Can you tell us about the new areas in the game? What can players expect from Lorien and Eregion?Eregion is an area which was once inhabited by the Elves and was abandoned. Elrond and co. took a lot of things back to Rivendale. It’s a large area that leverages some of the higher level content. It’s a place to experiment with some if the new item stuff and there’s quite a lot of new encounter content in there. Some of the epic story happens in there, including the conclusion of volume one so, essentially, Eregion is Book 15. In Lorien, players are going to find themselves in Gladriel’s Garden – you’ll actually meet Gladriel. She will ask you to peer into her mirror and you’ll learn a little about your character’s future and it’s specific to the class of the person looking at it. Depending on which class you’re playing, you’re going to have a different experience with Gladriel. You also encounter Gwaihir, the eagle. You’re actually there at the time that Gladriel sends him to go rescue Gandalf from the top of Orthanc.How have you tweaked the PvMP features in Mines of Moria?There are a couple of major things. Firstly, we’ve changed the way that hotspots and keeps work. So, for example, the delving of Fror and areas like that which used to be gated by three keeps are now gated by all these various outposts. I think there’s about a dozen hotspots throughout the Ettenmoors . Now controlling a number of those is what opens up access to some of those gated places like the Delving of Fror. We’ve added an artefact system which is a type of capture the flag. If one side is able to steal an artefact and get it all the way back to their keep then that side will receive extra buffs and modifiers. Not just in the Ettenmoors, this also provides a global buff to anyone who’s on the side of good and evil.We’ve also added a balance mechanic. One of the big problems we had in the Ettenmoors was that sometimes there would be overwhelming odds on one side or the other which made it very difficult and unbalanced. The system is now aware of the strength of numbers on either side and whenever it becomes significantly unbalanced it gives advantages to the weaker side. For example, the session play Troll and Ranger that used to be available to pretty much anyone (albeit in a limited number) are now being used to balance the sides. If your side is significantly outnumbered, you’re going to have more access to those session play characters than the other side.Finally, we’ve made some pretty big changes to the way we’re using the landscape and the way we channel players. Now, players will end up concentrated together a lot more than they used to. Before players were getting too spread out and there wasn’t as much conflict as we wanted.What have you learned from the beta? Did you encounter any major balancing issues?Always! We had to make sure the new classes balanced well with eachother and existing classes and the item advancement system went through huge revisions during the alpha/beta stages. Everything from the feedback of the UI was covered. There was a lot of simplification of the UI and a lot of changes to balancing.Where do you see LOTRO’s current position in the MMO genre?Well, we still believe that LOTRO is one of the leading MMOs on the market and that we’re right up there at the top with one or two other games. We know that we’re an industry leader, that we continue to be and that we’re growing and evolving our game probably more aggressively and effectively than anyone else and players seem to be responding to that.Was the timing of the launch an issue? Was the release of Wrath of the Lich King considered?It’s definitely a consideration from a business perspective, but we try not to be intimidated. But we’ve concluded a couple of things. First of all, the MMO market is much more crowded now so we’re not planning around one launch every couple of years. There are a number of games doing expansions and if we spent our life planning around them all, that would be very difficult. Second of all, are games are not all the same. For example, we offer something different to what Lich King is offering.The people we’re trying to compete with all the time are ourselves. We want to make sure that everything we do feels better than the last time. We think that’s the thing that’s going to push us forward, rather than looking at everyone else.With more choice available now for MMO players, are you seeing more people return to LOTRO?Absolutely. It’s a constant part of our customer flow. We’ve got some people who come and stay forever, some who play for six months and then move on and then we’ve got a lot of people who come and go depending on where we are in our cycle and where other games are in theirs. There’s a lot of people who play more than one of these games at the same time.{PAGE TITLE=Page 2}That’s hard to believe given the time MMOs require.[Laughs] Yes, it’s hard to believe. But we did a lot of research into this and I think the last study found that close to a third of people are playing more than one MMO. However, they’re probably only focussing one one at any given time.What’s next for LOTRO?Well, what I will say is that we’ve now passed through the barrier into the Misty Mountains and that opens up all kinds of things for us. Whether it’s Rohan or Gondor or Eisengaard, there’s all kinds of things to explore as we go forward. We’re not talking about precisely what’s next yet but we will soon. It also means that we’re in the more war-like part of Middle Earth. Eriador is the calm before the storm.Have you got a detailed life-cycle in mind for LOTRO? Do you know where you’ll be in a few years time?Like everything we do, we have a very high level best guess about the way things are going to proceed, and then we accept the fact that we don’t know what we’re talking about [laughs]. So far things have progressed pretty much the way we thought they would . We always thought that Moria would be our first expansion. The geography and direction of the story helps us, but it starts to get interesting in a little while, because the Fellowship begins to split up so then we have to start making choices about where the players are going to go. They’ll eventually go everywhere, but in what order?How big is the LOTRO team at the moment?We don’t talk about numbers, but it’s big and it’s growing. Our team is probably smaller than some other companies but we’ve been doing this for a long time so we do a lot with less. The LOTRO franchise team is much larger than it was at launch and it continues to grow now. For example, we haven’t launched Moria yet and I’ve already got a team working on the next expansion and I’ve already got a team working on book seven for live, which will be the first book we release after Moria. All of that has to be happening at the same time. People move around because we want to make sure the games feel consistent and not like three separate entities, for example.How closely are you working with the Tolkien estate? Have you encountered any problems? Have there been times when your content was not found to be in keeping with the franchise’s origins?We work really closely with them and I talk to them frequently. We submit all kinds of content to them well in advance so that we don’t get too deep in production if any changes need to be made.
