Nerdsworth Academy

TERA: Preview at GDC 2010

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Hey all,

A friend of mine sent me a link to a video from GDC 2010 showing off some gameplay footage from a new MMORPG coming out called TERA Online, being published by En Masse Entertainment.

The link can be found here:

Not to hate on the presenter, but every time he says "and all that good stuff," take a drink.

I have to say first off that the graphics for the game look quite snazzy, if a little too-World of Warcraft-esque: the characters move well and look great (DO WANT that lancer shield and to smack monsters with it!), but the architecture is pulled almost straight from Stormwind and Elywnn Forest. But perhaps it’s just their opening zone and designed to look as familiar as possible. The environments look great though, with colorful flora and horizons.

The game’s character creation system follows the standard RPG rubric of mixing races and classes, featuring a handful of somewhat boring and generic human-esque races and the usual collection of melee and ranged classes. The exceptions being the Popori race, who are raccoon-like and too cute by half, and the Lancer class because shield-users are generally awesome and more badass than their two-handed or dual-wield melee counterparts.

One of the major points the presenter makes is the shift to a more action-oriented style of game play. Directing damage (and, presumably, some or all buffing and healing abilities as well) is controlled through a cross hair in the center of the interface.

Another point is that movement and collision detection will play a large role in combat. The heavy, slow blows of enemies can be dodged by moving one’s character out of harm’s way.  Presumably there will be other things that the player can do in the second or so before the attack happens, perhaps using a block ability or some kind of counterattack. The presenter highlights the use of a class’s Dodge ability to roll out of the way of attacks.  Everything collides as well, so  you can’t just run straight through the boss and turn him around for the benefit of the raid.

I can see where this would be really fun.  Particularly in large-scale battles where positioning becomes highly important for the protection of the squishies.  The tanks form up close and form a hedge of spears against a fast moving enemy boss who tries desperately to run down the healers and spellcasters. 

However, I can also see it being very, very frustrating, with lots of "Oh come on! I totally dodged that!" moments, especially in those large and epic and lag-laden battles.  Given that the designers assume that players will be assuming players can dodge some or all of the attacks, mobs’ damage will be high, making the game very difficult for players with inferior computers and network connections.  200ms tacked onto every movement could kill you.  With so much riding on reaction time (and lag), the appearance of the lag monster could spell doom for the entire raid, be it PvP or PvE. That could get very un-fun very fast.

For new games to sell they need a lure, a hook.  Everyone and their grandmother is trying to get into the pay-to-play online realm, saturating the genre with dozens of games, many of them lackluster or WoW clones.  The lure of Champions Online was ultimate customization of the player’s avatar.  The action-oriented gameplay of TERA Online may be that hook. 

I hope that the action-orientation works, but I am suspicious of its implementation.  Collision detection is nothing new, Warhammer Online had it.  Hell, Ultima Online had it back in the late 1990s.  The designers have to make it the focus of the game through its creative use (and the action system in general).  Allow skilled players to aim for weak points in others’ armor with their cross-hairs. If I go for unarmored areas (I’m talking about you, belly of female plate armor!) I should do considerably more damage.  Attacks need to damage what is hit and how much collision there was, like glancing attacks just nicking an opponent and drawing blood, rather than opening up the aforementioned stomach.  The battles need to be more than just "hit and run" while avoiding the graphical tells.  Add in movement impairing attacks, and targeting impairing attacks which slow the rate that the player can turn.  That is the kind of thing what I think will make or break TERA’s action gameplay, and TERA as a whole.         

I’m up in the air on the game; it could be fun, but it could also very easily be just another that flops after a couple of months.  We’ll have to see.

Enjoy the Sun everyone! Beautiful weather ahoy!



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