Before the Now: Tabula Rasa

Welcome to the second week of our brand new series, entitled Before the Now, where we take a look at some of the new and upcoming MMORPGs and compare them to their history and where their origins came from. Sometimes the game only undergoes small or minor changes, but other times it becomes a completely different entity. In this blog we will take an in depth look at Tabula Rasa, which originally began development in early 2001.

After finishing his work on the Ultima Series in 1996, Richard “Lord British” Garriot decided to take a break from his video game career. He didn’t reappear until May of 2001 when he announced that he, along with his brother Robert, formed a new studio called Destination Games. Then at E3 2001, a few weeks later, Garriot announced his brand new project with a, then practically unknown, company called NCSoft. In an interview, Garriot announced that his new MMORPG was codenamed Tabula Rasa (Latin for blank slate) and that his newest game would be on a 2 and a half year development cycle. That was the last time the company made any public announcements about the original game.

The company had set out with a vast array of MMORPG veterans that were promising to make the ultimate MMORPG that would unite both the Western audiences and the Eastern audiences. In order to do this the company had decided to give it a rough fantasy-like setting where most of the architecture in the game resembled somewhat of the ancient Eastern empires. Unfortunately that is about as far as the game got into development when the team broke down. Like I said previously, the company had a lot of MMORPG veterans and because of this there were a lot of people trying to take control of the situation. As Garriot, himself, put it there were too many chefs in the kitchen. Finally reaching a breaking point, Richard Garriot, with NCSoft’s approval, replaced nearly 20% of his team (mostly renowned game designers) and almost 75% of the original code.

Now, unfortunately, I was unable to acquire any specific details about the original game, itself. Somebody, probably NCsoft, has gone through a lot of trouble to cover up some of the early screenshots and the original feature list along with the original website. However, I can tell you what I remember about the game:

  • Tabula Rasa was going to be fantasy-based, not Sci-Fi as it is now.
  • Each player was to start out where their own “estate house”.
  • The setting of the world was to be based on ancient China/India.
  • The game was set out to unite Asian MMO-ers and Western MMO-ers, something that was not done back then.

Three years later, Richard Garriot showed off Tabula Rasa again as a completely different game. A new website had been put up in place of the old one and everybody forgot about the game’s past rendition. It was probably for the better as it sounded like the game was not heading in the right direction from the beginning, but it still makes you wonder what their original vision could have been. Certainly giving each player their own estate-sized house was an interesting feature, if nothing else.

Tune in next Friday when we delve into the world behind Pirates of the Burning Sea.