Tabula Rasa (And The Lie Of The Public Beta)

I’ve been playing the Tabula Rasa beta of late, actually it’s called ‘Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa’ presumably because his name is so well respected in the MMORPG market.

I should admit that I haven’t progressed very far in the game, coming late to the beta and having… well… a day job (and a night job). If there is anyone reading this who has alternate views, or can fill me in on the things towards the end of the game please leave a comment.

I’m going to explain some of the things that I like about the game, also why MMO’s these days have ‘beta’ periods.

The game sets the remnants of humanity against an evil invading alien army on a variety of planets in a near future setting. Sci-Fi settings have never done as well as fantasy settings for some reason, so it’ll be interesting to see how Tabula Rasa does in a business dominated magic swords and half dressed Elf maidens.

The short version is that it is a fun game and while it won’t replace WoW in my affections, it’s still a game that will take up permanent residence on my hard drive and will be used when I’m fed up of stabbing Orcs with my dagger of +1 disembowelment.

Quests and items

With quests Tabula Rasa doesn’t lead you around by the nose quite as much as World of Warcraft, but it’s not far short. Quests so far have been the standard ‘Deliver package X to Y’ or ‘Go to location X to find crate Y’. There hasn’t been a huge amount of ‘Kill 20 of creature type X’ yet, which is something I’m grateful for.

The ‘Kill 200 sheep’ quests are replaced by earning titles if you slaughter your way through whole populations. This is similar to Everquest 2, although there is, as yet, no in-game effect. But it’s nice to have the ‘Exterminator’ title just for killing forty giant purple flying octopi.

While I haven’t reached that far into the game I can see people on the global chat asking for others to ‘party up’ in order to enter the game’s equivalent of dungeons. What I haven’t seen is the more usual call for ‘healers’ and ‘tanks’. I wonder if the balance of the game is such that the mae-up of a party is less important than for games such as WoW.

There are only three attributes, Body, Mind and Spirit and you can find items in world that increase these statistics – for example I have a laser chaingun that (somehow) gives my Mind statistic an extra five points. Armour comes with bonuses like ‘take 5% less damage from fire’. Pretty standard MMO tropes here, although it is a little strange to see a ‘magic’ flamethrower.

There are recipes for upgrading your equipment and a way for you to dismantle your equipment in order to get the resources for crafting. I’ll admit to not playing around much with crafting – but it seems that you don’t ‘learn’ crafting recipes, instead needing a one-shot item that drops in world. I’m not too sure if this is a good idea and given my quick play I can’t see the economy of the game being as complex as other games out there.


The server setup is rather interesting and is something that I hope makes it to the final game. Each area in the game is instanced, so there can be multiple ‘versions’ of The Caves Of Ragna zone. Changing between instances is as easy as visiting a teleport pad (the in-game quick travel system) and selecting which instance you would like to enter. Unlike some games every area is instanced, even the town areas.

For example – one of the quests involves going into the caves of Ragna (or somesuch fantasy name – I’m afraid that after a while they all blur into one). The reason why you must enter the cave is so you can destroy six eggs laid by some monster or another. Said monster is guarding the eggs, as all good monsters should do.

On my first run through the cave all the eggs were already smashed – normally this would mean I’d have to wait until the eggs ‘respawned’ that is returned to the game in an unsmashed form. This can take a long time and if there is another player in the cave it can be a frustrating experience as you both chase around after the same eggs.

So what you can do is to head to a teleport pad (and luckily for me there is one just outside the caves) and select a less populated ‘instance’. You can then enter the game and find the eggs all intact.

This idea solves one of the bigger or the MMORPG problems – waiting along with queues of players waiting for items or monster to respawn so they can get on with the questing. It will also go someway to solve the problem of rolling a character on a different server than your friends, therefore being unable to play with them. In Tabula Rasa you just have to agree to meet in a specific instance.

Send in the clones

The other aspect that is new to me is the ‘cloning’ of characters – every few levels (5, 15 and 25) you have to make a career decision with your character – do they become a soldier or a specialist? A ranger or a sniper? In most other games if you make the wrong decision and grow bored with the character you need to start again from scratch. With Tabula Rasa the clones you make before every career decision enable you to explore other careers with much less risk. No more starting from level one as each clone is a copy of your character at the point you make the clone.

Finally an end to killing rats in the starter zone to level each character.

Much more fun for those of us who don’t have the ability to play all day.

The real reason for beta?

Traditionally beta-testing has been to release a piece of software to a group of users in order to bash the code around in real situations and to report bugs to the development team. This is done so that the final product is as bug free as possible.

With MMO games things are a little different. The game comes out, there are server crashes, bugs and rollbacks. There are lots of patches in the early days fixing the bugs and there are normally a number of server side fixes. The incidence of patching is huge during the first few months of a game. It’s one of the things that us early adopters to these sorts of games are used to and unfortunately accept as the price we pay for being the first people to explore the game’s content. I remember the WoW servers being up and down like a whore’s knickers in the first few months of play, of course they are a lot more stable now.

So if the initial few months of a game release are the ‘real’ beta, why have a ‘beta’ phase at all?


In this internet connected world a website isn’t going to cut it. What you really want is lots of bloggers linking to you and giving you good word of mouth. What you need is people who have played the game and can evangelise about it. Monthly magazines are too slow in a market where games websites update daily.

The wise company realises this – so by having a beta period not governed by a Non-Disclosure Agreement (Tabula Rasa’s NDA was lifted on the 6th of September) you can pretty much guarantee that bloggers will post, forums will talk and IMs will flit between people. This creates a nice ‘pre-launch buzz’. People get invested in the game and shout it’s praises by whatever mode of communication is available to them.

And we are happy to do this work for the company, we get early access to the game and we get to bash some bugs (hopefully before the game is released). We also get to feel out some of the game’s content and can therefore level our characters quicker than those coming new to the game.

In return the company gets free publicity from people who have liked the game enough to stick with it from a really buggy stage.

One of those Win/Win situations.

Look at the page for Warhammer Online, there are 432,050 applicants for the beta period. That’s nearly half a million people who are going to be willing to do your publicity for nothing.

Heaven knows I’m desperate to get in that beta programme… Maybe I should e-mail them my pageview count…

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