Lord of the Rings Online Vooncast Interview with Jeffrey Steefel - Book 8 and Dol Guldur

When it comes to Lord of the Rings Online, no one is more knowledgeable than Turbine’s Executive Producer for the title, Jeffrey Steefel. We recently sat down with Jeffrey in our weekly Vooncast to discuss the upcoming content in Volume 2 Book 8 and what players should be expecting when they finally get to cross the Misty Mountains, delve into Mirkwood, and explore the depths of Dol Guldur. The War of the Ring comes to life in this upcoming Book, so make sure you check out the interview!

Ten Ton Hammer: You’re definitely conjuring up visions of Helm’s Deep and leading your troops into battle. You also have been alluding to something “big” coming later in the year. Will we see a level cap raise later this year?

Steefel:
That is absolutely our intention. We can’t release details or anything like that, but we know that it’s an important step in the advancement path of players, so that’s being slated for later this year.


When it comes to target="_blank">Lord
of the Rings Online
, no one is more
knowledgeable than Turbine’s Executive Producer for the title,
Jeffrey Steefel. We recently sat down with Jeffrey in our href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/67749" target="_blank">weekly
Vooncast to discuss the upcoming content in Volume 2 Book 8
and what players should be expecting when they finally get to cross the
Misty Mountains, delve into Mirkwood, and explore the depths of Dol
Guldur. The War of the Ring comes to life in this upcoming Book, so
make sure you check out the interview!


href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/66132" target="_blank"> style="width: 200px; float: right;" src="/image/view/66132" />

Ten Ton Hammer:
Let’s talk about Book 8. You’ve stated that
we’re not leaving Moria behind, and that the job
isn’t done. What kinds of things are in Book 8 that take us
back to Moria?




Jeffrey Steefel: The
most important thing to know is that we’ve passed out of
Moria, and we’ve done the first set of tasks to get the
Dwarves resettled back into Moria. But there’s a lot of
craziness still going on. Players have made it into Lothlorien and
they’ll be spending lots of time there, but there are some
pretty cool instances that we’ve created back inside Moria
and you’ll need to come in and quell some of the new unrest
that’s occurring inside the mines.

Basically, Moria is a giant part of our world now, and like many places
in Middle-earth we want to make sure that players have awesome
opportunities to go back there. The work has really just begun in
Moria, and players will have lots of opportunities to go back into
Moria and enjoy it in ways they haven’t yet.
There’s a number of new instances of varying sizes that allow
players to go back.

Ten Ton Hammer:
You’ve said all along, ever since we’ve been
talking to you about LOTRO, that once we’re past the Misty
Mountains we’d become a larger part of the war and start to
see it going on. We’ve had our rest in Lothlorien, but
what’s our next step? What’s the next big stop on
the way to Mordor.




Steefel: After
Book 8, as we move forward in the later part of the year,
we’re going to be moving into southern Mirkwood and Dol
Guldur.

Dol Guldur is a giant fortress where Sauron basically took shelter
after he’d been defeated and the Ring had been taken. This is
where he rebuilt his power. This is a very significant part of
Middle-earth and a very significant part of the history of
Middle-earth. So you’ve got a very scary and significant
enemy that’s rising in southern Mirkwood and a place
that’s launching attacks at Lothlorien and other parts of
Middle-earth.

This is another front in the War of the Ring that the players are going
to be faced with, and a pretty significant one at that. In fact,
it’s the most direct one – with respect to Sauron
– that the players have faced to date.

It’s definitely exciting and a really, really cool place that
we’ve started doing a tremendous amount of work on. Southern
Mirkwood is going to be a very unique place in Middle-earth.
It’s a forest, but it has a dark and ominous personality that
you really haven’t seen in Middle-earth.

Then there’s Dol Guldur itself, which is an incredibly huge,
majestic, and very, very evil fortress that was Sauron’s
fortress, so obviously you’re going to be up against a lot of
interesting old and new foes. There’s a great connection
between the Ringwraiths and Dol Guldur in the IP, so the fellbeasts
that you see flying around in Middle-earth tend to roost in Dol Guldur.

This also gives us an opportunity to show off some of the things
we’ve learned about depicting things of great, epic scale.
This is a very large, high mountaintop retreat that kind of surveys all
of southern Mirkwood. So it should be a cool, interesting place to go.

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Ten Ton Hammer:
We’re going into southern Mirkwood. Can you give us insight
into your inspiration for this? Can you set the stage a little bit for
us?




Steefel: Mirkwood
is obviously a large part of the Hobbit story, and while
there’s certainly a lot more activity to the north part of
Mirkwood, this is an opportunity to start bringing those players into
that of Mirkwood and weaving players into the fabric of Middle-earth.

