Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria Interview with Jeffrey Steefel

Lord of the Rings Online will launch its first expansion pack in the coming months and they’re starting big in the Mines of Moria. We spoke to Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel about this expansion in the first half of an epic interview, which we have now transcribed for your pleasure.

Check back tomorrow for Book 13 and general updates.

WarCry Interview: Lord of the Rings Online
Mines of Moria Expansion Pack
Answers by Jeffrey Steefel (Executive Producer)
Questions by Jordan Deam


WarCry: Let’s start out with an easy one: what excites you about Mines of Moria?

Jeffrey Steefel: Wow, where to start. I mean Moria … first of all, Moria, right? I mean, we’re working on Middle Earth, Lord of the Rings, and being able to go to Moria, to bring players into Moria and really create that environment … that’s hugely exciting for us. Moving onto the more active parts of Middle Earth in the story … you know, once you get across the Misty Mountains, war is not only brewing, it’s happening, so there’s lots of cool stuff happening there. Some of the feature sets that we’re doing for Moria, the item advancement system, I’m hugely excited about. It’s going to be a really cool extension of our existing advancement system, and I think players are going to really enjoy that … it’s a pretty big system we’ve been working on for quite some time.

WarCry: What can you tell us about that system? Will there be actual weapon XP, questlines that involve specific weapons? Are the upgrade paths going to be linear, or branching out so that players will be able to customize weapons to suit their own playstyles?

Jeffrey Steefel: Obviously there are some things that have to be pre-baked into the advancement path, otherwise you’d have eighteen million combinations … and we’d release sometime in 2020. But absolutely … the way I describe it, it sounds a little odd, but think of the weapon as almost like a pet that you’ve acquired – a full-on pet, so it has it’s own XP that it gets. It gets that XP through a lot of the ways that players do: has it been involved in a particular type of battle, has it been in a particular part of the world, has it been utilized in a certain quest, has it been utilized in a certain deed, has it been slotted with a certain type of trait, you know. … That’s all on the side of “software,” and on the hardware side, it’s “what runes or gems have I found or acquired that I’ve slotted into this weapon?” a la Diablo … So how does all that stuff mix together? The weapon has its own depth … that will grow over time. … It’s a whole other advancement path that kind of travels along with you.


WarCry: On the “software” side, is it going to be all voluntary in terms of the kinds of traits a weapon would acquire when you’re using it? For example, if you kill a certain number of a type of enemy with it, would a weapon automatically acquire some kind of trait, or is it always a decision that the player is consciously making to modify it?

Jeffrey Steefel: Not getting into too many details about that just because we’re still in the process of building it. … But, much in the same way that … deeds, for example – there’s all kinds of deeds in the game; you don’t really know what all of them are; they appear in certain opportune moments and become available to you or become visible to you, and you have a choice about whether you want to pursue them or not based on the advantages that you get by pursuing them. There are going to be those kinds of decisions as well in item advancement. Not exactly the same, but where there are going to be different paths available depending on what you choose to pursue. But it is going to just happen.

The things that are intentional on the player’s part is: I go out, and I get the particular stone, and I choose to forge it into my weapon. Or I choose to deconstruct my weapon, which you’ll be able to do. … Your legendary weapon is bound to you in its legendary form, but at any time you can deconstruct that into its component parts; you can actually trade and sell the component parts. So there’s things that you choose to do, that are determined by what the player wants to do, and things that just happen over the course of … it’s kind of like having a hireling. Except it’s a weapon.

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WarCry: That’s something that I’m curious about. … Whenever you have an MMO with a hardcore fan base, you’re going to have the min-maxers who are constantly trying to tweak the last bit of performance out of their characters. And I’m wondering, with this system, do you expect to see people all going toward the same final destination when it comes to the upgrade path for a weapon, or is it going to be the type of thing where there are so many choices and so many different paths that it could take, that it really becomes like a second character?

