Tabula Rasa 2 (aka Defiance)

Defiance MMO

Nothing says MMO shooter innovation like an image of two futuristic combatants with laser pistols in tech armour

An interesting announcement the other day saw the news that Trion, of RIFT fame, are developing a new shooter MMO. Call me nostalgic/cynical/unimaginative but immediately after reading a little bit about it my mind jumped to visions of Tabula Rasa 2, not just because it’s a futuristic third person twitch based shooter about a war, or set shortly after one, between humans and aliens (why is it we can just never got along with those bloody aliens?!) but also due my visions of its impending doom. MMO shooters plain don’t work… will this one buck the trend?

The premise for Defiance is interesting enough. Well, OK, that’s a lie but at least you actually get to play as alien races this time (something Tabula Rasa didn’t catch onto fast enough) and Trion are promising all shorts of amazing technical wondery such as cross console platform and PC integration which, I suppose, is kinda cool if you ever fancied blasting your Xbox friends from the comfort of your PC. Oh and it also intertwines with some sort of television show which, yeah, does sound kinda wank but I’ll reserve judgement for now.

I guess my big bugbear with shooter MMOs is that often they try to take the core concepts of a MMORPG (i.e. persistence, character advancement, grouping, quests etc) and replace the combat mechanics with twitch based shooting. All totally fine and dandy in theory yet, in practise, difficult to pull off because you usually end up with neither a heart-pumpingly awesome shooter like Call of Duty nor an in-depth and intricate online RPG like EVE, WoW, RIFT or whatever it is that tickles your fancy. And that’s the fundamental problem: mixing two genres together and failing to excel at either, appealing to neither shooter fans nor MMORPGers.

I do however, regardless of my lovely British cynicism, have great hopes for this fledgling sub-genre and could honestly imagine it producing a rather wonderful type of game. I mean there is, in theory, no reason why we couldn’t take a game like WoW and replace the rather dull and often slow combat mechanics with something a lot more interactive and responsive. The trick is, I I guess, making sure that there still enough elements of the RPG in there to keep players hooked. The game still needs huge amounts of depth, atmosphere and character with tons of ways to advance and customise your character in addition to an abundance of locations, quests, missions, dungeons, raids, battlegrounds and all the other things that keep people hooked to MMORPGs like sex addicts to cheap prostitutes.

Of course that’s no mean feat to pull off and we’ve yet to see it truly happen. Tabula Rasa died a slow, painful death and games like Global Agenda never really did hit the big time. So yes, I suppose I am being a little sceptical here about it all but then if anyone can pull off a great shooter MMO then it would be Trion who, after all, did give us the fabulous RIFT. Fingers crossed for all those twitch fans out there.


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  1. Sarzan says:

    I hope it takes off too and is successful. I actually liked Tabla Rasa but it just never caught on. I’d like to see this one stay around for a while…

  2. Gazimoff says:

    There’s a problem with twitch-based MMOs. Your broadband connection being chief among them.

    Hotkey based MMOs are much more forgiving with high latency connections. Targeting and attacking are straightforward affairs.Combat is based around gear, abilities and defenses. As a result, servers can be more centralised with less focus on network latency.

    Twitch MMOs on the other hand are more difficult to provision for. Your targeting reticule needs to be over the target and you need to pull the trigger before the server says the target has moved on. High latency connections kill twitch based games.

    I think that for a twitch MMO to succeed it would need to place game servers near to each major player group – probably one hub per country (three for US – east coast, west coast and central). It would also need to make heavy use of instancing to keep per-client traffic down to a stable level. Both of these work against the MMO ethos and fragment your playerbase, unless you employ some nifty hand-off trickery from player hubs to outlying regions.

    I reckon until we get good quality low-latency broadband connections as standard in most countries, you’re going to struggle with this as a concept.

    • Gordon says:

      Tabula Rasa got over the latency issue but using a short of aided targeting – you didn’t have to be very precise to hit something. It actually worked very well because, at the end of the day, the game wasn’t a serious shooter than Crysis or something. I guess that’s why it never appealed to that audience.

  3. bhagpuss says:

    It’s very noticeable that the long view of Tabula Rasa is very much that it was a good game that had an unfairly poor reception. That’s not my memory of what people said at the time.

    It didn’t interest me, being an SF setting, but, like Auto assault and The Matrix, I wish I’d given it a go while it was around.

  4. Galaji says:

    I believe it was the first mmo shooter and it was successful enough to have 2(?) expansions plus a sequel on the way.

    I think the major hurdle mmo shooters stumble on is variety of weaponry and advancement.

    In a “normal” rpg we use swords but also have skills to make combat interesting. Most shooter games try to rely on shooting skill only, but then how do you feel the advancement and variety with your character?

    Advancement IS what the mmo part of these shooters is for. There needs to be a massive variety of weaponry that functions and “feels” different when used.

    You can’t just give me bigger numbers on my weapons/attributes/talents, because then the skill part of the fps is next to pointless. You have to allow me to find a weapon type that suits my playstyle and the situations I frequently find myself in.

    • Gordon says:

      Ah yeah Planetside. I had a lot of fun playing that when it first came out and then promptly forgot about it. I’m looking forward to the sequel though.

      • Dave says:

        Planetside is the exception, and remains the only game truly in its genre.

        It was and is incredible, it simply lacks the graphics and a physics engine competitive with modern games currently.

        I object to tabula rasa being called a ‘twitch’ game, as it was largely auto-aim. Planetside was/is a true skill based game (with no auto-targetting) that works perfectly, proving it is legitimate in an MMO in a huge scale fight (several hundred per empire in a 3 faction zone).