But Dol Guldur itself is a significant part of the story of the Ring.
By bringing players there, we can begin exposing them to the actual War
of the Ring and the battles that are raging in this part of
Middle-earth that have really just begun as the Fellowship passes
through.

Another thing that I’m really excited about, and in many
respects goes hand-in-hand with what we’re doing with Dol
Guldur, is that once we move past the Mistys and players are feeling
like they’re getting more and more involved in the war
itself. We want the battles between good and evil to become a
significant part of players’ experiences in the game.
We’re working on a new feature to the game that
we’re calling “Skirmishes.” In these
Skirmishes, you have the opportunity to participate in battles with all
sorts of different bad guys from all over Middle-earth that are causing
trouble.

Even though the story moves in this linear fashion through Middle-earth
and you have pockets of battle that seem to happen in a
string-of-pearls from one end of the world to the other, the truth is
that there are battles raging everywhere and that Sauron and his
minions are causing trouble everywhere. Saruman is causing trouble out
to the south. There are just fights going on everywhere; even as far
back as Bree or the Trollshaws.

What these Skirmishes are going to do is allow players to go back to
some of these areas at particular points in time; either in the past,
the future, or are going on simultaneously with the war. These will
then take you into instances that we’ve built based on a lot
of our experiences over the past year, especially the three- and
six-man instances that people are really, really enjoying.

We’ll be taking those instances and then adding a dynamic
component; depending on the size of the party that actually goes into
this instance, the content will be dynamic and respond to that by
providing content that is tailored to the size of the party in a
dynamic fashion.

There’s also going to be multiple objectives in these
instances so that you’ll be able to play through them over
and over again with different groups of people. So this way,
you’ll be able to enjoy these Skirmishes in a variety of
ways, and of course this all ties in with the War of the Ring
that’s happening all over Middle-earth.

We’re also going to give you the opportunity to create your
own customizable soldiers. If you’re going into battle and
really want to feel like you’re leading a group into this
encounter – besides your fellow groupmates of course
– so we’re going to give you the ability to create
customizable soldiers. This way you’ll always feel like, even
if you’re alone or in a small group, that you’ll
feel like you have a large group with you.

All of this ties back to the idea that we want the players to feel
involved with the War of the Ring. This is going to bring another
substantial layer of gameplay to the world along with providing some
additional instances that we think players enjoy.

We’re psyched about it.

Ten Ton Hammer:
You’re definitely conjuring up visions of Helm’s
Deep and leading your troops into battle. You also have been alluding
to something “big” coming later in the year. Will
we see a level cap raise later this year?
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Steefel: That
is absolutely our intention. We can’t release details or
anything like that, but we know that it’s an important step
in the advancement path of players, so that’s definitely
being slated for later this year.

Ten Ton Hammer: What are
you including in the level cap increase? Are there any mistakes
you’ve made in the past with level cap raises that you want
to avoid this time around?
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Steefel: It’s
a very complicated thing. Adding advancement levels is very complex in
how it affects all the various existing classes: how they’re
impacted, how various groupsets work, how individual advancement
abilities are affected. On top of that, we added a fair amount of
complexity when we added legendary items to the game.

It’s been a good learning experience and we’ve made
some adjustments since our last cap raise. We make all kinds of
mistakes, but I think it’s all a matter of degree.
It’s a process, and we hope that players think
we’re paying attention to how a level cap increase and
legendary item adjustments impact the players. And that we’re
responding to the mistakes we make and the feedback we get.
It’s a process and as much as we try to use our experience,
test on our servers, test on the public test servers, it’s
really not until it gets out to the community that we find out the real
things we need to make changes to.

Ten Ton Hammer:
You’ve made some user interface changes to help newer players
get attuned to LOTRO. Could you comment on that?
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Steefel: The
changes that we made with Book 7 are actually even more wider reaching
than that. What you’re referring to is the quest guide, which
basically tells you where to go next and lets you know where your next
objective is. A lot of people have been really excited about that, and
a lot of people were asking for that sort of functionality.

For those folks that like to explore things organically and in a more
haphazard way, you can turn it off. With everything like that, we want
to make sure players have the choice to play the game in the way
they’d like to enjoy.

That is actually just one tool in the totality of the new player
experience that we worked on prior to the Book 7 launch that is
designed to help players learn. We’re leveraging some of the
technology that we’ve built since launch and adjusting the
experience based on player feedback and how we know that players are
coming into these games. And – in general – just
polishing up our game and going back to the early part of the game and
making sure that players who are starting out now are having an even
better experience than the players that originally purchased LOTRO.
Even those players that are making a new alt, we want to make sure they
see a difference in how the new areas play.

We wanted to make sure that each adventure leads to the next in a more
seamless, connected fashion rather than feeling like your wandering
around in the first 5-10 levels of the game. We’ve gotten a
lot of good feedback about this, and we’re not done. We
actually spend a lot of time going backwards in our game, making sure
that the entire game continues to improve and gets better and better.

