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MMORPG | Genre:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 04/24/07)  | Pub:Midway Games
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Solving Problems and Making Friends, Part I

The latest developer journal out of Turbine looks at the work of Live Designers and their efforts to create content for Lord of the Rings Online.

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The Call of Live Design

If there is one thing that Live Designers share in common across Turbine, it is our desire to (try to) do everything ourselves. It is not uncommon to see a single designer writing quests, developing deeds, making scripts (both story and game), and tinkering with game systems. We do this out of a sense of ownership in our work – we want to make something our own from start to finish.

In our current development environment, it is difficult for a designer to truly say they did everything from start to finish on a single piece of content. Sometimes it is our schedules that prohibit us from doing so (we are very busy people, some more so than we ought to be), sometimes it is a general lack of understanding of how a certain system functions (my current weakness is the loot system, I look at it and have a greater respect for all the number crunching our Game Systems Designers do) or a missing skill set (as much as we’d like, very few of us are artists). Make no mistake, collaborative efforts are equally rewarding – but sometimes it is fun to challenge yourself by striking towards the unknown on your own.

As the development of Moria concluded, I found myself yearning to take a temporary step away from managing the World Design Team and back towards my foundations as a live designer. This is the story of how I spent my four weeks after Moria went live.

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The Drawing Board (Week 1 Part 1)

I entered development thinking about the various successes and failures within Moria. I was playing through the Moria content fairly intensely (though not quite enough to be first to 60 in my kinship). I was observing what players were enjoying and disliking about their experiences.

While doing this, I found that I (and many other players as well) was getting an incredible amount of enjoyment in the repeatable Item Advancement instances (a topic which my fellow developer Vastin wrote about not too long ago). I was also noticing a fairly intense amount of competition over the new tier of Crafting resources.

Armed with first-hand play experience and extensive player feedback, I established the goals for my Book 7 contribution:

  • Provide a set of short duration, solo-able instances
  • Provide a new, balanced, repeatable source of crafting materials to help mitigate the intense competition on landscape
  • Results: 6 Solo Instances (2 Prospecting-focused, 2 Forestry-focused, 2 Scholar-focused)

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 Finding My Audience (Week 1 Part 2)

Now that my objectives were clear, I turned towards determining the accessibility of the content and who I wanted to be able to participate in this content.
Originally, I planned on only allowing those with specific professions trained access to these instances (for example, only Prospectors would be able to access the two mine instances). This meant that those with a Harvesting Profession would have content specifically for them, but I found that this had the potential to greatly shrink the available player-base for the content. In the Live Environment, it is important that anything you make reaches the greatest audience possible. Because of that, I removed the Profession restriction from all instances.

Another important factor of these instances had to be replayability. Much of our content is one-time only which limits shelf-life. In contrast, I wanted to make sure these instances kept people coming back and kept them interested again and again.

Finally, this content had to be rewarding enough to compel players to run it but not so much so that it was unbalanced. With the assistance of the Game Systems team, a simple reward scheme that further emphasized the crafting-centric nature of the instances was developed.

From my planning and preproduction, I took away the following implementation guidelines:

Wide Audience Appeal – not restricted by Profession to access

  • Play-session of 30-45 minutes
  • 3 Instances designed for level 58+ Solo players (potentially doable at a lower level)
  • 3 Instances designed for level 60+ Solo players (potentially doable at a lower level)

High Repeatability – Make it interesting for multiple daily runs

  • 3 Daily Quests per instance (18 total quests)
  • “Switch-state” Profiles (to make instance monsters have the potential to vary between runs)
  • State-driven Resource Availability (to make resource nodes available within instances without causing balance issues)

Compelling rewards – Emphasize the basic goal of the instances without creating balance issues

  • Consignment-style Chest Rewards (with the chance to “jack-pot” desirable recipes and resources)
  • Iron Garrison Miners and Guards Reputation
  • Other Assorted Item Advancement and Reputation rewards (for the non-crafters)

Screenshot

All in the Details (Week 1 Part 3)

While tailoring my design for the desired audience, I hit on a couple of ideas that I felt were the most compelling bits of this content.

“Switch-state” Profiles Add Variety

Switch-state Profiles are a little-used feature that has previously been employed to create a larger variety of monster types in camps or instances. It has been used occasionally in Bree-land and the North Downs, for example, but in general the changes offered by the Switch-states were either not immediate enough or recognizable enough for players to really notice. They returned again in our Book 14 Battle Instances but were used less to change entire monster sets and more to provide skill/behavior variance.

In these crafting instances, this system provides a moderate degree of variability and does so in a noticeable manner. A player may enter a Lumber Warehouse instance and see cave-claws one run and the next time they’ll happen across goblins. This also allowed the design to provide for varied degrees of difficulty purely due to the nature and behaviors of a specific monster set.

For example, you could enter one of these instances and see one of the following monster types:

  • Deep-claws (easiest to solo due to threaten behavior on all monsters)
  • Goblins (average difficulty)
  • Morroval (greatest difficulty due to pet and Crowd Control behavior types)

Unfortunately, the degree of monster variability possible between instance runs meant the quests associated with the spaces have to be less detailed than I would have liked (to fit a wide variety of potential targets). As a result, each instance has a daily Kill, Collect and Kill Boss quest.

Gated Resource Availability

In order to prevent an overwhelming flood of resource materials into the game economy via these instances, I had to find a way to limit the availability of resource nodes within the space. Out of all the potential solutions I investigated, the best fit was found in our Group-Stage System.

Within each instance there is a series of three Stage-locks. As players proceed past certain thresholds, they will trigger a visible message and their progress through the instance will be saved. Why Multi-stage locks?

  • Multi-stage locks allow us to limit availability of resources to preserve balance in the economy
  • Multi-stage locks allow players to spread an instance over multiple shorter play sessions or recover from unforseen events such as disconnects
  • Multi-stage locks will allow un-harvested resources in a stage to disappear upon instance shutdown. These instances do have a generous shutdown time, so disconnected/crashed-out player should have ample time to re-enter the space and collect their resources

Multi-stage locks provide a configurable lock duration - twice a week initially with the potential to be adjusted in the future

Deed Synergy

An aspect of design that the World Design Team has been focused on is something we call Deed Synergy. What is Deed Synergy? Basically, we want to make sure that the deeds we create (specifically Slayer Deeds) are well supported by landscape, camp or instance monsters. With the launch of Moria, certain monster types didn’t have enough content/world incentive to aid in deed completion.

All monster sets used in these instances are supported by a pre-existing Moria Slayer deed. This doesn’t address Deed Synergy issues for all Moria Slayer deeds (Wargs and Dragon-kind get no love in these instances, sadly) but Merrevail, Cave-claw/Deep-claw and Gredbyg deeds are fully supported by these instances.

Read Part II of Solving Problems and Making Friends

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Read this article at its Original Source

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