Sunday, June 24, 2007

I'm off on Holidays....

... for six weeks!!!

No computer and no Lotro. I am quite looking forward to the cold turkey. It will be interesting to see what has happened in Lotro after I return. I guess most of the server will have passed me by. I hope it won't be difficult to organise fellowships.

If I come across anything interesting on my travels Ill try and sneak into a web cafe to update this. In the meantime - enjoy the Summer.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Will Lotro (or any MMO) ever have a GAME OVER screen?

In my glimpse into the future Throg finishes Lord of The Rings online and is rewarded with a "GAME OVER" screen. The books that Lotro follow come to a conclusion so why shouldn't the game itself?

Of course I don't think it will ever happen and not just because the scouring of the Shire is a pretty unremarkable event on which to end and epic adventure. Commercial logic dictates that the developers of a game must keep us playing and paying subs for as long as possible.

I am a reasonably fickle gamer. I have never stuck with one game for more than a few months. When I play a single player game I generally try to struggle through to the game over screen or at least finish one of the main campaigns. The traditional pay per month MMORPG doesn't offer that kind of uplifting parting of ways. No matter when I decide to leave I will always leave a failure - forced to sneak out the back door with my tail between my legs.

This may explain why I can never see myself going back to an MMORPG once I have left despite the fact that I often replay some of my favourite single player games.

Surely I am not alone in wanting to finish one game and move on to another. Humankind is notoriously addicted to novelty. I would be very happy to pay for and play an MMORPG that had a defined storyline with an end. Would others not see the advantage of this too?

Even if players want it it is unlikely to happen unless companies see a profit in it. Perhaps Guild Wars has shown th eway with its non subscription based episodic content. Guild Wars is not a fully featured MMORPG but perhaps the business model could be used in one. Faced with the overwhelming dominance of World of Warcraft in the monthly subscription market many MMO companies are looking at new ways of establishing a niche and new ways of earning revenue. Perhaps a 200 hour long storyline based MMORPG might find a niche. Even seasoned World of Warcraft players might be tempted to leave Azeroth for a couple of weeks to try something new.

EDIT: After writing this I googled to make sure that I wasn't parroting somebody else only to discover that the venerable Tobold wrote a piece called Game Over in his MMORPG blog back in 2005. Tobald thinking was slightly different though - he was looking at a "game over" message as a delimiter between the end of leveling and the start of the raiding game. I am thinking of "game over" as meaning exactly what it says: You have finished the content now go and find something else to do.

Throgs Lotro Journal 24th April 2008: The Scouring of The Shire

Warning: Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't actually read the Lord of The Rings (shame on you!).

What a night. Following repeated wipes over the last few weeks Throg and his kinsfellows geared up for yet another go at the Battle of Bywater Raid instance. The large battle was tough as usual but for the first time the raid managed to completely surround the ruffians preventing any from escaping and pulling in additional adds. The raid's burglars used a co-ordinated sequence of conjunctions to to replenished all power bars to almost 100% just before the last of the ruffians was downed. This turned out to be vital because following a short cut-scene the raid was immediately catapulted into the confrontation with Sharkey and Wormtongue. Correct positioning was absolutely critical to this phase of the battle. The bosses have to be kept apart to prevent them unleashing their devastating AOE conjunctions. In addition it is absolutely essential to balance the damage on both bosses because if either bosses morale ever falls to 10% less than the other Saruman casts his instant mega-heal bringing both back to 100% and pretty much guranteeing a wipe. It was touch and go but eventually the raid managed to bring both bosses down to the 50% morale trigger level. After another short cutscene in which the fellowship offered mercy to the pair Wormtongue went completely mental and murdered Saruman. Then phase two of the battle commenced. In his crazed state Wormtongue is by far the hardest boss of the game. In addition to having well over 2 million morale points he is completely immune to Melee damage. Luckily he has a particular weakness to arrow damage so Throg and his fellow Champions did their bit by switching to bows for the final rounds of the battle. Wormtongue went down with an almighty roar and those of the raid who were still alive at that point were stunned by the ensuing silence.

