Wednesday, 2 December 2009

SCHADENFREUDE

Schadenfreude can be defined as malicious or gleeful pleasure at the misfortunes of others. Honestly, no malice is involved here, but I couldn't resist giggling at what came up this morning when I did a search for "Mirkwood" on the Lorebook forums. Here is a selection of thread titles from the first two pages of results, all from the last 24 hours:

• I'm so mad
• SoM not on account page
• Unable to start game after Mirkwood expansion
• Lag Galore!!!
• Stuck on "Cleaning Up Old Connection"
• Rubber banding!
• Server issues???
• Stuck on Loading Screen
• Cannot access any new areas
• Help me fast! 1 hr reconnect time!

In other words, the usual feedback from the first day or so of any expansion... Coming your way soon. I recommend going away for a couple of days till the dust settles, or perhaps hauling that old Monopoly set out of the basement and playing that instead; 90% of early glitches have to do with server overload, and with a bit of luck the other 10% will have been fixed by the time you get back online.

Monday, 30 November 2009

SoM PRE-PATCH FOR EUROPE NOW ACTIVE!

We in Europe have often had occasion to grumble, not without reason, about the imbalance between what Turbine does for its subscribers Stateside, and what we get from Codemasters in Europe. Well, Codemasters have gone some way to redeeming themselves today, with the release in torrent form of a Siege of Mirkwood pre-patch. I'm not normally a great fan of torrents, and the speed currently (Monday afternoon) is averaging no more than about 25-30 kb/s, which means it will take a bit more than 24 hours to download the whole 1GB, but what the hell... we won't be able to use it till Thursday anyway, and anything that helps bypass the projected server log-jam is more than welcome. Now, if we could only have a look at the patch notes...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

ONLY IN IT FOR THE LOOT?

Back on the Stateside forums, a vicious little argument erupted on 17 November over the top-end raid loot in Siege of Mirkwood, namely the armour set dropping from the Dol Guldur instance, and raged for two days until the thread was closed. The title given to the thread by the original poster says it all: “If you value raid loot, Mirkwood is NOT for you...”. Well, we already knew (see previous post!) that DG armour will be a visual disaster, but it seems that it’s going to be distinctly poor in terms of stats as well – some posters felt it will be barely better than the full Watcher set. And to add insult to injury, it turns out to be (oh, the shame!) purple rather than teal.

At the same time – and I’m definitely confused as to the thinking behind this - it seems the new SoM legendary weapons will only come in Second-Age flavours. No First-Agers at all. So will a l.60 First-Ager be better or worse than a l.65 Second-Ager? I would guess worse, but who knows?

However, yesterday’s DevChat included a couple of interesting comments about both these issues. In response to a question about the purple DG armour set, dev ZombieColumbus (no, really) responded: “In the past, we have gotten burned by giving out the best possible gear our game could generate with the initial release. This immediately makes itemizing further instances impossible. The advantage of holding back like this, is that the jump between our subsequent raid sets will be more noticeable”.

Dev Jalessa comes in for some very bitter criticism in the forum thread; according to the original poster, “the fault lies not with the instance designers, but with the LOTRO Systems Team, led by Jalessa, which intentionally made the loot weak, ignoring all of the mountains of player feedback begging for desirable raid loot throughout beta”. However, when asked whether “we are to see Teal Armour sets and First-Age weapons in the next book update?”, Jalessa responds with “… level 65 First-Age legendaries will not be available immediately with launch of Siege of Mirkwood. We plan on introducing them in a future update”.

The obvious implication of these two comments seems to be that top-end armour sets and First-Age LIs will both come available later, though still before the next volume – in other words, as part of a Mirkwood expansion. Whether this implies that there will be yet another 12-man raid in the region remains unclear. I rather doubt it, though, given that the one currently implemented ends with the death of the resident Nazgul; I mean to say, how could you top that? On the other hand, will a second (teal) armour set start dropping from the same raid? That sounds equally unlikely. Baffling…

Friday, 20 November 2009

DOL GULDUR FASHIONS


Despite appearances, the personage depicted above is not a fashion victim with more money than sense, a colour-blind circus barker, a tourist at the Venice carnival or an actor in an Elizabethan masque. No. It is, gods above help us, a young lady sporting the latest in LOTRO action wear for archers, namely the complete +30 radiance Hunter set which will drop from the Dol Guldur 12-man instance. Or, in other words, the mightiest and most advanced Hunter armour set to date.

What's that you said? She looks like an utter twit? I couldn't agree more. But that, nevertheless, is what Turbine's fashion designers have decreed for the winter '09 collections. Never mind that nobody in their right mind is going to want to be seen dead in a ditch wearing that clown suit. True, it does have the distinction of being the ugliest bit of LOTRO armour since those dreadful purple things some lunatic devised for the Ettenmoors, but still...

It remains a puzzle to me how the design team which came up with some of the most brilliant environments and landscapes I have ever seen in a computer game can be so amazingly lame where clothing and armour are concerned. What makes it worse is that they are obviously baffled by the whole concept of Hunters. They can just about fudge it with the heavies (give'em lots of plate mail, then add more bits on top of that) and with Lore-masters (robes, robes, robes), but it's quite obvious, looking at earlier efforts such as the Lady's Favour set from Dar Narbugud, that they don't have a clue what a Hunter might want to look like.

These hideous rococco creations might be just about tolerable if there was one plain, serviceable, campaign-style set of Hunter armour in the entire game which could at least be worn cosmetically. Something along the lines of plain boots, leather leggings and simple chain mail in muted earth colours would be nice - but there isn't. Lore-masters at least get a chance of acquiring the sober, unadorned, simple black Robe of Viisaus which is the reward for completing Vol I/Bk 13/Ch 4 ; judging by the number of these I've seen recently, there's a real demand out there for unfancy gear. But no, there's nothing like that in medium armour.

As for weapons - don't get me started on the neon glow, radioactive, three-sizes-too-large rejects from a drunken WoW design session we've been seeing lately...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

GONE FISHIN'


It's the doldrums again in LOTRO, as we all wait upon the arrival of Siege of Mirkwood. Book 8, The Scourge of Khazad-dum, ultimately proved to be thin fare indeed. The three +15 radiance instances (Mirror Halls of Lumul-Nar, Water Wheels and Halls of Crafting) were interesting and well designed, but had limited repeatability; by the time one had run them enough times to gather all the elf-stones, plus several extra to help kinsmen out, the shine had definitely worn off. As for the 12-man instance, Dar Narbugud, even those with sufficient radiance to attempt it (rather less than a third of the player base, I would judge) feel that it is definitely no second Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu. For one thing, it is nowhere near as difficult as the Rift; the Blind One, the penultimate boss, is admittedly tricky, but not a patch on Thaurlach the Balrog. For another, unlike the richness and variety of the Rift, Dar Narbugud's landscape is a dispiriting succession of red, vaguely organic caverns and passages, like a proctologist's nightmare...

What many players have been feeling the lack of for a very long time has been something new and meaty to explore. The last really satisfying area we got to roam around in was Eregion; the subterranean twists and turns of Moria and the static quality of Lothlorien somehow failed to satisfy the urge. So expectations for Mirkwood are high: a new area to discover, even if it turns out to be a bit smaller than expected, a new and hopefully varied 12-man raid, and of course the skirmishes, which sound as though they really will have a serious element of replayability. In the meantime, for all us jaded old-timers, there's really not very much else to do but mark time and go fishing...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

LATEST LOTRO DEVCHAT FROM WARCRY

WarCry Network had a chance to chat with Turbine's developers on 11 November. The full transcript is available on their site. Nothing earthshaking was revealed, and in fact most of the responses were either disappointing or else offered nothing new.

Dev Orion clarified the new development he calls 'Inspired by Greatness', a mode which will enable players to solo Epic Quests by temporarily increasing stats: "In the current implementation, the buff increases your statistics to allow you to readily handle the foes present within instance spaces. What that means, in the short term, is that a player deciding to take the solo version of an epic quest that contains an instance will be bumped up to the approximate level of an Elite creature. This also includes some bonuses to regen that make it possible for players to survive against multiple opponents".

One of the most eagerly awaited elements of Siege of Mirkwood is the new multi-boss raid in Dol Guldur. In answer to a question about how many bosses this would include, dev jwbarry replied "The raid at the end of the cluster features multiple boss fights, it's a full raid not a lair raid. There will also be at least 8 skirmish raids launching. These are designed for 12 players and have been balanced as such, including custom built bosses for each" - so nothing really new, there.

Little of interest was said about legendary items, other than Graal reiterating "The addition of scrolls that allow legacy tier upgrades and various other improvements to Legendary items allows players to continue to upgrade their Legendary Items far beyond what is currently available. Initial ranks of legacies will be somewhat lower in Mirkwood to make room for these upgrades".

