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Lord of the Rings Online General Article: CES 2007: Preview

By Carolyn Koh on January 15, 2007

Lord of the Rings Online: CES Preview

Carolyn Koh had a chance to take a look at Turbine's most recent offering, Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar.

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At the Games for Windows booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center this year was Turbine, showing off Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. Played on Windows Vista, rendered using Microsoft’s DX10 API.

Poised to ship in the 2nd quarter of the year, 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.”

The lands of Eriador will be available for players to play in at launch and the land mass is definitely sizeable. To assist with travel, mounts will be available to travel from point to point. Players can also pick up the skill to ride a mount and hence buy and own one at level 35 if they wish.

The busy convention floor swarming with humanity and sound is not the best place to be chatting about a game, much less one that’s being demoed with a beta build, on a yet-to-be-shipped OS, with equipment having issues with Vista drivers, and a computer placed in a closed drawer (later retrofitted with a mesh side).

One of the challenges of developing a game based on a strong IP must be molding a fun and playable game with features that MMOG players want. What were the challenges that Turbine faced in developing LoTRO?

“Well, there’s the Dwarven women issue. The books tell us that outsiders wouldn’t be able to tell the difference when armored as the females are also bearded,” said Adam. “If there are any questions, we always go back to the books.” 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.” Well… aren’t the simple answers sometimes the most elegant?

Another challenge they faced was designing consensual PvP which is 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 an NPC in a PvP arena. They may perform quests as the NPC by attacking good races – beat up a few hobbits or elves, or fight against other player characters. The “Monster” is not persistent, but the xp 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.” In the early stages of the game then, until there are level 40 players to play against, we will be playing “Monsters” in PvE rather than PvP against other players.

A gameplay 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, the ground is cracked 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.

To encourage players to travel and explore instead of camping and grinding for experience. LoTRO provides a method of upgrading your character via traits. For example completing a quest which requires you to perhaps perform some reconnaissance of an area could provide you an additional point of wisdom.

When grouped, players will be able to access “Fellowship skills” and can use them in combination moves, laying greater damage to their targets.

Adam also talked about how the beta community is coming together at this “squashing bugs” 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. Their Knight (Volunteer Assistant GMs) program is advancing nicely along and plans are being laid for frequent events in game.

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.”

It is quite obvious that Adam loves the world and admires the work of Tolkien as he rattled off facts faster than I could write. 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.”

How did it look with DX10? I’m looking at my notes and we never discussed it. Why? Because they showed it in DX9 and Adam was too excited about the coming launch and the game itself to talk about the game in DX10. I must say that it still looks quite marvelous, with rich, colorful details. Players need not worry that they will require Windows Vista and new graphics cards though, the game will launch with DX9 with a nice upgrade to DX10 further down the road.

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