The closing cutsecene and credits were a little cheesy but I don't care. After sticking with Throg through 12 months of intense questing I got a lump in my throat when that fateful final message scrolled up the screen:

"Congratulations Throg. You have completed Lord Of the Rings Online. Would you like to play again as another character (Y/N)".

Friday, June 15, 2007

Lotro: Need Before Greed

One of the changes in the Shores of Evendim patch is that the default Roll/Pass options for loot distribution in pickup groups has been replaced by a need before greed system. When a rare item drops fellowship members are give the choice of Need, Greed or Pass. I assume that anyone who hits need gets priority over those who hit greed.

There is much pontificating on the forums about the ethics of when you should or shouldn't select need. Personally I think it is too complicated for the average pickup group. Need before greed relies on an honour system where people are expected not to pick need on items they cannot actually use. However it only takes one player who is greedy or uninformed to break the whole system and upset everybody.

This situation is aggravated by an annoying quirk of lotro: The same right click that is the default method of initiating an attack is also the default method of looting a corpse. Oh and did I mention that the default loot roll threshold on lotro is set extremely low? Every piece of crafting material (including scraps of leather) is rolled on. The net effect is that in the heat of battle loot roll menus keep popping up in the middle of the screen as players accidentally loot corpses. I have tried and failed to move these boxes out of the middle of the screen but inevitably they obscure the action and I am forced to press something quickly to get rid of the box in order to see what is going on.

If the item is a weapon or piece of armour that I obviously cannot use I will pass (or press greed) but trying to assess in the heat of battle whether that particular shimmering dragon tooth is useful for my crafting profession is just too difficult.

It is possible that the loot rolling threshold can be adjusted to exclude crafting items but pickup groups invariably use the default setting. In the mean time the only sensible approach I can see for pickup groups is to press need on everything unless it is obvious that my character doesn't need it. If you see me get something that would really benefit your character - just ask. I will happily hand it over after the battle.

Lotro note: New Patch and a bit of Dragon Slaying

The Shores of Evendim content patch went live for Europe yesterday. Thanks to Turbine / Codemaster's foresight in allowing the patch to be pre-downloaded offline I was able to get into the game with only a minor install delay having downloaded the patch the previous night. Very impressive performance for a major patch day. The forums are full of commentary on the changes. Naturally those with complaints are the most vociferous but it is probably too early to trust anybodies first impressions.

UI scaling was promised but I couldn't find an option to scale the skill buttons. There is a welcome option to scale floaty names. The large fixed floaty names used to obscure all the action in fellowship battles and I generally turned them off. The new scaleable fonts used are not quite as readable as before but at least they can be scaled to the size you want. There has been a number of complaints about Champion damage and combat morale regen getting an undocumented nerf but I have to say I didn't notice this. I did notice that fervour no longer generates the one pip of fervour out of combat that it used to. This means it takes a bit longer to get things kicked off in a battle but it is a minor inconvenience. Throg has re-adjusted his attack sequence to put in an extra fervour generating skill at the start.

I can't say anything at all about the new content because Throg was busy slaying a dragon, a real honest to goodness dragon [Mother of the Valley]. This was Throg's first significant venture in Angmar and he went in with a well balanced fellowship: 2 Guardians, A Hunter, A Burglar, A Minstrel and Champion Throg. The Dwarf had just Dinged lvl 35 and the others varied between 32 and 37.

In my opinion fellowship quests are a high point of Lotro. They are generally well designed and give excellent loot. The difficulty level usually allows any decent pick up group to complete while still keeping them out of the reach of solo players. Throg has had some very successful fellowship encounters with groups consisting of nothing but Champions - using Raw DPS to compensate for lack of defense or healing. This particular quest is at the harder end of the scale however and Throg was gad to have tanks and a healer in the group.

The Matron's lair is reached via a narrow mountain pass infested with giant worms and elite drakes. The Guardians tanked the Minstrel healed and Throg was able to wade in and pile on the damage. It is a great feeling when a group clicks and you are able to do the job your character is designed for.

