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Exclusive LOTRO Mines of Moria Preview

Posted Wed, Oct 01, 2008 by Cody Bye

By Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

The era of modern fantasy is in love with the idea of dungeon exploration. From Robert Howard’s Conan to the epic tales of R.A. Salvatore and Drizzt Do’urden, fans of contemporary fantasy have made it abundantly clear that crawling through the depths of a dark cavern in search of treasure is appealing to their whims. Whether it’s the fear of the unknown or the idea of hidden caches of gems in the mysterious confines of these caves, one thing is for certain, the love of dungeoneering is not lost on the modern fantasy gamer.

How often have we – as gamers – looked forward to our upcoming trials and tribulations within an instanced dungeon? Or maybe the long, arduous raid encounters are more your style where you delve deep into the heart of your virtual world in search of the biggest, toughest, and meanest bosses around. All of the elements of dungeon exploration are within almost every massively multiplayer online game, and we love to partake in whatever dungeons the developers can create for us.

Up close and personal with the Lord of Fire and Shadow.

All of these previously mentioned encounters pale in comparison to what J.R.R. Tolkien devised in his first book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Mines of Moria is a deep, dark, and thoroughly enormous place, and it is large enough to go beyond the bounds of mere dungeons and become a world all its own. So when Turbine declared that they were making Lord of the Rings Online, everyone was truly anxious to see what the developer would do with the Mines of Moria. It took a number of months, but eventually we received our answer.

Frankly, the developers at Turbine have truly made something remarkable with their Mines of Moria expansion. Although I've been in awe of graphics and environments in the past, the artists and designers at Turbine have truly set a new standard for dungeons and indoor environments in online gaming. From the moment you enter Moria, you'll see what I mean.

For over an hour, the crew at Turbine guided our Ten Ton Hammer staffers through the depths of Moria, even delving into the deepest recesses of the world where none should have dared set their hands against. As you've probably guess, the Lord of Fire and Shadow awaits you in the Mines of Moria, and we were able to get an exclusive peek at the massive demon just for our readers! Once you've picked your jaw off the floor, continue reading for my thoughts on this upcoming expansion.

Exploring the Depths

Our first stop in the Mines of Moria was - ironically - the First Hall, and it instantly took my breath away. As a reporter, I typically record all of my interview / tour sessions, and literally the first words out of my mouth were "Wow." Unlike other indoor content that I've seen in other massively multiplayer games, the sheer scale in this first area was incredibly. As I ran through the hall, it was almost overwhelming to try to gauge just how enormous the environment was compared to my character, and I continually moved my point of view to see just how large the area was. As you can see from the screenshots provided by Greg "Darkgolem" Stanley, every piece in Moria is absolutely huge and absolutely beautiful.

The majesty of Moria is evident in this screenshot.

When I asked Jeffrey Steefel, Executive Producer of Lord of the Rings Online, to describe how they created this world, his answer was very candid and open. "It seriously forced us to make some enhancements to our technology," Steefel said. "It was something we'd never done before, and we believe that no one has really done something like this before, at least not in an MMO and probably not in an RPG either."

"What we did to allow our technology to make these huge cavernous spaces was alter the technology so that the ground players are walking on is actually landscape terrain and the ceiling above the player is actually inverted terrain," Steefel noted. "We make two pieces of terrain and actually put the world between them. This allows us to treat everything in the world - walls, floors, ceilings - as landscape. It has physics. It has form. It's not skydome textures."  

And the proof of Steefel's claims were staring me right in the face as I ran throughout Moria. Even with the game settings cranked up to the max of the DirectX 9 settings, I never dropped below 30 frames per second until the few times that I fired up FRAPS to catch a video. Even then, the strength of the Turbine engine was evident throughout the demonstration. Turbine's technical team should be proud of this particular achievement.

As we walked, Steefel explained some of the basic philosophies upon which they created the entire Moria expansion. "We're not building a series of dungeon spaces that connect up to create the land that is Moria," Steefel said. "Moria is an entire city - an entire civilization - that exists underground. That forms everything that we do in terms of the space, the content we put in it, the creatures that populate it, all that." To hear a developer discuss that type of thought process for an area is relieving, especially when it comes to an area as loved and cherished by Tolkien fans as the Mines of Moria.

The mines played a pivotal role in the first book in the Lord of the Rings series, but they also held an amazing story of their own, and Turbine has set their mind to crafting that story for everyone to experience. "Everything in Moria has a reason to exist," Steefel continued. "It all relates to the other spaces in Moria, the history of Moria, and how this civilization grew and developed. You could go into the Flaming Deeps and discover some of the areas where the Balrog was and where they delved too deep."

Eventually, we reached the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm. Since the players will be experiencing Moria after the passing of the Fellowship, the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm has obviously been destroyed and players can only glance across to the other side. As we approached a group of monsters attacked us, and while these monsters did have some similarities to the creatures that are seen outside of Moria, players will be happy to learn that the developers have really taken the time to make sure that all of the monsters found within Moria actually feel like they belong. For instance, many of the monsters seen within the Flaming Deeps seem to have their own inner glow, making them seem much more in line with the entire environment that surrounds them.  

Again, as we journeyed through the heart of Moria, I couldn't help but stop and stare every once in awhile at the amazing height and breadth of the world around me. "Moria's a very vertical place," Aaron Campbell said. "If you jump off a ledge you fall, and fall, and fall, and fall." With that, I proceeded to quickly jump off the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm and test just how far you can fall in Moria. Not surprisingly, he was right. You fall for a long, long time before you hit bottom. If you're interested, keep checking back with Ten Ton Hammer to see an entire montage of Moria falling scenes within the next few days.

The creatures of the Flaming Deeps are certainly appropriate for their area.

Third on the walking tour of Moria was "The Cooling Chamber" where huge flows of water were being pulled down into a larger piping system. "There are actually several of these throughout Moria," Steefel said. "They're needed to really cool the entire area since Moria is below the surface and so much heat is constantly rising into the halls." Perhaps out of every area that we saw on our tour, The Cooling Chamber was the most intriguing in my eyes. While you couldn't actually jump into the flowing water, just watching the movement was strangely hypnotic. This only again served to reinforce the idea that Steefel mentioned earlier in the interview, that every place in Moria had a distinct purpose.  

On a random side tangent, the Turbine developers truly wanted to add some spice to their Moria experience, and although the Balrog of Khazad-Dûm had already encountered the Fellowship at this point, the developers have devised a crafty way to allow the gamers to experience this part of the Lord of the Rings story. In one of their frequent "historical" instances, the players are allowed to jump into the very history of Middle-Earth and experience what the Dwarves encountered when they first unleashed the thread of the Balrog. Words cannot do this part of the tour justice. My heart raced. My breath was short. But I had just enough wherewithal to hit "record" on my computer and capture the whole sequence for you to enjoy!

This concludes part one of our tour of Moria. Make sure you check in with us in a few days to learn exactly what became of our intrepid virtual tour guides. Were they consumed by the Lord of Fire and Shadow? Or did they escape? Stick around and find out!

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