Our writer on the ground at the Consumer Electronics Show, Carolyn Koh, filed this report on Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. It is based on an interview with PR man Adam Mersky.
Based on an interview with Adam Mersky
Carolyn “Sylvene” Koh
Turbine was showing off the latest and greatest with their upcoming Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar at the Games for Windows booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center this year, running on Windows Vista and DirectX10.
Poised to ship at the end of the first quarter, Adam Mersky, Director of Communications was justifiably excited. “We had over 300,000 beta sign-ups,” he said, “and we’ve garnered interest from fans of Tolkien, fans who’ve never played an MMO before.”
Oh? He went on to elaborate that they have created an immersive game that will be easy to learn but hard to master. “Players will be able to adventure in the greatest fantasy world there is!”
The demo shown at CES2007 used DX9. It was a graphically beautiful world with richly detailed landscapes and architecture. I was also informed that the game will launch with DirectX9 although playable on both Vista and XP, with an upgrade to DirectX10 further on down the road. What a graphics upgrade that will be!
At launch, players will play in the lands of Eriador, a sizeable land mass for players to explore. To assist in that, horses will be available to travel from point to point – hiring a horse at a stable which will take them to another. Players can also learn to ride at level 35 and purchase a horse for their own use.
I asked about the state of the game and was told that they were at a pre-launch “squashing bugs and polishing” stage. Adam also spoke about the challenges the Dev team encounters developing Tolkien’s world.
“There’s the Dwarven women issue where players want to be able to play female dwarves. If there are any questions, we always go back to the books. Gimli says that outsiders wouldn’t be able to discern any differences and that the females are also bearded,” said Adam. Currently, the characters are called “Dwarves – Male” but a visitor had given Adam a work around if Turbine chooses to use it. “She told us to just name them Dwarves and not use a gender significator.”
Another challenge they faced was designing consensual PvP, a feature many MMOG players wish to have.
“We can’t have the elves or dwarves fighting each other, and you can’t play an Orc. The main theme of the entire IP is that you are a good guy battling the forces of evil,” said Adam.
Turbine has solved the conundrum by providing what they call “Monster Play” providing a solution which is at once also a unique feature. At level 10, players may choose to play a Monster in a PvP arena. They may perform quests as the Monster by attacking good races – beat up a few hobbits or elves, or fight against other player characters. The “Monster” is not persistent, but the experience gained from the play is applied to their regular character.
At level 40, players will be able to enter PvP arenas with their own character and battle against player controlled “Monsters.” Extrapolating, I see that in the early stages of the game then (until there are PvP inclined players with level 40 characters), players will be playing “Monsters” and questing rather than PvP against other players.
A game play feature which is also unique is the concept of Hope and Dread. Dread is felt by the player when he enters areas of intense evil. Similar to the movie experience when our heroes approached Mordor, the miasma of evil affects the landscape and how you perceive it. The sky grows dark and the entire landscape begins to waver. Your morale goes down and fear envelopes your character. If no action is taken such as moving away from the area or killing evil creatures to raise your morale, your character can end up cowering and gibbering with fear.
Levels and adventuring are not the only game play experience in LotRO. Tradeskills are important as well, and players can also differentiate their characters through traits. These are gained through quests involving travel and exploration instead of camping and grinding. For example completing a quest which requires you to perhaps perform some reconnaissance of an area could provide you an additional point of wisdom.
Adam also talked about how the beta community is coming together at this “bug squashing” time. “A community really makes the game,” he said, telling me of how the beta players congregated at the Party Tree in the shire for Bilbo Baggins’ birthday, which in turn attracted a GM, who then set off fireworks and joined in the merry making.
I asked what social features were in game to assist in creating that community. “Player jam sessions!” was the enthusiastic response. Elaborate! I demanded. Well, it seems that Turbine has created a player generated music system for LotRO: Shadows of Angmar. Players may buy instruments – such as flutes, lutes and drums, and play together to create music. All I could think of was… What an amazing concept! According to Adam, players have really taken to it as well.
“We feel that the Tolkien legacy is a torch. Peter Jackson really brought the world to life in the movies he created, and it’s passing to us now. We take the legacy seriously and we believe we will deliver it with a level of detail not previously seen before.”
Adam obviously loves and admires the work of Tolkien as he rattled off facts faster than I could write. The number of languages the Hobbit has been translated into… the number of times the trilogy has been published and re-published, etc. Turbine has the license to Tolkien’s literary works, including The Hobbit & the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I am told that the movies are a different kettle of fish, so we won’t be seeing anything from the movies in the online game.
“Players will be able to adventure in the greatest fantasy world there is,” Adam enthused. “2007 is the 70th year anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. It is a perfect year to launch.”
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