I was impressed by the versatility of the Burglar character. I had previously known about Burglars stealth, backstabbing and conjunctions but I was surprised to see this burglar off tanking an elite drake who wandered in while the fellowship was engaged in battle. Champion Throg for all his heavy armour would have been shredded by the same drake but the Burglar used a combination of evasion skills to deflect damage and stay alive until the fellowship was ready to relieve him.

The Matron herself was a level 33 master elite with over 11,000 morale. By way of comparison Throg had around 1600 HP at level 34. The Matron was guarded by two level 32 young drake elites, not that she needed guards because her own fiery attack was capable of roasting a character in a couple of breaths. The Gods must have smiled on Throg's fellowship for just as they had planned their attack and were about to rush a dark shadow came over the valley as the FATHER DRAGON flew in. If this mighty beast had wandered by while the group was already engaged it would have meant certain defeat. Luckily the father dragon was giving to prowling and it was an easy job to ambush him on his own and kill him. The father appeared to be at least as capable as the Matron but on his own he was no match for such a strong fellowship.

With daddy dragon out of the way the group tackled the mother. While the strongest Guardian held the the matron's attention the rest of the group took out the young drakes. Finally the entire group rounded on the Matron to deliver the kiling blows. Job done - return to Esteldin for the reward

With all that dragon killing Throg never got a chance to visit the new Evendim region. Perhaps he will wander over there tonight for a look. In having reached level 35 Throg is entitled to purchase a pony so perhaps he will acquire a mount and practise his riding skills on a journey to the new lands.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Does an MMORPG need to Tedious to Be Good?

Logging into Guild Wars again was interesting. Beautiful crisp graphics with no lag. Fabulous responsive combat. I have to admit I was tempted to put lotro aside for a while and jump back in. I won't though but I had to think for a bit to understand why.

First off I must explain that Guild Wars is one of the best PVP games out there but I amn't really into PVP. Nevertheless Guild Wars also has a truly terrific story based PVE game. If you haven't played the game recently you would be truly amazed at how the game has developed to make life convenient for players. You can fast travel anywhere for free. Total respecs are free. You can change to a new secondary class at will (for free). Missions can typically be completed in about an hour and if you can't get human companions you can bring npc henchmen and heroes instead.

Why then is the game not as immersive and compelling as a traditional full blown MMORPG?

One reason is that the world does not have as many frills as a full blown MMORPG, things like trade skills, auction houses and NPC banter. Another reason is the instanced nature of the world which makes Guild Wars a very lonely place outside of towns.

I have to wonder though how much the very factors which make the game so convenient also devalue the game experience. The ease of getting characters to maximum level and convenience of changing their specification has diminished my feelings of empathy for those characters.

In a previous (long) post I talked about how traditional MMORPGS artificially create value by making things very hard or very tedious to get. I was going to distinguish between hard and tedious, suggesting that developers could add in hard content that wasn't tedious as a way to overcome this dilemma. On reflection I realise that the nature of these games is such that hard content just becomes tedious because the way to overcome it is to spend lots and lots of time trying it over and over again.

Does this mean that MMORPGS must always have tedium? I hope not. I hope that someone figures out a way to square the circle and create a world with the convenience of Guild Wars and the richness of Lotro.

I think that the much heralded advent of new ways of paying for game content will force game developers to confront this dilemma and hopefully come up with creative solutions. After all the real money transfer market for MMORPGs is all about people buying convenience. The question remains as to how much that convenience damages the game experience?

Guild Wars Guild Drama Update

I logged into Guild Wars last night to see what had happened to the website. My suspiscions were confirmed - it was the work of a disgruntled former member who happened to be admin of the alliance website. I am happy to report that it is business as ususal for the old fogies. They have even got the old forum back up and running. There was a bit of good natured banter about the incident but everyone has clearly moved on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Guild Wars Guild Drama

I haven't played Guild Wars in a while but I still peep in on my old alliance's Website every so often to catch up. It was a pretty good website too. It had news, a forum, polls, competitions and a shout box. Not any more I am afraid. The link for the website now leads to an abusive message about the alliance.

This is not really my business any more but natural curiosity has prompted me to try to figure out what happened. Of course the whole thing could be the work of disgruntled pvp opponent who posesses leet haxxor skillz but I think not. I am pretty sure this is the unfortunate outcome of a genuine case of Guild Wars guild drama.

