Of Fading Journeys

Friday, October 30, 2009

If I hunted as much as my character hunts in LOTRO, I'd either be the world's best hunter or spending my life in prison for single-handedly killing off the world's food supply. Or both. You've all probably heard the gripe before - why do we kill so much wildlife? It's not just predators. We're slaughtering flies, deer, elk, neekers...

I'm not really bothered by this. I just bring it up to illustrate a larger point about LOTRO being very much a game. I think now that I've been playing for a few years the magic has worn off and the virtual world skin has faded to reveal the true game beneath. There's very few MMOs, if any, that can truely be called a virtual world. That's because when we say MMO, or more correctly, MMORPG, we're stressing the G. The loss of the G is probably a side-effect of taking out RP. Very few of us actually role-play and there's hardly any structured support for that type of activity in the game anyway.

Back to game vs virtual world. Beyond any other reason, I picked up LOTRO because I wanted a virtual Middle-Earth. With Shadows of Angmar, I got that, in so much as what was in at release. Now we're moving away, and while we see more of Middle-Earth, it's simply because that's where the fellowship is going and where we can introduce fun and cool and engaging content. The space serves the game rather than the game serves the space. I'm not arguing that this is not the way it should be. Indeed, LOTRO is a game and should be developed towards a game. Furthermore, the recent and future content is and will be engaging. But it's not what I came to LOTRO for. I found fun, but not quite the fun I wanted. Only now that I've nearly exhausted that fun, have I seen this.

To that end, the very gamey nature of LOTRO stands out for me more and more with each passing moment (boars, boars, and more boars). There will come a time, and quite quickly I'm afraid, where I'll cease to see it as a virtual representation of Middle-Earth at all, but rather a MMO with a Lord of the Rings skin. This saddens me in a way. First, because I really do love this game. And second, because despite such love, I cannot be sustained by it.

All this, I think, is at the core of my recent apathy towards logging in and keeping current with this blog. It is with deep regret that I make what might seem like an abrupt about-face with The Adventurer, and say good-bye to blogging. It is not that I do not have anything to say, or that I'm quitting LOTRO, or the community. This blog cannot be maintained at the level of my current interest and investment. One should not feel forced to write, or pressured to keep up with the news enough to post every time a new bit of information is released. It might be said I've lost the passion that started the Adventurer. I don't think that's the case - rather that passion has been redirected. Strike that, the passion has continued on its course, the Adventurer and LOTRO simply didn't follow.

Insert a lamentful sigh. I started writing this post with a completely different end-point in sight. I honestly did not start with the intent to make this a good-bye. But that's where it naturally flowed.

What does that mean for my future as a LOTRO player? As I said, I will not stop playing, but I won't feel compelled to play for blogging, or to keep up with what's going on in the game. I will not disappear from the community - I still read the fellow LOTRO blogs, and will comment more often now that I'm not posting here. What this does offer me is an opportunity to pursue other forms of writing. I've aspired to be a professional fiction writer since high-school and yet have done little to further that goal. Perhaps now is the time to revisit this.

Take care my fellow adventurers. May your journeys be forever blessed. I leave you last with a blessing from Elrond to the Fellowship as they departed:

"Ála tira acca haiya! Mal si a vanya as márë órelyar! Namárië, ar nai aistalë Eldar ar Atani ar ilyë Léralieron hilya le! Eleni sílar antalyannar!"



Sunday, October 25, 2009

This isn't LOTRO related except for sharing the mythos. Yesterday (Saturday) I had my 6th annual LOTR Day. The previous 5 years comprised solely of a movie marathon, the first culminating with a trip to the midnight showing of Return of the King. This year, however, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of sitting on the couch or floor for 13 hours straight, I thought we'd mix it up a bit. Inspired by a post on another blog, I set up a menu of 8 hobbit meals to have throughout the day as we watched the movies. The list went as followers:
  • Breakfast - Omellets with various filling including cheese, bacon, chives, and red peppers
  • Second Breakfast - Berries with whipped cream and/or yogurt
  • Elevensies - Bread and cheese (sharp cheddar and Gouda)
  • Luncheon - Chicken stuffed pastries
  • Afternoon Tea - Assorted teas and seed cake
  • Dinner - Green salad including spring mix, carrots, cucumber, egg, olives, and tomatoes
  • Supper - Lamb stew with potatoes, carrots, and onions
  • Dessert - Vanilla and peanut crunch cheese cake
We also had games going, predominantly LOTR Risk. The event was a huge success. 17 people attended, most for the whole duration - starting at 7:30 with Breakfast and ending at 10:30 with the completion of Return of the King. Of course, with 8 meals we ate every 2 hours or so, but the portions were small. Actually, they were perfect. Small enough to not overfill us but large enough to keep us satisfied until the next meal. With different people bringing a different meal, no one person was stuck in the kitchen the whole time or dropped a lot of coin on a lot of food. It's hard express in words how pleased I am with how everything turned out - everybody had a great time. Both pictures and video do not do it justice either, but I have both: a photobucket set and a YouTube vid. Enjoy.


Middle-Earth Chronicles

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I've found another LOTRO blog. I saw it linked in two separate places tonight so I definitely need to mention this before I call it a night. This one is called Middle-Earth Chronicles. They've been blogging since June this year, so they're pretty new, but the more the merrier I say! Do check them out.


Hearing My Voice

I know I've tweeted about it, but I don't think I've posted anything about my recent podcasting guest spots here on the blog. Over the course of three weeks I appeared on three different podcasts. Two were LOTRO related, one was not. The links are below if you're interested:
I definitely recommend the last two if only because they're LOTRO related and this is a LOTRO podcast. When guesting on SUWT, I was a little "star struck" and nervous. Hence I talked way too fast. And I cannot recommend A Casual Stroll to Mordor enough. Merric and Goldenstar are just hysterical. And I'd be remiss not specifically pointing out the awesome guys over at the Reporter - excellent podcasters, those two. Enjoy!


What is Content?

I got into a lively discussion on Twitter the other morning. And by morning I mean 5:45 AM. I like to check my overnight tweets before work (I follow quite a few people significantly outside my time zone). Anyhow, since I didn't ask permission to give out the name, this follower shall remain anonymous, but had a few gripes about Orion's post on some improvements to the rep system. The contention, if I didn't misunderstand, is that additions to the rep system, notably deeds for completing rep, doesn't constitute "content" where content is new activities for the player to partake in. Of course, we're arguing about the definition of "content." I assert that content is anything added to the game. My follower would prefer a more narrow reading of the term. I don't think this definition needs to be hard and fast. I can accept his opinion. Where the discussion became more dynamic was in the idea of too much non-content. And by non-content, I'm using the narrower definition.

Indeed, the whole of Orion's post was about improving the reputation system, in some cases with what could be termed fluff content. That is, rewards that don't directly affect your ability to combat mobs or complete content. This is not to say the improvements won't include useful rewards, but Orion wanted to also implement these fluff items as well - albeit a ways in the future. Notable in my Twitter conversation was deeds for completing reputation. Not trying to put words into my follower's mouth, but it seemed that he would prefer resources devoted to more significant content. As a completionist, I would love deeds/titles for reaching kindred in rep. But I can understand why someone would be disappointed at seeing effort devoted to this type of content.

On the whole, the reputation absolutely needs a steroids shot. It's pretty flabby now, and I think that's a relic of it being added post release, and with limited resources amidst a host of other content additions, many more significant or impacting than rep. The later rep "factions" (for lack of a better word) such as Forochel and Lothlorien implement reputation much better and more fluidly with the rest of the world - quests, deeds, gear, etc. But we're getting a piecemeal system, visible in the game. I would love to see Orion take putting all the reputation factions on the same level. This is especially important regarding rewards. Breeland and the Mathom Society, off the top of my head, have utterly useless rewards, almost entirely comprised of fluff. And this brings me to my last point: I agree with my follower that fluff is disconcerting - but only if all we're getting is fluff. Orion's post clearly points out we'll be seeing the more significant and impactful improvements first, and fluff stuff such as the deeds/titles much later on. He's got his priorities right.

Content, whether fluff or not, is always welcome so long as it's well designed. I think we've seen some hiccups lately with some content, but Orion's work on the early zone revamps gives me supreme confidence that the content improvements we see in the reputation systems will be of excellent quality.


