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Tabula Rasa Designers talk about the Magma Caverns

Lead World Designer, Michael Hutchison and Mission Designer, Jason Ford, Talk About the Latest Design Changes to Magma Caverns

Tuesday 20th May/Brighton, UK… NCsoft reveals two developer diaries highlighting the latest development updates to the highly acclaimed, Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa. These insights focus on the reconstruction of the Magma Caverns with its brand new map layout and entirely new missions. Lead World Designer, Michael Hutchison looks into the physical design changes within the game from a world-building perspective, while Mission Designer, Jason Ford views the same instance from the game mechanics point of view.

Jason Ford, Mission Designer:
We’re working hard to add brand new maps and missions to Tabula Rasa, but we are also taking the time to polish and add exciting new content to our existing maps and missions as well. The re-work we’ve done for Magma Caverns is a little bit of both of these things combined, so we thought it might be interesting to talk about the revamping of Magma Caverns.

For several reasons, we decided to completely re-do the level design and create brand new missions for Magma Caverns. The current live version will be replaced in the Deployment 8 update with this newly redesigned version. While the ideas in the original were good, we felt that the implementation was not realizing its own potential.

First, a little bit of background. Magma Caverns is currently built for players around level 45, and the level of the instance will remain the same in the reworked version (level 44 – 46). You can access the instance by traveling to the Western edge of Torden Abyss on Planet Arieki. Both the original instance and the new version are based on an ethical parable where the players are given a choice that affects the mission line and story progression for the rest of the map. Initially, the players were instructed to enter Magma Caverns to find a renegade science team and bring them back for court martial, or execute them if they resist. The player was then given the choice to either fight or help them. When we redesigned the map, we ripped out all of the old missions and designed entirely new missions from scratch, including a brand new type of choice mission for groups. As a result, the new storyline is differs slightly from the original.

Magma Caverns was originally designed in such a way that players were unable to play through a large portion of the instance, because only certain areas of the map were available depending on the choice players made near the beginning of the map. For example, the spawning of creatures in the map was dependent upon the choice players made in the choice mission previously mentioned. If a player skipped this part of the mission for any reason, there wouldn’t be anything for players to fight against. Also, since the choice mission wasn’t repeatable players couldn’t try the other choice, and there would be nothing left for players to do if they chose to revisit the map after completing it the first time. Lastly, if a group of players went into Magma Caverns together, the choice in this mission would be decided by the first player to make a decision, regardless of the opinions of his/her group. All in all, we felt that there were fundamental issues in both the mission and level design that needed to be addressed.

Our solution to this problem involved keeping a lot of the original ideas behind the design of Magma Caverns. For instance, we really liked the idea of having a choice mission at the beginning of the map that resulted in playing the map in one of two different ways. In rethinking Magma Caverns and choice missions, one of our designers, Berenger Fish, came up with a brand new way to script together a choice mission in Tabula Rasa. It allows members of a group to vote for a choice in this mission and reach a decision for the group based on the majority vote (solo play is also available). The result was a choice mission appropriately titled “Consensus.” Like the original choice mission, “Consensus” gives players a choice to side with either the Rebels or the Penumbra , the two warring factions in this map.

We also added two new factions created specifically for the missions in Magma Caverns. With the redesign, players can join either the Rebel or the Penumbra faction. Rather than spawning the map with either Rebel or Penumbra as a result of players’ choices, we spawned the map with both, and players’ factions are changed according to their choice or their group’s choice during the “Consensus” mission. With the new faction system in play on Magma Caverns, the Rebels and Penumbra are either hostile or friendly to players, and always against each other. This way we could create a real battle that players could choose which side to support.

If players choose to side with the imbedded Rebels, they will defend against Penumbra assaults and eventually take part in an attack on the Penumbra’s landing zone. On the other hand, if they side with Penumbra, players will participate in the assaults against the Rebels, eventually attempting to take over the Rebel Camp and run the Rebels out of Magma Caverns.

Regardless of which side of the battle players are on, they will have the option to call in reinforcements to help them in the battle if it gets tough. Also, special Penumbra or Rebel waypoints and hospitals will become available to players depending on which side they choose. There are even bonus objectives in the missions for both Rebels and Penumbra. Players will have the opportunity to earn extra experience points and credits depending upon how well they defend certain key points in the map for both factions.

Since “Consensus” is a repeatable mission, players will be able to re-visit Magma Caverns any time they please. They can return at a later time to side with the faction they didn’t go with before and experience the other half of the missions for this map. There is also a side mission to defeat a giant Magmonix that’s hostile to both factions known as “Ember.” Players can experience this mission regardless of the side they choose.

