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Tabula Rasa

Mission designer Susan Kath talks us through Operation Immortality.

Thursday 14th August/...After a period of research and consultation, Operation Immortality has finally been launched to acclaim among current players and new players alike. With a brief to deliver an entirely new opening experience for new players, NC Soft has delivered, with Susan Kath, Lead mission designer running through the myriad of changes designed to create a better experience for everyone.

Revamping the New User Experience

When we started planning for Operation Immortality, one of the first questions that we asked ourselves was, “What can we do to make the Tabula Rasa new player experience great?” We’d come up with a few things on our own in the last eight months – our own personal hit list of things that we wanted to change about those first few levels of the game – but we really wanted to explore a larger revamp, even if it meant re-working the entire tutorial.

Our first step was usability testing. We brought in a variety of people ranging from casual gamers with little experience in MMOGs to the more hardcore players with multiple games in regular rotation. We sat them down in front of computers, filmed them playing our tutorial, quizzed them, and sent them on their merry way with our thanks.

What did we learn? In short, the opening experience was neither cinematic nor inspiring enough, and then, once the action of bootcamp got going, players became confused. There was a disconnect between the advanced concepts we were teaching and how they truly unfolded later in the game, and other concepts were not addressed to the extent they should be. So we started over.

Armed with this new data and our own lists, we sat down and brainstormed a huge wish list of ways we could improve the new player experience.

Changing the Look

One of our highest priorities was to change the initial moments of the game. We really wanted to convey that Tabula Rasa is a science fiction game and that you, as a player, are on a world far away from home.

In the previous version of the tutorial, you started out on in a dusty ravine that looked quite a bit like Earth, surrounded by human military and military equipment. In the new version, you step out of a wormhole into in a glowing cavern filled with alien artefacts, where ahead waits a massive holographic alien. As you head across a long stone bridge, the alien speaks, telling the basic story of why you are a chosen one, a ‘receptive,’ saved from Earth for the great battle for control of the universe.

The opening cavern is also home to a band of AFS refugees that have set up camp after barricading themselves from the Bane threat outside. While they keep a close eye on the barricaded cave entrance, they have some time to spend keeping in shape, doing calisthenics, and practicing on the new target ranges.

Once you’ve progressed outside, you’ll battle inside a destroyed human outpost, and make your way to safety at a remote dropship pad set among Forean ruins. Outside of the missions, you can actually join in the battle in this new version of the map and play as long as you want, as the Bane will never stop trying to claim this outpost as their own.

If you’ve played Tabula Rasa previously, you may notice that the map is rather familiar. Because we were on a tight timeline, we decided to gut the old tutorial map and repurpose it, rather than building a new map from scratch. I admit, as the mission designer of the previous bootcamp, this was possibly the most fun part of the whole process. Much like tearing apart a house before a big renovation, I gleefully went through the map I’d spent so much time on last year. Downed dropship that never, ever worked right in the beginning of the map? DELETE. Collector and Dissector? Never again will I care that you randomly got stuck on the cave walls, somewhat ruining your whole big scary entrance. And you three Bane that spawned an ambush on the bridge? Yeah, you guys? I no longer care that you would always, always show up with one of you under the bridge like an intergalactic troll, because you. are. deleted.

But it wasn’t all just changing the pretty-pretty, we had to make adjustments to the gameplay as well…

Changing the Gameplay

Tabula Rasa is, in many ways, a complex game that blends elements of FPS games with classic MMORPG standards. There are some very cool advanced elements that are exactly that – advanced. And when trying to scale back on the information overload of the previous tutorial, we decided there were a few things that didn’t need to be taught in the first 15 minutes. Control points, for example, are no longer taught in the tutorial, but we will provide information when they are first encountered in Concordia Wilderness.

The new tutorial has been updated to teach the basic elements you need to know to jump in and play Tabula Rasa. How to shoot your weapon, how to use your abilities, how to level up, and how to gear up are covered in a mission. The rest is covered in a new, updated tutorial and help system. Automated tutorial tips will now briefly pop into view before sliding away to your status bar, so you can read them immediately or stop and read them later. They also link directly to the help menu now, with in-depth information about gameplay available from one-click.

A few of the new changes made for the new player experience extend beyond bootcamp. We’ve updated mission items so they are easier to find within the game worlds (they’ll have an obvious glowing effect) and updated pop-up messaging so it’s easier to keep track when you’re given a new mission objective. We modified the miasma and amoeboids so that they disperse and vomit, respectively, less at lower levels. We also made a few adjustments to the Pinhole Falls caverns, scaling back on the miasmas and moving the mining team outside to caverns. Finally, we pulled together a full revamp of the Caves of Donn instance. Whew!

We’ve added a new package of weapons and gear specially designed for a low-level soldier or specialist. The package will be available through a mission once you reach level 5 and make your first tier choice. Last, but not least, we’ve updated the character creation to include a new tutorial bypass. Once one of your characters has completed the new tutorial, any new characters can bypass the tutorial and go straight to Wilderness.

But you should play the tutorial at least once – if only to stop by and visit a few new NPCs that have taken up residence there. All of the new AFS soldiers on the map are named after real Tabula Rasa players who’ve been big contributors to the game community. Who knows, maybe one of these days you’ll meet up with your own NPC in the game world!

We think we’ve pulled together a pretty cool new update to those first few levels of gameplay and are looking forward to hearing your feedback on the new changes!

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