Last week I had the pleasure of doing an exclusive interview with several members of the LOTRO team. I share with you the transcript (some paraphrased), and audio file from part 1.
Dadi – Dadi’s LOTRO Guides
Severlin – Executive Producer
Cordovan – Community Manager
Dr.Octothorpe – Lead Designer
Made of Lions – Epic Story Designer
Pinion – Content Designer
Baccata – Content Designer
FriendlyHat – Systems Designer
Question 1: Cordovan, you are serving as the interim LOTRO Community Manager and the full time DDO CM; is there any news as to whether or not you will remain split between the two games?
Cordovan: I do not get to decide the terms of my employment, but I think for the foreseeable future I will remain the CM for both games.
Question 2: Tell us a bit about the Executive Producer and their vision for LOTRO [at this point of the interview I did not realize that Severlin was with us – ed.]?
Severlin: My name is Rob and my forum name is Severlin. I am the current EP for LOTRO and DDO. Prior to DDO I was the EP for Asheron’s Call (another Turbine game). I am a long time Tolkien fan. I read Lord of the Rings in high school and fell in love …
Question 3: We have seen a lot of cuts being made by Warner Brothers, and by the way, that is not unusual for a video game of this age; but there is a licensing agreement that will be expiring in 2017 (this is public knowledge). Is there anything that you may be able to say as the new EP to quiet some of the “doomsayers”? There is an awful lot of negativity on the forums and other internet media about the future of LOTRO. Is there anything that you could share to ally the fear that LOTRO is coming to an end next year?
Severlin: Sure. Right now we have a two and a half year plan [taking us in to the end of 2018 -ed.], and the only reason it is not further is because we want to see where the player’s heads are at after that much time. We are currently focused on not only telling the Epic Story leading up to the Gate but also what happens beyond. We have already kind of hinted to the players that an expansion is on its way. I do not want to talk too much about the expansion because we are still far enough away that plans may change and ultimately we do not want to disappoint the community. This is one of the reasons we don’t like to talk about things too far in advance; not because we do not have long term plans. We want to tell the epic story, and we all know Mordor is coming … We want the experience to satisfy not only the story buffs, but also the experience of entering Mordor really epic because it is something other than the two Halflings, something we did not see much of.
Dadi: We certainly appreciate the Epic Story being told in this game, I have to say that I have been pretty blown away by the last two releases. I believe Made of Lions was behind that, is this correct?
Made of Lions: That’s me, here I am 🙂
Dadi: Well again, thank you. It truly has been epic and enjoyable to play.
MoL: Thank you so much, but you haven’t seen anything yet … I am super excited about the things we are coming up to. We do not try to rest on our laurels, we are always thinking about the next thing; I am very excited for what that is going to be.
Cordovan: I would like to chime in on the licensing thing too, it is something that comes up on the forums quite a bit. What we do with LOTRO is not particularly different from other video games that operate under a licensing agreement for intellectual property (ex. super hero games, etc.). They all have license holders and LOTRO is no different. Typically these kind of agreements are pieces of business that are not really disclosed to the public. As part of the corporate business decision making that is involved with the creation [and maintenance -ed.] of a game like LOTRO. The LOTRO community has historically had some particular sensitivity over the licensing agreement, but the agreement itself has basically always been a routine piece of business from the very start. So while we can understand that some folks like to talk about it on the forums and as you said; “doom say”, the reality is that it is just a private piece of business that has been routine (lawyers getting together). Ultimately if there was a major issue with the license you guys would probably find out about it because the game would no longer be operating after a certain point. This is not a reality show “are they going to get kicked off the island” thing worth speculating month after month, year after year. It is basically just a routine piece of business and we have no reason to think this won’t be a continuation of that.
Dadi: That is certainly very refreshing to hear, I am in corporate business myself and certainly understand licensing agreements and how they work. Just because it is expiring does not mean that it will not be renewed. As long as both parties are happy with the product being put forth [and the terms -ed] there is no reason for that licensing agreement not to continue, so it is nice to hear you say the same.
Question 4: This is probably a burning question for most players; where are we with improving the lag and the performance of the servers? It seems that since the consolidation, or the release of Minas Tirith (or maybe they are linked) [is where it all started -ed.]. There are many players, myself included, that have awesome gaming machines with fiber optic connections, yet in group play (specific instances) the only way to play the content is on the absolute lowest graphics settings with virtually everything turned off, and even then we are still crashing or experiencing major skill lag and very low fps. Can you maybe touch on where we are at with it, I know you are continually working on trying to improve it but we are now six, almost eight months later and we really have not seen a dramatic improvement.