Developer Q&A Part 2

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Not sure if I linked to the first part of the Q&A, but you can find that link here. This post will pretty much be a run down of the questions I personally find interesting and my thoughts. To simplify, I'll just quote the answers. So, here goes...

AMD’s recent announcement of their first DirectX 11 video cards included a mention that LOTRO was adding DX11 support. You will not see it with Siege of Mirkwood, but you should expect it to arrive sometime next year.

I'm really stoked that the dev team is putting effort into adding support for the next gen technology in an previously existing game. There's no doubt LOTRO has some amazing graphics. Anything to further enhance that is good, so long as it doesn't seriously hamper performance. The great thing about the DX10 support is it is activated via check boxes in the graphics options. There's no forcing players to use DX10 cards. I hope their comitment to their graphics engine continues as the game does - perhaps a ways down the road we can see a graphics overhaul similarly experienced in Eve and Ultima Online. This kind of work can certainly prepare them for such an endeavor.

Mirkwood is roughly 75-80% of the size of the Northdowns.

A little disappointed in the size, but oh well. I guess I'm just partial to a grand experience in size and scope of Middle-Earth.

Not for Siege of Mirkwood, though we’d love to revisit [housing and guilds] at some point in time.

Vague enough that I'm pretty positive they do not have any plans in the works yet. I too would love to see this "at some point in time" but previous posts from the dev team have pretty much said housing isn't a priority because it would require enough resources to cut significant work in other areas of the game. Still, at some point in time that priority has to change.

Many of the questions are very specific and reminiscent of dev chat type responses, rather than a press release. That's a good thing. I hope to see more of these types of articles in the future. Perhaps a better method then a dev chat? Maybe that's where they're going. I haven't seen a dev chat in quite a while, now that I think about it.


Skirmishes Dev Diary 3

Here's the part I was most interested in regarding skirmishes: randomization and scaling. These two features combined offers so much potential for content that will retain players beyond the typical instance or raid progression. I'll let the dev diary speak for itself, but I have to mention I'm not keen on the idea of the fellowship leader being required to set the group level (i.e. solo, 3-man, 6-man, and 12-man). I'd rather see it auto set. Why? Because it puts the UI and system in between the player and the world/content. Certainly setting the difficulty, if you will, is a small and painless step in the process. That isn't the point. Instead I think a philosophy of transparency is better. Completely subjective design opinion on my part so long as the UI interaction is as painless as I'm assuming. I'll leave the thought here, but I have a post in the works that delves more into this design philosophy. For now, know that I'm still excited about skirmishes. It's my biggest anticipated feature. Well, the horse change too but just because I want to collect all the horses. It should be a pretty awesome system.


Skirmishes Dev Diary 2

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

To sum up this second part of the Skirmish dev diary series: "Skirmishes are..." Zombie Columbus (author of the dev diary) details exactly what skirmishes are and the goals behind which they were created. In a nutshell, the War of the Ring is advancing into Eriador at the current time point we leave off the story: In Lothlorien with the resting Fellowship. However, Eriador as a persistant zone in LOTRO does not move beyond the time frame assigned to it and its quests when it first entered the game. As such, we cannot see Bree come under assault, for example. With skirmishes, we'll be entering an instanced space where we can move time forward (i.e. winter snow in Bree). And the world immersion factor isn't broken by suddenly having an assault while quest NPCs continue to direct you away from their location to fight evil.

In reality, we're not seeing much more information here than we already know. Part 3 will delve into the technology and systems used in skirmishes. This is actually the part that interests me the most. I'm very much excited about how Turbine is handling their randomization and scaling. I think these two techs/approaches can be applied in other arenas to great benefit. I won't go into detail here (save it for a separate post - gotta get my count up. Hehe.)


A Year in Review

I can't believe it. Today it has been exactly one year since I started blogging. A lot has happened in that one year. Let's take a look:

  • Got a new computer
  • Got a job
  • Turned 24
  • Sister moved out
  • Mines of Moria released
  • Three festivals
  • Two book updates
  • One new zone
  • A double birthday party
  • Pirates invade Middle-Earth
  • Next expansion announced
  • Two-year anniversary
  • I've played the game for over 3 years
  • Total Posts: 427 (counting this one)
  • Average Posts Per Month: 32.8
  • Slowest Month: July 09 with 12
  • Busiest Month: March 09 with 77
  • Three new podcasts found (with blogs)
  • Appeared on three podcasts (not all same as above)
Where I've Been

I started The Middle-Earth Adventurer because I couldn't find a good LOTRO blog. From then my blogroll has grown by leaps and bounds. There's an amazing and active group of LOTRO bloggers and podcasters out there. From humble beginnings as a newbie blogger to a member of a vibrant community.

Where I'm Going

With my life changing and going to change some more, I can almost guarantee that I'll be blogging less frequently. Indeed, we've seen this at the present. However, I fervently hope The Adventurer continues strong for another year. You might see me less frequently, but hopefully none of the quality is lost. However, there is one area of growth that may be of interest: podcasts! After participating in two podcasts as of this writing (three by the end of tonight), I've been infected with podcast fever. In that vein, I'll be creating a podcast version of The Middle-Earth Adventurer.

Now, I go into this new medium with the goal of not doing the same thing as the other great LOTRO podcasts. Instead I'll be using the video medium. No, you probably won't get to see my ugly mug, however, my voice will be forever ingrained into your brains... muahahahahah! *ahem* The podcast will be called MEA Monthly. Clearly I'll be only releasing one every month (my schedule cannot take any greater frequency). The exact content is yet to be determined, but expect fancy flying text, screenshots, and video capture. Also expect a fairly short runtime (10 minutes max is my goal). And of course there will be more info to come as the release gets closer (aiming for end of October).

A Last Word

Thank you all for reading and subscribing. Thank you to the LOTRO blogging and podcasting community for being such awesome people. I hope you'll continue to read The Adventurer in the year to come. Now, time for some cake.


A Bit More Legendary

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A legendary weapons dev diary was released today and I must say, I'm excited. This is a much needed boost to a system that, after a while, felt worse than some of the upper level slayer deed grinds. Here are some of the highlights:
  • All Weapons Lvl to 60
  • Legacy Modifying Scrolls
  • IXP Curve Altered
  • Crafted Relics
  • 4th Runic Slot
All these features combine to do a couple of things. First, the grind is significantly lessened. Second, we will have a good idea of a weapon's value to use right at identification, instead of after leveling it 20 - 30 levels. Third, less pressure to have a 2nd or even 1st age weapon - 3rd ages, at 60, should be pretty decent, especially if you used some of those scrolls. Fourth, crafters play a better roll in the legendary system.

What this means is that we're seeing this system closer to what a "legendary" weapon really would be. While not perfect, we should be hanging on to our swords and bows and javelins a little bit longer now that we can foresee where they're going and significantly alter them at any point in the process. This is an excellent change to the system - and one that many have wanted for a while. Some of the changes were predicted, and others were a pleasant surprise. Quality work, Turbine.


Cor Pethroni

Hey, it's about time I mention the third kinship I'm involved with, and let all you readers know you can join! The folks over at the LOTRO Reporter created a new kinship on the Brandywine server called Cor Pethroni. It's Elvish for "Ring Narrators." Perfect for what this kinship is all about - we're full of LOTRO bloggers and LOTRO blog readers. So, if that fits you, you're welcome to join up. My character is Sharrien, an Elven huntress (yes, technically a "hunter" but I thought I'd indicate gender in my chosen class). I'll be on every Tuesday from around 7 to 9 PM Pacific Time in case you want an invite; just send a tell. However, there's a host of others that can recruit you as well. Check out the my.lotro page I linked above for who's an officer - they'll be able to conduct your hazing... er... entrance ceremony.

While I won't be able to be on very much, many of us will have more time, so it shouldn't be a ghost town. Come on in. We don't have any big agenda or plan except to connect to our readers and each other in-game as well as in the blogosphere. But don't let our casual nature cause you pause. Perhaps you can be the one to organize some events, instance runs, or other group content.


A Skirmish Overview

Sunday, October 4, 2009

This starts a series of dev diaries about the new skirmish system to launch with the Siege of Mirkwood expansion this December. While the first installment is just an overview, I think it gives a nice picture of how long a development cycle a major system like this requires. Zombie Columbus and Rhidden started musing about skirmishes just as Moria was launching last year. And even then, they were just under the deadline for getting something new into the next expansion.