Let us start with some history. This particular group is one of the largest communities in Guild wars with over 800 active members last time I looked. Since this number exceeds the individual guild limit they formed an alliance of guilds who for all intensive purposes act as a single guild. The reason for the large membership is simple enough - the alliance has but one entry requirement: Membership is open to every player over the age of thirty.

In terms of ambition and playing style this is the ultimate casual guild and I loved it. There is no compulsory attendance at anything and it caters for players of every level and every playing style. This casual style meshes perfectly with Guild Wars casual PVE game. As an indication of just how casual the Alliance is consider that despite having over 800 members we never could put together a decent PVP team. It is basically a big talking shop with the added advantage that whenever you needed help with something you were bound to find somebody out of those 800 players who would help you out.

I mentioned before that the alliance had a pretty good website too. I am a sucker for Guild Chat and Guild Forums. I guess I just love to read myself talking. The vandalised website was actually a replacement for an older cruder Alliance website and it was put together (and hosted I believe) by a talented Guild member. I remember how impressed we all were with the new site and the many compliments that individual received.

Where is the drama you ask? Well surprisingly in my time there was very little. Despite the large number of players there really was very few arguments. I suppose the mature age profile combined with the casual nature of the alliance let people take it or leave it as they saw fit. A few players got miffed over rudeness every so often but it always blew over.

Recently however I noticed an increase in the number of disputes on the Guild Forums. This has been particularly noticeable since I left but I can assure it was not due to any calming influence of mine that things used to be more peaceful. If I were to look for a pattern I would have to say that the only thing that stands out is that a number of the disputes relate to the forming of groups for Guild Wars high end content. Some of the disputes were about people joining or not joining groups. One memorable dispute was about whether or not players should be forced to adjust their character build in order to play a particular role in a tough mission.


These are fairly common disputes in any casual guild that is beginning to tackle tough end game content but I am not sure why they surfaced so recently in this Alliance. Many members have indulged in Guild Wars end game for years. It could have something to do with a new "Hard Mode" that was recently introduced but not having played this I cannot say.

Anyway about a week ago I logged into the Alliance forums and noticed that a new dispute had occurred involving none other than the administrator of the web forum. This culminated in that individual announcing that they were leaving the alliance.

My memory of the "I am leaving" post was that they were going to keep the website going but it didn't augur well. I visited the site today to discover an insulting message about the alliance and an accusation of backstabbing. Could it be that somebody was foolish enough to pass comment on this individual after they had left - forgetting who controlled the website? I don't know, I can only surmise.

I am sure the alliance are still going strong but they are temporarily without a web presence. I might just log into the game to find out more. Nothing like a bit of guild drama to liven up things.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lotro: The Honeymoon is Over

Lotro had a terrific start, great timing, effective launch, great reviews and a lot of enthusiasm from early players. Two months in I think it is fair to say that the honeymoon is over. Some players have already worked through most of the available content while others are getting bored. Just look at some comments from the blogs on my blogroll:

Tobold:
"I still like Lord of the Rings Online, but I'm not quite that enthusiastic any more."


Zoso from MMOG Musings:
"After a bit of Lord of the Rings Online over the last few days, I'm not sure I'll spend much more time in Middle Earth. It's fun enough and all, but really just more of the same old MMOness."


and perhaps most damning Tipa from West Karana:
"Lord of the Rings Online being a bore (but a pretty one) — I didn’t even last through my free month"


I suspect this sense of ennui is fairly widespread. I have noticed that Throg's kinship channel has gone very quiet these days. The fact that we are approaching high Summer doesn't help. It is hard to justify locking yourself in a darkened room to squint at a PC monitor when the sun is shining outside.

At a personal level I still enjoy playing. Throg is questing away in the North downs, just a couple of kills away from level 34. He is looking forward to buying his very own pony to ride at level 35. I am finding it much harder to write about Throg's adventures however. The plain fact is that most of them aren't exciting enough to write about and since the newness of the game has worn off there is little point writing about mundane details of gameplay.

