Monday, 29 November 2010


At the southernmost tip of Enedwaith, on the border between Lich Bluffs and the Mournshaws, lies an inaccessible castle. You can find your way to the enormous front gates, but no further. Inside the gate skeletons patrol. The architecture seems dwarven; four huge statues of oversized dwarven ancestor figures dominate the front courtyard. The structure is vast, even allowing for the fact that only the northern exposure can be seen. At the western edge of the outer wall is a small tented encampment, currently empty, and just beyond that a small gap in the rock face through which it is just possible to slip. This leads to a small, circumscribed area by the eastern wall with no other exit. Could the castle be the site of LOTRO's next major raid, apparently due early in the new year?


Sunday, 28 November 2010


If you are a European LOTRO player, and you haven't already done so, head straight for the Codemasters forum and sign this petition. Started two days ago by UK player CarolineP, it is a politely worded request to CM to give serious consideration to restoring hacked accounts, as other MMOs, includingBlizzard, already do. In her own words, "We recognise that this involves time & cost to yourselves. We would accept a reasonable charge being levied, as this would have the dual benefit of stopping frivolous claims too. We also accept that it would be reasonable to limit the frequency in which this allowed. Perhaps only once per membership year, or similar? But we most urgently ask you to change your policy, especially as the game becomes much bigger and F2P potentially opens up opportunities to scammers and other unpleasant type".

Apart from putting forward an eminently sensible proposal, one which perhaps is now more urgent than ever, this forum thread is probably unique in that it hasn't generated a single objection, rant, cynical comment or even debate: there is absolute player unanimity on this critical subject, which is of course as it should be. 

And another first: within 24-hours, CM Community Relations Director Satine (someone, incidentally, who by dint of personality has done more than anyone to blunt some of CM's more egregious PR disasters in the past) had responded with a positive post: "As it happens we do have a new policy for hacked accounts which will be coming into effect soon. (Sorry to use the word "soon" but I know it should be before Christmas though it depends on if any critical problems arise before then). Hopefully it will make life a little easier for those that have been hacked. We'll give the details on what it entails once we're ready to launch it".

So there you have it. Community action can sometimes be beneficial. But don't let Satine's very welcome news put you off signing that petition!

Saturday, 6 November 2010


One of the issues which crop up in the design of virtual worlds is the degree of associated realism. Some early RPGs included the requirement to buy and consume "food" on a regular basis, otherwise characters would rapidly lose abilities and wither away. That was just about acceptable if a bit tedious, but imagine a RPG in which characters in the wild had to track down, kill, skin and roast animals on a daily basis just to keep going - it would be virtually unplayable (unless, of course, it happened to be specifically a survival simulation). Similarly, everyone is aware of, and ignores, the fact that severe injuries can take weeks to heal, that even a superficial wound can get infected and cause death in a matter of days, and that nobody ever wore plate mail on the march, let alone carried two or three spare sets in a backpack.

Which brings me to the latest (and very welcome) LOTRO update. The new chapters of the epic quest involve riding south into the new region of Enedwaith with the Dunedain with a view to eventually linking up with Aragorn. It's a nicely designed addition to the story of the One Ring, but very early on players find out that, disappointingly, they won't actually get the chance to ride stirrup by stirrup with the rangers; instead, they are invited to make their own way to the next staging point. Granted that soon enough the unfolding plot will require them to ride off at all sort of tangents on associated quests, an actual gallop, in company, over hill and dale for at least a few of the early stages would have been great fun. As it is, what will almost certainly happen is that players will mutter "sod it!" and port to the next convenient location.

The standard response to this and associated grumbles (for example, that fact that many instances can now be entered with the click off the keyboard) is "well, if you'd rather walk, go right ahead" - but the point is, if an alternative method of travel is available, even hardened RPGers will sooner or later give in and make use of it. The rest of us will do so without a second's thought, though we might feel vaguely dissatisfied about doing so.

The issue of scale in games like LOTRO is indeed a tricky one. Even scaled-down massively, game equivalents of the journey times suggested in Tolkien's narrative would be difficult (and certainly unpopular) to implement. On the other hand, I tend to agree with those who feel that the epic quality of the game's geography is compromised by the over-abundance of instant travel options. It's hard not to feel just a little uncomfortable when two or three jumps will take you from the far end of Forochel to the southernmost tip of Enedwaith. The designers had got the balance more or less right in Shadows of Angmar, which really did offer a sense of vastness, with some journeys (notably the perilous initial overland foray to the Rift of Nurz Gashu) being truly memorable. I can't help feeling that the game has now swung too far in the direction of instant gratification, most of all perhaps where travel is concerned.