This obviously gets more difficult as the game continues to grow, but
it’s part of the responsibility we have and part of the fun
as new types of players come to the game and we try to address their
concerns and desires.

For example, one of the Books that was released pretty quickly after
launch had some major changes for Angmar and some of the other parts of
the game. We continue to look at old content while still pushing ahead
and building things like Skirmishes for the more experienced players
looking for new challenges.

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Ten Ton Hammer: In
addition to the MyLOTRO site that you’ve discussed, might we
see a rewards program to go along with that? Can you give us an update
on MyLOTRO as well?




Steefel: What
players are currently seeing with MyLOTRO is really an early start on
something that’s going to be a major part of what we want to
do in terms of building a community and providing people with a
out-of-game environment. Essentially, to us, it’s an
extension of the game.

It will continue to grow and develop over time, and its intended to
give players, the community, and people that are just visiting a place
to share their experiences, explore their characters, explore their
stories and really effortlessly allow them to talk about their
experiences in the game.

It’s really exciting to see the online, social environment,
sort of Web networking blended with what we’ve been doing for
over a decade now, which is blending these immersive 3D social
environments. They’re really meant to go together.

It also gives us an opportunity to surface a lot of interesting things
about what we’re doing with the game. Some of the things
you’re talking about in terms of rewards programs and loyalty
programs are things that we’re discussing all the time, and
we’re looking at MyLOTRO and asking how we can use it to
surface types of…achievements (for lack of a better word)
that players are achieving in the social web space and also in the
game. These are all things that we’re talking about working
on an it’s an active part of what we hope MyLOTRO is going to
become.

Right now it’s really in beta, but it’s a pretty
cool beta from what we have so far, and I think you’ll start
to see it grow and evolve at a much faster pace.

Audience Questions

Ten Ton Hammer: Will the
soldiers in the Skirmishes be limited to the Skirmish quests, or are
they going to be persistent? Will this cut down on actual humans
grouping together?



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Steefel: We
like humans grouping together too!

The goal of providing these soldiers is really just to enhance the
particular Skirmish experience that you’re in. I
don’t rule anything out because the developers behind LOTRO
are very clever people, but I don’t think there are any plans
to take these Skirmish soldiers out into the open world landscape.

This is really just to bring that particular functionality to the
Skirmish environment.

Ten Ton Hammer: With your
expansion into extra overseas markets, does that extra income allow you
to put out patches faster? Or maybe have additional members on your
content team so you can make bigger patches? To some players, the
patches seem to have grown farther apart in their release schedules.
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Steefel: Ultimately
the goal is to grow the franchise in every way that we can, and
globally is part of the goal as well. There’s lots of way
that we’re doing that, and we’re working through a
lot of partners around the world right now.

But absolutely, the more successful the game is worldwide, the more we
have to reinvest back into our game. What’s interested is
that as we get into the next year of our service, the game is maturing
and the audience is maturing. So the way we invest money back into the
game is also diversifying. Some things that you’ve seen
previously may appear as they did before. We’re trying to
have the same cadence in our content updates as we have in the past,
but we’re spending some of our resources and time on things
like “how are we going to make sure our infrastructure and
gameplay we’re providing are solidly positioned for the
future?” We want the game to continue to grow and evolve for
years and years to come, and that takes a lot of time and energy.

We also spend time on other things, like making sure our graphics
engine continues to evolve while the industry evolves around us. We
want to stay current. We want to make sure the that we can focus our
attention on the things that players are really enjoying –
like the smaller instanced encounters that I’ve talked so
much about – while still doing a good amount of the content
we’ve done in the past. We have to constantly evolve and
change to bring that to the players.

It may seem like we’re doing more or less work depending on
the type of content updates that we’re putting out there, but
it really has to do with a more holistic approach to make sure the game
continues to grow and can support a larger audience.

Not to mention that servicing our overseas partners takes its own time.
Localization is a long process not to mention how those gamers can be
serviced. People consume the content differently in different parts of
the world, so our goal is to continue to feed the franchise and
continue to provide you with more interesting and exciting things to
you, the player.

I feel that Moria was something special and was a big benefactor from
this. We spent a lot of time and energy and investment on that project,
regardless on how it was or wasn’t going to sell because we
thought it was important to bring that value to all of the gamers.

It’s something that we’re going to keep focusing on.

Ten Ton Hammer: One of
the ways LOTRO sets itself apart is through the legendary item system.
Some players believe that the development on that system has gotten
stale and has veered away from the original vision for that system.
Could you talk a little bit about the future of item advancement?
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Steefel: What
we’re doing now is feeding the system, and in upcoming books
we’re going to be making changes to how the legendary item
system works and fleshing it out some more. We want to provide
different types of inventory and provide a more robust playing field
for the types of things that you can find. We want to also find more
ways to get these items through experience and encounters.