A great many lotro players have previously dabbled in other MMORPGs especially World of Warcraft. In my opinion this has been a blessing and a curse for Lotro. On the plus side Lotro benefitted from copying many of the best features in WOW making it very easy for players to get into the game. The launch of Lotro also coincided fortuitously with a time when many seasoned WOW players were getting bored and looking for something new. On the down side this influx of experienced MMORPG players has proven to be a hard audience to keep satisfied. They burn through content quickly and are quick to spot deficiencies. I also believe that the very similarities which made the game so approachable for former WOW players are now proving to be handicap when it comes to keeping players entertained.

Take the auction house as an example. My Night Elf was playing WOW for several weeks before he stumbled across the auction house in Ironforge. It took another while before I figured out how it worked and was confident at buying or selling. The same auction house went on to become a very important and enjoyable part of the game for me. In Lotro on the other hand Throg went straight to the auction house after completing the tutorial and I discovered that it worked very similarly to the WOW auction house. The Auction House interface is almost indistinguishable between the two games. Throg was able to start trading straight away. This was handy from the point of view of generating income but the whole experience lacked any novelty for me.

Is this the end of LOTRO? I hope not. Some players will leave, others will join. For me the expansions are the key. They have to introduce new and exciting content: new regions, new quests, new creatures and new game play features.

Jeff Anderson's Shack News interview gives me great hope. If Turbine introduce new content patches every few months as he indicates they are going to do then there should be plenty to keep me entertained. I hope they will not be too constrained by the license however. Every region Throg has visited so far has had a string of kill ten wargs, kill ten bears, kill ten orcs quests. The types of monster are the same just the level varies. These quests are getting pretty tedious.

I will shortly be taking a long Summer holiday with my family. No PC and no Lotro for over a month. In the past when I have taken that length of break from a game the urge to resume playing has dissappeared. The timing of the "Shore's of Evendim" expansion is particularly interesting because it comes out just before I head off. Enough time to get a tantalising glimpse of what is on offer but not enough time to experience it. If the expansion is good it could be the hook needed to get me playing again when I return.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Apologies to Bill Harris

Bill Harris was kind enough to email me back pointing out that "Some of Sony's ads are among (his) favorite ads of all time". Apparently a few others spoke up in defence of "This is Living" so Bill posted a clarification on his blog here. To paraphrase Bill doesn't find the first (Hotel) video clip offensive he just thinks it is bad marketing. He is offended by a second clip from the same campaign featuring an old performer reminiscing in which there is a highly dodgy reference to "the delicate fingers of 1000 Thai Boys". Apologies Bill if I misrepresented you the first time.

I don't know whether they are bad marketing or not. There is an old adage that no publicity is bad publicity but when a large part of your market is parents buying your product for their kids that is not exactly true. Parents (myself included) are are obsessively protective of their kids and a whiff of scandal around the product could see major retailers removing Playstations from their shelves.

I have to admit though. I still like the ads.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Playstation ad "This is Living" generates controversy

EDIT: I may have misrepresented Bill Harris's views in this post - please read subsequent post for clarification.

Bill Harris regularly posts about the console wars in his excellent Dubious Quality blog. In his latest post Billl takes Sony to task for their PS3 advertising video "This is Living - Uncut": Not Safe For Work.

I have to agree that it is a pretty strange ad for something that a lot of folk will buy for their kids. It reminds me of a David Lynch film with bizzare characters and surreal images. In contains adult themes, images of nudity and sexual acts. Bill Harris and others have cited this ad as proof that Sony have completely lost the plot.

And yet...

I will always owe Sony a debt of gratitude for the work of genius that was their "Double Life" advert for the original Playstation in Europe . Quite apart from the fact that it is a superbly realised piece of visual poetry this ad was in fact a liberating moment for me.

I am an older player who only discovered computer games in my 30's. I have never had the support structure of a network of Quake playing geek friends. Back then I walked a very lonely path in a world of friends and acquaintances who considered computer games a frivolous distraction for children. This advert was a revelation because it spoke not just to kids but to everyone - young, old, able bodied and disabled. It highlighted the key vision of gaming as alternate reality. I too had left behind the humdrum life. I too had conquered worlds. After this ad aired widely I felt more confident in my hobby. I held my head up a little higher and was less afraid to tell others what I do in my spare time.