The overview here doesn't really give us any new info about the specifics of skirmishes. The Ten Ton Hammer interview with Jeffery Steefle does a much better job of that at the moment. However, if any of the previous dev diaries are an indication, we should be getting a lot more juicy tid-bits soon.


Shared Storage Overview

This dev diary is small, as the system is quite straight forward. However, it is one of those much desired "extra" features that polish the game even more. I'm not the type of player this is catered to, though. Altoholism isn't my vice in this game. Rather I'm a completionist. There's no help or hope for that one. Anyway, the shared vault space is great for those of you who love your alts, specifically crafting alts. The coin to send stacks and stacks of mats in the mail adds up quickly, and it's a pain to have to retrieve all of those mats one at a time from your mailbox.

One nice feature is the ability to put bound items into the shared storage. At first this might seem unnecessary but in effect the shared storage space becomes extra vault space for your characters. While only the character that an item is bound to can retrieve it from the shared storage, having it there means it's not taking up space in your regular vault, and visa-versa. Yay for more vault space!


Mounts 2.0 Dev Diary

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's the little quality of life improvements that make me the happiest in LOTRO. And seeing the new changes to the mount system gets me almost as excited as trying out the skirmishes. I doubt any dev would call what they did for mounts in SoM a "little" update, but it is a refinement of content.

And that's the best way to describe it. We can talk to NPCs on our mounts, go through doors or "portals" on our mounts, emote on our mounts, use certain skills on our mounts. It makes mounts less of a simple point-A-to-point-B device and more a part of our character. And as a skill, mounts no longer take up space, so that means we can collect as many as we like without having bags or bank space devoted to our stable. I know this will give me a new money sink on Jaxom. A horse of every color and variety for me please!

One last thing: the dev diary has a little blurb at the end pretty much trying to say that this mount system change was not designed to take on mounted combat. However, despite this, they do say the system was designed for expandability and flexibility. I think mounted combat does fit into that design feature.

And lastly, at this point in LOTRO's life, it's a little known fact that mounts weren't going to be in release until quite late in the development process - the dev diary alludes to that as well. I for one am supremely happy they did make it in, even limited as they were. It would suck to run all the time and could have been a serious stumbling block to player retention.


Siege of Mirkwood Release Date

Hayo! We got a launch date for the Siege of Mirkwood digital expansion. And it is *drum roll* December 1st. This is actually a bit later than I predicted. I would have figured on a pre-Thanksgiving release. However, in hindsight the Thanksgiving shopping rush isn't as important to a digital only product as it would be to something in retail outlets. Black Friday is very much a traditional shopping event and digital distribution tends to even the field when it comes to when something is purchased. Indeed, if Christmas were earlier in the year, Turbine might have even passed up that holiday - gifts residing solely in a computer is hard to put under the tree. Really, the supreme guiding force for this was to stay in Fall (Winter beginning Dec 21st) and in 2009. December 1st is a perfect fit.

Now, here's where things get a little chaotic. If you check out Turbine's official press release, you'll find a host of pre-order options. Yay for pre-orders! But what the heck is an Adventure Pack and how is it different from the Siege of Mirkwood expansion? Seriously, could they have made this any more complicated? Don't even bother trying to figure it out from Turbine's release. Check out A Casual Stroll to Mordor's overview of the whole thing; they do an excellent job of cutting through the marketing BS.

And that's what it is. They're selling the Adventure Pack, which is basically the bonus goodies normally included with a pre-order and offering SoM for "Free"... if you buy the AP under certain conditions. Now, the AP is 19.99, the price-point previously stated for SoM. And that little similarity can lead to the question: is the AP the same thing as the expansion? Nope. It's not. And what if you don't want to pre-order (in other words, by the AP) but want to buy the Siege of Mirkwood when it releases? Well, apparently they'll now throw in the AP (minus one of the bonus perks) but tack on another 20 bucks.

So really, the Siege of Mirkwood expansion is 39.99, not 19.99. What this should have looked like is this: Pre-order the Siege of Mirkwood now for a 20 dollar discount and a bonus item. Regular price is 39.99. The whole reason this Adventure Pack thing exists is so they can use the word "Free" in their advertising. We all like free. We jump at free.

Seriously? Selling us the bonus stuff? And "lying" about the price? Cut the crap, Turbine marketing.

And just because I hate ending good news on a bad note, I've got to say "Yay! We have a release date! And pre-order goodies!"


Falling Behind

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I've not been able to make the last few Massive Hobbits events due to other things being scheduled during the play times. This Saturday again finds me busy. And I'm starting to fall behind - especially since the group is moving to Book 3.4+ and I haven't even started Book 2 yet. Not that I think they wouldn't mind catching me up, but I just feel less motivated to play when I know I'm behind. And that's sort of where I've found myself with Jaxom on Elendilmir.

Perhaps I'm suddenly moving away from being hardcore casual to just casual. With a new job, my time is even more limited now. I have a host of activities I used to fill up my excessive free time and now I need to make the choice of which ones are most important. It would seem from the outside that LOTRO would be high on the list but even high on the list doesn't change the amount of time in the day. I also want to get into the habit of regularly writing fiction, which I've dabbled with on and off for years now to no finished projects. Indeed if I could discipline myself enough to push a piece or pieces off for potential publishing, that would be fantastic. That means a lot more time spent writing rather than playing.

There's some other life choices I need to make soon, which I won't get into here because it's not important for the gaming side of this. Regardless, I'll be blogging less, and playing LOTRO less. the idea of having two kinships (three with the blogger kinship The LOTRO Reporter has been discussing.) is out of the question. I'll have to stick with my first. I just cannot devote the time and effort (I'm a big believer in helping the kin as much as possible). I'm already torn about missing so many Massive Hobbits events.


A Job

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just to let everybody know I finally have a job. It's not what I'd like to be doing, or in my field, but it's what I need to be doing because I need to get some money into the bank and to fill the gap in my resume. Not sure yet on my long term goals, but for the short term, this means I'll be pretty busy during the day and as such blogging less - not that my rate has been high lately anyway.


Siege of Mirkwood Summary

Alas, I never got around to summarizing all the news and information about the Siege of Mirkwood expansion. Instead, I'll point you to LOTROLife for that. They've got a nice run-down of all the features revealed so far in SoM.


Docholiday's LOTRO Blog

Monday, September 21, 2009

Found a new LOTRO blog for you all. Seriously, my blog roll and reader are fast filling up with LOTRO related content. But that's not a bad thing! Docholiday plans on focusing most on end-game content and classes he plays, specifically the Warden. Do check out the blog as it looks like he has some great ideas for future content.


MMORPG.com SoM Preview

There's nothing really new in this preview. Not even new screenshots. So, it wouldn't even rate mentioning except for a line right near the beginning that's a bit ambiguous:

"This expansion ends the epic story of Moria and the land mass that players will be able to explore is Southern Mirkwood. Dol Guldor, Elves and Olog Hai, oh my! What about Northern? Well yes, if there's Southern Mirkwood, Northern will follow. Soon. Okay, it's not Rohan, but we'll get there eventually."

The question is, does this comment reflect something said to the interviewer or did MMORPG.com just assume that Northern Mirkwood would be soon because Southern Mirkwood is coming soon? I'm inclined to go with the latter myself, because I'm hard pressed to see Turbine deviate so far from the Fellowship's journey. Then again, if we're a year out from the Rohan Expansion (i.e. next fall) then there should be one or two landscape additions from free Book updates between now and then. Where would these landscape additions go? They could be south along the Anduin to prepare for Rohan. Or they could be north farther into Mirkwood, exploring more of the evil there. Or maybe into the fields of Gladden.

It's an interesting question, at any rate, and based off of the MMORPG.com quote, there's very little to point us in the right direction. It actually just confuses the matter even more.


A Blogger Kinship

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The LOTRO Reporter has come up with the idea of forming a LOTRO blogger and readers of LOTRO blogs kinship. They have a poll up on their site for which server people would be interested in. Go ahead on over there and vote if you're interested in such a kinship. I know I'm a fan of the idea. Not sure how much I'll be participating since I really want to get back to Jaxom on Elendilmir (poll is leaning towards Brandywine or Landroval at the moment), but it's a cool idea, similar to Massive Hobbits except there's no choose my adventure part of it.


