War Reporter ~ 2004 – 2012: Eight Years of CoHCOMICS!

Continuing our series of articles on the genesis of AFS at War to celebrate eight years of CoHCOMICS, in this post guest blogger Ben Biggs writes of his experiences of Tabula Rasa’s Final Countdown as originally published by Total PC Gaming.

### Incoming Transmission ###

The final Bane assault on Foreas, Arieki, and parts unknown will commence on Saturday, February 28th. Please join us to help battle back the Bane armies one last time!

The attack is slated to commence at approximately 8 PM GMT on Centarus and then later at 8 PM CST on Hydra. Servers will shut down at approximately midnight GMT and CST respectively.

Get out your best gear, load up on ammo, and raise a final cheer for the troops of the Allied Free Sentients!

### End Transmission ###

I’ve just witnessed the shut down of Tabula Rasa. It was interesting from a sociological point of view: the mood was, if anything, euphoric. People seemed to be celebrating the fact that they were part of a rare occurence in MMOs and enjoying the final onslaught of the oppressive Bane forces. Strange, considering some of those were undoubtedly hardcore players with a lot of time and money invested in the game. For me, it was a bit of an anticlimax, but being a freeloading hack who popped onto the servers today for only the second time since TR launched, I neither deserved nor expected the same experience that dedicated TR players were obviously enjoying. I had hoped that my puny level six recruit would get boosted to level 50 by a friendly dev, but no joy. I’m not sure what I would have done with all that power anyway, because my main problem was trying to figure out where the action was.
Here’s my account of the final four hours of TR, from a noob’s perspective, for posterity:

28/02/09 – 19:25
Logged on, created a character, Biggles Wort. Don’t care what he looks like, just get me into the game, dammit!

19:30
I enter the Noob area, a series of training missions instanced on the server and away from the general population and the main event. Fortunately it’s a lot quicker to get through it than I remember. Damn! Getting good XP off even basic Bane Infantry.

19:40
Finally, onto the main part of the EU server. No-one seems to be about in Bootcamp, but then someone says that everone’s gathering down at the Twin Pillars. I push on towards the outpost – it’s a bit of a trek and it takes me through several dodgy zones for a character of my diminutive stature. Oddly, the Bane has vacated the Bootcamp area altogether… it’s ominous.

19:50
Twin Pillars is rammed – two players per square metre, most level 30-50. Lots of flashy pyrotechnics going on, but not much else. People are complaining about lag… shock. Nothing’s happening. I leave Fraps running and go downstairs to make chicken dinner.

19:53
Chicken’s out of the oven, juices are running clear, TR is making loud booming noises upstairs. I rush upstairs.

19:57
Still nothing happening. People are getting anxious and start calling to the GMs. A shout goes out from a player that it’s actually all going down in Forean Base. What?! Where the hell is that? And where’s the chat key?
Not that any message I type would matter – the chat tab’s scrolling upwards faster than a printing press.

19:59
Found Forean Base on the map – not too far from Twin Pillars. Hope I can make it in time.

20:04
Five minutes yomping and I’m in a seriously fortified encampment. There’s a huge fixed cannon here, how’s the Bane gonna get past that? Also, there are HUNDREDS of players, most around level 50. No Bane incursion could get past these guys. Most of them are on the bridge, don’t know why though.

20:05
The GM’s want the players off the bridge. I still don’t know why that is, but the players won’t budge anyway, by way of protest. One guy shouts “WHAT R U GONNA DO BAN ME?” He gets banned on the spot, a Thatcher-inspired judgment call by the GMs. The bridge begins to clear of picketing players.

20:10
Reports are filtering in from bases all over Arieki, people calling for support against huge Bane attacks. Some are pitifully undermanned – one base has just five players defending it and they plea for people to come and help them in the general chat channel. They fall ominously quiet within minutes.
Control point Purgas, just south of Forean Base, falls under Bane control, but AFS recaptures it shortly after.
Some deluded players seem to think that by holding bases they can stop TR from shutting down. Sounds to me like the TR shut-down could be a good thing for these people.

