Interview with April Burba at PAX 2007
by Cameron "Aelryn" Sorden
April "CuppaJo" Burba is the community manager for NCSoft's upcoming science-fiction themed MMOG, Tabula Rasa. In Tabula Rasa, humanity has been forced to flee before an evil race known as the Bane, but with the help of a mysterious race called the Benefactors, they're fighting to retake their home. April had a few words to share with us about the game while she let her gun cool down between rounds of Bane-slaying.
April seems like she'd be right at home leading a group of marines against the Bane. She was calm, collected, and generally awesome.
TTH: Hi April! Now, you're the community manager for the regular forums as well as the beta forums. How has the overall response to the game been from players currently in the beta?
April: It's been very good. We've been in closed beta for some time, and the response has been really positive. The game has changed a lot since we started even the friends and family beta a little less than a year ago. We've gotten a lot of great feedback about the game and made lots of really good changes based on that feedback. I think our players have started to see, especially in the last few months of beta, that their feedback has made a definite impact and our game is better for it.
TTH: A lot of your testers are previous MMOG players. How do they react to the slightly different playstyle found in an Âaction MMO,Â as you call Tabula Rasa?
April: They seem to like it. It's interesting to see people who are not traditional MMO players try it, too. We started with these very ÂhardcoreÂ MMO-style players and started adding more casual playersÂshooter type players who seem to ÂgetÂ Tabula Rasa much faster. They don't have preconceived notions of what an MMO should be or how it should play. They come in and it's like learning a brand new thing to them. When you learn a new game, you learn the rules, you learn how things play, and then you play it.
The game throws you into the action and keeps your focus on what's happening around you, instead of on your UI.
MMO players come in and say ÂMy game that I like plays like this, so this is how you should do it.Â It's almost more of an initial adjustment period for these players, but once they make that adjustment, it can be hard going back to those other games. The action is slower, traveling takes longer, you lose some control of your camera. I even get frustrated when I go back and play a game like City of Heroes and go, ÂWhy can't I control my camera? Arggh!Â
One of the key differences, and I think you notice it immediately when you start playing the tutorial, is that in traditional MMOs you're really playing the UI: You're my target, so I click on you, and I select you, and I hit my UI buttons in a pattern again and again until one of us diesÂeither you or me. In TR, we've taken the action and placed it up on the screen in front of you. It's not about the UI; you're looking through your reticle, you're aiming through your reticle, wherever you turn your camera is where you're aiming, the left mouse button fires your weapon, the right fires your abilities, and you're really in the game instead of playing the UI.
TTH: What other things have you done with the combat to make the game seem faster or more immersive and exciting?
April: Well, we have the hand to hand combat which everyone gets from the get-go. We actually encourage melee in the game. Let's say I shoot you and do critical damage to you. A red skull will appear above your head and that means that you're critically wounded. I can run up to you, hit you with a melee strike, do a critical finishing move which is kind of like Mortal Kombat, with a special animation, and you actually get extra XP for it. We also have a kill streak multiplier, so if you continue to stay in combat and kill things for a long time, and you'll get 2x XP, 3x XP, 5x XP, and so on.
TTH: So what is there to do in Tabula Rasa besides kill stuff?
April: We have a waypoint teleporter system for explorer types. You need to walk past them to add them to your teleporter list. As you explore, you increase your travel options for getting around the world.
We also have a customizable chat system with a tabbed chat interface. You start with three default tabs and can then customize them, color code them, et cetera. Voice chat functionality is build right into the client, which is nice with the faster gameplay, and we have the clan system and taverns to kill time in.
TTH: What does your PvE end-game look like? Is there stuff for players to do right now?
April: Well, part of our end-game is the cloning and replay factor, so really, avoiding the end-game is part of the plan for our Âend-gameÂ. We want players to be able to re-experience the content with a different class and make different decisions, and then finally getting to the high level PvP content. There are also lots of large battlefield situations where armies will square off. You'll have this huge Bane-controlled base that you'll need to bring a large contingent of players in for and have an enormous battle.
A character acquires a Logos symbol which can do a variety of things for her.
TTH: When you're running a PvE mission, are there going to be multiple ways to complete it? Will players have interesting choices to make?
April: Yep. Example: You'll go into a space and try to hammer through a door and bust in, guns blazing, or, if you hunt around you might find a switch in back with a door and the switch turns the control point off, and you don't set off alarms, and you can get through with a minimum of fuss instead of tripping all the alarms and causing a big commotion.
TTH: Do you have any open world-exploring type goals?
April: We have the Logos system, which is many things, but one of things it is is an explorer tool. You travel through the world to find these Logos symbols, which are a language designed by Richard Garriot. As you travel through the world you find the symbols and do a little animation, and they get written to your Logos tablet. Some of those things unlock powers, some open doors, and some solve puzzles. For example, on Trinity Bridge , there are six different unlockable Logos spires that open to reveal a hidden area under the bridge which conceals a character for you to interact with.
TTH: That sounds pretty cool. Now, I see you have an ominous looking bag with you. What's in the bag, CuppaJo?
April: We just released our pre-order a little while ago, and you can go get the pre-order and get into the beta and play with us now. We also just announced out collector's edition which comes in this beautiful black box with a wing skull logo on it that says ÂTabula Rasa,Â and inside the box is a large full-color AFS field guide that was done for us by Brady and it's the coolest guide I've ever seen, if I do say so myself. The guide is done completely in characterÂit never says Âpress F to do thisÂ or anything like that, which is very much a Richard [Garriot] thing to do. There's also a number of other cool things, such as a metal challenge coin, a making-of DVD, and an in-game pet.
TTH: Sweet! Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today, April. Anything else you'd like to say?
April: My pleasure. Come check out the game!
You can get more info about the game and apply to get into the beta at the official site, www.playtr.com.
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