Massive Hobbits Take Weathertop

Friday, September 18, 2009

Alas due to those client crashes I was unable to attend the Weathertop night. However, there's an excellent write-up, probably the best yet, over on Massively.com. Do check it out for some screens of the event. It's an interesting read not having participated in it. Seems more adventurous reading the narrative without having gone through the gameplay motions of the event. If I were reading this as someone who hasn't played LOTRO, I'd be completely sucked in and very tempted to subscribe. Kudos to Gibbi/Shawn for the superb presentation.

And due to a crammed schedule this week, I wasn't able to attend Wednesday's, last night's, and this Saturday's event. Which kinda sucks, but ya know, that's the sacrifice we make when trying to catch up with some friends I haven't seen in a while. Real Life (TM) has to be the priority.


Theme Park vs World

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I haven't touched on the topic of the world in LOTRO for quite a while, which is surprising considering that's one of my favorite topics. In any case, I'm mentioning it today because I'm starting to see a pattern I'm not 100% pleased about.

Today while out gathering journeyman tier ore (silver for my tinker) I traveled from Bree across the Brandy Hills, through the woods, and down to the banks of the Brandywine. If I was so inclined, I could have made a boundless journey from Weathertop in the Lone Lands to Needlehole in the Shire with my only moment on a road being the crossing of the Greenway in Breeland. In other words, that journey would feel like I was in a world, rather than a collection of zones in an MMO - a theme park if you will.

What I mean by theme park is a series of zones where the travel to and from is fairly strictly channeled and the experience highly organized and planned. We're seeing much more of this in LOTRO lately. From the Trollshaws into the Misty Mountains or into Eregion to Moria to Lothlorien to eventually Mirkwood, the process becomes an exercise in changing themes, rather than actually moving about a landscape. Oh sure, these zones are very good sized, and within them the world is very well crafted. Yet I can't escape the feeling that I'm on the greatest hits tour of Middle-Earth rather than a summer long backpacking trip through the countryside.

The fact that a seamless connection between zones (Shire, Breeland, Lonelands, Northdowns, Evendim) exists only heightens the sense of what's missing in later developments. Forochel itself is wide open, but the connection between it and Evendim is like two triangles precariously balancing on their points together - it's tenuous and contrived, not altogether stable. Or the trip east after the Trollshaws.

has so much potential to be more than just a series of zones following the Fellowship. There's the key, though. Following the Fellowship. That's the main idea of the development pattern. And it's one that makes sense. It's the most famous set of places in Middle-Earth. It's where the peak of the story takes place. It's where we can really connect with the core journey and struggle.

I do hope we will go back and visit the rest of the landscape at some point. It'd be a shame not to. An awful waste of space. Middle-Earth hovers on the edge of theme park territory. Perhaps when the game expands into Rohan we'll see a more broad and seamless set of zones. This adventurer can only hope. For him, Middle-Earth is a world, not just set of zones.


The Other Bounty Quests

We've had a discussion about bounty quests before, but did you know that in addition to the IXP bounty quests in Esteldin, there's crafting related bounty quests in Breeland (and perhaps other places)? While adventuring with Massive Hobbits in the Barrow downs I ran across three repeatable bounty quests that reward single-use recipes to whichever type of crafter you are. One of them even rewards the particular shard (in this case sapphire) that you need to complete these recipes. Of course, that means you'll have to find two other shards for the other two recipes you get, but that's not unreasonable. Indeed, these quests are an excellent way to get some good recipes for some nice jewelry early in your tier when you couldn't otherwise make a crit item with good stats. I do hope to see more of these for the later tiers.


Just An FYI

Friday, September 11, 2009

If any of you follow me on Twitter you'll know that my LOTRO client has been crashing. So, this is just an FYI to the rest of my readers that I haven't been able to log into LOTRO for the past week or so beyond a few minutes (the time it takes for the client to crash). I'm in contact with Turbine Customer Support but this can be a lengthy process and right now they're studying my problem. Hopefully I'll be back up and running soon. I unfortunately missed the Massive Hobbits storming of Weathertop. Oh well.

EDIT: I needn't have bothered with this post since I think I found the root cause of the crashing tonight. With excellent help from the Turbine Customer Support team I managed to track the problem back to the anti-aliasing setting. The in-game AA setting interferes with the Catalyst Control Center adaptive anti-aliasing setting for my graphics cards. Or rather visa-versa. So, I just disable the AAA card setting and bam, no more crashing.

Why did I suddenly get this problem after the windows reinstall and not before? Well, I thought I those settings had been activated before, when they really weren't. At least all is now well in LOTRO land for this adventurer.


Psychochild's Legendary Evaluation

Psychochild, a game developer named Brian Green, has put up a blog post evaluating the Legendary item system in LOTRO and what could change to make it better. I thought I'd point it out and respond.

He points out two problems with the system. First, its randomness, and second its negative affect on crafting. I whole heartedly agree with his assessment visa-vie crafting. Lucky for us, Siege of Mirkwood will expand the current craftability of legendary items. Depending on what is implemented, this could be a moot point. On the whole, I feel the randomness is generally well balanced, especially with the most recent changes to allow the choice of legacies (out of two) to add or upgrade. In essence, legendary items as a system actually aren't that bad right now. But I do think I would have preferred a different approach, one that would have required implementation of legendary items from launch. Such wishful thinking, however, is futile since the past cannot be changed now.

Despite the system being "not that bad", could Psychochild's suggested improvements help? First he advises to make legacies slottable instead of inherent to the weapon. Like the relics. This immediately eliminates any difference between relics and legacies and therefore should become one and the same - slottable stats. I like the idea but there needs to be a way to keep the current level of randomness present. If we can choose our legacies out of a pool like the relics, then we have too much freedom to create "uber" weapons. Now, of course legendary weapons should be some of the best weapons in the game, but not to the point where freedom to customize will lead to them being overpowered. Psychochild doesn't have any ideas on keeping the randomness, but that's because he thinks there's too much randomness at present. I would suggest that once you slot your legacy, it cannot be removed - only leveled, like present. There is mention of removing the legacy, but I think that keeps the pool of legacies too powerful and perfect. Perhaps removal is permanent - you lose the legacy. This is really only delays the inevitable super collection of legacies. Players will eventually quest enough to get any legacy the want. And since it's not random on the weapon, they will gain the "perfect" weapon relatively quickly.

Honestly, I don't think changing the legendary item system in this manner will bring about any improvement from a game mechanic perspective. From the player's point of view, they'll certainly like it better because they can now really get the weapon or item they've always wanted. But because the grind is virtually eliminated (aside from collecting legacies/relics and leveling) it has less utility for keeping players engaged.

This of course begs the question - is a grind with this system the best way of engaging the players? I would argue no, there's got to be a better, more fun, way. And I think that way can be in part linked to the crafting. Incorporating more playstyles into the legendary system will help it, regardless of the grind. If we can get crafted legendaries to speed up the grind a little, we'll see a little bit more fun.

The root problem, I think, is the dichotomy between randomness and an actual legendary weapon you would keep with you, like Sting or Glamdring or Anduril. With as much randomization as we have, it necessitates burning through legendaries we don't want to find the one that will suffice. Retaining a weapon for a long period of time, as a truly legendary weapon would, requires it be less randomized to ensure desirability on first acquisition. The latter isn't good, as I said above, for retaining interest in the mechanics of the system beyond leveling.

I think the ideas would be good to put on hold till we see how exactly the legendary system improves (or doesn't as the case may be) with SoM. Still worth thinking about though.


Combat Analysis by 2 High Road

Thursday, September 10, 2009

2 High Road is starting an interesting experiment using a third party program to parse the combat data in LOTRO. There's a preliminary post up now outlining what exactly this program does, and some of the limitations. If you're at all interested in min/maxing your characters, do check out this post and the follow up ones as he continues to look at damage output, etc. I know that one lacking area in the LOTRO Blogosphere is "hardcore" analysis and theorycrafting.


I Need to Cool It

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I went a little nuts with yesterday's rant about TenTonHammer. Looks like the video is back up and is only 22 minutes long. All hints indicate it was merely a problem with how the video was posted to their site. I don't know for sure, but despite my tirade, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. It's the least I can do. Still, being wrong about this case doesn't invalidate my logic - I just hope nobody will be shortsighted in the manner I wrongfully accused TenTonHammer of being.


