LOTRO E3 Preview (2005)  

LOTRO E3 Preview (2005)

Interviews and Articles (2005)===

My main motivation for attending E3 – The Electronics Entertainment Expo – was Lord of the Rings Online. I’ve been covering the game as a fan and as a Community Manager for over a year now, but like many I have been a fan of Tolkien and his Middle-earth for years (more years than any of you have a need to know Thank You very much). As we’ve watched the snippets and screenies eek out of Turbine’s Official site the past year, my number one feeling about the entire project was ‘trepidation’. So to find out for myself, I talked to Matt “Teos” Imregi and Harry “Floon Beetle” Teasley at the LotRO E3 booth.

Middle-earth belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien. Anyone who attempts to interpret it will be met at first with excitement; immediately followed by rampant criticism. Fans of the books will be the first to tell you that only Tolkien (and perhaps his son Christopher) knows Middle-earth and how it should be interpreted, shortly followed by their explanation of that interpretation. Oh irony, you are such a subtle wench.

To adapt the work of Tolkien into a video game has of course been done ad nauseam (pun intended) but Turbine set out to do what no other game developer has: actually create Middle-earth as a place for everyone to experience and immerse themselves in. Would this be possible? Could they create Middle-earth well enough for the players to really feel they are there, and if they did… could they create fun and intuitive gameplay to go along with it? Quite frankly, very few thought they could. Turbine was sure from the beginning, but one look at their official forums and you’ll see that most felt as I did, that the demands of balancing graphics, gameplay, and Tolkien was too much to keep both the book fans and the gamers immersed.

After a good amount of time watching Harry, Senior Production Designer, go through the n00bie zone demo, I can safely and confidently say that Turbine is indeed on the right track. In Turbine’s vision, Middle-earth is a beautifully designed place. The town of Archet shown in the demo is convincing as a small rural town of Men. The textures of everything from the buildings, to the ground, to the hastily erected battlements, showed a definite attention to detail. I could easily accept this place as Archet. Harry assured me that the assets for every area are being separately designed… no simple cut and paste for these guys.

The controls and GUI were similar enough to other MMOs to make it comfortable for anyone just jumping in and giving it a go. Also like other MMOs, most things are customizable allowing you to tailor the game to fit your play style. An automatic performance scaling based on each player’s system means that this game is being designed with a wide range of systems in mind (and you won’t need to be a techno-geek to get it to work on a less than state of the art system). With a combination of questing, random encounters, and a nifty little thing called conjunction (more on that later), the gameplay for the n00bie zone at least looked interesting and inviting enough to hook most of the doubters out there, at least for a while.

The word ‘immersion’ was one used often in the Turbine booth. Harry made it clear that he is taking great effort to provide all the necessary information in the gameplay area for you, reducing the need for extraneous items in your HUD. One good example of this that I rather liked occurred during a battle with some spiders. His character was ‘webbed’ and while you could see a small icon on the bottom left indicating this, you also saw webbing from his character’s sword hand to his foot. So there was no need to go looking around your HUD to see why you were suddenly moving at a snail’s pace. Oh, and some of the spiders just dropped down out of the trees on their web to attack him. Sneaky that.

Immersion holds different meanings for different people. There are as many different types of play styles as there are different players. One obstacle many MMOs have faced is the solo vs. grouping concept. Matt Imregi assured me repeatedly that all classes will be viable for solo play: “We wanted to make sure every player could take care of themselves”. But story of Lord of the Rings is about Fellowship as we all know. So the paradigm of making both soloing and grouping practical was one they paid close attention to. Unlike other games that penalize a solo player by making it too difficult, Turbine has tried to provide positive reinforcement for grouping by developing the conjunction system. Through this system, members of a Fellowship can combine specific skills to create an entirely new ability and unleash more damage on their foe. Some of these conjunctions will be based on classes, and some on race, and for some no restrictions exist. Suffice it to say that this will be a large system.

Okay, so far they’ve accomplished what any successful MMO company has, complete with a couple of innovations, but what about the Tolkien aspect? We Tolkien fans are not an easy bunch to please. First be aware of some interesting info: The Lord of the Rings is the second most read story in the modern western world, second only to the Bible; and this was before Peter Jackson’s blockbuster movies. The movies introduced millions more to Middle-earth and ultimately, the books. As a result, it can now safely be concluded that Lord of the Rings is one of the most recognizable franchises in the world. Many companies have tried to recreate the ‘world’ of Middle-earth, none have truly succeeded. Will Turbine be different?

