Gaming Today Q&A with Jeffery Steefel, Executive producer of The Lord of the Rings Online (Part 2)

Yesterday we spoke with Jeffery Steefel, Executive Producer of The Lord of the Rings Online about Turbine’s reasoning and approach to content expansion, the MMO business model and why the area of Evendim was chosen as the base of the first expansion to the game.


Today we conclude the interview with information on the game’s new Raid, connections between the book and the game and a quick postmortem on the game since release â$” what he was most proud of and what he intends to change.



Gaming Today: One of the things in the new expansion is a raid set in the Misty Mountains, which is familiar to readers of the books as a setting in not only The Lord of the Rings but also for a great deal of the story in The Hobbit. Can you tell us a little about that raid and why you chose to set it there?


misty-mountains-small.jpgJeffery Steefel: Sure, now we’re in the section of the Misty Mountains that is a little south of the part you mentioned from The Hobbit. That section is really more adjacent to Mirkwood, which is toward the north. Though that is an area we definitely will be exploring in the future because its part of our license but we wanted to reserve that for a period of time where we could really focus on Mirkwood and The Hobbit and everything that happens there. There are some challenges to solve with [that content], that we are pretty comfortable with, in terms of history and the time difference. The things that happen in The Hobbit are obviously hundreds of years removed from the things that are happening during the War of the Ring. We’re sort of saving that for a later time.



The Misty Mountains go all the way down towards the south until they get down towards Moria. In fact part of Moria is underneath the Misty Mountains. Where you actually do this raid is not necessarily part of the whole Hobbit experience, its just in the Misty Mountains. There are some creatures you encounter that are appropriate to the Mistys and it’s a place we wanted to start moving you into. Obviously as we get further east you’re going to be spending more time in the Mistys and for lots of different reasons.



dragonconcept.jpgGT: One of the other connections between this raid and The Hobbit is the presence of a dragon correct? There aren’t a whole lot of dragons left in Middle-Earth at this point in the story and you managed to find one. How did that evolve?



JS: You’re talking about Thurog. He’s not really a dragon in that he’s a dragon-wight. When you get there â$” if you survive- you find he’s essentially an undead dragon. He’s just like a Barrow Wight so he’s risen in wight form from one of the ancient dragons so he is not an in-the-flesh, living, breathing dragon and that’s how his existence is reconciled [with the books]. There is more story about how he gets resurrected and what your role in it is but we want people to discover that when they get there.



GT: You’ve introduced this book concept for your expansions. This leaves me with the impression that you’re slowly adding up to the next step in the story where the War of the Ring is taking place in earnest. We’re at this brewing point with the Sauron’s return being somewhat secret and the forming of the Fellowship. How long until we actually get to that point?



JS: I guess the way we look at it the war is always going on. You’re right in that in Eriador in particular, with the exception of Angmar â$” which we’ve kind of imposed on Eriador fictitiously – we are in preparation for war but we’ve now gotten the player [at the end of the launch content] to Rivendell around the time of the Council of Elrond. Once you start to move across the Misty’s you’re going to eventually find yourself in Moria. The further and further east you get the more the war itself â$” this particular war with Sauron â$” is going to become evident. Eventually you’ll find yourself clashing swords with say Saruman or the more direct minions of Sauron from the south.



We’re trying to mark time, take it slow and let people’s experiences evolve. You’ll be seeing evidence of the war, the very specific war with Sauron as you continue east. Remember though that you’re still under the influence of Angmar right now, even during this update, and there are still some other characters that will rise and come forward including a character we’re not talking too much about yet, but she becomes another pretty big antagonist you’re going to be dealing with this year. She is also tied to Sauron and her story also involves a ring and some other stuff that is going to keep you quite busy. We’re trying to slowly build to the part of Middle-Earth that is really significantly at war but at the same time give you a sense of the overall war and other things taking place.



GT: Any hints or tips on what we can expect in Book 10?



