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Lord of the Rings Online Interviews: Interview with Jeffrey Steefel

By Mike Jobbagy on October 13, 2005

Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel gets grilled on the nuts and bolts of Lord of the Rings Online

Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel, one of the top decision makers at Turbine on the Lord of the Rings project, fields fifteen of our questions in this new interview. Mike Jobbagy gets into the different game systems to unearth some new information.

MMORPG.com:I’ve heard the timeline for the game has been changed. Can you tell us when/where we are when we log into the game?
Jeffrey Steefel:

Our current plan is to begin the timeline roughly when Frodo leaves the Shire (from Crickhollow in Buckland).

Where you begin depends on which race you belong to; the four races have different starting points and different newbie experiences. Human characters will begin their stories in the town of Archet, outside of the Chetwood Forest. The starting points for the other races are still unannounced.

The simplest answer is that the launch version of the game essentially happens during the time of the first book, and then will expand beyond there after launch.

MMORPG.com:What forms of alternative advancement will be available or will combat be the only option?
Jeffrey Steefel:

Advancement is primarily through combat and questing. Although combat is the focus (you are, after all, a heroic adventurer), there are many quests which don’t involve killing things, and there are other activities besides combat.Of interest, too, is that our version of advancement (for quests and for combat goals) has multiple dimensions that involve “Accomplishments” and “Traits” in addition to more standard things like class, level and skills. We’re not saying much about this system just yet, but stay tuned. :)

MMORPG.com:The offline advancement system, has it been scrapped totally, or is it still being tweaked?
Jeffrey Steefel:

It’s been scrapped. In practice, we felt we could accomplish much of the goals of the system through other means.

MMORPG.com:At E3, you showed off a rather complex instancing system. Can you explain instancing in your game, how it works, what it adds and how often it is used?
Jeffrey Steefel:

We’re using instancing in two basic ways in the game. As has become more common in other MMOs, instances allow us to place fellowships (parties) in an environment that is private to them, so we can craft a compelling adventure that will not be interrupted by other players. The more complex instancing you mention related to layered-instancing we are using to “change-the-world” as part of special moments in the story arc.

As an example, as you may have seen at E3, a beginning Man or Woman completes a “tutorial” instance in a Brigand camp, and then enters the game proper in Archet – a village that is having trouble with some local brigands, not to mention a certain black rider in seach of a certain Hobbit (oops, did I say that?). This first part of the game is an instance and is limited to newbie players only. After questing their way through the storyline, the newbie player will discover that the bandits are planning to raid Archet by breaking through the wall in the rear of the town. This triggers a private instance; the player will experience the raid on a burning Archet with only themselves and whomever is in their fellowship at the time. When the raid is over and our hero(es) victorious, they will be transferred into the “real” game world, the persistent massively-multiplayer world. Now, when the player returns to Archet, they will be entering the completely uncovered persistent world and find that key buildings are burnt to the ground. This is how Archet will appear to them from this point on in the game. This would not be possible without instancing.

While we are using instances in multiple key areas and on important quests, the majority of the world will remain open and persistent.

MMORPG.com:I understand there have been some reconsiderations of PvP, will there be any, and what form will it take?
Jeffrey Steefel:

As it stands, there is no PvP in the traditional sense; that is, player characters fighting each other. We understand that PvP is a feature that many people would like to see so we are exploring alternatives more appropriate to the Tolkien mythology. Stay tuned – we think you’ll be pleased ;)

MMORPG.com:Tell us about the combat system. How will it be better than the “point, click and grab a soda” that we’ve come to be used to?
Jeffrey Steefel:

Combat is very interactive, rather than automatic. Your character has specific skill-based abilities depending on their class, which can be used strategically during combat to attack, buff and debuff, knock an enemy down, and so on. As you level, you will acquire more and more powerful skills, as well as combo modifiers. We’ve also developed a group combat system in which your Fellowship can participate in group attacks and maneuvers.

MMORPG.com:How will death be addressed?
Jeffrey Steefel:

For the most part there really is no “death;” instead, your character is “defeated” and regains consciousness elsewhere, in relative safety. How your character got there is left up to your imagination. Whether there will be a penalty for losing your fight is still on the table.

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MMORPG.com:Will we have mounts at launch, perhaps an expansion pack? If so, in what forms?
Jeffrey Steefel:

Mounts are not in the game at launch, but we expect to introduce them in a later expansion (most likely Rohan).

MMORPG.com:Will there be Live Events, and how will they be handled?
Jeffrey Steefel:

We are planning to have live events, but the details haven’t been worked out yet.

MMORPG.com:Will there be player housing and what form will it take?
Jeffrey Steefel:

At this time, individual player housing is not in the plan for launch. We do believe this is an important feature down the line and hope to include it in the game sometime after launch.

MMORPG.com:How will crafting work? The usual gather resources, get recipe, stand near equipment, click start, or will we have something more involved?
Jeffrey Steefel:

We’re not ready to talk about crafting yet, sorry!

MMORPG.com:Will there be any special perks for being in a Guild, such as special Guild only quests, a Guild Hall, or Guild experience?
Jeffrey Steefel:

This is still in the design phase, so stay tuned.

MMORPG.com:What will be different about questing in LOTRO?
Jeffrey Steefel:

In addition to the rich web of quests placed throughout the game, LOTR has an epic storyline that sends players on their own grand adventure. In addition to setting players to a task comparable to (but distinct from) the Quest of the Ring, this Epic informs the themes of quests throughout the world. Overall, we are trying to provide context for your actions; if you’re killing something for a quest, there‘s a good reason for it. You’ll find many quests in which fighting is something to be avoided. Finally, we’re taking advantage of the lore to create quests that bring the richness of Tolkien’s Middle-earth to life.

MMORPG.com:Will our actions be able to change things in the world? Can we take over and occupy buildings, or towns? Perhaps drive the orcs from a town and reclaim it?
Jeffrey Steefel:

An interesting question indeed – stay tuned for answers…

MMORPG.com:Finally, what prompted your decision to change the name of the game from Middle Earth Online to The Lord of the Rings Online?
Jeffrey Steefel:

The Lord of the Rings is a much more broadly recognized name that we believe will help us create an even larger community of Tolkien fans online. Also, we wanted to have some separation between some of the older incarnations of the game and the current design (our vision, which we’re building now). .

Many thanks to the folks at Turbine for making this happen. If you have any comments please post them here and in their hype meter.
Mike Jobbagy / Got sucked into online games with FPS shooters like the Dooms and Quakes. Aging slowed the twitch reflexes, and I moved over to MMORPG''s, and still lovin it!

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