NCsoft may be the flagship company of the Korean software industry. Beginning with their hugely successful online game Lineage, they have expanded to produce Lineage 2, Guild Wars, City of Heroes, and its expansion City of Villains. They are wise to invest heavily in the online gaming market, as a market research firm DFC Intelligence expects the global online gaming market to grow from US$5.1 billion in 2007 to US$13.1 billion in 2012.
There is a marked difference between online gamers in Asian countries and western countries, however, and NCsoft recognizes that. This is why they joined together with online gaming pioneer Richard Garriott, producer of the first western online game Ultima Online, in order to produce the new online gaming title Tabula Rasa. When asked in an online interview about what inspired him to make Tabula Rasa, Garriott waxed poetic by saying: "Tabula Rasa was formed out of our surprise to see how little online gaming design has changed over the past 10 years.
Since my game Ultima Online, the vast majority of massively multiplayer games have been built with very little variation in the principles that define game design. The name Tabula Rasa, which means blank slate in Latin, describes our game design philosophy. We wanted to start over from scratch and really reinvigorate the game design principles for massively multiplayer games. We felt that our team, who made the first big successful MMO [massively multiplayer online] game, was well-suited to take a lot more risks in attempting to do a lot more innovation." Ultima Online was released in 1997.
The game does include many new ideas to the genre of online games. The game is said to combine the characterdriven grown of an RPG with the action of an online shooter game such as CounterStrike. Even though the two styles of games have traditionally appealed to very different sets of game players, NCsoft hopes to bring them together with this title with features such as built-in voice chat technology, and a living world that responds to player choices. The tag line reads, "Only you can save the universe."
One of the unique ideas and brainchildren of Garriott is the in-game power known as Logos. This is a language of intricate pictures that look like Egyptian hieroglyphics that players can use to create different effects within the game world. While the universe generally has a sci-fi feel, the Logos aspect of the game takes it beyond normal science fiction in the same manner as the Force in the Star Wars series of movies. Tabula Rasa will be available to play in the very near future. The Internet buzz for this game is mostly positive, and a large fan base has already built up a community dedicated to discussing the game in every minute detail.
NCsoft is also releasing a new online game geared towards its Asian audience as well. This game, called Aion, is set firmly within a high fantasy world of angels, demons, and dragons. In fact, the players themselves will be either angels or demons, while the mindless game drones will be the dragons. One of the main features of this game is the integrated flying mechanicsfor all races. Angels have wings, but demons do too, and the dragons are not about to be caught on the ground when everyone else is flying about. Aion will also include flight as a part of tactical combat.
The game claims to be the most beautiful game created by NCsoft yet, which is a tall claim to make. Both Lineage 2 and Guild Wars were highly praised for their graphical excellence. Aion follows in the footsteps of Tabula Rasa in trying to revolutionize the online game genre. The company touts the complexity of the combat by saying that each class in the game will have 8 different strategies, and that changes in the climate and other environmental conditions will also affect what players can and cannot do in the game.
Kinihiko Ryo, one of the world's leading New Age music composers, is working with NCsoft to create a musical score for Aion. The music will seamlessly interweave with the game's on-screen action, setting the mood and atmosphere all the time. Aion's development has been an interesting deviation from the standard. The Aion development team has used public beta testers for the game, but has scheduled discrete testing weekends for the game to be played by its testers. After the weekend is over, the test is finished, and the servers are taken offline again. This has worked out very well for all involved, because it keeps the testers focused on testing the game for a short amount of time, and after the testing is finished they are encouraged to think about what they played and give feedback. This strategy has been able to focus the efforts of a closed beta test from pre-marketing of the game to actual testing. It is a smart move.
The press release for the game paints a very good picture: "Climb sheer cliffs, fly through moving clouds, see water ripple from the downdraft of your own powerful wings and leap gaping chasms. A supremely powerful graphical engine brings the world of your fantasies to life like never before." That's something that even the most disinterested non computer game player might like to see. NCsoft will also be showcasing a few games that it is publishing from third party developers at GStar 2007. These are Dragonica, a children's game about a world full of dragons. Another is Point Blank, an online first person shooter game in a similar vein as KartRider. Playing the game is free, but there are various in-game upgrades that players can buy using in-game money that is earned over time. For those impatient and rich players, upgrades can also be purchased with real cash. Since KartRider by Nexon is basically a license to print money it is expected that this game will also give another, similar license to NCsoft. The third game, Monster Punch, is also geared towards children. The game is quite easy to play but has a fully 3D graphical engine with great detail. Day and night cycles and a living world provide a beautiful and interesting backdrop for children to punch monsters in the head.
NCsoft has also joined together with leading North American independent game advertising provider Double Fusion in support of the proliferation of the free-to-play business model for the games industry. The game advertising company will provide the know-how necessary to plant advertising all over the place in the upcoming game Exteel and the current game Dungeon Runners.