TenTonHammer Vid Blocked

Monday, September 7, 2009

So there is a Siege of Mirkwood preview video over on TenTonHammer. Or there was. Now it's gated behind "Premium Content". Stroll to Mordor commented that this might be simply a way to fix the fact that the vid stopped at the 10.30 mark (out of a 40 min runtime). I'm not so certain that this is the case. A better way would to simply take down the page until it's fixed, or even just leave it be until it's fixed. So I honestly do think they intended to make the video preview premium content and just screwed up in the original posting.

Please forgive the use of profanity, but there's no better way to say this: I think premium content of this nature is bullshit. Why? Because the whole point of a developer talking about new content is to disseminate it to the players, fans, and interested consumers. It's a marketing tool and the best marketing is the marketing that sees as many eyes as possible. Making it premium doesn't do that.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not against places like TenTonHammer making money, but they've got to do it in a way that doesn't negate the time effort of someone like Jeffery Steefle taking to show off his game. Look at IGN. Their premium content is comprised of better quality video and unique content produced by them and them alone. I don't personally see a value in that type of content, but many do, and IGN isn't destroying a good marketing tool in the process. More power to them. Just don't ever hinder another company's efforts to make money and spread the word about their product by your own desire for a bit of cash.

I also need to say I'm not arguing that marketing should be free for the company desiring exposure. Rarely is marketing free, but the company pays for advertising in venues that reach a wide audience. It's worth the money because the money doesn't interfere with the goal of the ads. In this venue, where a majority of the information is disseminated in free-to-view forums, gating material only lessens the number of people able to see it, and thus the effect.

I'm not going to out and call TenTonHammer greedy. It's their right to do whatever they want with their content pending it doesn't violate agreed upon terms. But I don't think it's in the best interest of the company providing the material or the potential consumers of that material. And by extension, despite a monetary gain through membership, not in the best interest of TenTonHammer.

EDIT: YouTube for the win. Someone uploaded the TenTonHammer vid in its entirety.


Blind Adoration

Saturday, September 5, 2009

There's some question if 20 bucks is an appropriate price for what might be argued is a glorified book update. Before I even knew the price (though 20 was my guess) I knew I would pay it. I'd probably grumble if it cost 30 or 40, but I'd still have paid it. Why? Because I love this game. I love playing this game. But is that enjoyment translating into blind adoration? Is my willingness to shell out cash without question a sign I'm just a rabid fanboi? Indeed, I do not see 20 bucks as too steep; although I really don't want to spend money right now, I will, for this. I'd even pay five bucks for the book updates if Turbine charged for them.

Perhaps my loose pocket book for LOTRO has to do with my lifetime subscription purchase at launch. I've gotten my money's worth and more out of this game so far. Indeed, it paid off after the first year going by $10/month (the lesser known lifetime sub option). Maybe it's a case where I feel I've gotten a lot out of Turbine with this game and I'm perfectly willing to give back a little when I know my money goes directly into the product/service I'm consuming. I don't think a willingness to pay for well crafted content makes me or anybody else blind to where their money is going - we're just quick to decide it's worth the cost.

And for the record, nobody has called me a rabid fanboi, or said I'm blinded by love for LOTRO. This is a purely hypothetical post based off of comments seen on the forums in various places and a thought on Stroll to Mordor (see above link). I'm essentially ruminating on how I didn't even flinch at spending 19.99 on this new expansion.


PAX Siege of Mirkwood Preview

The folks over at ignvault were lucky enough to snag a preview of some of the Siege of Mirkwood content, specifically more info on the skirmishes. I'm absolutely thrilled by what I read. I think this could be an excellent activity for those at the cap who aren't big instance runners and raiders (such as me and some of my kinship). We as yet don't know what the rewards will be for gathering skirmish points, but I'd imagine they'd be inline with the barter items from loth rep quests or something similar.

And, as I've said before, scalable content is the wave of the future. Seriously, having content that caters to the group size rather than being forced to either 1) find more or choose between your friends who gets to go or 2) ignore some of the content because it doesn't fit your group size is an better direction. We're always looking for a more living breathing world in MMOs. Usually this means wanting more of the fluff that fills out a world, but I think it can also mean content that caters to you, rather than you to it. We're removing a barrier to entry, a wall that breaks the player from the world and puts him into the game-side of things, and a stumbling block to fun. We need to see more of this - and again, I'd love to see this implemented for all instances/raids.


Pricing and Other SoM Clarifications

Friday, September 4, 2009

Marketroid has a forum post clarifying some points about SoM, including the price-point: $19.99 US. And Volume III will start with the regular Book updates next year.


No Rohan?

I wanted to handle this as a separate post because it brings up larger questions. First, though, why didn't we see Rohan? I think we need to look at the development pattern we saw post Moria. Book 7 released the whole of Lothlorien which was supposed to be included with the Moria expansion itself. Book 8 included quite a lot of work in fixes for Moria content. Neither were devoid of Moria slippage content, but it did indeed affect the release schedule. We've had two Book updates from November to (guessing SoM release) November whereas we saw three in the previous year.

Like I said with the announcement post, this is Turbine keeping their promise for one expansion per year. Will this be something we'll see more often in the future? I don't know. I think it's a tool in their box they can pull out when needed. Perhaps we'll see a retail expansion every 1.5 to 2 years with one of these "digital expansions" in the middle. Honestly, that seems a more reasonable schedule than producing one large expansion on the scale of Moria per year. And even with the year and a half from release to Moria, there was some content that didn't make it to MoM.

The content needed for Rohan also made seeing Rohan only a year after Moria unfeasible. First, there's a lot of landscape needed. Two major centers are critical to Rohan - Edoras and Helm's Deep. These locations are on separate sides of Rohan, which is the size of two to three Eriador type zones. Then there's the landscape needed for the lead up to Rohan: down the Anduin and into Fangorn. We also need to look at the idea of mounted combat. Rohan is the perfect, quintessential place to launch such a combat system - and it would require a lot of work: getting the tech built, reconciling the current skills onto a horse, then adding the animations. None of this even touches on the huge amounts of quests, the at-least six books of new epic story. All the instances and raid(s). It's a huge undertaking when the development team has been working overtime on finishing up the Moria content.

I hope that makes sense, and of course it's just my guesses. A dev would be better able to tell us why. Next dev chat or a blog post?


A Little Misinformed

Remember that post I made about LOTRO podcasts not having co-hosts? I was definitely shortsighted and misinformed. Indeed, the majority of LOTRO podcasts have co-hosts or a significant part of the run time has a conversation/interview. So, apologies to all you LOTRO podcasters for ranking on you when there was no need. You're all awesome!

And, just for clarity sake, here's all the LOTRO Podcasts I'm aware of

A Casual Stroll to Mordor
LOTRO Report
LOTRO Reporter
LOTROCast by Moormur
LOTROCast by Sparthir
The One True Cast
That LOTRO Show

Did I miss anybody?


Siege of Mirkwood

The word expansion doesn't always mean paid retail box expansion. As is the case with the "digital expansion" Siege of Mirkwood coming to LOTRO. You can check out the nice flash animated page for the expansion as well. One last thought before I get to the feature break-down commentary: This is clearly smaller than a retail expansion, but bigger than the free book updates (glorified patches). So, Turbine can keep their quota of one "expansion" per year but stay within a more realized work load. I wonder what the price-point will be on this. Now, onto the features!

Conclusion to Volume II Mines of Moria

Really? The conclusion? This is interesting because it begs a question. It is unlikely that we'll see a retail expansion (Volume III) inside six months after this digital expansion release. And that period is long enough to see one or two Book updates, so what volume will those belong to if they're holding an epic story continuation? 3? Interesting thought, beginning volume three with free patches. Or I could be wrong about seeing a retail expansion not so close to Siege of Mirkwood (hereafter called SoM).

Level cap increase to 65

Sounds good. To be expected. Only five levels for a "smaller" expansion. Really, I'm using the word "smaller" pretty loosely here because I'm only guessing at the scope based on hints in this release. And I don't think any of the devs would appreciate their work diminished to "small".