More fuel was added to the debate about whether Wardens make good main tanks by Belechannas' question: "A Warden who is defeated and then revived (with their threat reset to zero) lacks any aggro catch-up skill similar to Engage/Rising Ire. Is it intended that Wardens are the only class unable to function in their primary role after being revived in a long fight?". To which Graal responded, rather discouragingly for Wardens, "The lack of an instant threat catch up skill is one of the differences in tanking between Wardens and Guardians, just like Wardens dont have a easily used forced taunt. It is unlikely, but not impossible that this will change. Bottom line...Dont die".

To questions about the availability of new skills in SoM, Jalessa disappointingly responded "With Siege of Mirkwood, each class will get one skill upgrade at level 62", and "There are no class quests added in Siege of Mirkwood". So with five new experience levels, we get just one new skill - confirmation that current policy is for improvements to come largely through the acquisition of new gear. Unfortunately for those who aren't into raiding, or hate the radiance gating system, Jalessa also pointed out that "we're not looking to add radiance to crafted gear at this time".

jwbarry
reassured a questioner that Skirmish rewards would be available to all, even those who were unable to take part in 3, 6 or 12-man skirmishes: "All items will be available for purchase for all players. Small Tokens come from and 3 man skirmishes. Large Tokens come from 6 and 12 man skirmishes. Some rewards require Small Tokens and some require Large Tokens, in addition to an amount of Skirmish Marks. Large Tokens can be downgraded into Small Tokens with no additional cost. Small Tokens can be upgraded into Large Tokens with an additional amount of Skirmish Marks. The goal is that with enough time, everyone, regardless of playstyle or preferred group size will be able to get all the rewards they are striving for".

Champions have been particularly worried about the loss of their Fervor stance legacies with the new SoM legendary weapons. According to Graal, "The Champion legacies were worked over the most of any of the classes due primarily to the reduction and consolidation of Stance based legacies. Champions gain several legacies that give damage bonus to individual skills, a critical magnitude legacy and several more utility type legacies. In addition all of the Ardour/Glory legacies have been combined to affect both stances".

Finally, to my mind the most interesting new feature revealed here (I may have missed an earlier announcement, however) was the "Immediate" skill execution type. Graal described this as "a new skill execution type that will absolutely interrupt whatever you are doing and execute the skill. We use this for interrupt type skills like Clobber".


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

EARLY MIRKWOOD BRIDGEHEAD ESTABLISHED!


At last it can be revealed! Astonishing photograph documents the first (non-beta) raid and hostile landing on the shores of Mirkwood, weeks before the official release of SoM. LOTRO Cronicles is proud to release this undoctored image of history in the making, as elements of the Western Alliance raiding forces establish an early bridgehead on the east bank of the Anduin, well in advance of the main Free Peoples' invasion.


Thursday, 5 November 2009

I WAS A KING ONCE... NOW, I AM NAZGUL!


Turbine's publicity has always tended to be somehow unimpressively flat, as though they had some terrific material at their disposal but didn't quite know what to make of it. Now, however, they have just released the second Siege of Mirkwood pre-publication trailer, and it's first-rate. For once, they've made good use of all the elements at their disposal - mythos, background, epic quality - with genuinely impressive results. Oh, and congratulations to whoever did the voice-over for the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur, Lord of the Necromancer's Keep; I hope we'll be hearing lots more from him in-game.


Friday, 30 October 2009

WHITHER LEGENDARIES? WHO KNOWS...

Well, as anyone who was in the least bit interested will have realised by now, Turbine lied - I mean, was economical with the vérité - both implicitly and explicitly when they implied, or even in one notorious case claimed outright, that our legendary items would be with us forever, increasing in potency as we increased in level. So by next month, or a bit later, it's bye-bye l.60 First-Age Bow...

Despite the great number of leaks, official releases, forum posts and dev diaries, there is still much that is unclear or obscure about the future of Legendary Items post-Siege of Mirkwood. One question (or possibly hot potato) which as far as I know nobody has yet addressed, is what will happen to our hard-earned Bright Emblems of Nimrodel, otherwise known as First-Age tokens. It is just conceivably possible that come next month, it will prove possible to trade them in for the new SoM LIs, or perhaps exchange them for whatever barter currency will replace them - but if you believe that, you probably also believe in the Easter Bunny. Turbine has never, in the past, provided an upgrade system for outdated barter currencies, and I don't think they're about to; I mean, how many of us still have chests cluttered up with now thoroughly useless Vile Coins, Rift-iron Coins, Marks of Triumph and the like?

No. If you want my advice, take those Emblems of Nimrodel and run, don't walk, to your nearest class trader and hand them in for whatever level of First-Age LI you can afford, then waste no time shoving it into the Auction House for whatever insane price you can think of. Even though l.59 and 60 First-Agers now have a well-defined sell-by date, there will always be somebody who will pay good gold for them. You'd be surprised. And when you enter Mirkwood with a rapidly ageing First-Age weapon, you'll at least take comfort in also carrying a well-filled purse.

WARNING: The management take no responsibility for the consequences of following financial advice made public in this blog. Gondor's Financial Watchdog says: "The value of your investments can go down as well as up".

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

TOUGHEST BOSS OF THEM ALL?


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy, and there are certainly more strange and terrible things in LOTRO than ever see the light of day. Or, to be more precise, not everything in Beta eventually finds its way to the final release. In a recent thread on the Codemasters forum, Steelskin posted the following highly intriguing snippet: “There are quite a few mobs used in beta which make it into the final client but are not used, I remember a "Squirrel-King" but it apparently got deleted at some point”.

A piss-take? Quite possibly, though if it was, fellow poster Ganoderma must also have been on it, since he weighed in with “Ah, the good old squirrel king: see http://lorebook.lotro.com. Official entry is gone, page still exist though”. Well, Ganoderma is quite right; the page referenced is there but empty. However, a quick bit of detective work on the net eventually traced the original Lorebook entry, above. The full entry runs as follows:

"Ever since regaining access to Moria the dwarves have been trembling. The Watcher is not the only creature lurking in the depths and catacombs of the previously great palace. Far beneath the pool where the Watcher hides lies a hidden cavern, patrolled by NeekerBreekers and squealing spider queens lies the most fearful monster, surpassing even Balrog. Laying under the Mithril Mines for Aeons this creature lay trapped until the Balrog, released by the greedy (and hairy) dwarves tripped over a rock and broke through... releasing the Squirrel King.

Be aware that your average level 60 raid party has no hope of bringing down this Uber-Nemesis Level 70 boss who uses acorns to bring down even the strongest and most able warrior. Later in the year though the level cap will be lifted and you can leave turtle soup and calamari behind to get kicked in the nuts by this boss of bosses."

So did the dread Squirrel-King enjoy a ghostly existence in Beta? All one can say for certain is that Turbine, for reasons best known to itself alone, saw fit to delete every trace of its brief existence… Did I hear the muttered words “conspiracy theory”?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

THE ADVENTURER'S PACK

There appears to be some confusion at the moment over what exactly the new Adventurer's Pack which is being released in North America at the same time as the Siege of Mirkwood will include. Apart from the two extra character slots, interest has focused largely on the promise of "shared storage" between characters on the same account. Unfortunately, expectations that this means all storage will be common to all characters must be dashed; according to the official Turbine publicity posting "Answer the Call of War", shared storage will consist of nothing more than "a storage space capable of storing 20 items accessible by all your characters on the same LOTRO server/world".

The obvious implication is that this will consist of an extra storage module of limited capacity over and above what is currently available - my guess would be an additional chest. And it's virtually certain not to accept bound items, including those quite unnecessarily BoA decorative items. Not really all that much help, then, in terms of housekeeping; you might store a small range of potions there, or perhaps a few crafting materials... Better than a kick in the pants, of course, but far from earth-shaking.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

SOME DEATHS: AN OCCASIONAL SERIES

Library of Steel, Moria

Annuminas

Mordor's sentient servants are gifted with the power of speech; indeed, sometimes it's almost impossible to get them to shut up, other than by skewering them or blasting them with mage-fire or its LOTRO equivalent. Many of them also have their very own dying words, final messages of despair or defiance. This ongoing occasional series will record some of these utterances from the brink of extinction...

Thursday, 17 September 2009

ENTERING THE NECROMANCER'S CASTLE

The Siege of Mirkwood, we have been given to understand by Turbine’s carefully calculated press releases, will culminate in a multi-boss 12-man raid on the fortress of Dol Guldur. This is something all LOTRO raiders have been waiting for, hoping passionately that in terms of variety, interest and replayability, it will turn out to be a Rift of Nurz-gashu, Mk II. This is particularly so in view of the fact that the latest and much-heralded multi-boss raid, Dar Narbugud in the depths of Moria, is just a tiny bit disappointing.

The million-dollar question is just how severely it will be gated – in other words, what the minimum radiance level will be in order to avoid cowering. The maximum possible would be +120 radiance, representing in effect a full set of Dar Narbugud tier 2 armour, each piece of which is worth +20 radiance (as, of course, are also the tier 1 helm and shoulders which drop from the Watcher) – but I don’t for a moment think the developers will set it that high.

