Development Hell: Destination Games actually created two MMOs during Tabula Rasa's development. The first iteration of Tabula Rasa was fairly complete by 2004, but was canned. The final version of Tabula Rasa is nothing like the Tabula Rasa of 2004. Just take a look at the 2004 trailer, and the walkthroughfrom E3 during the same year.
In a December 2011 interview with Eurogamer, Richard Garriott explained why the original 2004 build was scrapped—they were initially attempting to design a game that would appeal to Asian markets, as Lineage 2 does. After two years of development, however, feedback during the development process indicated that the game just wouldn't take. Destination Games decided to focus more on what they were familiar with doing, leading to the final product. However, having spent two years and millions of dollars already on a what was practically an entirely different MMO, NCSoft was very impatient and pushed Destination Games to get Tabula Rasa out the door.
Executive Meddling: Of the worst kind. There's really no way to describe NCSoft's actions (forging Garriot's resignation letter in particular) in any sort of generous light.
What Could Have Been: Very little of Tabula Rasa's 2004 incarnation remained in the final product, although the central theme of the Eloh vs. the Bane was present, as was the Eloh's ideographic language. Here's some of the highlights of Tabula Rasa in its 2004 incarnation:
All players owned personal property within an area known as the Sanctuary, a set of floating islands within the event horizon of a wormhole. Each player's island would have been fully customizable, allowing players to change its size and features. They could be made private (invite-only) or publicly accessible. This was also where players handled crafting, which was purely recipe-based and required no specific skill set to perform. Player-owned vendors could also be set up.
The Sanctuaries would also have offered an introduction to the game in a Justified Tutorial, solving the problem of then-current generation MMOs dropping a player into the game world without any idea of what they should be doing.
"Wild_ComLp4" was the theme used in player-owned islands during the E3 demo.
Similar to the Phantasy Star MMOs, players would access multiplayer "hubs" within the Sanctuary through a Waypoint in their home island. Within the multiplayer hub, players could teleport directly to their friends or areas of interest at any time. From the Hub, players and parties would use a Wormhole Generator to depart on missions, to the various planets under threat by the Bane. All missions had a text briefing explaining their objectives, risks, and rewards before departing.
The concept of Body, Mind, and Spirit played a much larger role. Each attribute had different kind of weapons affiliated with it; Body weapons were physical, such as swords and guns. Mind weapons were informational, like books, scrolls, or light pens to form glyphs in the air. Spirit weapons involved music and dancing, such as instruments. One spirit weapon featured rotated like a hula-hoop when not in use, then transformed into a harp when attacking. Another was called the Resonating Lens, and emitted sonic pulses.
Enemies had varying Body, Mind, and Spirit attributes as well, and players had to choose the right weapon type to effectively deal with them.
Instead of the Adrenaline Meter, the 2004 version had a Chi Meter. Every time the player successfully hits a target, the meter would full up, to a maximum of three levels. The player could then use a level to unleash a Chi Strike. Using a variety of attacks built the gauge up faster than spamming a single attack. The sam-taeguk (similar to the taijitu) used as the emblem of the Allied Free Sentients in the released version of the game served as the Chi Meter.
The 2004 version emphasized the Virtual Paper Doll mechanic more; similar to City of Heroes, Phantasy Star Universe, and Champions Online, players had the freedom to wear what clothes they wanted. Actual armor bonuses came from accessories that hovered around the player, like Mags in Phantasy Star Online. These pieces of armor changed the silhouette of a player, which was what would have denoted the player's class (one featured player had halo and wing-like accessories).