JS: Hmm. I’m trying to think about what we have and have not been talking about. What are we ready to or not to talk about. We obviously know what we’re doing but I’m not quite ready to say much of anything at this point, but we’ll be talking about it fairly soon. There is definitely going to be some new types of experiences in the game â$” that is one thing that we’re definitely playing around with. I’m going to reserve comment until a little while later â$” lest my PR guy come and stab me. [Laugh]



GT: So wrapping things up with a little perspective. Post launch, what worked and what didn’t? What have you done to fix the problems you’ve recognized as immediately fixable?



JS: Overall we couldn’t be happier with the way things are going. I know that’s what I’m supposed to say but honestly there were a lot of things we’d been talking about for years now about what we thought players were going to want. What we thought the right approach would be with handling this intellectual property. There were all kinds of different ideas. Lots of push on the right balance between innovating gameplay while also doing justice to the IP. How important was it to tell stories? How important was it to have this world and making it feel really legitimate? It’s nice to see all of that thought validated.



It feels like most of the choices we made in that respect were the right ones. People are really responding to the ones we want them to respond to. Choices that, for example, there were parts of the interface that we could have “innovated” a lot, made different because this is a different game and we could have found new and exciting ways for you to interact with your combat or new and exciting ways for you to use a map. The decision there was kind of like getting into a car â$” if I get into a car, its going to drive differently , its going to look different, its going to have different features and functionality but


I know where the steering wheel is and I know where the pedal are and I know where the signals are â$” I don’t to worry about relearning how to drive.



We made a decision that while there were certain things that we could change just to make them cooler, unless it was going to make the gameplay experience significantly better or it was for core functionality in our game that was unique, there was no reason to change [the interface] from what core MMO players already understand. The way that our quickslot bars work, the way the mini-map works, things like that rely on “standards”.




That was a gamble but the response we’ve gotten so far is that it in fact does make [the game] accessible. I’m sitting down and I can play from day 1 and I don’t really have to worry about learning all the basic functionality of the game I can focus on the game itself, playing and discovering what is new and special and cool like monster players, like the deeds system and the advancement stuff we put in. [Deeds] was another thing where earlier on in development we weren’t sure how prevalent it was going to be as a part of the advancement curve and through early-Alpha it became really clear that [deeds] were an important thing. We invested a lot of time and energy into it and it’s been really gratifying to see that the traits and deeds system really does give people the kind of textured experience we were hoping for.



I’m happy about the way the game has been performing in terms of stability and how it handles lots and lots of people and instances â$” again that is something you always worry about and we’re very satisfied by that.



There are a million things that we’re going to want to change. I’m trying to think of what are the biggest things. We certainly learned during Beta and since launch that economy is going to be a challenge â$” which is no surprise to any of us that have been making these games for a length of time â$” but there are a lot of things that are going to need to be done there. Everything from the balance between how much money you get and how much item repair costs are to dealing with some of the griefing and exploits and gold farming things that we see in our economy (like every other MMO) and knowing that we have to be really attentive and aggressive in response to that. I don’t think it surprised us how big a job that is but I think it’s definitely something we’re spending our time on.



I think learning that people really want to do â$” even more than we expected â$” that they really do love playing solo, even a higher and higher levels. That’s something we always new people would be doing, and its a goal to make sure that was available to people throughout the game but part of the content we added to the 20′s and 30′s for this Book 9 reflects our response to that desire â$” probably even more than initially intended.



I could go on and on and on. Like I said we spent lots of time and we have long lists of things from tiny, tiny little things in the UI to large things about combat timing or “Gosh wouldn’t it be great to have time of day in the UI so you would always know what time it is?” “Aren’t there ways it would be easier for us to let the players use the UI?” “Aren’t there things about Monster
Play that could be more accessible?” all of that.



You’ll be seeing quite a bit of change over the next 12 months. Evolution though, more than anything. We recognize that we are not going to make this a different game at this point. We don’t want to make it a different game, that’s too jarring for players. But we can make parts of the experience grow.



GT: Jeffery Thanks so much for taking time to speak with us.



JS: No problem. Happy to do it.



GT: The road goes ever on and on. Good luck with the continuation of The Lord of the Rings Online and we’ll be keeping an eager ear out for any details you want to share about your upcoming expansions.



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