Jeffrey Steefel: The goal is for the latter, because it’s consistent with our approach to a lot of our systems. Basically it’s the whole reason for having deeds and traits and titles on top of your normal XP curve, so that you’ve got a lot of different levers to pull that all act together to create your pill. It’s interesting – it’s taken a while for traditional MMO players to get used to having that much choice. And I think in some cases for people it was daunting; they felt like they wanted to look at a menu and … just build a character that is going to have these capabilities that they just need to do XYZ. In fact, we’re focusing some of our time and energy on, through the interface over time, making that clearer. It’s not that it’s the only way to do it, but “here’s the beginners guide to using traits and deeds and getting yourself to “standard build X.”

But this will be like a lot of our systems where, to your point, depending on how you do things … you’re going to get a different result. So we don’t want there to be just one path … [under his breath] to rule them all. [Laughs] One path to attach the most amount of power possible with your weapon. Similar to, like in the raids, the raid rewards that we substituted with barter tokens so that when you go into a raid, instead of having that one sword that that one monster is going to drop, that everybody is going to be camping until the one lucky person gets it … we’re dropping barter tokens that you can take to a raid vendor and get one of several different types of really valuable pieces of loot. So again, there’s tradability. Everything that we’re trying to do is to give players more and more ways to distinguish themselves from each other.

WarCry: Talking about the actual zone of Moria, how do you plan to differentiate sub-zones within the Mines to give players a sense of variety?

Jeffrey Steefel: This is where we get into that “we’re still a long way away from launch,” and we don’t want to let all the cats out of the bag at the same time, so we’re obviously going to be talking about all the different zones and how to differentiate them from each other. But what I can say is that you’re spot on. We’re creating a deep, giant, huge underground environment … and one of the things we’ve talked about is how are [players] not going to feel like they’ve been treading through rock, you know, forever … treading through dark passages and rock. As cool as Moria is, that would get kind of boring. And the truth is that Moria wasn’t like that; Moria was an entire world underground, so there will be different biomes – “biome” is what we use to describe a type of environment in the world, so like “forest” is a biome, or “swamp” is a biome, or, you know, “snowy, icy” … the Misty Mountains is a biome. There will be many biomes inside of Moria that are being being created as new that are very specific to Moria, and very distinct from each other.

So you will definitely pass from place to place, and you’ll definitely be in a certain part of Moria and know where you are by the fact that you’re in a biome that feels very different than another place in Moria. … That’s hopefully consistent with the lore, or what you’d expect the lore to be. An example would be everything from “hey, you’re in a part of Moria that actually opens up to the Misty Mountains,” so there’d actually be sunlight and maybe snow falling through. Or you’re in a part of Moria that’s down in the depths where the Nameless are, and it’s all lava and murk and decay and all that kind of stuff. It really will have that sense of moving from place to place, and that’s all inside an environment that’s mostly contiguous. Certainly there will be instances in there for the same reasons that we always use instances, in terms of focus and storytelling. But in terms of the space itself, it is just like a landscape space in that you can walk from one place to another without teleporting.

WarCry: It’s interesting that in most open-world MMOs there’s a focus on crossing landscapes, but [Moria] is one case where you’ll have depth, too …

Jeffrey Steefel: Vertical. Yeah, “vertical” is a word we’re using a lot in the development of Moria. “Think vertical.” Because you’re right: … The MMO-space sort of tends to be very conventional world, oddly, in terms of the terrain itself. So we’re definitely thinking in three dimensions in Moria which will be part of the fun, I think, for the players; like “where am I?” … We’re having discussions like “What does the radar look like in Moria?” “What does the map look like?” Is it just a top down map of Moria, because we’ve got multiple layers? How are we going to display that? You can’t make the map of Moria be exactly like the map of Bree-land, for example, because there’s many, many levels; so what does that mean? It’s interesting to kind of change your perspective the way it will become for players.

WarCry: Can you tell me anything about how the new classes, how they might fit in a typical fellowship, what kind of role they’re going to serve …

Jeffrey Steefel: This will be as unsatisfying for you as other folks that I’ve talked to for about a week or so, but that’s one of the things that we’re not talking specifically about at all. We know exactly what their roles are and we’re working on building it out right now, but that’s something we’re going to be talking about … over the next couple months, we’re going to be rolling out more and more information about the classes and what they do and how they fit. Our stance is, they were specifically designed to complement the class roles that we have now; they’re going to round out the abilities of players’ parties, and they’re going to give players new ways to experience Middle Earth.

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