The biggest thing they were showcasing today was also the biggest indicator that they are serious about making this more than just roaming Middle-earth, but a realization of the lore. A large part of the game involves scripted encounters (instances) that are entirely story driven. These scripted instances designed to “Get you to care about things then shake things up a little bit”, as Matt Imregi explained it when I had the opportunity to interview him. While there certainly are plenty of ‘real world’ areas for you to explore and enjoy, in order to best advance your character you will need to experience these instances. As someone who loves to just ‘do my own thing’ I had a hard time swallowing this, but ultimately the main gist of Lord of the Rings Online is the story. Nothing ‘forces’ you to go out and adventure, but don’t be surprised if adventure comes to you. I know a little old hobbit who can attest to that.

Another aspect of these scripted encounters is the varying themes. The overall storyline will have a different approach based on which race you choose. For example the Elves are about preserving, the Dwarves about exploring, and the Hobbits about avoiding adventure altogether. This seems more easily accomplished in the n00bie areas and frankly I’m not sure how far they can take that as Fellowships (groups of up to 9 players) are formed and begin adventuring together. But the effort they’ve put forth so far lets me give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

Since the scripted instances often effect change on the world, the results of the experience will be shared by all members of the Fellowship. Ultimately, all scripted encounters have the same end-result so your character will have a ‘state’ that determines what the world looks like based on which encounter he/she has accomplished so far. Since the instances are based on the Fellowship leader’s state, you can effectively go back through one to help a fellow, but you cannot skip an encounter through the same method.

This may seem a bit restrictive and only time will tell how it will affect the game. As a method to develop the character’s story as well as the ‘main’ story it should be quite successful. And while the entire game isn’t just a big bunch of scripted encounters, as Matt put it: “Everything you do will be driven by a story, either a big story or a little story”. In the end, advancement of your character will be based on your adventuring. Questing will be the best way to advance, and questing will require the instances.

In order to further the immersion into Middle-earth and the Third Age they are being very careful about every detail. One good point for many players, a defeated spider will NOT drop a sword. Loot will be appropriate for the mob and Matt even let me know that he is trying to push it through that if, for example, you defeat an orc that has an axe, if you can loot his weapon it will be an axe; not a sword etc. Other than that, when it comes to items they will be acquired via the usual means: looting, vendors and quest rewards. Much (not all) of the equipment will be usable across all races as well.

When it came to subjects like crafting and classes, they got a bit less talkative. While crafting will indeed exist, it is not developed enough for them to discuss at this time. As for classes, they HAVE finalized the classes (quite recently actually) but are not yet able to release the information (the class in the demo was a champion). As for the rest of the classes, the best he could tell me was to think in terms of lore. We can expect to see melee–type, ranger-type, archer-type, and burglar-type classes for example. The only class they were all definite about was Wizards. They repeated what we’ve heard before that there will be NO Wizard class. Period.

Of all the games I’ve looked at I find it hard to imagine that any developer has put this much thought into what goes where and why. If a group of boars are in a certain area you can rest assured that they are there for a reason and that reason won’t just be ‘to be killed’. If it doesn’t fit Tolkien, it doesn’t fit Lord of the Rings Online. Of course some artistic license will be taken. It can’t really be avoided. Hopefully where it occurs will be an acceptable ‘lore stretch’. The Elven barter system will probably not make it into the game. It just wasn’t feasible with all the interaction amongst other races. Is it 100% ‘Tolkien’ to do this? No. Will it ‘break’ the game? No.

The development of Lord of the Rings Online is an immense balancing act. Few other stories are as widely known, beloved, and studied. Turbine has a tough audience on this one. No one (except Turbine of course) can say that this game will fill every niche until we actually get our hands on it. But the efforts they are putting forth at this stage of the game are reassuring to say the least. This Tolkien fan has had her ‘trepidation’ eased greatly by the demonstrations and explanations she received at E3 2005. But we all must understand that nothing is ever written in stone and more changes are no doubt going to come. “But even a Wizard cannot see all ends.”

Converted from Guides
Created: 2007-01-26 18:54:14
Last Changed: 2007-01-26 18:54:59
Author: TucksMa
Category: Editorial
Last Edited 1019635
Score: 0.00
Note: None
Guide ID: 900
Last Changed: Unknown

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This page last modified 2009-06-24 13:17:30.