Answer the Call of War - Skirmishes

Very intriguing concept. There's a lot here too. First, the idea of randomized instances. This has historically been a hard concept to implement because it is hard to replicate hand-crafted quality with randomly generated assets. And LOTRO shines brightly with the quality of it's world and art direction. Will be interesting to see how much a part that will play. Second, we're creating "customizable soldiers". How does that work, exactly? Could be like henchmen/pets (they better have fixed the pathing!). Could be more like a squad you give orders to and level up in games such as Mass Effect. There's so many different possibilities here. I'm excited about this concept for sure.

New instances and raids

A given, just like the level cap. 3-mans, 6-mans, and a 12-man raid. Something for everybody. Now, let's get these spaces debilitating-bug free with launch. We don't need another Moria and Book 8 fiasco. I don't mean to be mean here so I need to say I really am rooting for Turbine in getting this type of content nailed down. They've had a lot of experience correcting mistakes so far.

Other gameplay enhancements

Looks mainly like the Legendary weapon system is getting a bit of an overhaul. New legacies, new runic slot (nice!) The bit about players crafting their own legendary items is a bit ambiguous. Don't we already have that? And do they mean each player can craft his or her own weapon or only weapon smiths? And then there's combat tweaks that will "improve responsiveness". I don't know exactly what that means but I imagine it's responding to some critiques out there about combat feeling a bit clunky compared to some other MMOs. *shrug* I've not had a problem with it, but then, I play a halberd wielding captain so my combat is pretty slow anyway.

Now, onto what other people are saying...

So, bloggers, players, let's get chatting. Will this be a paid expansion or free? Is it just a glorified Book patch? What do you think about the features? Are you disappointed there's no Rohan yet? Comment, make your own posts, or join a thread on the forums.

EDIT: Added a couple more round-up links and also want to ask what you all think about the price-point since we now know it'll cost us $19.99 US.


GB Run Finally Up

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Took me ages. Between beating my head against a wall trying to get some titles attached the first part to the time it took to compress and upload the videos to annotating them (not done with that yet) these have been a long time coming. Still, I hope the wait was worth it, for I give you Massive Hobbits storm the Great Barrow and defeat Sambrog!

And you can find the additional 4 parts in the related videos/more by the user, or by clicking the links below.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Enjoy and happy adventuring!


Massive Hobbits Invade the Great Barrows

Monday, August 31, 2009

As per player vote, Massive Hobbits stormed the Great Barrows yesterday in two waves. We had a total of 8 people that visited the GB, but with a fellowship max of 6 that presented some problems. So me and Gibbi sat out the first run. I chose to wait for the second run for a couple of reasons. First was food. I was hungry and dinner was on. (Mmm BBQ chicken!) Second, we have another YouTube uploader in the Massive Hobbits kinship - Guarigione. So he recorded the first run, and me the second with Kabbage.

It has been quite a while since I ran the Great Barrows with my kinship on Elendilmir. Over a year I'm sure, so remembering where everything was at took a bit of mental will power. And a map. This posed a bit of a problem for the first run - it's definitely an adventure to get lost in the Great Barrows. Despite this and a wipe, they rallied for the win against Sambrog. Lucky for me and Gibbi, we had four fellow hobbits who now were certified GB experts. Would you believe well-versed novices? How about Hobbits promised pie at the end? Yes, that was it, pie for a hard day's work.

Do check out Guarigione's videos. Mine will be up tomorrow at some point. I was experimenting with adding some titles and ran into a few hic-ups there.



Sunday, August 30, 2009

I mentioned that Sambog was nerfed. That's only in the Chapter 11 instance. He's still the same bad wight dude in the regular Great Barrows run.


A Casual Stroll to Mordor

Friday, August 28, 2009

I didn't even know it was possible to casually stroll to Mordor. Someone should have told Frodo! Someone by the name of Merric and/or Goldenstar, the authors of the new blog A Casual Stroll to Mordor, and hopefully a podcast to go along with it. Yay! More LOTRO podcasts, and look, it's co-hosted as well. Always a plus when it works. Definitely check them out and I'll put them up on the blog roll. I look forward to hearing how it turns out. Good luck guys!


Bounty Quests Problem

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rather than post the exact same thing as LOTRO Chronicles, I'm just going to direct you to that post. Basically, I (and many other people) were right that the Bounty quest rewards were "overpowered". Rather than nerf the IXP they're probably going to change the timer to 3 days instead of the 15 hours or whatever it is right now.

EDIT: As pointed out by a commenter, I was only half-right regarding the reasoning behind the upcoming bounty quest changes.


Random Screenies

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I got a stack of screenshots I've been holding onto, neglecting to post, so here is a random screenshot post for ya, in no particular order. The first two are from Jaxom, the others are my recent adventures with Kabbage.

Eregion at Night 1
Eregion at Night 2
A Tranquil Scene
Breeland Moon
Breeland Vista 1
Breeland Vista 2
Castle on a Hill
Fire! (Caught someone had lit a campfire on the West Bree Stables! Oh no!)

These last two are taken at the same time I made this video of the third jump. Unfortunately, that third jump was also the one where I went splat!

Don't Jump! 1
Don't Jump! 2


Hunt for the Ring

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Visions of the Ring, an excellent map-centric site, has a new interactive map up: The Hunt for the Ring. It's an excellent overview of Frodo's journey and the peripheral characters from Bag End to Rivendell. I highly recommend checking it out as it does an excellent job of geographically grounding that part of the journey. It can sometimes be difficult to place all the characters, where they traveled, etc.

What I'd really love to see is an overview of the game's sequence of events within this timeline. Unfortunately, I think there might be a problem considering the distances involved - i.e. the player travels a lot more than is physically possible within the timeline available. There is a bit of that for a portion of the timeline and it's an excellent way to relate it to what's going on in LOTRO's storyline.

Also, can't wait until that site's Expansion Map is updated as well. It's sorely out of date at this point. Regardless, well done over there at Visions of the Ring!


Bone-Man is a Pansy

Heyo! What a blast Massive Hobbits had with Chapter 11. Then Monday night we went off into the southern barrows completing a host of quests, old and new. One of those was Bone Man, previously a fellowship quest, now definitely soloable, or if not that, in a duo. We had a full group blazing through wights, barghests, crawlers, rats, ect and Bone Man was no match. Indeed, this wight had mere seconds to see a horde of Hobbits before he experienced a second death.

What struck me at that moment was a bit of disappointment. I understand completely why some of this content has been made soloable. Indeed, a host of games from WoW to Everquest have done the same thing with old content - made it easier. Why? Because more players are at the cap and finding a group for harder lower level content is... well... harder. The very nature of the game makes the content fun at the beginning of the lifespan, and less fun later. And yet there are those rare occurrences such as with Massive Hobbits that a group does exist for low level group content - and there's little to none of it left. Even though I understand, and even agree with the way Turbine has changed the lower content, I still have to feel a bit of loss for an epic Bone-Man. Or Sambog in the GB.

None the less, we're not without hope. The Great Barrows proper is fast approaching, the quests only two or three levels above our own. And while the questing has been made more accessible (one run instead of two), the challenge has not necessarily been reduced.

I wonder if we'll see this trend continue, with only the notable instances retaining their group status and open world group quests going the way of the dodo.


New Experiences Reveal Social Gameplay

This is a "sort-of" continuation of my Conflicted Kinsman post. I've realized that I'm currently having considerably more fun with Massive Hobbits than on my main. I decided to stop and consider why that might be and I've come up with a couple reasons.

First, Jaxom is at the end-game and yet is not participating in much of the end-game content. For example, he's currently off deed grinding out Trolls, Giants, and Bears in the Misty Mountains. That's pretty much a solo affair for a level 60, but not a very fast activity either. In other words, somewhat boring. Now, you may argue here that I could indeed participate in the Moria content if I wanted. And you'd be right, to an extent. But more on that in a bit.

Second, my play with Massive Hobbits is structured differently than my play with Jaxom. In fact, I'd consider it an opposite style of play. With Massive Hobbits, the premiere front running activity are the group nights. The activity in the mean time is to prepare for those (or crafting, as Kabbage has been preoccupied). With Jaxom, there is no set schedule of activity, and he mostly solos and will group when the opportunity arises. It's all spur of the moment.

