Friday, 31 July 2009


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


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


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


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


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


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.