UI, AI, and Oh My… – A TERA Preview from GDC 2011

GDC 2011, the En Masse crew reiterated their claim that
they’re bringing the most action-packed MMO experience to the
west in TERA.
They even brought talking points that, they promised, would be self
evident in the level 20 dungeon instance laid out like a buffet of
gaming goodness on the 4 desktops before us. Advanced AI, a clean
interface, combos, and “big ass monsters” were on
the menu, but was the proof in the pudding? We journeyed into
Smuggler’s Hideout to see for ourselves.

Talking point #1: advanced AI. To date, in MMORPGs, AI has been just
that – highly artificial as in aspartame fakeness. Associate
Producer Stefan Remirez promised that in style="font-style: italic;">TERA,
mobs would fight smarter. Tanks would come forward to protect casters
in the rear. DPS units would attempt to circle around players in order
to exploit positional attack bonuses.

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alt="tera" src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/96029">

That's a big pile of rocks!

Stefan concisely summed up the concept: “They fight like we
do.”And, as hit points drop, monsters would become enraged,
hitting harder and acting far less predictably. Boss monsters also
don’t play fair, occasionally spawning in adds, and all
bosses have tells. A flashing belt buckle, a tap of the foot, pincers
placed on the ground… basically, if a boss does or radiates
something that’s completely out of the ordinary, you know the
hurt is coming. And you should probably move or block.

The evidence was slim, but I think most of this proved out in the
hands-on portion. We didn’t fight complex groupings of
enemies – just a series of trash mobs and a boss –
but our healer quickly drew the boss’s ire by overhealing,
finally succumbing to the enraged Soulcrusher in the closing moments of
the fight. Fortunately, Ben, our valiant tank, felled the box of rocks
with only a few hit points to spare.  As for my contribution,
I mostly (mistakenly) spammed a positional ability, knocking myself out
of range for my damage-dealing spell. I wrote that to write this: style="font-style: italic;">TERA
is an action-oriented game, but definitely not a button-masher.

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alt="tera" src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/96030">

Laying the smackdown.

Talking point #2: A clean and efficient UI. Producer Chris Hager
up a ludicrously busy UI shot that could have been taken in
just about any MMO from style="font-style: italic;">DDO
to EverQuest
to style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft,
asked us if this player could do anything but play the user interface,
not the game. We guffawed and chortled assent, trying not to think of
the laundry list of addons we had installed. Next, Chris showed us a
screenshot of style="font-style: italic;">TERA.
I think the chat window had faded to total transparency and no enemy
was targeted, but the point was made: style="font-style: italic;">TERA’s
UI seeks to restore the player’s focus to the center of the

I personally thought this particular point was hoo-hah – that
UI elements we simply scaled down to give the world more real estate,
and as my eyesight gets worse from playing these games far too much
(get off my lawn, MMOs!), I’m less and less amused.

But, despite my misgivings, Chris is actually right – style="font-style: italic;">TERA’s
interface does keep your attention on the center of the screen. It
works, and I think it primarily works by not allowing free mouse cursor
movement a la style="font-style: italic;">DC Universe Online,
but the interface is barebones enough that I learned my primary hotbar
skills. Watching the screen as a sorcerer (a male this time, not
Marilyn Monroe the jauntily prancing style="font-style: italic;">TERA
sorceress), I had much more battlefield awareness, so to speak, and as
such I stayed on the edge of my effective spell range.

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alt="tera" src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/96031">

I think this is going to hurt.

My tetherball-like positioning around the boss mob was greatly aided by
a targeting reticule that grew a florid metallic circle when I was in
range. Yet lobbing a magma glob (my ability name, not theirs) at the
boss in my ironsights didn’t guarantee a hit – the
Soulcrusher was surprisingly lithe pile of rocks, jumping the room.
Which sort of goes back to Talking Point #1.

Talking point #3: combos. Stefan explained that abilities can be
chained together, and if you do so correctly, you’ll be
presented with the opportunity for a finisher. I don’t think
I ever did so correctly, only discovering the most common of combos:
Retaliate. If you’re knocked down, you’ll be
prompted to hit the spacebar to retaliate. Hit the spacebar in the
narrow time window accorded you, and you’ll spring into back
to action like Bruce Lee, scoring a solid hit if your enemy is in your

My sorceror did, however, have a few very cool hotbar abilities that
simultaneously attacked and repositioned my character. One dropped a
pillar of flame and simulated a knockback (without the nasty stun
effect hangover) to get me the heck out of Dodge. It would have been
useful had I ever played well enough to be in danger of drawing aggro.
Instead, my LMB attack – a fast moving fireball struck with
regularity for a minor damage, but my RMB attack – a slow
moving energy pulse – struck almost never for a lot of damage.

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alt="tera" src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/96032">

That's a mighty big lance or
are you just happy to see me?

I should also mention blocking. Future style="font-style: italic;">TERA
players: make sure your “C” key works. C is for
cookie, but it’s also for clobbered, crushed, and creamed,
which is exactly what you’ll be as a meleer if you
don’t use C to block. As a sorceror, I mostly just did laps,

Talking point #4: Big Ass Monsters. style="font-style: italic;">God of War
put gigundous boss mobs on the map, but this is one gameplay meme that
will probably never go out of style. And style="font-style: italic;">TERA
has this in spades. Demo footage showed other boss mobs, one a homage
to the giant worms in “ style="font-style: italic;">Tremors”,
Lovecraftian pincered boss mobs, hulking basilisk mobs, creepy ass
spider mob. And the Soulcrusher we fought was mammoth, but
didn’t move like it was mammoth. It certainly hit like its
size, though.

Our GDC 2011 style="font-style: italic;">TERA
demo ended far too quickly, but thankfully, after our drubbing at PAX
Prime 2010, Team Hammer was back on the win board.

Here’s a quick video look at Smuggler’s Hideout:


Stefan promised that style="font-style: italic;">TERA
would launch in 2011, and while we’ll personally hold him
accountable to that statement (you should too, with forum hate), we
want to thank Stefan Remirez, Chris Hager, and the entire En Masse team
for taking the time to show us a bit more about TERA at GDC 2011.

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alt="tera" src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/96033">

I'm sure that this is a happy

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