Back to the argument that Jaxom could be having more fun. I think the overarching theme with that is missed opportunities. When I was leveling Jaxom, I was also going to school and was mostly lagging behind my kinship. Real Life (TM) got in the way. Oddly enough, it was the same case with going from 50 to 60 - except there was no excuse, per se, for me to not play as much or level as fast. I just didn't. Essentially, I missed the opportunity, largely, for playing in a more structured environment with Jaxom. Kabbage, on the other hand, got lucky and found structure that fits my play style.

None of this is to say that I cannot change my behavior with Jaxom. I could very well insert some structure into my play, and even a bit into the kinship. Perhaps I've never felt the need, or maybe the freedom to do so. Now, getting a second wind in LOTRO, and with a slightly different style, I do.

The point of all this is to do more that exhort my experiences, but also address the intangible, yet all-too-real social aspects of MMOs. The biggest difference, beyond the superficial play-style, between Kabbage and Jaxom is the social experience. This is not to say I'm more or less social with one or the other, but by the unique nature of individuals, the group is different. There's different personalities, there's different dynamics, and this leads to a new experience. It's purely a result of the people involved. Add a different dozen plus people and you will get a different experience.

Deeper than the alternate structure and play style is the social fabric of the group. It's ultimately this that will decide if a person will stay with an MMO or not. Sure we will use legitimate excuses like "combat is repetitive", "quests are poorly written", etc, but these only get in the way of the social game. MMOs have a greater challenge to not only get the game mechanics right for their own sake, but also for keeping their players within their created social circles.

It's perhaps easier to see this by looking at the opposite of an MMO - a single-player game. Let's take Oblivion, a fantasy RPG - something that can be argued as a good comparison to LOTRO. Both are strong on story, with the edge going to Oblivion because of it's single-player nature (a statement I ask you to take as granted because arguing it here would be tangential and make this post overlong), both are fantasy RPGs, etc, etc. There is no social gameplay in Oblivion. Replayability is in exploring different classes, perhaps different content. On the whole, not bad for a story-driven game. LOTRO does have social gameplay which essentially adds another dimension to the game.

Think of the potential to stick with a game as one would consider three-dimensional space. A point would give you one "unit of gameplay". You play it, you're done. Absolutely nothing new a second time. A line would give you, for the sake of argument and easy math, 10 units of gameplay. You can replay it ten times with there being a bit of new content, but you're still experiencing a lot of the same thing. A coordinate illustrates this well with one number always being the same on the line (0,0); (0,1); (0,2); ...

Let's move into two dimensions with an x and a y axis. Now your coordinates change in both numbers, but many times you see the same numbers for either coordinate. This is like adding more replayablity, more options. Instead of 10 units of gameplay, we now have 100. How about three dimensional space with an x, y, and z? We're looking at 10,000 units of gameplay - exponential growth. That's like adding the social game into the mix of other game mechanics. What's the difference between 10,000 and 100? It's gives us so much more gameplay that the only way the other game mechanics can factor is if they destroy the social experience.

Alright, let's take a step back from the esoteric. Simply put, the social experience rules an MMO. Where I once was experiencing burn-out, I'm now very much into the game. I'm doing all the same content and yet I'm finding new adventure. Why? Because it's a new group of people. Plain and simple.


Massive Hobbits Week 2

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another week has past. Massive Hobbits are still getting fatter! Too much pie... wait, there can never be too much pie.

Anyway, this week the readers over at Massively voted us to do the rest of Book 1, culminating in the Chapter 11 instance in the Great Barrows. Turns out this quest was made considerably easier since most of us had last done it. Signature mobs throughout instead of elite. That meant Sambog's master elite status was greatly diminished. We owned him. Or rather, Bombadil did. Did you know he's a Rune-Keeper!?!

And that brings me to my next point: I made a video of our little escapade through the dank tombs of fallen warriors - as promised. So, if you're wondering why I call Tom a Rune-Keeper, just check out the video and you'll see. Or, if you've done the instance, I bet you can guess. But that's not all! There's bonus material too - an outtake. Poor old Kabbage, hardened Burglar, had his wits muddled not by brew, but by a prancing, dancing, dandy... er, Tom. Luckily he got the brunt of the jokes rather than Kabbage.

I definitely look forward to next week's adventure. Book 2 might not be on the docket since it starts with a level 26 quest (solo). Man, there's a big gap between the two. I think I might suggest waiting for the kinship. Not sure where the revamp to this part of the game is in terms of release (Orion was only just talking about it) but Book 2 does get a facelift. And perhaps we'll get to do a Rivendell run since that was number two in the vote.

Besides the grouping, Kabbage has also been burning as fast as he can through the Jeweler craft, leveling to make some appropriate level shinies for himself and his kinmates. Really, I have to comment on the wonderfully generous people in this kinship, sending on mats to Kabbage and even making him some armor. I really appreciate all the sharing.

Happy adventuring!


A Conflicted Kinsman

Friday, August 21, 2009

I have a problem. I am now a part of two kinships on two different servers. And they're all a great bunch of people. I has assumed that I would probably go back to my original kinship on Elendilmir once the Massive Hobbits adventure was over in a couple months. (I still log into Elendilmir from time to time as it is.) However, like I said, Massive Hobbits are a great group. I would feel bad leaving them all. So, what's a LOTRO adventurer to do when he's got two adventures going on at once?


Massive Hobbits Week 1

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Looks like a week has come and gone since the last check in with Massive Hobbits. Well, not quite, but the next write up has been posted over at Massively. Do head on over there and read the wonderful narrative about Gibbi and his friends.

I unfortunately could not participate on Sunday when Massive Hobbits invaded Breeland. By the looks of the vote thus far (don't forget to vote on the next adventure), we'll be finishing up Book 1, although I'd love to see us make a Rivendell Run as well, since that won't take as long as the Book 1 questing.

Kabbage has been attempting to level his Jeweler profession in order to supply the kin with some nice jewelry. He'll be hard pressed to keep up with the leveling curve, however. I've been spending a lot of time during the week just gathering mats and crafting. We'll see how that works out. I'm not one to beg for mats from my kinmates, but if any of them read this, they're more than welcome to send Kabbage copper and silver ore. And any recipes too.

Last on the agenda is finding out where everybody is at for Book 1 and catch up. I really should run through the prologue in the Shire first, so it looks like I'll be putting crafting on hold for a bit.

Happy adventuring!


We Are Massive Hobbits!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The kinship is born, with a good number of Hobbits and a couple men, dwarves, and a lone elf. Or maybe it was two elves and a dwarf. I can't remember. In any case, here's the portrait (before the end of the night we had a few more join). Floaty names are on so you can see who's who. The only name not shown is mine. Just in case it's too hard to make out the overlaping text, the group is, left to right, starting with the big folk:

And you can find the full kinship roster on MyLOTRO as well. By the way, the name was suggested by a reader over at Massively. And a brilliant suggestion at that.

Thanks everybody for turning out, it was a blast. Look forward to playing with you all again. And hopefully I'll have the presence of mind to take more screenshots. When we do some of the more... interesting instance runs I'll probably pull out the video capture.


Obsoleting Content

With Book 8 Patch one, a set of level 60 bounty quests have shown up in Esteldin. A new Dwarven NPC will issue 5 different repeatable bounty quests to kill a particular named mob in five different locations in Middle-Earth. From these quest you get a set amount of item xp, plus a heritage rune with more ixp.

Yesterday I set out with a couple of my kinmates to do these quests. Three are soloable but two require a small fellowship. Unfortunately, a thunderstorm came through right then and blew out the power and I didn't get them done. (Amazing lightning strike right across the street, by the way.) Today I jumped back in to complete the three solo quests. From those three quests I managed to level my legendary weapon from 30 to 33. It would take considerably longer grinding the xp through kills and deconstructing trash legendaries. Or even running the ixp quest circuit in Moria.

These five quests have singlehandedly made obsolete all other methods of accruing item xp. I'm not complaining that I can get some mucho item leveling done (15 hour cool downs) but I have to wonder if these quests aren't a little "overpowered". New content is one thing, but when the new content completely invalidates the older content, I have to wonder.

Certainly the level 60 raids have made the level 50 raids useless in terms of tangible reward, but even then these raids are worth doing if you're a player who simply likes to see the content. Run through them once, or as many times as it takes to complete the quests. Repeatable content is a different animal.