Thank you Sony.

Indeed Sony have a history of using avant-garde creative advertising for the playstation. The latest ad has a less obvious connection with the world of computer games than "Double Life" but it certainly bursts with creativity and that sense of absurd alterate reality which inspires so much that is good in gaming. Indeed the most controversial scene in which a bloke masturbates while watching a football match is a pretty head wrecking concept. And of course Sony's marketing people have not completely lost the plot - only a "sanitised" excerpt of this ad will ever find its way onto prime time television but in the meantime the full uncut version is generating plenty of internet buzz.

In my opinion "This is Living" stands a long way below "Double Life" in terms of creative merit but nevertheless I am glad that Sony make ads like this and I hope they continue to do so for a long time.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Lotro Lifetime subscription available to all

There is a very minor flap over at the lotro-eupoe forums about Turbine/Codemasters announcement that all players will now be able to avail of a life time subscription offer. Previously only founder members (those who got the pre-order package) could get a lifetime sub. Apparently some founder members are upset that a privilege they thought reserved for themselves alone is now available to the masses.

I am a founder memeber but I have absolutely no time for this opinion. However in an attempt to be fair I will try and look at it from their side. I do remember when signing up as a founder member I had to make a decision whether or not to go for a lifetime subscription. I had played the game for a week pre-order and knew I liked it but I didn't know if I would be playing for the year or so that would make lifetime subscription a good deal. The impression given was that if you didn't choose the lifetime sub straight away you would never get another chance so that did create a certain pressure to plump up for it.

If the lifetime sub was now made available for the same price to everyone I could understand why people might feel tricked. Those who opted for the lifetime sub thinking they would never get another chance might have preferred to experience the game a bit longer before commiting to the lifetime option.

However the new offer is not at the same price. It is 50% dearer. Founder member lifetime sub was only €150. Non founder lifetime sub is €220. Founder members got a whopping €70 discount. I don't think they have any cause for complaint.

I didn't actually opt for the lifetime sub - instead I bought a 6 month sub for €54. I still got a substantial discount over the non-founder rate, a discount I will continue to enjoy as long as I suscribe to the game so I am well pleased with the founder program.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Collision Detection in MMORPGs

According to MMORPG.com one of the most highly anticipated forthcoming MMORPGs is Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning . The general impression I get is that a lot of emphasis will be put on PVP. I haven't done much pvp myself and I never got into the whole Warhammer scene so I guess I am not exactly waiting with baited breath. One point does interest me though and that is the fact that Warhammer will implement collision detection.

Collision detection isn't exactly new, Guild Wars implements it very well and in my opinion it is one of the features that elevates Guild Wars combat model head and shoulders above most MMORPGS. If collision detection is properly implemented then it brings a whole new fluidity to combat. Suddenly position and movement are everything. Enemies can be blocked from moving to advantageous positions. Support characters can be protected by standing in front of them. In Guild Wars it helps unify pvp and pve play. There is no taunting mechanic in Guild Wars. Warriors protect squishy casters by standing between them and an attacker. Unlike taunt this technique works as well PVP as in PVE.

Multiplayer battles in MMORPG are generally frenetic. Trying to monitor multiple allies and multiple enemies while keepin an eye on your own vitals and skills is no easy task. In a traditional MMORPG group combat often degenerates into a meter watching exercise - watching health bars and skill cooldowns instead of actualy looking at the live action on the screen. This approach doesn't work in a game where position and movement are vital. If a game implements collision detection then it has to have a simple uncluttered user interface and a responsive control system.

Guild Wars does a fairly good job here, the interface is uncluttered, the light game engine is wonderfully responsive and there are useful interface and control options to allow you to keep tabs on what is happening. It doesn't stop at just the layout of the screen though. Guild wars only allows eight active skills at a time - this greatly reduces the amount of onscreen clutter compared to a traditional MMORPG with multiple hot bars and dozens of skill buttons. Also Guild wars doesn't have 40 man raids where healers screens are filled with HP bars.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Thoughts on Grouping in Lotro

I am writing instead of playing because my server crashed and I am frozen out. It was quite bizarre in that I was in a fellowship when each of us became frozen in place. We could chat and look at menus we just couldn't move. Once character was perpetually running on the spot. I had gotten stuck earlier today in Bree and logging out and in again solved it that time so I tried that but now I can't log back in.

