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Developer Diary: Tabula Rasa's Velon Hollow

July 8, 2008

Velon Hollow Dev Diary

Hi, I’m Brian Hudson and I am a designer on Tabula Rasa. I wanted to talk about a new instance, Velon Hollow, slated for release in Deployment 10. This Deployment will be going live in the next couple weeks, and I’m extremely excited to share my insights.

First, a little background: Imagine that an evil alien race has developed a serum capable of suppressing your personality and trapping you in your own mind. The chemicals make you stronger and more aggressive, and the sight of human flesh makes you hungry. As the last of your sanity slips away, you are only slightly aware that your friends and family have become your latest meal!

To the inhabitants of Velon Hollow, this nightmare has become a frightening reality. For centuries, the Order of Velon prided itself on its purity of thought and deed; now they have been reduced to mindless thralls, unable to stop the inevitable decay caused by an unknown toxin. In the heart of the mountain, in one of the spiritual centers of the Foreans, death has come.

This was the feeling I wanted to convey in Velon Hollow, a new replayable instance on the Plateau map for players between level 30 and 33. From the art and environments to the dialogue and scripting, we wanted to provide our players with an immersive, unforgettable experience that reaches into the mystery of the Eloh, illustrates the strength of the Forean people, and shows one of the darkest sides of the Bane’s campaign of terror.

That, and I think zombies are awesome. I love zombies. Zombies are an intensely psychological enemy; they feed on our fear of mortality and corruption. I only hope that I managed to do them justice in this instance.

Now, onto the vision: One of our primary goals was to make sure that the environments told the story as effectively as the missions did. The Order of Velon spent centuries carving their temples out of the mountain, and we wanted players to recognize this when they discover the first of the Forean’s main living areas. Our world builders painstakingly sculpted the terrain and worked closely with our environment artists to integrate the Forean architecture.

Side by side with the breathtaking beauty of Forean architecture, infected Foreans huddle in the shadows around run-down, dilapidated tents. Our art team worked hard to create the new, diseased meshes you see on the Foreans and the broken tents that litter the cavern like a refugee camp. We felt this added a level of dark realism, and hopefully it will evoke sympathy for the Foreans.

I’ve often felt that there are too few places in the game where you truly feel a connection with the Foreans. Their tribal, naturalistic ways are so different from the high technology that fills the rest of the game, it is sometimes difficult to relate to them as more than simple caricatures. In Velon Hollow, I wanted to change that. Through the sheer scale of the tragedy, I hoped to evoke sympathy and compassion for the Forean people, but I wanted to do it in a powerful way. The AFS is always helping the Foreans, so what makes this different?

All throughout Velon Hollow, players will find surviving Foreans, most of who immediately lay down their lives to help you take out the Bane. Despite the tragedy that has befallen them, they have no concept of self-preservation, and seek only to destroy the Bane and reclaim their home. This warrior spirit, which is integral to the ethos of the Foreans, has never been illustrated so perfectly as when you enter the Bane outpost deep in Velon Hollow with an army of Foreans behind you. By the end of the instance, the feeling of pity and sympathy should be replaced with respect and camaraderie for your tragic allies.

These alliances, however, are not guaranteed. This is one of the dynamic interactions players will experience with this instance, one where their actions decide how the game play unfolds. Discovering the captured Foreans is not enough; players will have to rescue them from the Bane before they are destroyed. The size of your army at the end of the instance is based purely on your skill in rescuing them.

Then comes the choice: It was also in this spirit that I created the mission “The Better Half,” an ethical choice mission where the player’s decision is made through action. You are asked to find the missing wife of Science Officer Clark, who has been taken hostage by the Bane. When you finally find her, your actions alone will determine whether or not she comes home alive. Like much of the story that unfolds in this instance, I feel the more I can do to keep you out of the UI and focused on the center of the screen, the more immersive the game becomes.

I truly hope players do keep their eyes on the center of their screen. Much of the story is told by the NPCs through chat bubbles that appear above their heads, and I wanted players to feel like they are being talked to directly. Although UI windows are great for giving the rundown of the mission, it is much more immersive to talk to the player directly and force them to stay focused on the instance around them. It creates for a better story, and allows for a smooth, uninterrupted narrative. Doing this also allowed me to give important NPCs a memorable personality, further cementing your camaraderie with the Foreans.

Finally, the payoff: Alright, enough with the story; where’s the phat loot? Well, this is also the first instance in Tabula Rasa to introduce item sets. These sets are a prototype for future sets, and if players enjoy them, we hope to expand our implementation of them throughout the game. Players who complete all the missions in Velon Hollow will obtain the first three pieces of the “Purifier Set”, which gives greater statistic bonuses the more pieces they wear. The fourth and final piece of the set is a weapon that drops from the final bosses of the instance. Wearing all four pieces of the Purifier Set gives players a +10% damage against all Thrax, which we hope gives players incentive to play through the instance again, and hopefully bring friends to help finish their sets.

Speaking of friends, Velon Hollow is designed for at least two players of an appropriate level, so anyone planning on tackling it at level 30 should definitely bring help. However, players that are higher level, or just looking for a challenge, can try their luck destroying the Bane by themselves. At least you know you will have the help of a very dedicated Forean army, at least if you can rescue them first!

We spent a tremendous time crafting the story and the mood of this instance, making sure to create an intricate experience for new and old players alike. But just as important, we also introduced some new systems that we hope will increase the quality and longevity of the instance. This is just a taste of the amazing content we are working to add to the game, and I can only hope that players enjoy Velon Hollow as much as I enjoyed working on it.

Gw
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