At the moment, minimum radiance for the Vile Maw is +50, and for Dar Narbugud +70 (which means you can enter with +65, as it rounds up). My guess is be that you will need +85 radiance (down from +90 thanks to rounding up) for Dol Guldur, making a neat progression of +50, +70, +90 for the three 12-man raids. Currently, this could be achieved with one tier 2 item, all three tier 1.5 items and two tier 1 items - but the expansion will also offer other, new opportunities to build up radiance. It looks as though radiance, like death and taxes, will be with us for a while yet…

Thursday, 10 September 2009

THE SIEGE OF MIRKWOOD

There's a number of sites where you can find a consolidation of all the currently available information on LOTRO's forthcoming expansion, The Siege of Mirkwood, so I won't bother recapitulating it all here (MMeOw has a good one). It's interesting to note that unlike the previous paid-for expansion (Mines of Moria), this one does not introduce a new volume, but "only" an new book (Book 9) of Volume II. It is to be a digital expansion costing around twenty dollars US, though I would guess it will soon be followed by a boxed edition for the retail market. Significant features include a level cap raise to 65, a legendary item cap raise to 60, a new runic slot for LIs, the eagerly expected Skirmishes, an apparently very large new area to explore and, above all, a new multi-boss raid culminating, it seems, in a battle with the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur. All good stuff...

Since this will not, after all, be a new volume, there has been some grumbling about having to pay for new content, but surprisingly less than might have been expected; most people, I think, realise that the content on offer in SoM will be considerably greater than we would normally have received from a free update. And to be honest, as one of the many players who paid for a lifetime subscription, I don't mind making an occasional contribution to Turbine's revenue stream, thereby ensuring that they continue to lavish time and attention on the game.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

I TAPE-WORM MANY FRIENDS

In a lighter vein than some recent posts, I couldn't resist passing on the following wonderful communication gleaned from the Codemasters forum:

"Hello escrivo to expose what happens to me I am in the server evernight go 2 years in etten am rank 10 with my guardian a hobbit always I went to all the raid and tape-worm many friends until a few months ago I come a very big clan descendants of andurin, and one of his(her,your) members arcane harasses me non-stop(steadily) expels me without motive says lies of my and the last thing that it(he,she) made arcane is to get about myself tell to scare saying things like that Arcaned: I wish to KILL FRODO AND EAT HIS EYEBALLS Arcaned: Devils Arcane> arcane Cucuracha Rodin . he(she) hates me for that he(she) hates Frodo and Samsagaz and says that every deve of burning in the flames of sauron arcane it looks like to me a sick player and already not that to do before this harassment pardon for my bad(wrong) Englishman".

The exchange which followed had something to do with feuding and bad blood in the Ettenmoors (yawn), but the debate was of minor interest compared to the original glorious piece of prose - which may owe some of its surrealist splendour to the intervention of an online translator. The last word remained with Satine, CM director of community relations, who sensibly concluded "[Thread] closed before anyone hurts themselves" last Tuesday.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

LET NOT THY LEFT HAND KNOW WHAT THY RIGHT HAND DOTH...

Well, it turns out that the Great Bounty Quest Bonanza is, indeed, the result of a miscalculation by the developers. Responding to complaints on the US forums about overcrowding at the bounty sites, Vastin, a member of Turbine’s online team, admitted as much: “It might surprise you to know that rewards are handled separately from quest design. Our content team designs quests, estimates how long they'll take, and then the systems guys designate the rewards that they will give out. In this case we overestimated how long the quests would take to run, and our systems folks overshot the reward a bit, and both factors combined to provide a hefty dose of IXP love for you folks”.

Whoops. Nice to know just how these things happen, plus it’s a relief to discover that the devs will cheerfully admit to the occasional all-too-human cock-up.

What next? Still according to Vastin, “I'm considering various fixes to reduce the crush at them. The easiest and most logical short term fix would be to increase the length of the quest timers on them to 3 days or so, so that's the front runner at the moment. […]We don't have another patch scheduled for a while yet, so it'll likely stay as-is for a time”.

So gather ye rosebuds whilst ye may. Personally, I would much prefer the other solution Vastin proposed, namely upgrading the two group quest targets to massive, Arch-Nemesis-on-Steroids class, but I think that was tongue-in-cheek. Too bad.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

BEGINNING OF THE END FOR LEGENDARIES?


The five new Bounty quests available in Esteldin can be repeated daily; between them, they give a total of 465,000 item experience points each and every day. That’s a hell of a lot of of ixp - enough to take a legendary item to l.60 in under a week…

Three of the quests are easily soloable by any competent l.60 player, and the other two represent a mild challenge to any combination of no more than two l.60s; undertaken in any group of three or more, including a Hunter to provide transport, all five can be completed in just over thirty minutes. In other words, you can take two legendary items from zero to sixty within a grand total of six hours playing time.

The bounty quest ixp represents the equivalent of flooding a real-world economy with bad money by printing shoals of banknotes, and results in rampant inflation. All other forms of gaining ixp, including in-combat ixp and the extra quests for the Moria instances have suddenly been rendered utterly irrelevant – at this point, who will care a fig for the measly 180 ixp awarded for killing a l.60 orc?

I admit to being baffled by this development; at a single stroke, the devs have effectively killed off one third of their legendary item strategy. This used to have three prongs: acquiring a LI, levelling it up, and gambling for legacies and settings. The second prong of that strategy has now had its heart ripped out. How much longer before the other two go as well? Is this the beginning of the end for LIs – and would that be a bad thing?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

A MODEST PROPOSAL

Richard Bartle, a British writer and game designer, was the co-author of MUD, the first multi-user dungeon and according to Wikipedia, “one of the pioneers of the massively multiplayer online game industry”. He is also the designer of the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, which uses a series of about 30 questions to determine the preferences of games players. Depending on their answers, player preferences are divided between the roles of Achiever, Explorer, Socialiser and Killer, with the score ranking indicating the principal thrust of a player’s interest. As an example, a pure non-consensual PvP game such as the recent Darkfall is clearly designed to appeal primarily (indeed, probably exclusively) to the Killer type of player.

A fascinating recent post in Pearls of Unwisdom argues that the current radiance gating debate in LOTRO reflects a long-standing conflict of interest between Achievers and Explorers: “Achievers and Explorers have been knocking heads together for a while now, especially with regards to gating of content […] Achiever types traditionally thrive in content gating situations […] Explorers [are] forced either to join the numbing grind, or to hang up their hiking boots and call it a day.” The post concludes by asking “given that Achievers and Explorers both seem to enjoy raiding, can they both coexist peacefully? Or is there a fundamental conflict between what they both want from the experience?”.

It must first of all be said that the Bartle test does not really fit in very well with a game like LOTRO, which has minimal PvP content – I tried the test, but kept being faced with questions which really had no application to the LOTRO experience, particularly as regards killing fellow players… More germane to this discussion is the fact that I can see a substantial overlap between Achievers and Explorer goals. However, what I found particularly illuminating was the recasting of Raiders as Achievers. The official Bartle definition of a pure Achiever goes like this: “Best, first and most are the favorite adjectives of the Achiever. They love comparison not only against others, but also with themselves. They enjoy setting goals, surpassing previous performances and hitting new milestones. They tend to have lots of high scores, badges, trophies and other concrete evidence of their successful endeavors”.

If the argument in favour of a very narrow gateway to end-content raiding, and therefore to the highest-quality gear, is that there must always be some concrete, strutting-around, high-status evidence of a player’s ability to eventually beat the hardest challenge thrown at him by the developers, there’s an easy way to achieve this without depriving everybody else (i.e., Explorers and Socialisers) from experiencing environments and challenges such as the Rift and Dar Narbugud.

Simple. Widen access to the big, multi-boss instances which everyone wants to experience, not by making the fights easier, but by providing several pathways into the instances: forget radiance gating, and offer alternatives such as crafted armour, drops from several different kinds of quests, and epic book rewards. At the same time, provide another 12-man raid which need not have more than one or two bosses, and which will not require spectacular new settings (scenery is for wimps!), but make it fiendishly, almost impossibly difficult. The rewards for completing this instance should be impressive, even flashy. They should immediately stand out in a crowd, offering instant status for those who crave it, but (and this is important) they must not be in any way functionally superior to the top rewards for finishing the other end-content raid.

Result? Genuinely rare, high-status display items for the Achievers, satisfaction for frustrated Explorers and Socialisers, and, at the end of the day, a level playing field for all.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

RADIANCE: MORE FROM ORION

The following quote is lifted from Turbine designer Orion's blog of 4 August. There really isn't much that can usefully be added to it, apart from noting that the issue is obviously being taken seriously at a high level. As the man says, wheels are in motion...

