Lord Of The Rings Online: Ask Turbine #4: Interview with Jeffrey Steefel

In the fourth of our weekly interviews, Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel drops in to chat with our community. In this series of interviews, we ask Turbine questions from the community each week in a call and transcribe it here for publication.

You can get your questions in for next week in this forum thread.

Lord of the Rings Online Interview Transcription
Interview with Jeffrey Steefel, Exec. Producer
Questions from the community

Delmar: I remember in Asheron’s Call the towns were all attacked at the end of beta by hordes of monsters and such. Can we expect similar events to be planned for the end of Closed Beta? Open Beta?

Jeffrey Steefel: There are two things. First at the end of closed beta, we’ll definitely be doing some events. I won’t comment on what they are or what kind of events they are yet, because that will spoil some of the surprise, but again, as I’ve mentioned before, we’re very interested in doing live events in general. So, we’ll do some global event at the end of closed beta.

For open beta, we’re really looking at that as the beginning of our live service. So we’ll treat that very much like we treat that service itself, which includes live events. So, our community services group and our customer services group and our development group have been already working together planning and working on more advanced tools to let us do even more stuff moving forward.

That’s definitely a part of our consciousness and we’ll see some of the evidence of that in beta.

Lepidus: So there won’t necessarily be a big giant last bash in open beta?

Jeffrey Steefel: Probably not, but we’ll do something for our open beta players that is global and fun, but because essentially because we’re rolling our open beta directly into launch, including letting people carry their characters forwards, there’s no demarcation. The product does not go dark between open beta and launch.

Gatzby: Could you tell us a little bit about sound development? When and how is a sound deemed acceptable for retail? Are there any sounds right now that you aren’t happy with?

Jeffrey Steefel: Boy, there’s a lot of levels. I’ll take them one at a time.

So for music, as early as possible – so years ago – we started having conversations about what themes we wanted to have in the game. So rather than taking a piecemeal approach to scoring the game we decide first: are we going to have themes for areas? Are we going to have themes for specific characters? Are we going to have themes for events? And what we ended up with basically is that most major areas have their own theme, so when you’re in the Shire that has a music theme, when you’re in Angmar that’s going to have it’s own musical theme and tone. Then on top of that there are some characters that carry with them their own theme. Then you have event based music – so combat music and drama music – based on things that are actually happening in the game at that particular time and those are triggered based on those events.

So we take all this music and layer it in our sound system, which gives us many, many different layers of audio at the same time. Not just in terms of actually mixing the sounds together, but in terms of layering them and triggering them in real time, based on what’s actually going on in the game. So when you get into combat, that music will be layered on top of what actually happens. We have very few looping beds of environmental music within the game, it’s created dynamically.

So the first thing is music, the second thing is sound effects in general. They’re created in all different types of ways. Sometimes they’re created digitally, sometimes they’re created the good old fashion foley way, where we’ve got our guys in a room bashing things around and screaming and doing whatever it takes to create the sound that we need – the gold old fashioned way. And then we go through the 3D world and make sure that all important animations and objects that would create sounds in the world actually have sounds associated with them that have a spatial existence in the 3D world. Then those things mix together as you’re actually in the 3D world. So if you’re in a forest, you’re less likely just to hear a generic forest track that plays in a loop. Depending on where you are in the forest, you’re going to hear different things that live in the forest and the sounds they’re making individually and that’s the way our engine works. It’s like all parts of our engine, it’s the fourth version of it that we’ve built for these games.

In terms of making them authentic to Tolkien: sound’s probably on of the areas where we have the most flexibility. It’s rare for Tolkien to specifically describe the way something sounds. He talks a lot about the way things look, but sound is not mentioned nearly as much. So we draw on nature, things we already know the kinds of sounds they make and we also look back at the sounds you may have heard in the 15th and 14th century in Europe to draw on the types of animals, creatures, insects and things like that that you would find. And some of it is extrapolating from Tolkien. You know, what does a midge cloud sound like or if you’re in the Midgewater marshes – what does that sound like or what kind of creatures are in there. So we first start with the ones that he described and then we imagine other types of creatures that might be in there. Even if we haven’t actually created the creatures, sometimes we create the sounds for them.

Then the last is the interface itself and what kinds of sounds that makes and how does that interact with what’s happening. So that’s everything from combat effects sounds – and that’s really our audio guys working hand-in-hand with our visual effects guys and figuring out what a particular special effect sound like – and then it’s the interface itself, so that the interface gives you the best possible feedback about what you’re doing without being obtrusive.

