Lord Of The Rings Online: Ask Turbine #2: Exclusive Interview with Jeff Anderson

Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson has sat down with WarCry for our second weekly interview on the game. Anderson discusses early game variety, the size of the world and potential alternative pricing.

Remember, we want this to be a Q&A driven by the community. To make it work, we need questions from fans! Post your questions for next week in this forum thread.

WarCry: Ask Turbine #2
Answers by Jeff Anderson, Turbine CEO
Questions From Community

Delmar: Is Turbine going to add a feature like a Turbine Suite Pass? Something to discount monthly subscriptions for owning all 3 titles? Similar to the Sony Station Pass.

Jeff Anderson: We haven’t announced anything about a multi-product pass at this point. Obviously it’s something that we are reviewing since we continue to add more products to our portfolio. With Asheron’s Call, Dungeons and Dragons Online and (soon) The Lord of the Rings Online, we have a pretty good lineup of titles and I know that we have a lot of fans who would like to participate in all of them. So, in short, it’s something that we’re looking at, but I don’t have an answer right now.

Roberto: Why is the world of LotRO so small? You could walk across that in a few hours!

Jeff Anderson: I guess it depends on how you are looking at it!

From a fictional perspective, you are absolutely right. At launch we will be much smaller than the ‘actual’ world of Middle-earth (meaning J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional world). We have created less than a quarter of Middle-earth at launch and are focusing on Eriador (in the north-west corner of the map). This leaves us ample room for expansion.

However, that might not be what you are asking. If you are asking why it only takes you three hours to walk across the world compared to the 6 months it took Frodo and Sam to walk to Mount Doom, well I guess that comes down to the difference between developing a great game and a Middle-earth simulator. It frankly just isn’t that much fun for most people to walk over vast sections of barren landscape for days on end.

Lastly, you might be comparing us to other MMORPG’s out there. I am guessing that is not what you are asking since, from a gaming perspective, LOTRO is one of the largest (and maybe the largest) online worlds ever build. We have over 50,000,000 square meters of densely packed landscape covering everything from snowy mountains to arid deserts – and everything in between. I suppose it is possible that there are games out there that are bigger, flatter and emptier, but that wasn’t what we wanted. Instead, we have created a densely packed world with the same richness and fidelity as Tolkien’s works. We have filled it with over 1,500 quests and over 5,000 different monsters and NPCs to interact with. It’s an enormously large game with over 10,000 unique items you can equip and use.

Lepidus: To follow up, are you worried about the game becoming a big empty void as you expand? Isn’t your plan to go as the books go and add a lot more space? Are you worried that it will become too big as you cover all of Tolkien’s world?

Jeff Anderson: Now we’re too big? <Laugh>

We have a lot of exciting expansion plans for the product. Just imagine what it will be like to step into the dark Mines of Moria, visit the Ents in the Forest of Fangorn, battle at Helm’s Deep or Isengard, ride through Rohan … and then there’s Gondor, Mordor … The opportunities are endless with so many terrific places and incredible stories to tell. We just can’t wait!

After all of that, will that world be too big? I don’t think so. By the time we’re finished with it, LOTRO will definitely be an unprecedented game with an epic landscape and an epic story to match. It will be unparalleled in what we’ve seen to done to date.

If the concern is that the population is too diffuse, we’re going to take that problem as it comes. There are a lot of different ways that we can solve that particular problem — if and when we get there. You could always have different places, different worlds that you can visit (maybe Mirkwood gets pulled off as a separate world, etc.). That’s not the plan today; we’re going to build continuous landscape and continuous content to the main world.

Gatzby: Have there been any sacrifices to the core fiction to make the game more fun? For example, the mail system, or “death” system?

Jeff Anderson: We have two (sometimes competing) goals on LOTRO – make a great game and make a Tolkien world. Where those things fit together, the results are excellent. Take our Title system for instance. Tolkien described in great detail just how important titles are in Middle-earth and how the main characters earned those titles. (A perfect example is Treebeard the Ent. He spoke at length about how long his name was and that it was growing all of the time like a story.) In that case, Tolkien’s amazing detail made it easy for us in designing the Title system in LOTRO.

But, the opposite is also true – conflicts between game play and Tolkien are much harder to reconcile. Take magic for instance; it is clearly one of those systems where there is tension between what the lore says and what good game play dictates. Game players generally want to see a wizard casting fireballs, both of those concepts don’t fit neatly into Tolkien’s world. (First, because he explained that there were only five wizards in the world and, if you were a wizard, you’d be in very elite company with Gandalf, etc. and second because there is no concept of magic fireballs.) Still, we needed to find a way to let players to enjoy a magic class without violating Tolkien’s lore. We wanted people to feel the excitement and visceral feeling of throwing a fireball … but without throwing an actual fireball.

Admittedly, it was a sticky issue for us.

We spoke a lot about hot to bridge that gap. The final result was to use physical objects to represent magical concepts. Let me explain. If I walked up to someone 200 years ago and showed them a cigarette lighter, they would have sworn it was magical. We began to think about that and how we would apply that to Tolkien’s universe. We began with simple ideas at first. (What physical property could we use instead of a magical spell that debuffs a monster’s armor? Why not let a player could throw a vial of acid on a monster and it would actually wear down the armor!) But, eventually, we had to tackle the issue of fireballs. The result is a skill called “Burning Embers” which allows lore-masters to use their understanding of nature and science to throw burning hot embers at the monster (essentially a kind of Molotov cocktail), emulating a fireball.

Lepidus: The starting experience for each race seems relatively similar. Is there any plan to add more variation or are the similarities intentional?

Jeff Anderson: Each race has its own tutorial experience. Then we merge the Men/Hobbits and Elves/Dwarves into their own new player areas. After that, each race is sent back into their own starter areas until around level 10-13 when the players meet up again in Bree. We choose this approach because we wanted to ensure that the new player experience was consistent and ensure that they cover all of the basic mechanics. We wanted to do that in a very simple presentation. If we had done the converse and given one race a very complicated, multi-phased quest, that race would be doomed to a low population. Instead we used the fiction and lore to create fresh, unique story-telling opportunities.

Lepidus: Specifically the new player areas directly after the tutorials?

Jeff Anderson: Exactly. We made an effort to try to create a very simple introduction and the first quests may share some of the same overall mechanics. However, the story, the placement and themes around them are different. We saved most of the unique content for the players to experience after the new player areas – once they get into Middle-earth. Even still, there is a lot of difference between them. In the one case, I’m protecting the city of Archet from the invading Brigands whereas the other follows Skorgrim in Thorin’s Gate. It’s completely different because of the context and the quests.

Lepidus: Is there a balance between encouraging players to try multiple classes and multiple races and making sure no one has an unfair advantage or handicap out of the gate?

Jeff Anderson: We have spent a lot of time balancing the races and classes. The designers look at the GRS (game reporting service) data on a daily basis, trying to uncover problems, bugs, imbalances and exploits. We feel pretty good about the level of balance that we have been able to achieve. And, as we just talked about, a big part of that is the new player experience.

Lepidus: How do you feel the game has been received since the NDA went down?

Jeff Anderson: We’re delighted. Players are having a lot of fun playing and that is enormously satisfying. We’ve worked so hard for so long to bring Middle-earth to light and we are absolutely thrilled with the response. I think my favorite quote so far is someone said that the game “oozes quality.” How great is that?

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