20:15
Nothing’s happening in Forean Base.

20:20
Still nothing happening in Forean Base. High-level players are peeling off in squads to join the fun elsewhere. Forean Base is beginning to look like noobville.

20:30
Yawn.

20:35
Apparently, there are deadly creatures called Nephs with the Bane incursions that are immune to everything and deal out insane amounts of damage. Makes no odds to me though, the Bane could be armed with sharpened dinner forks and still be threat to my character. Speaking of which, I’m getting bored and hungry. Time to put the potatoes and brocoli on.

20:50
Food’s ready and the prospect of whole grain mustard with my chicken seals the deal: to hell with TR for the next ten minutes. One pathetic level six character certainly isn’t going to turn the tide of battle for the AFS.

21:10
It’s sod’s law that Richard ‘General British’ Garriott would make a surprise appearance while I’m stuffing my face.  But he doesn’t. Forean Base is still boring despite the chat channel being drowned in people calling for help. I’m going to play HOMMIII for a bit instead and catch the last half hour…

T-35 minutes
I log back in and I’m zapped to a place called CELLAR area. Unfortunately there’s no vintage booze down here, just a load of players and a boxing ring. Thanks, but no thanks – I’ve been sparring once today already. There are lots of teleporters to different locations, but they’re all out-of-order and repeat the same message when I step onto them: “This region has been lost to Bane forces!” I can’t find a way out of this hub.

T-30 minutes
A yellow admin message pops up in general chat: “In 30 minutes Tabula Rasa will go down for daily server maintenance. The ‘downtime’ window is two hours long, but maintenance may or may not take that entire time.”
This is universally unacknowledged, but then a another admin message appears, “We will have the game back up and running as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience!” Is this is a sick joke? It makes me chuckle anyway, so it must be pretty sick. ‘lol’ starts to appear in general chat a lot, but some people sound confused. The admin message is repeated in German and French. Someone says “That’s great news! I’m so glad it’s coming back up!”
…it’s the final insult. Someone calls for the devs to play Rick Astley “Never Gonna Give you up” in-game.
Please don’t.

T-20 minutes
Another admin message goes up, sounds genuine this time, “The admins responsible for the incorrect error messaging have been chopped up and fed to skitterin. NOM NOM NOM.” Someone claims that the devs are drunk. I still can’t find an exit.

T-15 minutes
I finally find a way out of CELLAR to Earth: Final Stand – New York, apparently. 23rd Street Station. I follow a group of level 50’s up the steps and have a brief glimpse of an urban ruin infested with gaudy-coloured Bane creatures I’ve never seen, before I’m vaporised in a single bolt of purple. I don’t think the level 50’s lasted much longer.

T-10 minutes
I appear near the bottom of the steps again, I run up the steps and get sniped again. I respawn and the process is repeated five times more. I can’t understand it… the Bane don’t seem to care that I’m filming the final annihilation of the AFS for posterity. It would make a great propaganda video for their army recruitment.

T-5 minutes
Five minutes to go and I’ve managed to last longer than five minutes on ground zero by shadowing a heavily armoured squad. I’m not sure whether this area was made especially for TR’s final event, but it’s an appropriate swan song.

T-4 minutes
People are thanking devs and other players. There’s some speculation as to how this will end – someone suggested we might be nuked. What a romantic notion. I reckon we’ll all see a disconnection message.

T-2 minutes
Barely any Bane around here any more, I think they’ve actually invaded CELLAR. That’s what everyone’s saying.
Earth is all mine and I’m wondering how I’d like to go out. I probably haven’t even got enough firepower to take on a Bane toddler and there are no babes to… err… talk to. Sitting and watching the chat tab seems like a good option.

T-1 minute
People are counting down the seconds now

T-50 seconds
The Chat panel’s going wild…

T-30 seconds
Some are suggesting that everyone moves onto EVE… have some respect, folks.