"I am looking at the generators, resets and other scripting bits that make up the Grimbark fight when I am asked to come to a meeting on Radiance Gear. Being that I wrote a spec on how to deal with the issue, I am being asked for input on the solution. Now, I cannot go into great detail - because it is still not in implementation and I would rather let Amlug discuss this with all of you; unless of course he asks me to do so. I will say this, the changes are going to be for the better.

The meeting includes Avon, myself, Amlug and Raskolnikov. We banter back and forth, each of us expresses our understanding of the core issues with the system. They have been at it for a while when I come in the room and there is a split on the best course of action to rectify, refit and make an attempt to satisfy the issue. We know that we are dancing on a very thin line. On one hand, we need to do something to rekindle Hope to the casual player base (pun intended) in the other we still need to provide enough bragging rights for achievers. We continue the discussion until everyone has their say. The solution is on the board with some minor tweaks being added as we draw the meeting to a close and realize that it’s not the elegant solution that we each desire, rather it is an amalgam of what can be done and what we all reason can be accomplish in the time frame we have with the tools and technology at our disposal. The past and the decisions made by those who are not us haunt us ever forward. Still, we have a solution, one that dances on that fine blade and only time, concrete specs, implementation, testing and player feedback will answer if we got the solution right, partly right, mostly right, right enough, nowhere near right or some mix of all of the previous.

If I can convince Amlug to blog about the system or get his leave to explain the solution in the coming weeks I will. For now, know that wheels are in motion and the world is turning, that is the sunlight you feel on your face. We know that this is an issue and are dedicated to doing something about it. Period."

Saturday, 1 August 2009

NOW WHAT DID HE MEAN BY THAT?

According to The Telegraph newspaper, addiction therapists are creating their own avatars in online fantasy games such as World of Warcraft in the hope of treating youngsters addicted to virtual worlds.

“We will be launching this project by the end of the year”, said Dr Graham, a consultant psychiatrist at the Tavistock Centre in London. “I think it’s already clear that psychiatrists will have to stay within the parameters of the game. They certainly wouldn’t be wandering around the game in white coats and would have to use the same characters available to other players. Of course one problem we’re going to have to overcome is that while a psychiatrist may excel in what they do in the real world, they’re probably not going to be very good at playing World of Warcraft. We may have to work at that if we are going to get through to those who play this game for hours at end.”

The mind gently boggles. As I drifted off, the following dialogue played itself out on the GLFF channel of my mind…

[GLFF] Shatterhand: 9/12 for Watcher, looking for mincer, dps and experienced champ.
[GLFF] Lacan: Well, hi there, Shatterhand! Want to talk a bit?
[GLFF] Shatterhand: What class?
[GLFF] Lacan: Well, you could think of me as a healer.
[GLFF] Shatterhand: Mincer, cool. What rad? Must have +50 min.
[GLFF] Lacan: How nice. Minimum 50 what, exactly?
[GLFF] Shatterhand: Radiance, man. +50 or you cower when we go for suchi.
[GLFF] Lacan: To be honest, I’m not that fond of Japanese food myself, but hey, it takes all sorts… I’d like to talk to you about cowering, though. Why do you think you have to cower?
[GLFF] Shatterhand: ???
[GLFF] Lacan: Do you think it might be because your social skills are a little, let us say, rusty? How many hours a day do you stay online, hmmm?
[GLFF] Shatterhand: One sec, inspecting… You noob, you’re l.5 and your pointy stick only does 1-3 damage!
[GLFF] Lacan: Now, what leads you to express yourself in those terms?
[GLFF] Shatterhand: *&%£@!?X!
[GLFF] Lacan: Oh, too bad, he’s gone. Never mind, I’m sure I must have helped him to a better understanding of himself…

Friday, 31 July 2009

THANK YOU FOR LISTENING

Responding to my post about radiance gating a few days ago, unwize pointed me at a comment in Orion's Belt, an ongoing blog by the senior Turbine developer of that name. The blog, well worth following by anybody interested in the nuts and bolts of how a games designer tackles a specific job, is essentially about Orion's ongoing redesign of Garth Agarwen; on 24 July, however, he had the following to say about the radiance controversy:

When you deal with a mass of people all spouting opinions and everyone keeps harping on one point or another it can be very difficult to drill through to the core of the issue. This has been the case with Radiance Gear. At first, it appeared that radiance gating was the only part of the issue because that was the breadth of the complaints. After drilling deeper and reading more and more from folks it became apparent that there were many symptoms to the problem.

  1. Radiance gear is now required to enter raids.
  2. The only way to acquire radiance gear is to complete hard modes.
  3. Hard modes objectives are obtuse.

All good points, all taken to heart and all actively in the pipe for some form of retrofit to address the core issues. No time frame yet. Just and admission that we hear you, we understand you and we are committed to rectifying the issue.

It was, needless to say, heartening to read this, as it's the very first time anybody at Turbine has so much as conceded that there might be a problem. Of course, Orion's comment shows that he has very slightly missed the point: it's not that people object to completing hard mode instances, it's having to complete them over and over and over again that they hate - that, and the fact that the only pathway to the new instances is the radiance pathway. Nevertheless, his blog demonstrates that the message has registered with at least one person in the right quarters. "No time frame yet" casts a slight chill, but on the other hand, "we are committed to rectifying the issue" is pretty clear-cut. Let's hope a retrofit will indeed be applied before too long; in the meantime, thank you for listening, sir.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

RADIANCE GATING: THE ISSUE THAT WON'T GO AWAY

I mentioned in my previous post that I considered radiance gating (i.e., making raids accessible only to those who have acquired radiance gear) a very poor design decision, and added "it’s no secret most players feel the same way". That was, actually, a bit of an understatement... Gating has provoked perhaps the most extensive debate ever on the LOTRO forums, and has met with almost universal disapprobation. The "Petition against the new Raid/Radiance system" started by Cuilion on the CM forums way back in February has achieved an astonishing 32,591 views and garnered 650 replies, virtually every last one supporting the petition. This is no simple storm in a teacup.

Cuilion started his petition in response to an uncompromising official announcement from Turbine to the effect that "
Radiance will continue to be an important gameplay mechanic going forward for Raids. In other words, given the amount of time and energy gone into making the Radiance system it's safe to assume Radiance gear will be required for future Raids." Well, there's certainly no ambiguity there. Problem is, everyone hates radiance gating, and this includes dedicated end-content raiders (of which I suppose I am one, albeit not an obsessive example of the species). The question here is to what extent do, or should, the developers of an ongoing game like LOTRO pay attention to the wishes and preferences of their client base? OK, it's obvious you can't please everyone, and that whatever the developers do or don't do, some categories of players will always be outraged; the minor storms which break out after every adjustment of class skills (necessitated by a sensible desire to provide a level playing field) are a classic example. Every class of player will defend their territory to the death, and complain accordingly - that's only to be expected. The same goes for many of the lore-breaking design decisions: to coin a clumsy phrase, you simply cannot make a MMORPG omelette without breaking lore eggs.

What we have here, though, is very different from the usual forum whine-fest. Players who are serious about the game, who are experienced gamers, who wish LOTRO and Turbine the very best and who have given considerable thought to the subject have expressed their opposition clearly and unambiguously: they believe radiance gating to be a design error, a one-way-street which will harm the game and its prospects in the medium to long-term. They have done so, by and large, in a restrained fashion, explaining exactly why they believe this to be the case. Unfortunately, there has not been the slightest indication from Turbine that this wave of sober criticism is regarded as anything more than a minor irritant.

Politics teaches us that when a substantial (and vocal) percentage of any population has a serious beef which is consistently ignored by the powers that be, conspiracy theories will spring up like weeds to explain an apparently irrational situation: "If They won't even admit there's a problem, then something is rotten in the state of Denmark...". A recent post by player Mai Hon encapsulates this view perfectly: "I had two accounts, I waited for some sign that someone at Turbine was listening to the outcry against radiance, but its someone's favourite child, someone who would rather see the game damaged by the division it causes than admit it was a mistake."

And in view of Turbine's deafening silence, who's to say that Mai Hon is wrong?

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

ACHIEVING MINIMUM RADIANCE IN BOOK 8

As everybody knows, the two end-game 12-man instances at the moment are gated – that is, you need a certain minimum level of radiance in order to even enter them. Personally, I think this is a poor design approach, and it’s no secret that most players feel the same way. However, we’re stuck with this situation for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately, Book 8 introduced some new paths to achieving the minimum requirements, which are currently +50 radiance for the Vile Maw (the Watcher), and +70 radiance for Dar Narbugud. What follows are some suggestions as to how this can be achieved as expeditiously as possible. Keep in mind that raiding is a cooperative affair, and that in order to get anywhere you’ll need to join a Kinship, or at least find a reasonably steady group of players - solo play doesn't enter into the debate at all.

To quickest way of achieving the +50 radiance necessary for the Vile Maw is to complete the first two (and easiest) of the 6-man instances which drop a single BoA coin when completed in Hard Mode. These are the Grand Stairs (dropping a Platinum Coin of Courage, exchangeable for Boots) and Forges (Platinum Coin of Strength, for Chest). Each of these armour items gives +10 radiance, for a total of +20.