A blog post from Lost in The Grind got me thinking Grouping in Lotro. Sean from LITG comments that he spends more time in fellowships than doing solo quests in Lotro. While my balance is probably more 50:50 I am definitely spending more time in groups in Lotro than I did while levelling up in World of Warcraft. There are few reasons for this:

First off the Epic quest line that everybody aspires to complete has many fellowship quests including mini-instances that are a real pleasure to do. This gets everyone used to fellowing.

Secondly even though there are still plenty of solo quests at my level (I haven't hit the dreaded level 35 black hole yet) most quest sequences end in a fellowship quest and in order to get good loot you need to do the fellowship quest.

Thirdly when a quest in Lotro is marked "fellowship" they really mean it. In WOW it was often possible to solo group quests if you levelled up a couple of times. In Lotro fellowship quests usually involve multiple elites and remember that Throg has difficulty killing an elite five levels below him. The only fellowship quests he can hope to solo are grey quests that are so far below his level they aren't worth it.

Finally it is generally easy to find a half decent pick up group in lotro to do whatever quest you need. This is not because of any Looking for Fellowship function (nobody uses the official one) but simply because the community is used to fellowing and it has become the norm. In fact the lotro community is generally very mature and helpful. I have yet to have an unpleasant pug experience.

All in all I like the mix of solo and fellowship so far. I think Turbine have got the balance just about perfect for me. Group quests are usually more fun but often the demands of real life mean you need to solo. I know there is currently a lack of solo quests from the mid 30's on but I expect that to be addressed any day now with the Shores of Evendim expansion.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Lotro Journal 3 June 2007: Throg's New Hat

Throg is not a happy dwarf.

It started when shade Danassen offered a helm of intricate craftmanship to whomsoever could take ten satchels from the hill-men of Rhuadar (Proof's Burden).

Now you might think that following the Brudhraw incident Throg would think twice before accepting another commission from a shade. Well you might think that but you would be wrong for our hero is not a dwarf for thinking twice when it comes to risking his mortal existence and so it was that he he was the first to raise his axe in support of this commission.

Needless to say Danassen ommited to mention that these hill-men live amongst the noxious vapours of the red-swamp. Neither did he dwell upon the fact that the fervour of their devotion to the Red Maid combined with continuing exposure to the swamp's evil influence had imbued each with the strength of three.

Undaunted the bold Throg called together a motley crew to tackle these devotees of the red-maid. The fellowship laid slaughter all around them and soon Throg had in his grasp the ten satchel's required. Off he set to present the satchel's and claim his helmet and here it is:

Oh the workmanship is fine enough and the steel will certainly turn a blade but Throg is not one bit pleased with the ornamentation. He feels like an infant's rabbit bed-friend. Sadly he cannot afford to replace it so he must endure the laughs of his fellows. Poor Throg.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson talks Lotro on Shacknews

Thanks to Drugh (in German) for pointing me to a terrific interview with Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson on Shacknews. The interview is of full of juicy nuggets.

Jeff discusses the way that the Book 9 content patch (shores of Evendim) will be targeted at levels 35 to 45. I know that the lack of solo content at these levels has frustrated many fast leveling players but as Jeff points out: "Book 9 focuses in on providing level 35-45 content, and most players aren't really at that point, so we just want to continually be ahead of them, providing new, free game content to keep them excited about where the product is going." I've been playing 3 hours a day since launch and Throg has just turned 30 so the timing of the expansion is just perfect for me.

With regards to future expansions Jeff suggests that book 10 will follow on about two months after book 9 (August) and book 11 is due in October. In other great news he says that book 10 will definitely be free just like book 9. I am inclined to trust Turbine to release content when they say they will and with expansions coming out at this rate I cannot see myself every getting ahead of the content.