We hope players enjoy the brand new look and feel in Magma Caverns, and we’re working hard every day to bring them exciting and new experiences in Tabula Rasa. Hopefully the work we’ve done in Magma Caverns will be seen as a good example of what players can expect to see as we continue to grow and enhance Tabula Rasa altogether.

Michael Hutchison, Lead World Designer:
The rework of Magma Caverns was undertaken as part of our team’s efforts to make each area of the game as consistent as possible with the other areas of the game. We’re always looking at ways to make the players’ entire experience in Tabula Rasa feel as polished as possible, and to improve upon areas that might not hold up as well as others. With Magma Caverns, we felt we had a really great opportunity to make dramatic improvements to map flow, mission design, visual interest, and overall quality of presentation. I am here to talk about my perspective on what Magma Caverns was and what it will be, with Deployment 8, coming up soon.

As we considered the area more, we got excited by some new ideas, and the prospects of making some notable improvements to the map and its missions for the players. We were motivated by a few main concerns, which guided our criteria for the re-work. Among them: that the instance should offer more level-appropriate content, that it should have a tone in keeping with the storyline, that its conclusion should be more satisfying, and that the visual points of interest should be highlighted in more dramatic ways.

The layout of the previous version of Magma Caverns didn’t allow for a direct flow through the space, in keeping with the sequence of events in the missions. In fact, it was even possible to miss entire sections of the map depending on the path you took within the instance. So, the map just wasn’t being fully utilized. Of course, changing this was important so that no player would feel cheated out of content and visuals. Plus, as developers, we just want to make sure players get to see all of the things that we spend so much time creating! All of this prompted us to look at how the map was built from the ground up, and identify ways to drive players to each area of the map regardless of the choices they made, while also eliminating any backtracking. Essentially, we ended up giving Magma Caverns a complete overhaul.

In looking at the world design of the previous map, there were areas that I thought were very well done, some areas that I felt had greater potential, and some locations we felt needed to be added in order to support the story and backdrop of Torden Abyss. We added a new location called the “Arkhara Research Station,” which is an abandoned Brann research station that monitored the seismic and volcanic forces at the nearby “Agni’s Cauldron” caldera. We placed this new location at the entrance to the map, and it is there that the player will make the choice of whether to align himself with Penumbra or the Rebels. This choice will lead to one of two locations beyond: via teleporter to the Rebel Camp, or through an adjacent cavern to the Agni’s Cauldron point of interest. Either choice will send the player on a mission chain which will lead them on a path through the entirety of the Magma Caverns instance.

Agni’s Cauldron is one area that was left virtually unchanged from the previous version of Magma Caverns, although players will now enter it from a new location which makes a stronger first impression. Agni’s Cauldron was a cool and unique area already; I simply added additional polish through some new visual effects and lighting, and tuned the sky a bit to make it feel like it is part of a much bigger environment above.

In a remote corner of the previous map, there was a small, but well done location where some raintree seeds had been able to take root via some small holes in the cavern ceiling. This small grotto provided a contrasting glimpse of life in an otherwise hostile underground. I really liked this concept and wanted to expand it into a full blown point of interest and make it into one of the signature locations of Magma Caverns. And so was born the “Sakra Oasis,” where a caved-in cavern ceiling has allowed a grove of raintrees to enter from above. This creates a parallel to the Ruins of Tampeii area on the Torden Abyss shared map, where the same thing can be seen happening; so this was a nice way to tie the instance in with what the player already knows about the environment surrounding Abyss.

Another place where I took a previous idea and expanded on it is at the Magmonix Grounds, where a Magmonix graveyard is caught in the middle of the struggle between the Rebels and Penumbra. The original map had a small cave, somewhat off the main path, which had some Magmonix remains tucked away inside. Again, I liked this concept and wanted to expand it into a larger, more unique, and fully realized location. So, I created a cave section off of the Magmonix Grounds to create the graveyard. Adding this location served a few purposes. First, it provided an area with more level ground, which, due to their size, works better for these creatures’ movements. It also makes engaging in combat with them easier, since the player has more space in which to move around. Having Magmonix in the map is important because they add more indigenous life to the Magma Caverns, therefore helping to present a more complete ecosystem. Lastly, just having the location there tells a story about Magmonix, how and where they live, and what they do when they die. It’s a small way to enrich the fictional backdrop of the game and its settings.

All in all, we’re very satisfied by the work we did to improve this instance, and hope that those players who have seen the previous version will agree. For those who have not yet seen the Magma Caverns, I hope they’ll find its visuals unique, and its replay-ability exciting.

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By: MMOGInfo.Com Publish date: 20/05/2008


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