New Developer Diary for Tabula Rasa

October 8, 2007

New Developer Diary for Tabula Rasa

NCsoft has released a new developer diary for
their upcoming MMORPG, Tabula Rasa. In this dev diary Rebekah Tran, Mission
Designer on the game, discusses the design of the Torcastra Prison section of
the game.

Additionally they have released a new video of
the mission briefing for the Torcastra Prison area.

Click here to download the new Tabula Rasa video.

Read below for the full developer diary.

Torcastra Prison
By Rebekah Tran, Mission Designer

In Tabula Rasa there are many steps involved in
creating the rich story line of the world. First of all, we’ve amassed an
overarching story which includes lots of detailed back-story the player may
never see and branches far out into plot twists and turns that we’ll touch on in
future expansions. Next, that fiction is trimmed down leaving the content that
the player will visit in game. This is then split amongst all the overland maps
(the persistent maps that are shared amongst all players) in the game world.
Each overland map then links to about three or four instance maps that provide
more unique content for individual parties. It is here that we can more
intimately progress the story for each overland map.

All that background work leads to the concept
behind one of the instances I worked on, Torcastra Prison. Torcastra Prison is
located at the southern end of Concordia Divide (a major overland map) deep in
the bowels of enemy territory. Design for this instance really was a group
effort between myself and several other designers for the Divide maps; however,
it was important for us to have a prisoner here for several reasons. First of
all, the players haven’t yet seen a prison at this point in the game, so it
keeps things fresh. Second, given the fact that Divide is a completely war-torn
area where the Bane and the AFS are fighting along a proverbial line in the
sand, it just makes sense that there would be prisoners-of-war held somewhere.
Once it was decided that this map should be a prison, I started working on the
fictional and game play components of the area, while my teamed world builder
(the game designer responsible for the creation, overall layout, and
beautification of the map) started creating the map itself.

My goal as a mission designer was to give players
an interesting experience that also gives them the feeling that they are really
in a war, and that they have a definite impact on the area they are playing in.
As a result, when I started my mission design for Torcastra, it was important to
me to ensure that it felt like players were starting a prison break from the
get-go and not just told, “Oh by the way, this is a massive prison and here’s a
prison cell or two to prove it.” The world builder did a fantastic job of
creating a huge entry area leading up to the gates of Torcastra, so I decided to
set up security bunkers, air strikes, and that fabled trip wire that you need to
avoid in order to make the players feel as though they had really accomplished
something once they reached those gates and secured the area. However, once they
get past the gates, the difficulties have just started. There is a little
surprise waiting just behind the prison doors, but, hey, I never said I was

Another important element when creating the
prison are the prisoners themselves. It’s a little bit of a let down to break
into a huge prison and only have a few prisoners held within. Not only is
Torcastra filled with a veritable honeycomb of prison cells, but those cells are
also filled with prisoners. The missions were designed to flow from one into
another, so once a player completes a mission which reveals the two codes needed
to open the cell blocks, there’s something very satisfying about seeing the
prisoners run out as a mob and head for the hills. Many times in games things
will happen that aren’t very realistic and you dismiss it because it’s a game
and not reality. It would have been easier for me to leave those guys in the
cells and just open the door and fictionally say they’re free and good job,
soldier. However, if that were me, I would have made a b-line out the door as
well, so that’s exactly what I made the mob of prisoners do.

The climax of the instance comes when you receive
the word about Airman Hamilton, an AFS soldier being held by the Bane in
Torcastra. This mission presents players with one of many moral dilemmas and
story arc missions that exist in the game. The difficult issue I had with this
mission is that I wanted to give the players a choice on what to do that didn’t
involve a text decision. As a result, once you uncover Airman Hamilton in his
state amongst the experimental equipment, the player is told to either put him
out of his misery (at his request) or to turn him over the AFS as they were
originally commanded to do. In this case, the question becomes, do you do the
“humane” thing and kill him or do you decide that you’re not an executioner and
potentially subject him to becoming AFS high command’s guinea pig? Each decision
has its own morally grey area to explore, and, on top of that, the decision will
affect a series of missions that are available to from that point.

Ultimately, the goal was to make sure that
Torcastra feels like a dangerous place where players get a taste of the horrible
things that the Bane are doing to the AFS soldiers they capture. If the Bane are
experimenting on Humans on Divide, one can only imagine what is happening in
other parts of the Tabula Rasa universe. It only gets worse from here, and only
the player can help the AFS save other victims of the Bane.