The two new 3-man instances each drop three Glistening Elf-stones every time they are completed; four of these can be exchanged for tier 1.5 radiance armour items, each of which has +15 radiance. Completing the Mirror Halls of Lumul-Nar and the Water Wheels of Nalad-Dum four times each will net you Gloves and Leggings respectively, for a total of +30 radiance. Add these to the Boots and Chest from the earlier 6-man instances, and you have the +50 radiance needed to enter the Vile Maw.

Achieving +70, however, is harder. You will need to either complete the two toughest 6-man instances of the tier 1 series, namely 16th Hall (Iron Coin of Fortitude, exchangeable for the non-set Shoulders) and Dark Delvings (Iron Coin of Knowledge, for the non-set Helm), each worth +10 radiance, or acquire either of the two tier 1 set armour items which drop from the Watcher (Helm or Shoulders, each worth +20 radiance). Note that with the exception of the Dar Narbugud bosses, Gurvand, final boss of the Dark Delvings, is reckoned to be the toughest fight in LOTRO to date.

One further short-cut is to complete the Filikul instance (Nornúan the Turtle) as often as possible, since he sometimes drops Platinum coins exchangeable for tier 1 armour pieces. Nornúan is something of a pushover, and can easily be downed by even a halfway competent PUG (pick-up group).

Finally, it must be emphasised that +50 radiance for the Watcher and +70 for Dar Narbugud are the minimum necessary to avoid cowering; you will still have dread, with the resultant reduction of morale and skills. The more radiance you have, the better; this includes the extra +10 you can buy with Destiny Points, which stacks with whatever you get from your armour.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

A SCARE-DWARF IN THE NORTH DOWNS


One of LOTRO's minor pleasures is the discovery of small designer touches scattered across the vast expanse of Middle-earth for the delectation of the relatively few players who stumble across them - visual Easter eggs, of no significance to the game, but an unexpected reward for the adventurous.

One such is this scare-dwarf, a scarecrow in the form of a elven archer, placed in such a way as to give a brief heart-attack to any Dourhand sneaking back into the ruins of Ost Galumar at dusk.

Friday, 10 July 2009

RADIANCE FROM THE 3-MAN INSTANCES

Agreed, the 3-man instances in Book 8 are well-designed, fun and repeatable, as well as offering another path to achieving the +50 radiance necessary for squaring up to the Watcher or the +70 essential for the new 12-man raid in Dar Nargubud.

However, one thing puzzles me: these instances drop Elf-stones exchangeable for three tier 1.5 purple armour items with +15 radiance each, a +5 radiance increase on equivalent items from the earlier set. So far, so good; acquire all three and you have a total of +45 radiance. Problem is... radiance rounds downwards, not up, so that +5 is essentially wasted, and +45 in practice becomes +40. In which case, it doesn't take long to work out that it's a waste of effort acquiring all three items, and that if you're only going for two, the ones to choose are the leggings and gloves (at a cost of 4 stones each), rather than the chest-piece (at a cost of 7 stones).

In practice, this means that the best way to exploit the 3-man instances as far as building up your radiance is concerned is to replace the original leggings and gloves (+10 rad each) with the new ones (+15 rad each), giving you an overall increase of +10, and leave it at that. Which makes me wonder whether the developers got their sums wrong in the first place. Why go to all the trouble of creating a three-part tier 1.5 set of radiance armour when only two thirds of it will ever be useful? Indeed, why bother rounding radiance up (or down) at all in the first place? Mysteries, mysteries...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

BOOK 8: FIRST FEEDBACK POSITIVE!


Well, after a week of exploring Book 8, I think I can safely say that Turbine have done well by us. I have completed two 3-man and one 6-man instances, and am very happy to report that they are interesting, well-designed and fun. They include a welcome puzzle element, but it's not exorbitant, and is unlikely to baffle the average party for very long. Combat is challenging but not ridiculously difficult, and the specific tactics required to take down the bosses can be worked out after two or three attempts at most. Above all, they can be completed successfully by pretty much any mix of classes; the basic formula remains tank/healer/DPS, but any number of changes can be rung on it, and I don't think any class is likely to be left out in the cold for long.

From the point of view of loot, these three instances (Mirror Halls of Lumul-Nar, Water Wheel and Halls of Crafting) drop Glistening Elf-stones which can be exchanged for the three new tier 1.5 radiance armour pieces (respectively, gloves, leggings and jacket with +15 radiance). You need four stones for the gloves and leggings and seven for the jacket, but the good news is that all participants in these instances get one stone each, every time the final boss is defeated. I haven't yet had a chance to try the new 12-man multi-raid sequence which drops the Greater Elf-stones exchangeable for the tier 2 (+20) radiance armour, but on the strength of what I've seen so far, I'm confident it will be a good one.

Unfortunately there are no new regions to explore (other than the instance dungeons), but then you can't have everything, or at least not all at once. A nice little extra is the fact that several items now stack up to 100 per slot, including crafting materials and potions, thus freeing up quite a few slots in packs and vaults. There are also lots of new decorative trophies to collect; now all we need is for housing to get some care and attention, so that we can actually display them...

All things considered, congratulations are in order.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

SLOW BOAT TO CHINA

There's another two hours or so to go before Book 8 comes available in Europe, and probably between thirty minutes and two hours of downloading the patch after that... If, in less than a week, Turbine and Codemasters have managed to catch all the horrific bugs which were reported after Book 8 launched in the States, they deserve congratulations.

So before we launch into the eagerly-awaited "Scourge of Khazad-dum", this seems like a good moment to take pause briefly and take stock. LOTRO, it seems is on its way to China... According to a timely post on MMeOw, "Turbine has apparently teamed up with CDC Games to release the title in China... CDC Games will be the MMORPG’s exclusive distributor in the country. As you might expect, both parties are excited about this: CDC has 13 million active users for the games it currently handles and expects LotRO to get a piece of that". A new client base of thirteen million customers, or even a small fraction thereof, isn't to be sneezed at by any means.

There has been much grumbling in the ranks of late, and the forums are full of people swearing blind that LOTRO is on the skids, that the player base is crumbling and that at this rate we'll be lucky to see Rohan, never mind Moria. The fact is that that none of us, myself of course included, have the figures to back up our views of how LOTRO is doing from a commercial point of view - so everything you read is merely opinion, sometimes reasonably well informed but mostly based on little more than the writer's prejudices or desires. For what it's worth, I don't go along with the prophets of doom, and I certainly don't think LOTRO is in any serious danger of folding. Granted, there have been several bad design decisions since the launch of Moria - I've highlighted several of them in these pages - as well as a certain amount of bad luck, but none of them are terminal. There are many reasons for optimism. First of all, the unique Middle-earth environment, no matter how much it may have been knocked about in the process of transformation; secondly, the much larger than usual mature audience, many of whom are happy just enjoying the scenery; thirdly, the fact that two good years into the project, neither Turbine nor CM have found it necessary to merge any servers. And finally, of course, there are those millions of Chinese players just a boat journey away...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

ANOTHER GOLD SELLER SCAM

The following announcement appeared two days ago on the US LOTRO forums:

ALERT: Notification of Suspicious Activity


We have been made aware of suspicious account requests via in game email and other means. These emails are very convincing and link to a site that has cloned the appearance of the lotro.com website. All players should be aware that this is not a valid site and is in no way associated with Turbine.

Example email:
“Becasuse you suspected of lllegal trade for gold, system will freeze your ID after one hour.If you have any questions, please login (URL) to make a complaint .We will be processing as soon as possible.Thank you for your understanding!”


We are currently investigating reports and will take appropriate actions.

European players will remember that a similar kind of attack was directed against Codemasters account holders last March. In both cases, however, the extreme illiteracy of the email texts should have made it pretty obvious that it was a scam, and a poor one at that. Presumably the next step would be for the scammers to ask anybody so foolish as to respond for account details, after which their player characters would be stripped of anything worth re-selling on the illegal gold market. People still willing to deal with gold sellers because doing so is supposedly a "victimless crime" must now realise that they may very likely be profiting from a fellow-player's misfortune.

Friday, 19 June 2009

"SPAM IS MY MIDDLE NAME"

A frequently heard grumble, particularly from players on RP servers, concerns misuse of the player-moderated chat channel Global Looking for Fellowship (GLFF), with "player-moderated", in this case, being a euphemism for "unmoderated". GLFF, on those servers which have implemented it, is supposed to be for people looking for fellowships across all regions of Middle-earth. Being a channel most players keep permanently open, unless they are actually on a quest or raid, in practice it tends to be used for lots of other purposes, including idle chit-chat - irritating, if you are only keeping half an eye on GLFF in the hope of finally catching mention of that quest you've been trying to complete for the last two weeks.

