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Personal Armor Unit Q&A with Starr Long

Updated Wed, Dec 16, 2009 by RadarX

Article by Cody “Micajah” Bye

Questions by Tony “RadarX” Jones

Answers by Starr Long, Producer for Tabula Rasa



When you were a child, did you ever go snooping around the house for your Christmas presents? Do you remember the feeling that provoked; that sort of excited unease that you might actually find the presents and see them when you weren't supposed to even know about them? That's the way I felt as I stood behind Starr Long's desk at the NCsoft Studios in Austin, Texas. Paul Sage stood beside me, directing Starr to some of the latest artwork he had seen from the artists. As the producer and lead designer for Tabula Rasa, Starr and Paul are given a lot of leniency concerning what they can and can't say about the game, but this time they may have been showing a bit too much.

“We're going to get in so much trouble for talking about this,” Starr said.

I'm going to need a bigger gun...

Initially I had come into Starr's office with a list of questions provided by our Ten Ton Hammer TR Community Manager, Tony “RadarX” Jones, but Tony's first question caught the two developers completely by surprise, and they were more than happy to show me some detail examples of the Personal Armor Units.

On Starr's flat screen monitor was a piece of concept art from one of the upcoming Objectives for Tabula Rasa. The artwork in question was a depiction of a Spectre; one of the many upcoming Personal Armor Units that are being implemented for high-end Tabula Rasa characters. To say it was utterly bad-ass would be an understatement.

Sleek, black, and with an imposing stance, the Spectre would be an awe-inspiring sight on any battlefield. The Spectre seems like the epitome of the Personal Armor Unit; it didn't appear to be extremely large in the concept art and could be a more stealth oriented PAU. Moderately-sized spider-like limbs extended away from his back and hooked around the front of his body, producing a humanoid yet insect-like appearance for this particular PAU. Don't quote me on this, but I believe Paul and Starr said this PAU was specifically for the Spy.

While I was at the NCsoft Studios, I had the opportunity to see and hear about five different PAUs. Since I promised to not take any pictures (and I didn't!), Starr and Paul allowed me to see the pieces of concept art for the PAUs and describe (to the best of my ability) what I saw.

To start, I'll give you the five names of the PAUs. In alphabetical order: Angel, Ghoul, Grendel, Shiva, and Spectre. While I didn't get to see the Angel, I did see images for the other four PAUs. Since I started with the Spectre, I'll move in reverse up the list of PAUs and give you a detailed description of each.

The Shiva was the most vehicle-like of all the PAUs. Oriented more like some sort of deep sea exploration device, the Shiva definitely had a unique appearance. With a “cockpit” type area towards the front of the machine, it seems to be apparent that this PAU will function in a different capacity to the Spectre or the Ghoul. Two appendages came out of the sides of the machine and extended upwards before hitting a joint and moving back down. Although probably an inaccurate description, the appendages reminded me of Praying Mantis pinchers. I don't remember seeing wheels on the Shiva, and I assume that the machine runs on some sort of hover device.

Unlike the other four PAUs in the list, the Grendel has already been fully covered by Paul in the NCsoft blog. For more information on the Grendel, you can find it here. However, seeing the Grendel in person definitely made it that much more intimidating. The twin machine guns definitely are awe-inspiring pieces of weaponry, and I would hate to be on the receiving end of that blast.

Finally, we took a look at the Ghoul concept art. Strangely, the Ghoul was perhaps the most intriguing PAU of the entire batch that I saw. Distinctly humanoid in appearance, the Ghoul differs from the other PAUs by being incredibly organic looking. When you picture a ghoul, you think of a diseased, rotting corpse. This Ghoul should strike you no differently when you see it. When I saw the Ghoul for the first time, I commented that it looked like a flesh golem; a creature made of mashed together flesh. Large power cylinders extended from one shoulder of the Ghoul, and the entire creature seemed to seethe with power.

As I stared at the Ghoul, I realized that this PAU looked incredibly massive. I asked Starr just how big this creations would be.

“They're not quite as big as the mech,” he said. “But they're bigger than a human. They're about halfway between a mech and a human.”

At this point I made a comment about how many of the PAUs aren't necessarily mechanical- or vehicle-looking. Instead, most of them have their own particular theme (like the fleshy, Ghoul or the super-sleek, bad-ass Spectre).

“Some of them are vehicle-like, some of them are mechs, some of them even have a more organic feel like the Ghoul,” Starr said.

Although I tried to get Starr to explain a few more of the nuances of the PAUs, he couldn't go into any more detail on that particular set of advancements.

When asked about Command Opportunities, Starr was equally as hesitant to give out large chunks of viable information, but he did give a few hints on how Command Opportunities will work.

“You'll basically be able to summon a squad of NPCs at any time,” Starr said. “That's kind of the fundamental way it's going to work. They're pretty much your own little squad of NPCs that you can order around to do stuff.” While he was making this comment, I stated that they are pretty much just like little henchmen for the player. “Yeah,” Starr said. “They're your own little henchmen.”

Can we get a PAU now?

My next question (that Tony provided) went further along these Command Opportunity questions. “A single reinforcement from a Ranger is an extremely powerful ally,” I said. “How much more will these “Command Opportunity” NPCs bring to the battle? What type of gear and skill progression will they have?”

Again, Starr couldn't give us particular details, but he assured me that these NPCs wouldn't be simple fodder. “They're going to be pretty powerful,” Starr said. “We'll make content that's going to be appropriate for them as well. You'll definitely be able to mop up a lot of stuff with these guys. I mean, groups with multiple people who can do this are going to be uber-powerful. But at the same time you'll probably be fighting an uber-powerful mob or mobs.”

As far as control over your NPC squads, Starr had a bit more of a response than his previous answers. “You're going to have more control over them than what you have over your current summoned helpers,” Starr said. “I can't say exactly how those controls will work or what they're going to do. But you will have more control than what you currently have.”

Next on the list of questions, I asked Starr about Flashpoints, and whether these areas will be instanced areas or a contested part of an existing zone. On top of that question, I also asked Starr what sort of rewards would come from these areas. “Flashpoints will be instanced areas,” Starr said. “And you'll get some really cool stuff as a reward.”

“In general, the Flashpoints are designed for groups and groups. We're figuring out how many we're going to implement, because they're more instance oriented at the moment. So we have to determine whether we're going to be doing this just for higher level players, or do we put in low level Flashpoints too. We're still debating all that.”

“That said, the Flashpoints will be more challenging that the current instances,” Starr continued.

Finally, Tony's hard hitting questions ended with an inquiry about rivalry zones and whether they would be exclusively for clans or if they would allow free players as well.

“Concerning the rivalry zones, we want them to be for both clans and for dueling – free for all type stuff.”

With that, I began my “general question” segment with Starr, which can be viewed by heading to this link. Tony and I hope you enjoyed this description of PAUs, and if you have any more questions or comments make sure you voice them on our forums!

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