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Consoles, Horses, and Middle-Earth - Exclusive LOTRO Interview with Jeffrey Steefel

Posted Mon, Nov 24, 2008 by Cody Bye

Rumors are a pretty familiar thing for anyone within the video gaming industry. People speculate about the work a studio might be doing based on who they’re hiring, their job listings, and the current state of the MMOG marketplace. If you’ve ever lived in a small town where gossip “phone trees” still exist, you’ll have a basic idea of how gossip circulates through the MMO industry. From Blizzard to BioWare and SOE to Turbine, every company has its fair share of rumors circulating around it, and hundreds of people are sitting with their instant messengers running just waiting for that next big scoop.

Will Lord of the Rings Online be heading to consoles? We'll just have to wait and see.

Last week, I had the fortunate opportunity to chat with LOTRO’s executive producer, Jeffrey Steefel, and in the first part of our conversation, we focused on the launch of Mines of Moria and what players will face once they enter those troubled caverns. However, the second part of our interview took a turn towards more future looking goals for LOTRO and Turbine as a company. During our chat, we hit on a number of large topics that have been discussed in various publications including Turbine’s future in the console market, the state of horsemanship in LOTRO and Rohan, and how Turbine will be handling the future bevy of content they’ll have access to with the Fellowship finally moving past the Misty Mountains.

To start, we began by really pushing Jeffrey on the topic of consoles. People have been itching to hear more about Turbine’s console plans and if they’re planning on doing something with consoles in the near future. Although Jeffrey has been fairly tight lipped in the past, he definitely was willing to chat about several aspects of the console experience, including its difficulty to developers.

“[Consoles] are definitely an important part of our strategy going forward. We’ve been really focusing on what’s going to make the genre of game that we’ve been working on for fourteen years very successful in this different environment,” Steefel said. “We really want to focus on what that sort of experience needs to be and understanding what we think players want. I don’t even think players know what they want at this point, because it’s never truly been available before.”

“The environment is finally ready, and people may be ready now to utilize their consoles in different ways because of what they can do online. Conceptually, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 aren’t just items that standalone anymore. They’ve become part of the network, and that helps a lot,” he continued. “Final Fantasy XI was generally the most successful console MMO product, and it was well suited to that last-gen console market. While FFXI and all of the other console games did fairly well, in the grand scheme of things they were experiments. The console wasn’t ready, and the infrastructure around the console wasn’t ready.”

“And also, quite frankly, [developing an MMOG for consoles] is not a simple thing to do. How many people are out there that know how to make really good MMORPGs? It’s almost impossible to do it well on the PC. It’s just really hard. Now we’re taking that and trying to move it onto a console,” Jeffrey concluded. “We’ve been doing this for 15 years and we’ve built four of these games and we feel like *maybe* now we’re ready to try. There aren’t many companies out there that can feel confident about that.”

An incredible amount of content is available in this next section of Middle-Earth.

So with the hints of consoles hanging in the air, I refocused our attention back on the game we got on the phone to talk about, Lord of the Rings Online. Although there’s already been a vast amount of content created for LOTRO players, it’s nothing compared to the Great Flood of information that’s on the way. Once the developers make it past the Misty Mountains in Middle-Earth, there’s an almost unlimited supply of content to draw from.

“It’s daunting but in a great way,” Steefel said. “I think what’s interesting is that there’s such a density of content that almost everywhere you turn there’s recognizable, exciting things. To be fair, the Shire and Rivendell are very recognizable and iconic, but to create the nemesis of the game we had to invent it. We resurrected Angmar in Eriador. But there’s just so much going on past the Misty Mountains that we can turn our attention pretty much anywhere and it’ll have elements that are rich and fun and parts that players will immediately recognize.”

As far as game mechanics go, nothing is more intriguing than how the Turbine developers are going to handle the horsemasters of Rohan. With the Rohirrim making such a big splash in the Lord of the Rings movies, Turbine has no choice but to truly explore how they pursue horsemanship in a future Book or expansion. Not one to shy away from a question, I simply asked Steefel what they were going to do.

“Speculation, speculation, speculation!” Jeffrey said, laughing. “Here’s what I’ll say: One of the exciting things about getting to Moria and passing through the Misty Mountains is the fact that now we’ve moved on into the heart of Middle-earth and it gets increasingly exciting. There’s just a LOT of stuff going on once you get past the Misty Mountains. Whether it’s Rohan or Gondor or Isengard or Fangorn Forest, there’s just all this stuff going on.”

Horsemanship will be an important element to Rohan.

“There are tons and tons of opportunities, and pretty much anything that we focus on from this point forward is going to get increasingly interesting and exciting. We’re also entering into a place where “the War of the Ring” is really starting to unfold. It just keeps getting better – it doesn’t peter out as it goes along,” Steefel finished. “When we get to Rohan, does horsemanship become important? Yeah! Us and our horses would be strung up if we got to Rohan someday and didn’t pay attention to horses. And it’s just a matter of when.”

As a final question in our interview, I asked Jeffrey what he would like to tell players of LOTRO and readers of Ten Ton Hammer. Here are his final words:

We hope that everyone will come in and give Moria a try, because I think they’ll be really surprised with the depth of the experience that they’ll find there. There’s a lot for pretty much everyone and Moria’s not going away. We’re ready when the players are.

We’d again like to thank Jeffrey for his time, vocal talent (check him out on Wikipedia!) and knowledge on all things LOTRO. There are definitely some big things ahead for Turbine, so make sure you stick with Ten Ton Hammer for all the upcoming news!
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