  5. Azuriel says:

    Two things immediately leap to mind.

    1) PC and console integration will be fail. I played Portal 2 co-op with a friend using his PS3, and the difference between what I was able to do with a mouse and him with joysticks is ridiculous (as you can imagine). Not only can I aim faster, but I have way easier access to multiple buttons. I remember reading an article about porting PC shooters to consoles and vice versa, and one of the key points is how console shooters have to use “assisted targeting,” aka auto-aim. I suppose they could simply let console users have auto-aim functionality, but not only is that a slippery slope in a competitive field (I assume there will be PvP), but it does not do much to counter-act the other maneuvers possible with PC setups (turning around nearly instantly, etc) vs consoles.

    2) Did no one else see what Trion is apparently doing here? A shooter MMO announced at E3… kind of like what Blizzard’s Titan is supposed to be? I wonder if this will be enough to push Blizzard to actually post some info about Titan at Blizzcon.

  6. Scott says:

    Um… I’m not sure about Planetside because the few times I ever tried it there was no one around to shoot at to see how it works but Tabula Rasa was most certainly NOT a “shooter MMO” in the sense that “shooters” are “twitch” games. It was an RPG with RPG combat.

    There’s a huge difference between having a “shooter control scheme” — which is what Tabula Rasa did, and what Star Trek Online currently has on its test server to go live next month — and a game actually being a shooter, where so-called “twitch” skills come into play.

    Tabula Rasa was, and Star Trek Online is, 100% RPG with 100% RPG combat, regardless of their respective control schemes. Defiance will be the same, as will Firefall.

    Networking, latency and targeting all have to do with it, as has been noted. Also cross-platform play between PC and consoles simply does not work for shooters when it comes to aiming or accuracy. Shadowrun proved this, and Portal 2 continues that lesson.

    As an aside, while many console shooters (I play shooters exclusively on console now as a result of RSI from competitive FPS play years ago — also as a matter of level playing field where it’s player skill vs. player skill, something you don’t necessarily get on PC) do have auto-aim enabled, it’s almost always an option that can be disabled and on the vast majority of them that I have experience with, it’s only enabled in the single-player game, not multi-player.

    Generally speaking, shooters (and many other game genre’s such as racing, etc.) have had “RPG elements” such as advancement and so forth for years now. Look at all the unlocks in Call of Duty games, for example. Persistent “characters” (or persistent progression?) is also the norm.

    One huge problem for me is partly the psychology of the shooter, which carried over to Tabula Rasa. I don’t remember if TR allowed me to ever *not* be armed, to simply run around and do things as my character rather than someone who carries a gun in arms 24/7. In fantasy MMO’s I’m only “armed” when my state switches to combat. Same in STO, though there is a toggle to arm/sheathe weapons at any time also. My memories of TR were simply carrying a gun around all the time, and for myself (and a lot of players I’ve watched) if you give me a gun, I want to shoot it. Running around just shooting stuff in the world makes for a very shallow gameplay experience. There’s no need for an “MMO” if all we’re doing is the equivalent of Doom or Serious Sam, shooting every monster that moves with no real reason to feel like we’re “living” in that virtual world; no larger meaning to it all. To me, THAT is the single overarching reason that TR failed — it never delivered that larger meaning to “be.”

    • Gordon says:

      Very, very well said and I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s the main problem with shooter MMOs – they neglect substance over the “twitch” based fun.

      • Dave says:

        This comment is absolutely wrong. The depth of strategy, the scale and the detail in combat in Planetside has far greater ’substance’ than simply ’selecting a target’ then hitting off a series of keys which is more like playing a 7 or 8 key piano repeatedly.

  7. SmakenDahed says:

    The ‘twitch’ aspect of these games is where it fails. That and the hopeless AI of mobs in MMOs doesn’t translate well to FPS games. TR sat somewhere between the twitch and the MMO target/hit roll system which frustrated people expecting their shots to actually hit the target under their crosshairs.

    Trion would do well to learn what makes playing a (WoW) Hunter fun and emphasize that, make some variety for class differences (if they go that route). These games need no be twitch based.

    Console-PC cross gaming is bleh. Identify your target and focus on making that experience the best possible.

  8. Professer says:

    As far as I’m aware there are only two races/factions. Humans and Aliens. Them and us.

    I don’t give a f*** about another good vs evil, or them and us, faction game. Its a fundamental design flaw in just about every MMO post-WoW.

    ITS ALREADY BEEN DONE! WHY do we not have more games with 3 or more factions? Its just so much more f**ing dynamic than just them, and us. So much more game to be had with more than just TWO factions.

    RAGE! When will they get it right?

    P.S. Warhammer would of been such a success with a third faction at launch. I’ll be playing Vanguard as its the only quester that tolerable any more until the next PvP/Sandbox thing happens. Peace.

    • vortal says:

      Starcraft comes into play at this point. The religious fanatical aliens (the good), the greedy, corrupted terrans (the bad), and a bunch of hive mind aliens (the ugly).

      Starcraft manages to pretty much take away the common good vs evil. Neither of the races are truly good or evil, the most “good” would probably be Protoss, but we wouldn’t totally admit that as they have tried to burn terran worlds, multiple times (and sometimes being quite racist to “lesser races”). Zergs want to infest and kill just about everything. Terrans are basically a very corrupt government filled with outlaws and criminals.

    • Gordon says:

      I know, I love games that have more than one faction… it’s why old school MMOs were so fun because there was no “good” or “evil”, just a lot of different factions that could – given the right circumstances – intermix.

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