recently, we changed several Abilities so players can use them in a crouched state or while moving. Previously, you had to be standing up and not be moving to use most abilities. It's about keeping the pace of combat; we don't want to slow down one of the great action-oriented aspects of the game, but keep it flowing. New weapons, like the Series 2 Rocket Launcher, add even more spice to combat.

Deployment 11 also features a brand new high-level instance: Dybukkar Garrison. This instance map should only be tried for level 50 players, and specific missions can be obtained from Archeron Outpost in Torden Abyss. Dybukkar is a main reinforcement hub for the Bane forces on Arieki, where dropships transport fresh troops in on an hourly basis. The area is heavily defended, but a well-armed group of players may be able to survive long enough to accomplish the mission. We're continuing to add new instances and other places for experienced players to explore, like Magma Caverns for Deployment 8 and Velon Hollow for Deployment 10. Other instances and mission areas have been redesigned for better mission flow and ease of access.

In conjunction with Operation Immortality we've also added a lot of related content, including fictional back-story featuring Richard Garriott's October 12 flight to the International Space Station (ISS) and subsequent discovery of a wormhole. Players can take a somewhat low-level mission called "Time Capsule", as well as one of five "Soyuz Salvage" missions from a variety of areas (depending on your level).

For the unfamiliar, Operation Immortality will collect and archive the best of what humanity is and has accomplished. Richard will take digitized DNA and an archive of humanity's greatest achievements, not to mention messages from people all over the world and profiles of Tabula Rasa characters, up with him into space to the ISS in October. Many celebrities are lining up to go with Richard—that is, they're volunteering to digitize a sample of their DNA to go up into space. The Immortality Drive will ensure mankind's survival should something tragic happen to humanity, like an asteroid hitting the earth, or worse, an alien invasion by a culture such as the Bane, occurs. Those that have signed up include rock stars Eric Johnson and Patrice Pike, TNA professional wrestler Matt "Beast" Morgan, bestselling fantasy author Tracy Hickman, and Olympic gold medalist Scott Johnson. The biggest announcements however are yet to come.

Operation Immortality has been a great boon to Tabula Rasa, introducing our sci-fi MMO game to a huge audience—many of whom may not have even heard of it before. We're continuing to develop and improve Tabula Rasa for all of our great players, and look forward to seeing you in the game, taking it to the Bane and ensuring humanity's survival.

Starr Long, Producer of Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa, NCsoft® North America

Starr Long has been in the business of making PC games for more than a dozen years. Alongside Richard Garriott, he was the original Project Director for the commercially successful Ultima Online. Starr worked his way up through the ranks of Origin Systems, Inc. starting in Quality Assurance working on Wing Commander, Ultima, and many other titles for Origin. In 2001 Starr teamed with Garriott to start the Destination Games studio in Austin, which was later acquired by Korean gaming giant, NCsoft. Currently Starr is Producer on Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa, an epic sci-fi role-playing online game developed at NCsoft's Austin, Texas studio and published in 2007.

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