T-10 seconds
Admin countdown starts: “Server Shutting Down In 10…”

T-9 seconds
“9? Someone calls Richard Garriott a bad name.

T-8 seconds
“8?

T-7 seconds
“7? Someone else mis-quotes something vaguely Dylan Thomas.

T-6 seconds
“6?

T-5 seconds
“5? Stroller starts spamming “THANK YOU FOR THE BEST MONTH EVER.” Apparently he’s a freeloader too and has been for a month. I don’t feel so guilty about watching this sinking ship.

T-4 seconds
“4? URLs are appearing for TR tribute sites – how is anyone supposed read that when the chat panel’s flying upwards at the speed of light?

T-3 seconds
“3? An optimistic gold farmer is trying to sell TR items.

T-2 seconds
“2? In my anticipation, I start to consider whether the devs are going to lay on a light show for us or not.

T-1 seconds
“1? I am now officially excited.

T-0 seconds
“You have been disconnected from the server.” Oh. How disappointing. My avatar could have at least been given a mercy killing and by that I mean, spontaneously combusted in a giant ball of green and orange flame. Instead he’s consigned to floating in virtual oblivion.

The final message to appear in general chat came from Mafakka (sounds Greek to me), “BYE BEST MMO!!!” I couldn’t disagree more, but Tabula Rasa was important to some people. I wonder how I would feel if LOTRO was shut down… gutted, I suppose. Even though I was never really a part of the TR community, I’m still left with a pang of nostalgia. I feel honoured to have been a part of its final hour.

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War plans ~ 2004 – 2012: Eight Years of CoHCOMICS!

Continuing our look ‘behind the scenes’ of AFS at War, in this post we reproduce some of the documents detailing the genesis and development of the project.

Seen below are Marks’ original notes for the story outline and background scenario.Note that the bottom of the page shown indicates it was written at a stage where the story would be told over three chapters from the differing perspectives of the antagonists, The Recruit, The General and Specialist Slate, respectively…

 

The second image here shows the breakdowns for the first four pages of the opening sequence. 

Although the war would provide a backdrop to the story being told it was a conscious decision that it would only be shown briefly, hence the large Thrax splash page after which they are never seen again…

Even early in the process of taking screen shots there were a number of retakes required and bits of vague information that needed to be clarified such as place and character names.

Obviously there was a very real final deadline approaching for any redux to be completed in.  Once the servers were shut down there was no guarantee how long references such as TaRapedia would remain, although as it happens the site still persists to this day.

N.B. the “yawn” was a required emote on page 5, not indicative of boredom!

The reverse side of the paper similarly shows changes required while the game was still running.

Once again, the concept of spreading the narrative out over three chapters, this time across three separate issues with different but thematically linked front covers as each character is introduced to the narrative arises.
Unfortunately, the material covering each of the featured characters is not of a consistent length in terms of page counts, so the idea was dropped…

War (comics) is Hell ~ 2004 – 2012: Eight Years of CoHCOMICS!

Right from my first days in the Beta, I always had the fancy that Tabula Rasa would make a good comic series. There was a huge amount of scope to tell personal stories against the backdrop of the conflict between Allied Free Sentient forces and The Bane; Where are the Earth survivors who weren’t fighting?; What about people who didn’t want to be drafted?; What did cloning mean?; What if your clone ended up the opposite sex?; but a lack of time prevented me from exploring any of them while the game was running and it was only the prospect of it being shut down forever that spurred me on in that final month of life to capture some of what I’d seen in the world for posterity.