Dr.Octothorpe?: So what is sort of unfortunate about some of the lag that some of our players have seen is that there is not a single source for it. It is a many headed beast that basically means we have to keep hacking heads off as we can find them. So we have been working very hard at this on and off. With the 18.2.4 release we know that the pre-battle Minas Tirith has memory issues for many players so we have provided ways to skip it and travel directly to the post battle version. One of the ironies with the performance issues is that players with the higher end machines will actually be the ones to specifically see some of those MT focused ones. As you know there are some skill related ones, some group related issues, we keep hammering at all of them and hope that players have seen improvements where we have been able to make them. This isn’t really a fix, but as we move farther from the old version of Minas Tirith we expect some of those problems to fade away simply because players are not all in that area anymore.
Severlin: When you see large bosses and people are looking at their buffs [and debufs -ed.] there seems to be some sort of bottleneck there and so we are looking to bring in extra engineering resources to look at that specifically. Unfortunately right now we are in negotiations to do that so we will have to wait; it is something that takes longer that I would like.
Dadi: We have this absolutely fantastic content in the new raid; I love The Throne of the Dread Terror from start to finish (the mechanics, the difficulty, the challenge) … it is awesome. However, there are so many players that just can’t experience it because of the lag and it is such a shame. Is there no way to move the instance for Throne and place it in the background on another section of LOTRO so that it is not on the same section as Minas Tirith? Can it not be separated such that it has more resources for it in itself?
Severlin: Minas Tirith is not a server issue, it is a [LOTRO -ed.] client memory issue. The lag you are seeing from the raid is not associated with Minas Tirith, it is something separate that we are actively working on solving.
Dadi: I would imagine a lot of it has to do with skill animations, is that what is playing in to the majority of the [raid -ed.] lag?
Dr.Octothorpe: We can’t stress enough how lag problems are like 100 headed hydras. Everyone wants to look for a silver bullet to solve lag problems but unfortunately it just isn’t that way. Among other things there are skills on classes that target absolutely everything within a 15m radius instead of a specific number of targets. We corrected one of those [RK – Essay of Exaltation -ed.], which I think was causing more problems with festivals actually than with the raid. So we deal with those as we find them.
Question 5: Keeping with the raid, as you know there is a bug that is spreading T2 locks amongst T1 players which is affecting the group dynamics of who signs up (or come on) runs. They do not want to get the locks by running T1 because they want to do T2 with their friends or kin later. The result is there are a lot less T1 runs being done. We are on update 4 now since the release of the raid and we have heard no discussion on addressing it, can you touch on that?
Dr.Octothorpe: Yes, we are aware of it and it pains us that it keeps players from enjoying the raid. It is unfortunately not a small feature, so we have been looking for a moment when we can dig in and fix it. We hope this will be soon, but we can’t make any promises.
Severlin: It actually has a lot to do with how loot is distributed. When we looked in to fixing the lock issue, we wanted to go to a boss by boss lock where you could just loot each boss once. So you could kill a boss multiple times but only allow you to loot once. The problem with that is it would force us to go to a personal loot system and there was some concern when we went to do that that the players who were used to the current system would have a problem with a personal loot system because you can’t trade; a raid can’t sort of stack specific items on to people. So the issue wasn’t actually the tech, it was the concern that the players themselves would find that a personal loot system, a system that drops loot from boss to boss for specific players would be a backstab. That was our concern; and when we realized we did not have time before the raid [release -ed.] to go through the process of bringing that to the Palantir players and discussing the differences between how loot currently works and how loot would work in the new system (going through all the nuance of it) and then getting them to give us feedback on it is a process that would take months just to get the players’ input from the raiding guilds. We just ran out of time. Believe me, we wanted to fix these problems before the raid [release -ed.] but we didn’t want the players to see a new raid and be used to looting one way and then change it on them. We just did not have the time to go through a due diligence process and throwing something like that on the players without a lot of feedback from the people who are raiding, would have been a bad idea on our part. We just did not feel the players would have appreciated us throwing that on them without enough time and feedback for us to polish it.
In Part 2 we discuss;
- The future of raids
- The loot system
- Burglar and Hunter love
- Update 19
- T2C of older content being relevant
- Fellowship Maneuvers
A Russian translation is underway. If there is anyone that can assist with French and German please let me know.
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