These are all things that we’re working on to iterate on the
system and grow it slowly. Again, it is a powerful system in the way it
is intrinsically tied to the advancement of players, so we have to be
very careful and proceed cautiously so we don’t do anything
that will fundamentally change the advancement path for any particular
player build.

It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s something
that we’re focused on. We’re going to continue to
work on expanding and extending it, and we have a number of people
spending a lot of time looking at player feedback and monitoring player
behaviors.

Again, I think it’d be very interesting to see some specifics
on what the players are disappointed in not seeing from the item
advancement system and which features they would have liked to see put
in.

Ten Ton Hammer: One of
our audience members states that they’ve taken Chicken Play
to the extreme! They want to know if they can cross the Misty
Mountains… as a chicken…
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Steefel: Now
you’re talking about the War of the Ring!

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Ten Ton Hammer: Exactly. style="font-weight: bold;" />


Steefel: A
Chicken Skirmish facing off with Sauron himself.

Ten Ton Hammer: Sauron
cannot withstand the Chicken Zerg!
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Steefel: We
have a major fondness in our heart for what we called –
before launch – Critter Play. I’d love to have more
time to experiment with it over time, but it is kind of an experiment,
because as fun as it is there are other things that are very time
consuming that we’d like to continue to focus on in the game.

I’d love to see chickens venture forth into the battle torn
areas. I’d love to see a chicken standing atop the Great
Crest during the Battle of Helm’s Deep.

Ten Ton Hammer: I think
that’s a challenge…
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Steefel: The
month of April *does* come every year, so you never know what might
happen.

Ten Ton Hammer:
What’s being done to address server stability? Some players
are getting some crashes and server resets. Can you speak to that?
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Steefel: Sure,
and I think this is something that we’ve addressed in the
forums to some degree. As we talked about earlier, as these games grow
and evolve and we move into the deeper content, we continue to grow.
We’re pushing the edges of our content systems in ways that
we haven’t done before as a company. Moria was doing all
sorts of things that we’d never explored before –
lighting, underground spaces, etc. – and we’re just
branching out and experimenting a lot more.

At the same time, the audience is growing and we’re now in
the part of development in this game where we’re asking
ourselves “how are we going to grow and evolve and get bigger
over the next ten years?”

It really strains our system. We are in the process of making some
pretty big changes, both in the technology and our infrastructure so we
can expand our capabilities quite a bit. There’s definitely
been some bumps along the way, and I think everyone here at Turbine
will be the first to admit that. We’ve spent a lot of time
and energy taking the steps that we need to so that we can ensure that
the stuff we’ve been seeing doesn’t happen anymore.

We want to return to the quality and stability that we’re not
only known for but extremely zealous about and want to have.
That’s what we’re focused on, and we’re
spending a lot of time and energy in making sure that things get
markedly better.

And I think players will be seeing that. We just need to catch up with
ourselves a little bit, but I think players will be seeing improvements
soon.

Ten Ton Hammer: Some
players contend that PvMP gets unbalanced with each book
that’s released; either for the Freeps or the Creeps. What
are you doing to alleviate that?
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Steefel: Our
developers working on PvMP spend a lot of time culling over the forums
and trying to understand what is working and what isn’t
working. Trying to balance any PvP environment is challenging.

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For Moria, we did a number of things specifically trying to address
this. One was systemic, in that the system itself, in the Ettenmoors,
tries to take an assessment of how many people there are on either side
of the conflict and, if they’re unbalanced, try to balance
them out by granting session play characters to either side. That has
certainly helped us out with some of the terrible imbalances that
we’ve had in the past, but we’ve done some other
things as well in terms of reorganizing some of the content and making
it easier for people to find each other.

There’s no question that it is a challenge and
we’ll continue to work on it. We’re definitely
aware of it and we’re trying to make it better as often as we
can and to the best of our ability.

Ten Ton Hammer: Final
question, what’s your plan for Dol Guldur? Is it going to be
more solo-based or group-based?
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Steefel: What
we’re going to try to do is apply of our experience that
we’ve had to date. There are people that really like to get
together in groups and take on challenges, and Dol Guldur will
definitely have those sorts of opportunities.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people that like to do whatever
they want to do in the game on their own or with a small group of
people. There will definitely be things that you can solo and things
that you can do with a very small group of people.

This is a constant balance for us, and it’s one of the things
that drives us to do things like Skirmishes, where the instance is
dynamic. We’re well aware of the needs for solo versus group
content, and solo and small groups are something that people are
zealously attracted to.

Ten Ton Hammer: Thanks
again for taking the time to talk with us Jeffrey, and we look forward
to our next conversation!

       


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