The online version of Tolkien's tomes has only managed to recreate a tiny portion of his world so far, and with their first expansion pack, Shores Of Evendim, developers Turbine have just added another 1,500 acres to that world. Normally, Developer's Commentary is a look back over the creation of the game, but LOTRO is a going concern, and for Turbine, the development never stops. We spoke to Jeffrey Steefel, the executive producer of Middle-earth's online incarnation...
Steefel: We're thinking of this like a TV series instead of a movie. We just launched the pilot and thanks to the reviews, we've been picked up for an entire season. Now, our job is to deliver on that, because people are paying a subscription and this is really more of an ongoing entertainment experience that people are expecting to grow and evolve.
They want significant, high-quality, fresh content that's frequently added. That's something we've done as a company in the past. Asheron's Call has been out for over seven years, and the latest count was 88 updates in that time. This game is far bigger and far more complex, but we announced the Shores Of Evendim expansion just six weeks after the launch of LOTRO.
Steefel: You're looking at a whole new region in the game. There's six-million square metres, which increases the size of the game (in terms of land mass) by 10%. There's nine new monsters, and some of them have completely different AI and functionality in the game, and behave differently to any other monsters in it.
There are many new instances, and not just little ones - we're talking the massive instances that people are beginning to expect from the game. We've got over 120 new quests and a whole bunch of new content for people in the level 27-40 range, which is where we believe a lot of people are getting to now."
Steefel: People really love the music system, so we've expanded it. Some of it is just making it better, so you can do octaves more easily, sustain notes, play chords, things like that. We also added bass and drums, and we added the ability for you to do a piano roll.
There's also a text music notation that's standard called ABC, and because it's been around so long there are a lot of third-party programs out there that are free to translate midi-files or music notation files into these text files, and our game supports them. So you can write music, put it in these text files, put it into a directory and then you can actually play it in the game. It's very cool.
Steefel: Monster Play is going to be more and more about giving monsters their own kind of advancement paths. Even right now, you're collecting destiny points that you can spend on buffs for your monster. On your character, when you click on the tab that says 'War', it displays all your monsters - we'll be adding the ability to examine that on another player. This way, your monsters are more a part of your overall character, and you can see who's pretty accomplished at the Monster Play and PVP.
PUTTING THE FAN INTO FANTASY
Steefel: I'm sitting next to my original copies of Lord Of The Rings, which dates me a little bit. They're from 1965, which is when they were released back in the US. I read them as a kid and I came back to them again later in life. I also played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, but grew out of that quite quickly.