Interviews and Articles (2005)===
E3 2005 is over but the sights and sounds are still spinning in my head. It was all rather overwhelming at first and I think my ears will be ringing for days. One of the many benefits of spending a bunch of time at the Turbine booth was the fact that they had a nice cozy little spot behind Nintendo and Playstation that was effectively blocked from all the madness out on the main floor of the West Hall. The only loud sounds you heard were theirs. It was an oasis in a sea of sensory overload.
The people in the Turbine booth were great too. I'm not saying this to suck up (though it can't hurt), but it's how I honestly feel. I saw Harry "Floon Beetle" Teasley explain the demo to people time and time again. He didn't hesitate to start over to show new folk from the beginning. On the first day I wedged myself between his station and the wall and just listened. He explained the same thing over and over making sure his listeners were satisfied with his answers. Erica Dart from Public Relations greeted me with a smile every day and by day 3 we were best buds. She was quick to give me what goodies she could for our valued site members. During my interview with Matt "Teos" Imregi on day 2 he was polite, professional, and honestly interested in answering all my questions even after we were booted out of the interview room for the next group. Sure they're there to inform the public, but to maintain that level of professionalism and politeness in the insanity that is E3 was going above and beyond. You can't really do that if you don't love your game and I assure you... they do.
Over the course of the 3 days I did my best to stand back and listen. While I did indeed make my own inquiries, I found it very beneficial to let them do the talking. With this summary, I'll try to summarize what I learned about the creation, focus, and future of Lord of the Rings Online.
The E3 Demo consisted for the most part of a run-through of the human newbie area. If you play a character from the race of Men, this is where you'll start. And because it is the race of Men, there is a bit of action involved. I was assured that combat is not the focus of the game. In fact, it was emphatically stated more than once by more than one person that the primary focus of the game is story telling. The demo's story is one of Archet being beset upon by brigands and as a result you see people preparing to defend their town, refugees, and a small militia. You don't just hack and slash your way through, you need to interact with NPCs and find your way around barriers... you actually have to think. This one is easy but odds are these things just get tougher as you advance in the game. The idea of real interaction with your environment is one I think most will embrace. The NPCs in Archet don't just exist to give you quests. They 'live their lives' in a way that fits their role: a hungry and scared refuge, a blacksmith at his forge. No one is just standing there waiting with the sole purpose of interacting with you.
The graphics quite frankly blew me away. It's hard to see in any second-hand video but trust me when I say that it looks very detailed even though it was not running on a high-end system. I don't have the specs for what they were playing it on, but it was Floon Beetle who told me that it wasn't high-end. The fact that it has a scaleable engine that can dynamically adjust to run optimally for each system it is installed on is a boon. You don't have to be a techno-wiz to configure it. However if that's what you like, the ability will indeed be there. Also, every area you enter will have appropriate flora, fauna, and architecture for that region. Instead of having a 'human set', 'elf set', etc like you see in most games, each region is being individually designed. This results in a ton of assets and for a much greater immersion. So far they've include little things like an occasional random leaf falling from the trees. Hopefully this sort of thing will expand to include rustling bushes and landscape that reacts to you and other environmental elements. The only thing I was mildly disappointed in with the graphics was the fire and smoke. They moved much too fast and too structured for actual fire. The colors and such were great; it was just the overall movement that seemed unrealistic. Certainly something that is fixable. And they somewhat made up for it a little by adding some really nice heat diffusion effects.
Recently one of the dev diaries pointed to intelligent AI. We got to see an example of this in the demo when the leader of a group of brigands challenges our heroes and then promplty goes behind a structure while his goons fight it out (watch out for the sniper). He comes out again after they are defeated; no doubt in the hopes that you're weakened by then. Some mobs even have inventive attacks like throwing down caltrops to slow you down. When it comes to dying (the demo guys never did since they were in god mode), you actually DON'T die. The way Floon Beetle explained it was you are defeated and will wake up at a place of healing that some kind soul has taken you to; although when you are in a deep dank place like Moria that might be a bit of a stretch. We'll just have to wait to see how that is implemented.
When they were fighting I noticed no typical info on the mob they were attacking. No little title or health bar or anything for that matter. Obviously this is great for immersion but what if you want to know some details? Just examine the mob. For the entire time I watched there were no info displays but I've read others mentioning them. The most logical explanation is a toggle. Much like chat windows which Floon had off as well. Unless you need to actually chat, you won't need chat windows. Everything you NEED to know will be displayed in your game area. Another good example is the selection ring. Although a bit large for most tastes, one decent thing about it is that it will change color as the mob comes into melee range. A nice subtle indicator.
Crafting, crafting, crafting. Everyone wants to know about crafting. When I specifically asked that question the response was "we're not discussing crafting at E3". Basically, the main thing they've been working on of late is the conjunction combat system and the lore. Developing the story is no easy task given the subject matter they are bound to be compared to. The gist I got out of it was that there will indeed be crafting but that it's development will be later on.
For the skill system Floon Beetle told me that skills would be gained by experience, leveling, and questing. You won't need to independently level your skill. Whether or not these 'skills' refer to crafting as well, he did not specify. But how can you improve your tailoring by combat xp? We'll just have to wait for that one. The notable term he used was character evolution. I take this to mean that your character will do more than just level. That they have more in store for us in terms of how our characters will develop and how his/her interaction with the game environment will change as you make decisions in the course of playing. With a year still before release I believe we can expect a lot of new and innovative ideas. They've shown already that they ARE indeed listening to us and that's a good sign. "It would take more than such an orc-scratch to keep me back."
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