Ask Turbine: Evendim, Features, Subscribers & More
Based on interview with Jeffrey Steefel (Exec. Producer, LotRO)
Article by Dana Massey

Ent

Ent

Now successfully out the door and stable, Turbine has been at work on the first major free content update to Lord of the Rings Online. Shores Evendim should come out this month and promises an array of enhancements to the MMO experience.

“Very, very close,” Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel told us in a phone interview when we grilled him on when the update would go live. “We really took an approach that we wanted this to look like no other place in Middle-earth that we’ve built so far.”

The update introduces the new lands of Arnor, an abandoned area that is a focal point of Middle-earth’s history, but also not overly described in the books.

“It gave us an opportunity to be creative with the look and feel of the place,” Steefel explained, before quickly adding that they took what guidance the literature offered, such as some specifics on the architecture of the abandoned city itself.

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Ent

The new area, which is aimed at the level 27+ crowd, also let them make further steps in their stated goal of having players play a peripheral role to the core story of the books. In the trilogy, Aragorn is presented with the reforged sword Narsil. It is not clear how that sword was put back together, simply that it was. In the game, players get a new epic quest where they must go into Elendil’s Tomb and help reforge that very sword. It sticks with their theme of having the players on the outskirts of the actual main storyline.

The new area also gives players their first taste of the Ents, without sending players all the way to Fangorn. One shows up in the new areas of Ariador as part of their regular travels. One of the thrills of LotRO is the ability to meet these characters players know so well. The Ent is just a continuation of that.

“We spent four and a half years coming up with what we think people are going to like,” he told us.

Music was not on that list. They had no idea and not until their sounds guys fooled around with it in their spare time did it even occur to them. They put a stripped down version in the game for launch and voila, a true phenomenon of a feature was born. In the update, they’ve gone the extra mile to improve it. They’ve added bass and drums and the ability to play in sync, sustain notes and chords. What’s more ABC notation, a popular internet standard, allows players to import songs they write into the game. Steefel noted the agility of his team in this update. Music was something cool, but they did not realize until late beta how cool it truly was. They identified it as something that needed to be expanded and in their first update, got it done.

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Ent!

So if music was a surprise hit, what about those features they expected to resonate? One of them was monster play and now, just a little over a month post-launch, they’re only starting to see the potential of this feature. The catch-22 of this feature is that while players can go in and enjoy time as monsters from a very early level, the players were not at a high enough level to compete.

“Monster play is something that is going to be coming of age in the next few months,” Steefel said with excitement. Just in these last few weeks have players gotten to the level to wade in there and excitement is building. The monsters want some fresh meat and the players are anxious to take them out. They’re adding more incentives, by design, to get the appropriate level player characters into the area and that includes some rewards that will not be available in any other way.

Steefel also characterized himself as happy with two other core features: the deed system and fellowship maneuvers.

He believes fellowship maneuvers came off especially well. These are group combat moves that players can pull off in cooperation with each other. Does he plan to expand them? There he is treading carefully. Unlike music, this system, he believes, was already fleshed out. He also learned in testing that they can go too far with them.

Yes, an Ent!

Yes, an Ent!

“Done right, it’s really, really fun. Done not right, it can be really, really cumbersome and confusing,” he pointed out. Most of the upcoming expansion in this area will be content driven, in that they’ll add new moves, but won’t tweak or expand the system as a whole.

Deeds have also been wildly popular and in the short term, players will get a slew of new deeds to collect in the new areas of the world. Beyond that, he hopes to eventually wed this system more closely into others and can imagine a world where the collection of traits is necessary to unlock other content. They’re not there yet, though.

While Lord of the Rings Online has a great number of features, fans never let Turbine forget what it does not have, housing chief among the things on the wish-list. It’s something people want, but does Turbine want to provide it?

“We know how important housing is to the community,” Steefel reassured. “We cannot imagine a better place for this kind of thing… It’s just a matter of how and when.”

That Ent again

That Ent again

An allure of Middle-earth is that players can come and live in a world that they’ve dreamed about since childhood. Overall, Turbine has crafted a world that looks and feels like what one would imagine from the books. Now they want to put down roots. So if it’s so important, when can players expect it?

“This is something the players can expect us to start talking about later in the year,” Steefel told us. He wouldn’t be more specific than that and refused to comment on whether it would be part of the game’s first expansion. With a little more prodding though, he added, “people are actively investigating what the right design is”.

Late May marked the most anxious of anniversaries for any game. At one month, the free trial everyone gets in their box runs out and then they find out if anyone is happy to pay them to play their game. While he only had a couple days to judge from, Steefel said he was happy with the conversion rates to date. That is good news for a game that was ranked by NPD as the top selling PC game in its first month.

“We are probably the second highest volume ever for an MMO,” Steefel told us, ranking them behind WoW. While it is impossible to confirm this, we did inquire about their lack of new servers. World of Warcraft has over a hundred servers and older games like Dark Age of Camelot still count 22. Lord of the Rings Online only has 11, a number that seems to contradict the happy sales reports. He told us that differences in technology make the comparison of number of servers impossible, as each company’s technology is different. The NPD numbers back him up here.


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