What was the initial inspiration behind Tabula Rasa?
Long: I think there were two main inspirations. One is the idea of an epic, story-driven action title. The best example I can think of is the D-Day invasion in Medal of Honor, which presented the feeling of being in the middle of a war, and putting that feeling in an online game, which hasn't been done to date on a large scale. This ties back to the ability to create a very dynamic, large world where NPCs are always fighting each other whether you are there or not. That feeling of being in the middle of a war has always been one of the core visions for the game.
The other inspiration is our experience making the Ultima series, where the game that you are playing is just a slice of a very deep world. We included aspects that people can relate to. For instance, you'll notice when you are playing the game that the good alien race that you interact with may have some angelic references and the bad alien race has some demonic references and there are hints throughout the game that may indicate that they have contacted us in the past.
The Logos language that Richard created is another example. It was inspired in part by the work he had done in Ultima with the Runic language. Then there were a lot of science fiction inspirations from many different sources.
How does the game as it stands now compare to your original vision?
Long: I actually think that the vision of trying to create a war and putting you in the middle of it totally matches our vision of what we wanted, and that is something that you get even from the first few minutes of playing the game. You feel like you are dropped in a very dynamic, very intense world that is unlike any online game, and I think we've succeeded in achieving this vision. Our players in the closed beta are giving us that feedback. They are telling us that right from the beginning they feel like they are in the middle of a war.
It must have been a challenge bringing fast-paced action to a persistent MMO world - what have been the hardest things to overcome in that regard?
Long: We wanted to have a very fast-paced action feel while still having a role-playing game, where you still develop your character through time, where the equipment you use influences things around you and the gameplay is not twitch-based. However, we still wanted to keep many elements of real-time combat and this is where things like cover during combat become important; whether I'm standing or crouching affects the damage I can take. Bringing those real-time elements to play nicely with the role-playing elements was pretty challenging.
Probably even a bigger challenge was again creating that dynamic world environment. There's a reason why this hasn't been done before because to get it to work right is very challenging. Balancing thousands and thousands of AI fighting each other and doing thousands of intense calculations that don't overwhelm the server was quite a challenge.