Juicy news also about player housing due out with book 11 in October. According to Jeff:"There will be some cross-section of landscape housing and instance housing, and I think it depends on whether it's for a kinship, or whether it's an individual player." So it sounds as if players will be able to make a permanent mark on the landscape through their kinships but we won't have bungalow blitz with thousands of player houses springing up around every scenic beauty spot. Reading between the lines it sounds like we may have to pay for the chapter 11+housing expansion but Jeff does seem to be aware of the need to give value for money in a paid for expansion.

Jeff also has some interesting comments on the "end game". He effectively dismisses the term as an excuse companies use for the time when their game runs out of content. If he stays true to his promises Lotro won't funnel high level players into a few repetitive modes play (like raiding of grinding faction). To quote Jeff: "And so that's what we make sure, is that part of our end game is that there is no end game". I wonder how turbine are going to square this promise of ongoing content expansions with the fact that the core storyline does have an end. They can drag out the story but eventually the one ring will have to get dumped into the fires of mount doom.


Jeff Anderson is also doing a Slashdot question and answer session this week. All in all I am very impressed with the Turbine's CEO's willingness to come out and talk to people. I know it is probably carefully stage managed but it works for me at least and gives this punter a warm fuzzy feeling that Lotro is a game with a future.

Jeff did not mention user interface scalability. I suppose I have learned to work around it at this stage but I know that it is still a major stumbling block for many potential players. I heard somewhere that this is going to be included in the soon to be released chapter 9 but if it isn't it will be a sorely missed opportunity.

Less comforting to me was Jeff's admission at the end of the interview that "PCs are always going to retain a place, but long-term, consoles are a huge market" . As a dyed in the wool PC gamer I have been enjoying the recent resurgence in PC gaming which stems from (I believe) uncertainty over the outcome of the current console wars and the popularity of mmorpgs. I sense an impending inevitability that someday I am going to have to learn to use a game-pad but not yet, not yet.

Throg's Lotro Journal 1 June 2007: Svalfangs downfall.


It puzzles Throg why big folk are so frightened of giants. Dwarves are used to dealing with those of larger stature than themselves and in truth a dwarf is like to give a Giant a tougher fight than either elf or man. While the dwarf hacks at the giants knees the behemoth must bend near double if it hopes to land a blow on the dwarf.

Such thoughts no doubt influenced the ranger Amlan when he asked our good dwarf to deal with a troublesome giant who had taken to waylaying travellers in the Brandy Hills (Giant Problems ). Throg was quick to accept the challenge. Indeed he had already encoutered Svalfang while retrieveing Dob Sandheavers pack (Big Problems ). On that occasion Throg had been forced to hide from the gargantuan so it warmed a dwarf's blood to think of tackling the creature head on.

Throg set out in the company of a doughty kinsman burglar. They marched across the Bree fields and over the Brandy hills to Svalfang's forest abode. It was clear for all to see that this was a dangerous pair and the motley crew of beasts and brigands that prey upon less hardened travellers had more sense that to trouble them.

Spying Throg the foolish Giant let loose a thunderous guffaw of mirth when he saw who came to challenge him. His mirth was short lived though for Throg's companion had stealthily crept up behind the giant and then sunk his daggers deep into the creatures back. Svalfang roared in pain and swung his mighty club in attempt to crush his attacker. Stength alone is poor counter to speed and guile however and wherever Svalfang looked for his foe there was no one there.

While the burglar kept Svalfang beguiled with slippery trickery Thorg set to hacking at the giant's legs. It was much like felling a stout oak tree but swinging an axe in each hand Throg hewed away like a timberjack. Before the giant realised his peril his felt his battered legs give way and he crashed to the ground. This was perhaps the most dangeous incident in the fight for Throg and his companion were almost caught underneath the crushing weight. Once downed it was a matter of mercy finish off the mortally wounded Svalfang.

The brave duo headed back to slake their thirst in Bree's Prancing Pony. Slaying giants is a muckle business but boasting about it in a tavern afterwards is a very pleasant past time. Throg was all the more satisfied when Amlan caught up with the pair at the 'pony and rewarded them with magical necklets that had been retrieved fro Svalfangs hoard.