I think it’s changed. When we first started working on the project before launch, they were more concerned and we were more concerned about making sure they were involved in as many steps as possible. They di
dn’t have any idea of our understanding of the lore and how we were going to treat it and we didn’t know how sensitive they were going to be. So we spent a lot of time together. At this point, they really trust that we find the integrity of the world as valuable as they do and we have pretty good idea about where they’re willing to bend because this is a game first. They don’t go everything we do, pixel by pixel, word by word. It would be impossible. But when we deal with anything majorly iconic, we need their Input. For example, when we’re doing the Balrog we’ll send them concepts of how we think it should look and make sure it’s in line with their thinking. If we’re inventing anything significant that isn’t in the book at all then we definitely spend time with them. We certainly make changes based on their suggestions but they are pretty minor at this point.Does this consultation hinder the process? It doesn’t much. I’ve worked with a lot of license holders and this is probably the least cumbersome system I’ve worked with. It doesn’t slow us down so much as add complexity to the design.
What do you think LOTRO’s main success has been? What are you most proud of?I think there are three things. I think we’ve demonstrated that you can re-envision an IP in an MMO successfully, which is something that really hadn’t been done before. The fact that we could create a whole world that felt authentic to the people – a world that really embodied the spirit of the original IP. I think that’s an achievement and if we hadn’t done that I think we would have failed.I also think that between deeds and traits – and now the item advancement system – we’ve significantly improved on the advancement model for players in this kind of MMO. I think the Legendary Item system is going to have a huge impact on that.And finally, it’s interesting to see that everyone’s talking about story now in MMOs. I think. We were really the first people to successfully integrate a story into an MMO that feels meaningful without trapping you into a linear path.Finally, there has been talk about a new console-based MMO from Turbine. Can you tell us any more about it?We’re excited about the stuff we’re doing and we hope to be able to talk more specifically about what we’re doing early next year. But we’re not going to talk about it until we’re absolutely certain with the direction in which we’re going.We are spending a lot of time in R and D to find out what it is about an MMO that is different from any other kind of game. What is it that makes MMOs so compelling? What are the things that make console games equally compelling? Where do those things overlap, and what do we need to change in order to make it meaningful. Rather than just saying “we know how to make this type of game so we’re just going to make all the buttons work on a console controller” we’re trying to say “Ok, persistence is really important. Social interaction is really important. A sense of open-world is really important. A sense of transparency in your advancement with other people in your world is important.” Those are things we know have to be part of it. We also love telling a story, so we know that that must be part of it.In terms of what makes consoles so effective, well they’re in the living room. They tend to be shorter session play, they are simpler (in terms of how you interact with the game) and they’re more responsive. There’s a tactile sense of immediacy that you don’t get with a PC game. What we’re trying to figure out now is, no matter what the product is, how does all that come together? We’re making some great headway and it’s exciting.One of the main concerns of MMO fans is how to bring the MMO interface to the console effectively with the use of just a joypad. Is this something that’s a big issue for your team?Oh yeah, it’s one of half a dozen fundamental issues and that’s what we’ve been working on for more than a year now. The answer is that you can’t think of it as taking what you already do on the PC and “moving” it over to the console. The PC is great at managing large amounts of resources – e.g inventories, skills, weapons – as you can manipulate data with the keyboard and the mouse. The console is never going to have that. Both Microsoft and Sony have a keypad but it’s not the same time as a PC keyboard. The PC has reached prominence for being a business machine, for managing data which is why it’s so useful for RTS and MMOs. On the console, you don’t have the ability to do that. You have to reimagine the game rather than trying to do what you do on a PC on a console. That’s just an exercise in frustration.Is there a risk of dumbing down the game as a result? I think there is a risk, but there’s some things that are fun to do at a computer desk that really wouldn’t be fun in a sofa setting. It’s really more about what we want the sofa experience to be. What is it about an MMO that makes an MMO? Where do the two meet? That’s our process.Click here for part 1 of the interview where Jeffrey Steefel discusses the new classes and the Legendary Item system.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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