Sound is a huge part of what we do, something that is part of the planning and it’s something that we do all the way till the end. We’re tweaking sound right now and will be until the last moment. And we’re already making plans for what we’re calling Sound 2.0 for after launch. So the way we do sound doesn’t stop evolving at launch.

Lepidus: Can you say anything about what Sound 2.0 is?

Jeffrey Steefel: Well the first thing is music 2.0. So we have a music system in the game at launch where players can actually play music together and we started to see that in the game and it’s really amazing the kind of music people can play. Right now you can play individual notes and you can play notes together in polyphonic unity, you can play with other players. There are things like being able to sustain notes or being able to maybe even import music files of one format or another to actually share songs with other people that the game will recognize. So you could potentially write a composition and share it with somebody and they could play it. Things like that and that’s all driven by our sound system.

Lepidus: When you say import files, I assume you mean files the game itself creates rather than people importing their favorite boy-band song or something?

Jeffrey Steefel: Mmm.. We’ll see! We’re playing around with a lot of things, right now. Obviously, we’ve got to be careful of not infringing on anyone’s ownership rights, but as an example, for me to be able to create my own composition and create a type of file that you could then import and play that composition would be very cool. There are some standards out there that we can draw on. And then things like how we use the sound engine itself to trigger sound. There’s a lot of optimization we can do to give a lot more depth to what we’re doing.

Lepidus: Just to be clear, when are you envisioning Sound 2.0 in the game?

Jeffrey Steefel: Oh soon! Very soon. Soon after launch. Most likely it’s going to happen within the first 3 months after launch, whenever it can be significantly improved. Bottom line – we’re hugely committed to making sure our live updates are bangs, not whimpers. We’ve been doing this for a LONG time, and we know what it takes.

Gatzby: Are there plans to implement anything to encourage players to spend money? Gambling/mini-games?

Jeffrey Steefel: Well there will be a lot of mini-games. We’re shipping with some of them, a lot of them will be free. The ones that involve money will depend on how the economy evolves and what the need is for more sinks. I mean, we already have things like freeze-tag, sparring, music and things like that that are in the game. Fun things for people to do. They don’t actually cost money, but you can imagine high end versions of these things where exchanges of money are involved. There’s lots of opportunities for us to pull money out of the economy, whether it’s through crafting or how you get involved in different parts of monster play down the line, to some of the economy that we’re going to try to push between players.

Delmar: Can you explain some of the logic behind making crafting resources a higher loot quality? Reason I ask is say I am mining ore while in a fellowship. If I dig up Sienna, the whole fellowship gets to roll for it.

Jeffrey Steefel: Well, there are a few reasons behind this. Loot quality is meant to show rarity, as its main intent is to convey to the user that they have just found an object that is uncommon, and of higher value. One of LOTRO’s main tenets was to maintain a strong layer of approachability, even though many of its underlying systems are actually quite complex.

Mattlow: Are there any plans on making a Direct X 10 client available?

Jeffrey Steefel: We’re definitely going to support DirectX 10 when the time is right. It’s just a question of when. We’ve already done quite a fair amount of work on it and we’ll be talking about that more when we know exactly when we know exactly when that’s going to happen. It’s definitely something we’re focused on and it’s definitely something our graphic engineers have already spent a fair amount of time looking at. It’s just something we felt we didn’t want to rush for launch.

Lepidus/Mattlow: Can you talk about what exactly the options currently are for VOIP in LotRO?

Jeffrey Steefel: So right now, you can speak within your Fellowship within LotRO. So as you’re traveling with your party you can also do voice chat together. You can also do chat one to one, or one to two, or one to three within the game. What you cannot do right now is chat across very large groups within the game and that’s what we’re working on next. People are asking how I can use my voice chat across my whole raid group for example. That’s something that we’re focusing on now.

Lepidus: So you’re not going to make effort to make the voice confirm to anything real or anything, it’s just convenient?

Jeffrey Steefel: Yes for now. If we start actually placing it in the real world, you know, where passers by are listening to it, then we’ll have more work to do. It really is just voice chat connecting people to each other. If we start having 3D voice in the world in the 3D space, then yes, we’d have to investigate things like voice fonts, but that’s for the distant future.

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