However, what really gets some people wound up is the hijacking of the channel by LOTRO's equivalent of drunken louts, who use it to exchange incomprehensible badinage at tedious length; judging by the palpable snigger which accompanies many of these exchanges, the perpetrators are mostly 12-year old male refugees from WoW. Inevitably, increasingly annoyed requests for said louts to take themselves off to another channel and desist from clogging up GLFF are met by even more frenzied spamming.

I guess that's why the Lords of Creation (a.k.a. LOTRO devs) gave us ignore lists, though they might usefully have increased their maximum capacity. The following brief excerpt from a Chat Log which I saved a couple of months ago and just recently rediscovered gives a pretty good idea of what comes through an average evening. Names have not been changed to protect the guilty.

### Chat Log: General 04/25 08:30 PM ###

[GLOBALlff] Runarfin: 'rofl'
[GLOBALlff] Malethor: 'whats consonants preciouse?!:o whats consonants?:o'

[GLOBALlff] Arandarion: 'well, just don't react when someone starts to spam, or it becomes a massive spam in here :o'

[GLOBALlff] Runarfin: 'con-so-nants!'

[GLOBALlff] Erlo: 'Etten raid up.'

[GLOBALlff] Runarfin: 'b-b-boil em mash-em stick em in a stew'

[GLOBALlff] Thrawneekaran: 'watcher raid looking for burg now, any good out there?'

[GLOBALlff] Malethor: 'xDD'

[GLOBALlff] Erlo: 'God can people stop random spam. I do spam abit but this is just pure silly.'

[GLOBALlff] Candytuft: 'I'm excellent, but unavailable :-p'

[GLOBALlff] Dworim: 'ahahaha Runarfin'

[GLOBALlff] Glewdron: 'we always try to repel em but they always return in greater numbers -.-'

[GLOBALlff] Runarfin: 'spam is my middle name'

[GLOBALlff] Mpty: 'So I see.'

[GLOBALlff] Glewdron: '(speaking about spam)..'

[GLOBALlff] Runarfin: 'you just split my first name'

[GLOBALlff] Mpty: 'Whats the fun of spam if noone listens.
'

Saturday, 13 June 2009

BE VERY AFRAID - OR AT LEAST, A LITTLE UNEASY...


We have a new splash screen, according to which Book 8: Scourge of Khazad-dum is nearly upon us - and very good news that is, too. But I am made more than a little uneasy by this chap, who figures mightily in the splash screen and, is, presumably, the Scourge personified. Now, I definitely don't want to sound negative before Book 8, upon which so much rests, is actually released; also, I remember an old Hawaian (I think) proverb which says, roughly, that if you're rude about your own coconut tree, it will drop coconuts on your head.

But - and I don't know how to put this diplomatically - dear old Scourge does not look very... Tolkienesque. Particularly not the blue neon highlights, of course, but also the fact that I'm prepared to eat my boots if he doesn't turn out to be half the size of a mallorn tree. Now as I've remarked before, I'm not a lore fanatic. LOTRO's designers have come up with a number of monsters perhaps undreamed of by Tolkien which are nevertheless perfectly convincing in terms of the mythos, or which at least fit in more-or-less comfortably; Gaunt Men, Morroval, Rogmul, Doom-singers are all both imaginative and appropriate.

The rot set in with Mines of Moria (where have I heard that comment before?), and specifically with the dreadful Foundations of Stone, whose shameless steals from "Alien" are not only contemptibly lazy, but also wildly out of place in Middle-earth. I sincerely hope that Book 8 isn't going to continue that trend, but Scourge here looks as though he belongs firmly in World of Warcraft. There's nothing wrong with WoW, in it's own place, but (and we really have to be firm, here), LOTRO is not WoW, and the last thing it needs is WoW's cartooney design. I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, 8 June 2009

OK, WHO STOLE THE TURTLE'S HEAD?


Quest trophies - the decorative items which drop when a particularly tough boss has been killed - are, quite rightly, Bind on Acquire (BoA) - they are meant to be proof of prowess or cunning, and shouldn't be available on demand to anybody with money or generous friends. The same applies, perhaps with rather less urgency, to decorative items only available to those who have achieved high rank with various factions.

There is, however, one very common occasion when this strict BoA rule needs be relaxed or modified. Many trophies end up gracing Kinship Houses, either because they are considered honours pertaining to the entire fellowship or raid responsible for the kill, or else because individual members choose to donate them. The problem is that because they remain bound to their original acquirer, they cannot be moved by anybody else; if anyone but the owner tries to do so, the only option given is "Return to owner", which means they immediately end up in the owner's escrow account. If the owner in question then fails to retrieve them in time, they are gone forever. Note also that there is no indication of just who the owner is, so there's no possibility of contacting them and having them move the item.

All of which means that making changes to a trophy-heavy Kinship House is virtually impossible, even for the leader. What's more, trophies and other BoA items will vanish in the wake of a departing member, even if he or she had no such intention. The obvious answer is to allow for decorative items of all kinds, including trophies, to be BoA with the sole exception of transfer to a Kinship, perhaps into a Kin Treasure Vault accessible only to the leader and nominated members by means of a new permission. Items taken out the vault and in the temporary posession of a player would immediately become BoA again unless placed in a Kinship House decorative slot. In other words: trophies would be transferable from the original owner to the Kinship, after which they could only be used in Kinship House decorative slots.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

LEGENDARY ITEMS LATEST

In the course of the 3 June developer chat, developers were by and large as wary as ever of making definite statements. However, sorting through the whole transcript, I found that a number of answers addressed the vexed question of Legendary Items, a frequent source of complaints and grumbles. Pulling these together, it seems as though we can expect some positive developments in the near future.

Perhaps most importantly, the devs acknowledged that there are indeed problems with the LI system as it stands today: “Are there any plans for redesigning the Legendary Item system? Completely redesigning it, no. It took a lot of work to get the various systems in place to create the LI system. However, we’re definitely monitoring the complaints and seeing where we fell short with our goals. So in that regard, we’re going to be making some solid changes. The details haven’t been completely solidified yet, but our main goal is to make it feel less grindy, to better maintain the feeling of advancement and progression”.

Other specific promises include a method of resetting the legacy points on a maxed out Legendary Item, to come “very soon”, and the ability to exchange legacies on LIs; the latter is probably more of a mid-term project, since they apparently haven’t decided exactly how to implement it.

On the question of crafted Legendaries, the response was “We definitely want to bring crafters into the LI system more than we have… this is a very large complaint we’ve heard and we fully intend to remedy it” - but no details were provided.

Finally, a crucial detail concerning the upcoming 12-man instance in Book 8 was dropped: “Some very special mobs (please see certain mobs in Dar Narbagud) are completely immune to Common damage”. This is very far from a minor point; if we are to come up against monsters immune to common damage, the implication is that either special weapons or else special titles for weapons will have to be acquired before these mobs can be attempted. So will this in practice turn out to be a weapons equivalent to the radiance armour – i.e., the instance will prove to be impossible without specific items? It certainly sounds like it…

The complete transcript can be consulted on Kill Ten Rats.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

TALK TO THE COMMUNITY TEAM

I suspect that not many players are aware of the fact that the Codemasters forum recently started running a section in which players are invited to respond to questions about the game and its design. Since these questions are usually quite specific, and presumably correspond to things the designers actually want to know more about, I would hazard a guess that somebody actually reads and takes note of the responses posted here - which is not necessarily the case with unsolicited suggestions and complaints.

The questions seem to change every couple of weeks or so; this is the current set:

Question 1: A friend who does not play MMOs asks you why you play them. What 3 reasons would you give them?
Question 2: Currently a hot topic among forum posters is play styles, so how would you describe your play style? Casual, Hardcore, or something in between?
Question 3: You're given the opportunity to pitch one new feature to the dev team. Go! (please be brief).

As you can see, some are probably of greater interest to players than others. Among the more relevant questions from recent weeks I would include "If you could change 3 things about LOTRO's User Interface, what would they be?" and "What three(3) features would you add to the Kinship system?".


In any case, if you have constructive views about the future design of LOTRO (as opposed to merely strongly-held views), it's worth your while contributing to this little feature.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

TURTLES, BEARS & COOKIE-CUTTER RAIDS

Responding to my earlier post about Nornúan, the great turtle of the Waterworks, "Anonymous" commented that his kinship had worked out a tactic which involved using a Lore-master's bear to tank the turtle: "A burg can provoke the turtle so it doesn't switch targets so no one gets an acid dot. The healer just keeps the bear up. Dead simple." I was intrigued enough to suggest the tactic to my own kin a couple of days later, only to discover to my astonishment that it was regarded as an exploit. Though I have not been able to find anything to that effect on the official English Codemasters forums, a kinsman tracked down and translated a Danish language post in which the tactic was condemned in no uncertain terms by a GM:

[18:22] +Forgildan: Hello Traxie, I am Game Master Forgildan. You have exploited the turtle raid. Therefore you will now receive a warning. Please do not exploit again in the future.
[18:22] +Forgildan: Next time we catch you doing this, a 7 day suspension will be the outcome.

