What I learned from TERA as an aspiring gamedev

  • TERA Online is one if not the MMORPG I have been invested in the most, and as much as seeing it go breaks my heart, it's not something that hit me completely out of the blue. I've been playing since 2013 since the game went free-to-play, I saw the rise, the stagnation, the fall, basically I've seen it all. Suffice to say as a hobbyist game developer who aspires to make my own multiplayer world one day, having to experience all this gave me the opportunity to learn some crucial lessons and take some other notes here and there which I thought I should compile into a list.


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    1. If it's not needed, don't make it.


    Did you know there is a campsite near a small oasis outside Allemantheia that is completely deserted? Yeah, most likely not. Arborea is a beautiful world but it feels way, way too big for its own good sometimes and things feel barren. The outskirts areas of the capital cities are the biggest offenders in all this I feel.


    TERA excels at capturing scening views of grandeur at times but often fails when it comes to actually filling them up with things. I remember when I first flew into Velika with a pegasus, my jaw was hanging. But then I realized that the setpiece I flew over was just that, a setpiece. The three great cities are all sprawling mazes but they really do not offer anything more than, say, Pora Elinu in terms of functionality either. Where this hurts the most is costs. Creating something with that much detail costs time and money, rendering it costs resources for the computer, to the point one can't help but wonder... what for?


    But there is more to this than scenery, this applies to game features as well. Echoes of Aranea still has one, ONE single entry in it. Guardian Legion missions are still that nine that was added initially. Just two systems that were left to rot right after introduced to the game as an example.


    On the opposite side of the spectrum, TERA developed this weird tendency of introducing unnecessary hurdles to add more systems where it was not needed, or in places that didn't make sense (did we really need 200 level 68 basilisks in the middle of a 40-something area). For instance, gathering only used to take a good three or four seconds flat before introducing crafting tools and food that would drastically increase gathering time, with the option to decrease it using said tools. But the thing is, those were more like a crutch to solve an artificial problem that actual tools.


    2. More tools, less resources.


    I think what made TERA's combat so great is that you had lots of improvisation and lots of options. You always had to weigh which skills you use in what situation to make the best of your mana (and in some classes, health) consumption. Can you really commit to that Thunder Strike or will you use something shorter and simpler such as Raze, perhaps an Auto Attack to get some mana back? Same with other systems such as charms and crystals, you had options. But more importantly, you didn't really have to commit to them. The charm you burned is not as beneficial as you thought it would be? Well, throw in a different one in the nearest campsite next time. Crystal not as useful as you hoped, switch it out, no big deal. This was a radically simple and very aesthetically pleasing spin on the usual 'lines of bonuses' from other MMORPGs that usually required a lot more effort or luck to change, which this game would unfortunately succumb to, discouraging experimentation in the process.


    When it came to skills, classes - but mostly warrior - could really feel like it could be tailored to whatever suited to your needs. There were more than enough skills to choose from and only so much of your mana pool, making everybody's play styles not-quite-so identical.


    3. Don't change what means a lot to people.


    Dawnfall patch, I'm looking at you. Teleporters taking our cute teleport masters away, don't try to wiggle away either! TERA always had this odd thing with taking away systems to streamline stuff - for instance the token exchange in Velika Consul Office or Combat/Magic trainers to advance our skills - but leaving part of them (aka the NPCs themselves) in.


    But I'm getting off-track here, my main point is: know what your player-base holds deep in their hearts. The tutorial area, that first impression that they will always remember especially. The destruction of the Island of Dawn was not just a texture change, it had a symbolic meaning. Whether they realized it or not, that island represented everything players fell in love with TERA for, and it was turned into everything the player-base hated.


    Again, Point 1.


    4. Slower combat is better combat.


    'But TERA has the best combat system', I hear you cry... and frankly speaking, just between you and me, I hear people say that about every game. There is something I noticed about MMORPGs though, a silent correlation that happened both with TERA, Blade and Soul, Black Desert, all of them priding themselves in 'best combat'. The games start to plateau in player numbers the faster and twitchier it gets.


    It's actually not that complicated if you think about it though. Faster combat means more damage loss or more issues with worse connections, which means more alienated players. Add in the trend of making dungeon bosses spam full-arena AoE attacks in various food item shapes that will deal serious if not outright fatal damage and you're seeing why people are ditching the game, right?


    Ask yourself, if the game gives you 99 instant revives in a dungeon with a free superior all-in-one combat potion to the side, if a game's 'endgame' dungeons require you to watch videos and read guides for even having a modicum of chance at success... is that actually good game design or did you just put up with it?


    TERA actually had the right idea with BAMs at first, they would mostly focus on one player but they would constantly move about during a fight, jumping, stomping, charging all over the place. They would all have ranged attacks and secondary aggros against pesky healers too. They felt unstoppable. But the combat was slow and methodical enough that while you never felt truly safe in a fight, you knew you'll most likely be okay so long as you keep a sharp eye on the enemy and have the right tools at hand, even with higher ping or if there is a slight lag. If you were a coordinated team, your chances would grow even higher.


    5. Combat is not the end-all-be-all.


    Sure, combat is fun but not when it's all there is, or watching bars fill up. More emotes and more areas such as the wedding pavilion in Scythea Fae would have added a ton more role-playing opportunities. Tie in some permanent mini-games - perhaps even two-player ones such as in RuneScape - with compelling rewards and there you go.


    6. Keep a design doc for crying out loud!


    Ultimately, the thing that lead to TERA's downfall was its loss of identity. Over the years it has constantly tried to mimic other popular MMORPGs which slowly eroded the core game that players fell in love with at release and turn it into just one of the many. From ripping off Blade and Soul's, and then Black Desert's combat around 2014 and 2019 respectively, to adding Black Desert's 'fish while you sleep' type auto-fishing and crafting, to turning the icons to the flat, single-color, soulless ones... like in Black Desert.


    I am not saying 'do not change the game', rather than 'one should write down the purpose and the spirit of the game and change things accordingly'. Do not be stingy either, the more details you write, the clearer the image of the game's goal become for both the development team of the future, and the player-base.


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    Those are all the points I have, I suppose. Given the board will be gone in a month it's not much, but I felt like doing this post-mortem.