Lord Of The Rings Online: Ask Turbine: Steefel Interview

Jeffrey Steefel looks forward to the launch of Book 9: Shores of Evendim in our weekly Ask Turbine interview. The Executive Producer tells us what to expect on launch day, how Turbine plans to tackle its launch and turns an eye to future Books.

Ask Turbine: On The Shores of Evendim
Based on an interview with Jeffrey Steefel (Exec. Producer, Turbine)
Article by Dana Massey

image“Book 9: Shores of Evendim” launches next week and Turbine has done everything in their power to make sure the first major free content update goes as smoothly as the game’s launch. In our weekly interview, Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel ran us through their launch procedures, future development plans and a host of other hot button issues for Lord of the Rings Online fans.

“This is no different than any other launch,” Steefel told us and added that he’s worked to ingrain that into the culture at Turbine. “[We’re] treating it just like the launch of the game.”

In the post-World of Warcraft MMO world, this is a commitment to quality that is longer impressive, but expected. Steefel told us that they had spent 10 weeks developing the content for Evendim and roughly another 10 weeks testing, polishing and fixing it. In an industry that seemed like it would patch a game within minutes of finishing the last quest, this is a marked change in philosophy.

They’ve also set up a war room where key team members from every department monitor all aspects of the patch’s integration. This is the exact process they followed during the actual launch of the game and not something people typically hear about for a mere content update.

imageThey anticipate that Shores of Evendim will be a large, but manageable patch for users. Aside from the host of new features like music upgrades, new monsters, quests and zones; fans will also log in to find tighter, cleaner UI. They’ll also realize quickly that the area between the Shire and Ered Luin is now a contiguous place, no zoning required.

In past weeks, Steefel has talked extensively and excitedly about the updates to music. Many of the expansions sounded great, but one was always a concern. The main compliment of the music system had been how people had taken to playing songs spontaneously in such a small system. It took talent to be a real bard in games that so often only reward character skill. Music had evolved into something that a level one character could trump a level fifty character at. With ABC notation, players can now download and load songs directly into the game. They’ll play them flawlessly with no more complexity than an emote. Obviously, a major part of the update centered around the expansion of the real time musical abilities, but we wanted to know if this one area might undermine the magic of music in LotRO?

Steefel does not believe that it will and told us that it is usually very easy to tell the difference between an ABC notation piece and someone who is actively playing their instrument. He compared the difference to a studio recording and a live show. Nonetheless, he did seem to consider the idea that perhaps something more should be present to differentiate the live musicians from their ABC notation using counterparts.

imageEven though Evendim has not yet launched, all that testing time means that the development team is actually half-way through development of the next update. While he emphasized that they have no formal schedule for release, he hopes to bring out a new “Book” each quarter (roughly four per year), but insisted that they must be “meaningful content updates” to make the grade.

With them so far along into Book 10, he spoke of what that means to their ability to react quickly with features players demand. Turbine prides itself on being able to identify what the community wants and get it to them as soon as reasonably possible. Steefel cites music as an example of this. Yet, when their next update is half developed before the first one launches, one has to ask how they could possibly fit something new that fans demand into Book 10.

Steefel told us that it would all depend on the feature, but believes they have the flexibility to add something if it makes sense and fans truly want it. He did admit though that it is likely a major new feature that came out of next week’s update would have to slip into Book 11.

imageOne feature people have demanded is fishing, something that is not part of Evendim or any announced update. Steefel told us that it is something they’ve evaluated and are aware that not only fans want it, but also people within the company.

“Fishing is definitely on the list, it’s just a question of where on the list and when,” he explained.

Each update to Lord of the Rings Online will be called a Book. The initial launch included eight “books”, which are the eight chapters of the game’s epic quest. Evendim represents the ninth and future updates are planned all the way to Book 14.

image“Picture that we’re making the MMO version of [HBO’s TV series] Rome,” Steefel told us as an example. Rome is on HBO, a channel people must subscribe to and unfolds its story in installments over time. Previously, the temptation has been to think of video games like movies and many are, but if video games are movies, then MMOs are television. It’s important to have an episodic nature to the content, lest the fans grow restless. As they grow, they’ll advance the main plotline (currently the Angmar), but also put tendrils out for future plots. Ultimately, we know that the books end when Frodo lets the Ring fly, but how they get there (and theoretically past that point) remains to be seen. So far, they’ve done a noble job of telling a familiar and epic tale, but also building powerful, meaningful stories for characters on the periphery of that tale. The Rome analogy works again, as that show crafted a cast of fictional and historical stories around the Julius Caesar’s rise to power and eventual assassination, which while important to the show, was not the main thing that kept people’s TVs turned on.

Check back in a week’s time as we talk to Jeffrey Steefel after this update has gone out to the players. It will no doubt be an interesting conversation.

You’ve heard what Jeffrey has to say, now let us hear your two cents in the comment thread below!

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