[18:25] +Forgildan: I just checked your forums. It seems that this announcement has not yet been made on the english forums. As this is the case, I will drop the official warnings, so your accounts have not been marked as exploiters
[18:26] +Forgildan: But please do not attempt bear-tanking again. If we catch you again, they will be marked as such.

So there you have it: bear-tanking is an exploit. My first reaction was to be seriously annoyed; how could bear-tanking possibly be considered an exploit, other than because it happened to run contrary to the way the designers thought this battle should be fought? Coming on top of the forthcoming nerf of the Burglar's Enrage trick, the implication is that there can only be one way to complete an instance, graven in stone as Holy Writ - anything else is heresy. For me, and for many other players, the whole point of a difficult instance is that can be fun to work out different ways of completing it, some sneakier than others. A designer policy of turning all LOTRO instances into cookie-cutter exercises does not bode well.

In fact, it turns out that there is a reason of sorts for the pet-tanking ban, which is that in the Nornúan fight, a pet does not trigger the "snapping" attack and hence does not get landed with the acid DOT (damage over time) debuff. Using this tactic, Nornúan was actually duoed by a LM and Minstrel on the Snowborn server earlier this month (the debate on the link goes far beyond this issue, by the way). So on balance, I think one has to accept that bear-tanking the Turtle does rather make a mockery of the whole concept of raiding. At the same time, it would be nice if these things could be tidied up prior to general release.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

TURTLE TROUBLE


Nornúan lives in Filikul, a rather damp and plashy chamber of the great tower of Gabil-Munz, at the centre of Moria's Waterworks. He probably doesn't mind, though, as he's a giant Snapping Turtle - a chelonian not to be trifled with lightly, since he has 688,000 morale and a habit of shedding poisonous spines in all directions when he gets upset, which is often. The spines cause stacking acid damage over time (Gushing Wound) which is incurable by any potion, salve or spell.

Filikul is LOTRO's latest 12-man raid, and a very odd one it is too. Reaching Nornúan involves a swim/trek across the Waterworks and a two-minute walk down an undefended passageway - and there you are. No adds, no minor bosses, just a quick, very brutal fight; if you don't get him down in under ten minutes, the stackable DoT will wipe the party out. Now, to my mind, the first oddity about Filikul is that it feels astonishingly arbitrary. There's effectively no plot lead-in, other than a casual mention of a missing dwarf. So why, you would be justified in asking, should I go out of my way to beard a horrible great turtle in his sanctuary, where he's been living perfectly happily and not really bothering anybody?

The answer, I guess, is loot. Nornúan is supposed to drop one guaranteed First-age weapon, plus another Second-age item and an Iron Coin (good for normal radiant armour) as well some minor stuff (I say supposed, because last time my kinship took him down, there wasn't a sniff of a First-age item). Trouble is, when it does deign to drop, the First-age item is either a Warden Spear (something like 50% of the time), or else a Captain or Guardian spear; there have been reports of Hunter and Champion spears, but they are pretty rare. So if you don't belong to the spear-carrying classes, tough luck...

I haven't been overly bothered by this, as I tend to see Filikul as the designers' response to complaints that the Vile Maw instance is way too hard, particularly the post-Book 7 Watcher II: "OK, here's an easier one, no radiant armour needed (although it does help), you can have some low-cost First-age legendaries - but you probably won't like them...". Fair enough, in an weird sort of way, but there's more. It now appears that come Book 8, the developers propose to make Nornúan immune to the Burglar trick "Enrage", which causes the affected mob to attack at random - the method adopted by most raids to deal with the turtle's stacking debuffs, which would otherwise build up mostly on the tank. Note that this is not an exploit (a cheat, in other words, exploiting a design error), but the rational use of a game skill to defeat a boss attack. This decision has caused a lot of comment, most of it negative. Again, I can't say I'm too upset; it's not as though this was an astonishingly long and complex raid, and that a strategy carefully developed over weeks of trial and error had suddenly been rendered useless.

However, it is very poor design. If the developers really didn't want players to use Enrage, they should have seen it coming and done something about it beforehand. In the final analysis, Filikul looks and feels like a rather slapdash, not very well considered quick fix. On the European forums, Sanxo put the matter accurately if a little harshly: "The devs are fighting a losing battle against the law of unintended consequences, but rather than let the dust settle and think for second, they create a ragged patchwork of fixes held together with ill-considered nerfs". Ouch.

Friday, 22 May 2009

SOME NEW LOTRO BLOGS

By and large, the average LOTRO player is rather older than players of most other online games. Does that make him or her more sensible, more mature and less likely to act like a completely selfish prat? With the exception of the thirty-odd people on my ignore list (you know who you are), this is to a certain extent true. Interestingly, it also means that an increasing number of players are electing to put pen to paper (update: fingers to keyboard) and writing about their experience of the game. It is therefore a great pleasure to welcome Epic Book to our little clan of LOTRO bloggers. Authored by Raegn, a gamer of some eleven-plus years experience, it includes some long, thoughtful but never dull posts on all aspects of the game, and comes highly recommended.

I also want to take this opportunity of bringing to your attention The Road Goes Ever On, an unusual and visually brilliant blog which is slowly and patiently illustrating each chapter of the original Lord of the Rings books with scenes from LOTRO, the game. The images are astonishingly vivid, but they have also made me realise how well and faithfully the game designers and artists have brought Tolkien's narrative to life. To give just a tiny example, which most of us may never have noticed (I certainly didn't): Tolkien writes that after waking up in the house of Tom Bombadil, Frodo peered out the east-facing window of their room and found himself looking upon a kitchen-garden, but "his view was screened by a tall line of beans on poles". Well, the beans and the bean-poles are right there where they should be, and we get a picture to prove it. Magic...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

THORILDIN'S HAT COLLECTION


Thorildin is a dwarf from Finland with a warped sense of humour and, clearly, far too much time on his hands. He has invested some of that time in assembling the biggest hat and helmet collection ever seen on LOTRO, and has very kindly placed it online for the delectation of the fashionable and/or desperate adventurer. The headgear shown above is only a small sampling of the collection, which currently numbers 45 different items and is no doubt growing apace.

After browsing through the set, you will probably be left in no doubt exactly why most players opt to not display their hat or helmet in public. On the other hand, you may be inspired to go shopping and vie for the best-dressed adventurer title, though in all honesty, its opposite is more likely to come your way...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

THE SCHOLARSHIP OF GAMING

As regular readers of some of the excellent blogs you can access via LOTRO Combo Blog already know, responses to online gaming are not restricted to inarticulate WoW-speak exclamations. However, beyond those of us who, like myself, enjoy analysing and discussing a favourite game, there are a few people who have engaged with gaming at a level of what can only be called genuine scholarship. And I'm not refering here to those who consider gaming exclusively from the point of view of another discipline such as psychology, sociology or economics, but to those approaching games and gaming as a viable field of study in themselves.

In this context, readers should consider taking a look at Nick Yee's The Daedalus Project, a fascinating site packed with extensive research material, essays and insights about MMORPGs. There is unfortunately nothing directly relating to LOTRO, and the site went into hibernation a couple of months ago, but a huge wealth of original material is nevertheless available online; see, for example, the exhaustive MMORPG Lexicon. This material, essentially a labour of love, is available freely and free of charge; as Yee notes, "Currently, the research presented here is not part of any commercial venture, nor am I receiving funding for this research from any commercial source. This research is being carried out as an extension of my personal and academic interests. I am motivated by the ease with which I can survey and analyze data in a fascinating area that has a paucity of empirical data".

LOTRO is not, however, without its own scholars. The indefatigable Alash, a European gamer based in Denmark, continues to post a stream of informative articles and research results on the Codemasters site, the latest of which is an extremely interesting survey of European server activity and demography. The data was gathered by Alash on Monday 11th of May from 11:58-12:45 GMT +1, using the search function in the in-game Social Panel: "At the time of testing, about 4,638 players were online in Europe, 51% coming from German speaking servers (2381), 39% coming from English speaking servers (1810), and 10% coming from French speaking servers (449). Even though only 36% of the servers are German, they make out more than half of the European player base, and are by a large margin the most spoken language on Codemasters' servers. The roleplaying servers make out 28% of the total player base".

Alash has produced a large number of articles, some of them - like his exhaustive study of weapon speed - essential reading for serious gamers. Alash's Article Compilation has been stickied by Codemasters.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

THE STATE OF THINGS

Once again, LOTRO seems to be at a crossroads. Over the last month, the game forums have hosted some long, heated and often quite profound debates about the current state of the game and where it's headed. Looking across a broad range of these debates, both in Europe and in the States, one thing is clear: a large percentage of current players, perhaps more than half, are currently unhappy with how things have been going since the introduction of Mines of Moria. There are many reasons for this malaise, some of which I touched upon in an earlier post, "The Mines of Moria considered as a Chinese Banquet", but it can essentially be summed up as a gradual but definite swerve in the game philosophy from collaborative adventuring to a more solo (some would say selfish) approach. The signs are clear: far more solo content, no multi-boss raid requiring careful study and practice by a dedicated group of players, epic quests which can be completed almost without any outside assistance. So are the results: by all accounts, more selfish player behaviour, fragmenting kinships and players switching off for longer and longer periods.

