The Heart of Mirkwood - A Siege of Mirkwood Q&A with Jeffrey Steefel

Updated Wed, Nov 11, 2009 by Ethec

If you haven't heard about Lord of the Rings Online's newest upcoming expansion, you've either stumbled across this page by clicking an erroneous google search, or you've been out to sea for months and have finally come back home. If you're the latter, welcome home; great to have you back. If you're the former, stick around and learn about Turbine's exciting new expansion, Siege of Mirkwood.

Ten Ton Hammer Editor-in-Chief, Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle has been spending a lot of time with LotRO Executive Producer, Jeffrey Steefel lately, so much in fact, they're both now named "Jeffrey." Throughout their conversations together, Mr. Steefel has revealed, we dare say, almost as much as there is to be known about the expansion. Now, we bring those conversations to our readers in a huge all-encompassing Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of Mirkwood Q&A.

Covered here are more details about the Skirmish System, General Improvements, and the inside scoop on new Legendary Items and their Upgrade Scrolls, Adventure Packs, Subscription Models, and so much more. Read on!

The Skirmish System

Ten Ton Hammer: We know that skirmishes are instanced, highly customizable scenarios that players or groups of players can instantly teleport into, and that you can even bring along controllable minions to fill out your group. Two terms we've heard thrown around in dev diaries and forum discussions are "tracking" and "randomization." Could you give us a quick overview of how these aspects of the skirmish system works?

Jeffrey Steefel: Sure, there are actually a couple of things we have in place there. First, there’s the tracking system itself which is pretty in depth – it’s tracking pretty much everything that you do. How many kills you have, how many of the particular instances you’ve defeated, how many lieutenants you’ve defeated or even what party size you were in and what the difficulty level was. They system puts all of that together in a huge leaderboard that lets you see how your stats compare to other people who have tried a particular instance at a particular level, or how do your personal stats add up in terms of the number of overall kills you’ve had.

We have all of that data coming from the game to the web, but we’re still figuring out exactly how much of it is going to really surface there. In the game itself we surface just about everything in the skirmish panel. There are achievements across lifetime, and then there are achievements per instance. So every instance that you’ve participated in has its own section in the skirmish panel, and it tells you everything from how many skirmish points you’ve gotten from control points, how many are from monster kills or even how many are from the lieutenants you’ve killed. And this is all tracked for that once instance which even tells you how many times you’ve done it solo or in a small fellowship or even a raid.

Then for lifetime, it’s tracking your whole experience to date on that server for that specific character. And that will tell you the same kinds of things - where your skirmish points have come from, how many kills you’ve had to date – all that kind of stuff. We can surface any of that on MyLotro but as I said we’re still putting the finishing touches on which information will be there to start, and then we can continue to grow that over time.

Ten Ton Hammer: How far would you say you’ll be pushing the randomization aspects of skirmishes then? Or will a certain amount of that fall under the parameters you set prior to entering either solo or with a group?

Jeffrey Steefel: The random objectives work regardless of what group size you’re in. In other words those objectives are taken into account by the skirmish system as well as the critical path objective, but they’re not necessarily related to each other. We want to make sure that that chance for randomization exists regardless of what size party you’re in. Then it’s just that the challenge level of that secondary objective will be balanced against the party size and difficulty level that you’ve chosen as the critical path objective.

Ten Ton Hammer: Skirmishes will come in solo, 3, 6 and 12 person team sizes. It’s entirely possible to run a skirmish sized larger than your group to get at the bigger encounters, but will there be any kind of cap in place in terms of how far you can push that? In other words, could a 3 person fellowship attempt a 12 person skirmish if they wanted to?

Jeffrey Steefel: The system is very agnostic. All it knows is that you’ve told it in advance what the size of your party is, but it doesn’t know whether you’re telling the truth or not. So we’re not actually trying to detect the actual numbers.

That’s something we’ve done in other cases, for example we have the dynamic spawn generators on landscapes that will spawn things based on the number of people in that particular radius. But we’re not literally detecting the number of people that are in the skirmishes. The complexity of doing that and the overhead that it puts on the game just isn’t worth it. That’s why we ask you when you’re creating the instance to choose whether it’s solo, small or large fellowship, or a raid and then it just assumes that you’re telling the truth.

Ten Ton Hammer: Does that just work in the one direction – scaling the difficulty up – or does it work the other way as well? In other words if you have a 6 person fellowship can you set the instance for a 3 person fellowship and run it that way, or would you have to split into two separate teams of 3 at that point?

Jeffrey Steefel: They can run that 3 person instance, but because the skirmish points are being distributed based on those settings, the rewards are going to be diminished. In other words the effect is, sure I can go in and run a 3 person experience with 12 people if I wanted to but it’s not going to be worth it. It’s going to be over very quickly and we’re not going to get much reward for it.

Ten Ton Hammer: We know that the skirmishes are created along the three axes: level, size and difficulty. Can players adjust all three axes, and how does difficulty factor in?

Jeffrey Steefel: Yes they can adjust all three, and then difficulty is like our easy mode, medium mode and hard mode. So that gets layered on top of the level you choose as well as the group size. Obviously different aspects of the skirmish experience will then change based on changing each of those. For example changing the group size is going to have a larger effect on the size of the mobs and the frequency of them. Changing the difficulty level is probably going to change the threat level of some of the monsters or how tough the lieutenants are and then level is of course going to affect their level. That’s very general; obviously there’s a lot more to it than that which I believe we’ll be outlining in a future dev diary.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are there any kind of direct correlations between the difficulty settings – for example is an easy small fellowship skirmish comparable to a hard solo skirmish?

Jeffrey Steefel: I haven’t really thought about it that way, but I imagine our designers definitely have. So I don’t know if there’s a literal mapping between them, but I imagine our players will tell us what that mapping is over time as they experience more of the system. *laughter*

Ten Ton Hammer: Do lieutenant tricks - special boss abilities like feeding off the damage we do to minions - escalate with size and difficulty, or are they a complete package each time you create a skirmish with a certain set of parameters?

Jeffrey Steefel: My understanding is that certainly the difficulty of what they’re doing changes at different difficulty levels, but I don’t think that the tactics are going to change. But we’re also randomly swapping out lieutenants so you can go into the same instance with the same size party with all the same settings, but the lieutenants will change each time.

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