And what a beautiful world, or worlds, it was, or they were, too.
With the exception of three images I can think of, the 60-ish pages are all screenshots from taken from the game engine and the story only takes place on one continent of one of the planets (two if you count Earth) and none of those have been Photoshopped. Yes, unbelievably even that Thrax Overseer being punched out on page 14, actually happened just the way it was pictured, the instant the screenshot button was being pressed by Julie, as you can see from the whole sequence of images.Speaking of Julie this wouldn’t exist in its current form without her help. Beyond the sanity checking and edits she’s still to finish even as I type, the hours she spent in front of keyboard or laptop during the five nights running up to the server shutdown at midnight on 1st March 2009 were going above and beyond the call of duty, especially the two and a half hours we spent in the Pinhole Caverns trying to get that lightning attack from the correct angle while keeping roaming Miasmas and other players out of the picture without success. It was entirely my fault that we had to return six days later, on that final day of operation, when I realised flagging the characters for PvP would allow us to get exactly what we wanted in only 20 minutes!

And so what if the whole thing took three and a quarter years to finish, despite my highly optimistic appraisal of being able to complete it in a month? It’s still the story I set out to tell which has remained consistent all this time, but more refined and evolved than it would have been being produced in such a short time frame.

Of course the elongated gestation period for the book opened it up to other, less desirable, incidents too, such as the inadvertent deletion of all the screen shots from the backup storage and the loss of all the pages produced between august 2011 and april 2012. While the former was relatively early on in the process and would just have meant abandoning the nascent work, it was much more dis-heartening to lose the pages produced for the latter half of the story with such a substantial portion already completed. In the end it was as much about summoning up the will to redo the lost to work as much as the effort of actually recreating them.

Although Julie was involved in the production process and had a vague notion of the plot, it’s only been during her review of the entire book that she got to experience the whole story from beginning to end. Her initial list of dialogue corrections was accompanied by the comment “a Cliff-hanger? Really?”

So to avoid any confusion for anyone else who wasn’t around when the game ended, the implication in the last minutes before the servers shut down, as the recruit says, is that although the GMs playing the Neph were claiming victory, their forces were actually on the back foot against the players by that point and that the AFS won the war on Earth.
Then obviously they switched off the servers (for story purposes Umbra was activated) and the whole universe disappeared forever…

So as to the cliff hanger, it isn’t one.
Never was.

The story was always intended to end in an instant, true, heat death.
That’s it, stelliferous era to dark era of universal expansion in a few seconds thanks to Umbra.

Everybody lost. Everything just stopped.

And now I can too…

Mark McCreadie
Day 1234 (yes, really!) of my war

Day 1188 of the war…

Something of a red-letter day as this morning, after three years, three months and two days I completed the last page of art for my Tabula Rasa graphic novel.

Although it’s not actually the final page of the story, nor the book, aside from any changes required during editing it’s finally done and ready for finishes and lettering, so as I shared the first page with you a while back I thought it only fair to show this off too…

Marks Remarks

Back in February I touched on the the fact that I’d failed to deliver an update for the CoHCOMICS site for the first time since I took it over. Unfortunately following that the same thing happened again for the next update and the next and I came to the realisation that I just wasn’t enjoying it any more.
On top of that the laptop death/remediation issues with the domain name/a general lack of time to develop it further/other superhero MMOs being prettier/not actually having played CoH since i14/Paragon Studios global account merger stupidity had all conspired to force me to the decision to draw the site to a close at the end of April.
Thanks to this blog though most of it will still be around in some form even if it takes a while to move all the material across and it’s not to say I won’t do something with it or the three dozen or so submissions which are still waiting to go online eventually, but after five years running it (three of which have been updating a minimum of very two weeks) and nearly seven after the site first opened it’s doors it was time to take a breather!

With all my new-found free time I’ve gravitated back to playing Champions Online, favouring it slightly even over my beloved Star Trek Online with its recent content drought. That’s not to say Champs has been any better in that regard what with the buyout of Cryptic from Atari by Perfect World and effort seemingly being focused on the move of STO to a free to play model instead, but having left CO when the closed beta for Trek started and not having returned till the debut of its Weekly Comic Series there’s a ton of old content which is entirely new to me at this point.

It’s also prompted me to push on with my Tabula Rasa comic. In fact in the last month I’ve made more progress on that than I have at anytime since I completed the first 14 pages of it back in July 2009!