Those unhappy with this state of things are, virtually by definition, the hard-core players, often referred to as end-content players; of course, there are also many players who prefer solo play, and who are not in the least unhappy. The point is that Shadows of Angmar by and large succeeded in satisfying both groups, by providing alternative routes to success; sure, you needed to join a group of pretty hard-core players to get a complete Rift armour set, but the best crafted armour was almost as good (and anyway, unless you were going up against Thaurlach or Thorog, you didn't need the Rift set). You could also work at PvP, if that was your preference, and assemble an Ettenmours armour set. SoA offered lots of alternatives at different levels. MoM doesn't; it's much more linear and inflexible.

It's been said the current design mindset is aimed at potential Asian customers; I can't speak to that, never having played an Asian online game. But I don't really buy the theory, since it makes no commercial sense to try and expand your client base by pissing off your current customers. And while nobody can accurately gauge just what percentage of the current client base is made up of hard-core or end-game players (they are, indeed, more vocal, so forum activity is not an accurate measure), it would be a commercially dire mistake to write them off - one which I sincerely hope Turbine won't be tempted to make.

What is absolutely clear by now is the immense importance attached to the forthcoming Book 8, and particularly to the inclusion or otherwise of another Rift-type multi-boss raid. Here is a quick sampling of recent comments from the European forums:

"I wonder if turbine know how important the book 8 update will be to them. For a lot of people it seems this will make or break lotro for them." "The new raid will be in Book 8. Another delay would be the last straw for many, they just have to." "If the multi-boss raid is not out soon - they will prob kill the game off... All the bigger kinships on Laurelin are fed up with the watcher, and the turtle seems way too easy and pointless. We all miss the days with the Rift and Helegrod - all night raiding with plenty of loot and happy players."

None of these comments, and dozens of others like them, can be written off as knee-jerk whines; these are players who love the game, want to stay with it and wish it well. What's more, I think they are right: what LOTRO needs, as soon as possible, is a new Rift. Give this group of players another Rift-type raid, and they will forgive almost anything; hell, they'll probably be too busy to notice anything else between now and Christmas. Disappointing them, however, would not be a good move...

Sunday, 3 May 2009

IF YOU GO INTO THE WOODS TODAY...


Should you fancy a swim across the River Anduin and a stroll through the sinister woods of Gelirdor, on the east bank, you would be well advised to think again... The banks of the river are patrolled by ugly great Mirk-eaves Felarrows - l.65 orc archers with 41,580 morale who are decidedly not well disposed towards unheralded visitors, be they hobbit, dwarf, elf or human. I shall be curious to see how the developers handle our eventual landing in Gelirdor, since at the moment the Felarrows don't mess about, but simply one-shot anybody who comes within range. Oh, and sneaking won't do a bit of good, either. Guess we'll just have to wait and see...

ACCESS FORBIDDEN


By the great wheel in the north-east corner of the Waterworks, just off the passage running northwards from the Rotting Cellar to the Deep-way, a bridge leads to a great building with a colonnaded portico. In the centre of the portico is a massive door; unlike the doors in the Rotting Cellar, this one appears "usable", suggesting that it can be opened to gain access to the building!


Alas, clicking on it, even if you are at the maximum level of 60, produces the message "Your level is too low". Now this is intriguing. Other locations or sites may at times be placed in the game with a view to activation at some point in the future, but they do not normally respond in any way at all - certainly not by appearing usable at the present time. So we may assume that this location is due to be activated in the near future; probably as part of the "back to Moria" quest thread which is supposed to be part of the forthcoming Mirkwood expansion.

However, I will pass on, will all due reservations, the following entirely unsubstantiated rumour. A kinsman who happened recently to ask a GM when this door would become accessible claims to have received the answer "At level 80". If true, this is truly astonishing. We have all been assuming that the level cap would be raised to 70 with the release of the third volume, presumably entitled Riders of Rohan, towards the end of 2009. Finding that level 80 has suddenly appeared on the event horizon is, to put it mildly, disconcerting.

Friday, 1 May 2009

AN ANGMARIM IDYLL


Rarely Seen Sights, 3: An Angmarim Idyll

This charming rural scene of Angmarim soldiers fishing from the end of a dock in Bail Catharnakh proves that it's not all work and no play for Angmar's loyal troops. Enjoying a spell of rest & recuperation, these loyal warriors of the Witch King take a well-earned break from murdering, torturing and slaughter by dropping a line into the err... turgid green waters of Himbar.

[Issued by the Angmarim Army Recruitment Board, a public interest body]

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

THE RAIDS IN LOTRO


Though raids do not play as massive a role in LOTRO as they do in some other online games, they are nevertheless very much the core element of most players' gaming experience; two years on, it seems a good idea to take a look at how LOTRO's raids have stacked up. First of all, what exactly is the definition of a raid? A raid is an example of an instance - namely, a copy of a building, a dungeon, or other location activated by passing through a portal, which allows an individual or group to take part in a private adventure, segregated from the main game and undisturbed by other players. A combat-based instance designed to be experienced by between one and four fellowships is called a raid.

So far, and ignoring the PvP raids in the Ettenmoors, LOTRO has included five proper raids; a sixth, Filikul, was to have been packaged with Vol.II/Book 7 but proved buggy when released in the States. The first to be released, Helegrod in the Misty Mountains, was a 24-man raid (four full fellowships). A vast, sprawling affair, it included nine bosses culminating in the undead dragon Thorog. Players could choose in what order to attempt some of the encounters, and even experienced groups needed at least two evenings to complete the raid. While the raid was visually impressive and offered a good variety of combat experience, it was never as popular as it deserved because of the extreme difficulty of getting together as many as 24 determined players. It also suffered from an odd system of rewards, including titles for defeating bosses which were effectively limited to just one of the 24 participants, and above all armour set drops which were class-specific; this made it virtually impossible for anybody to put together a full set of Helegrod armour, which until the advent of MoM was probably the game's second best after the Rift set.

The other two 24-man raids to date have been Bogbereth and Ferndur, both in Angmar. The first is a quick and easy single-boss attack on the spider queen of Torech-i-Bogbereth, near Garth Fornir. With unimpressive rewards, this raid ended up being farmed for its decorative trophy by 12 or fewer experienced players. The second targets Ferndúr the Virulent, Master of Imlad Balchorth, and is a fair bit harder, but it too could be completed with 12 players; again, it offers no particular rewards beyond a trophy, and it seems likely that many players have never tried it. There have been no more 24-man raids since these two, nor does it seem likely that there will be.

The
Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu
, the most extensive and, as many believe, the best-designed raid to date, came in with Volume I/Book 11 at the end of 2007. A 12-man raid, it included eight separate bosses leading up to Thaurlach the Balrog. Killing Thaurlach was a long and complex operation for most kinships, with a steep learning curve, but it was a fascinating experience and the rewards, the best set of armour and the best weapons in Volume I, were well worth the effort. Even more than was the case in Helegrod, teams had to learn the different tactics necessary for each boss and the usually very specific actions required, and raid leaders found themselves stretched to the maximum keeping all the balls in the air. One of the great virtues of the Rift was that it managed to balance the different classes, all of whom were needed at different times. It also kept many players happily busy for at least six months, if not more.

The fifth official raid is the 12-man Vile Maw in Moria, which it's probably fair to say is the least-loved and most badly designed to date. Many players have hated the grind of assembling the six-piece set of Radiant armour without which the raid cannot be attempted, the location is minimal and unimpressive (a single room full of water), the fight with the Watcher seems, once you work out the tactics, rather tedious and mechanical, and it can only be completed once a week. Finally, compared to the splendid Thaurlach, the Watcher seems cartooney and lumpish. Not, on balance, a success. Also located in the Waterworks of Moria is the new Filikul raid, which involves killing the turtle Nornúan. Since it's not yet accessible in Europe, I can't comment on it, but - a turtle?

Though it is not officially considered a raid, I would certainly include among them Barad Gularan, a combat instance fully as complex and demanding as any raid. Six bosses must be killed, of whom the last, Udúnion the Rogmul, offers what I believe to be one of the hardest fights in the game, largely because of the split-second coordination called for. Finally, the Delvings of Fror in the Ettenmoors are home to one of the nastiest and probably least visited bosses in the whole game, Gaergoth the Unbound. Gaergoth is another Rogmul, only this one is at l.63 and has over 500,000 morale points; considering that he drops nothing better than four Luminous Stones (though this may have changed recently), it's hardly surprising he's not the most popular holiday destination in the game...