Okay, maybe the ixp quests in Moria aren't totally useless. They do give you the weapon/class item modifiers, so if you need one of those, run that quest. I might suggest raising the rewards from those quest by giving out heritage runes as well so they can compete. I'll let the devs decide what value these runes would be to balance with the bounty quests vs time to complete, effort involved, etc. But I think they need a little beefing up. Or a scaling back of the bounty rewards just a bit to be more in line with the effort required.

Wait... Seriously... Did I just ask for a nerf?


Follow-Up Radiance Q&A

Orion posted a follow up mini-Q&A on his blog today regarding the Radiance changes. Do check it out for even more information and perhaps one of your burning questions was answered.


Radiance Changes Coming

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yes, yes, yes. This is a good fix we've been waiting for. While not quite perfect (no alternate method/alternate radiance gear), taking a bit of the grind out of the radiance instance runs will help out tremendously. Amlug has posted a blog update talking about the new barter system for radiance gear coming Soon(TM). And as a wonderful tease at the bottom he mentions a change to the way Radiance/Gloom and Hope/Dread interact. I'd love to see a bit more detail on that one, but hey, we can't get everything all at once. I wouldn't have anything to write about tomorrow now would I? Do check out the post for more details.


Our Merry Band of Unnamed Adventurers

Wow, I actually logged into LOTRO today. I have a good excuse though. I've joined up with Gibby the Hobbit played by Shawn from Massively. I figured it indeed was a good reason to get back into LOTRO for a while. Start fresh.

Getting involved in any activity in LOTRO is also a good excuse for blogging. I'll be chronicling my adventures with our merry band, hopefully to include screenshots, and depending on the situation, video. Furthermore, when I can, I'll be using Twitter to send out mini updates of what we're doing that very moment. Of course, be sure to follow the official updates over at Massively as your votes each week will shape the adventures.

Today saw the first day of the adventures, at least for me. I jumped in as a Hobbit Burglar named Kabbage. I've not played a Burglar before, beyond level 6 when I tried it out just in the starter instance last year. I've also not been into the Archet starting area since it was revamped and I must say, despite the previous polish, this area now gleams brilliantly. The flow is much better, with a series of minor tweaks making all the difference. The day brought us to the finishing solo instance and tomorrow will see the start of Shire adventures. I must say I'm looking forward to questing in the Shire once again. It's one of my favorite zones to simply look at, let alone play in.

Developer Clover was nice enough to stop by as we began our fun to take a screenshot of me and Gibbi. I'm on the far right, Gibbi's center and Clover is left. I believe she also gifted our fearless leader with a nice starter cloak similar to the one's Founders receive for new characters. Now he's all set to vanquish some boars (which is what we were doing when so kindly interrupted).

Joining us later was another Hobbit Burglar by the name of Rotolo (hope I got that right). Three hobbits venturing across the landscape had to inspire great feats of courage in all little folk. And indeed it inspired us to ponder "wouldn't it be great if everyone that joined us take a hobbit along?" Only the future shall see.

Happy adventuring!

EDIT: Add into the group a Hobbit Hunter by the name of Bortho played by @seanmc74 as well as Dwarven Champion played by @BlueKae of BlueKay.com.


Gibbi the Hobbit

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

So I was rather late on the poll for Shawn's new character in Massively's Choose your Adventure. Gibbi the Hobbit, a Warden, will be trekking across Middle-Earth in search of adventure. There's still an opportunity to shape Gibbi, as he has yet to choose a crafting vocation. The poll is at the bottom of the page linked above.


Choose Shawn's Adventure

Shawn Shuster over at Massively is about to begin an adventure into LOTRO. Beyond his normal LOTRO playing that is. This time he's doing it as part of a choose my adventure series, where the readers of Massively get to choose what Race, Class and server he will play on. Oh, and gender too. I'm surprised by that last one because I might have expected more votes for a female toon... just to mix it up, or play along with the typical gamer guy stereotype ("dood, I'll make him play a chick!!1!").

Anyhow, get on over there and vote for what you think Shawn should play in LOTRO and what server he should play on. And then keep watching for how the adventure takes shape. I know I will.


Book 8 Patch 1 Notes

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Most of you already know about the Book 8 Patch 1 Notes but I thought I'd link them here on the off chance someone does not know about these yet.

The big news, of course, is the crafting of legendary weapons, called "Reforged". That's not to say crafters can reforge legendary items as a gameplay mechanic, but from a lore perspective, it would be... less epic if everyone and their cousin could make legendary weapons from scratch. So we can merely reforge them. Still a tremendous feat in and of itself.

Not sure yet how these recipes are acquired, be it rep grinds, random drops, or the vendors themselves. Regardless, this is an excellent addition to the game. Crafters really got the short end of the deal with both legendary items and radiance gear. Now they'll get a little bit back. Can we see some crafted Rad gear though devs?


MMeOw is Going Big

If you follow the LOTRO blogs, then you're already aware of this, but I have to mention that MMeOw.net is getting some more writers. How many? Not sure, but two new writers have introduced themselves already. I'm really excited to see what some fresh faces can do to MMeOw. Not that it wasn't a great blog to begin with, but when I see a blog like Kill Ten Rats, with multiple authors, I see a vibrant community within the blog itself. Then I see an even more vibrant community in its readership. MMeOw could become that specifically to LOTRO.

So, I wish the new writers good luck, as well as Tony and insist that everybody reading this keep an eye on MMeOw.


NPC Profiles

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Whole slew of NPC profiles up on the main page. Not all posted today, but I have neglected to mention them, mostly because there's hardly any worthwhile information there, but since there's a bunch, I'll just run through them:

Taskmaster Nursufum
Quartermaster Apsduf
Tyrant Tharbil
Tyrant Barashish
Taskmaster Raulik


The State of LOTRO Podcasting

Friday, July 31, 2009

Today I ran across yet another LOTRO podcast, called That LOTRO Show. Doing so sparked some thoughts, or rather resparked some thoughts, on LOTRO podcasting and podcasting in general. In my limited observations (I'm only a podcast consumer, rather than producer) the most successful and engaging shows, for me, are ones with at least two hosts. Taking VirginWorlds for example, I find the most enjoyment out of shows such as Shut Up We're Talking and the VanHemlock Podcast because of the varied voices present. That is not to say solo hosted podcasts aren't well done, however there's something special about the hosts interacting with each other and perhaps guests that seems to elevate the production. Specific to the LOTRO podcasts, I find Moormur's guest segments (especially the dev interviews) the most interesting. Here there is more than one person talking.

Perhaps I'm pushing a bias of my own onto the LOTRO podcasting community. Certainly as a blogger I keep up with the news and patch notes so hearing it again in a podcast doesn't interest me. But that isn't necessarily true for other listeners.

Having a cohost on a show is both a blessing and a curse. The advantages are that you gain a bit of variety, and if the cohost is willing, you can split the work load of topic research, or even the production duty itself. The disadvantages are one of time constraints. Two people need to meet either face to face (impractical in this internet driven world) or arrange for a long distance recording session. There's not only the time commitments to work out, but also the tech behind getting both hosts recorded.

This post is the first mention of my thoughts - I have not talked to any of the producers of LOTRO podcasts, but I thought I'd voice my opinion to the general community. So, in a rare direct address to the readership, what do you think?


Root of the Consternation

Thursday, July 30, 2009

There's tumultuous waters out there in the LOTRO community. Gear gating, hard mode instances, nerfed skills in boss fights, single-path progression. It's hard to sort out what people are really frustrated over and what are minor annoyances usually ignored but now blow out of proportion because of general angst.

Well, Orion, as an aside to his latest series of blogs, answers that question. First off, I want to link to the posts thus far. You can access any of the subsequent entries from the Day 1 post. I highly recommend reading these. In fact, if I would consider it required reading for all LOTRO players active in the community and interested in how this game develops.

Okay, onto the problem. Player Shibi commented on Day 1's post and had this to say:

"I am just suggesting that maybe, just maybe Turbine are going in a direction some of us don’t want and Turbine don’t seem to have spotted... Before you redesign the instance, why not actually ask people what they want, especially as Turbine seem have it so wrong right now... Some of us don’t want gating, we definitely don’t want hard mode, we want things to be accessible and FUN... [Y]ou are forgetting us and only thinking of the uber-elite fat-lewt WoW influx and sucking all the fun out."

That pretty much sums up the general argument from the players about our perceptions of the design direction. Orion had this to say:

"Some of you don’t want hard mode - certainly. Some of you don’t want gating - definitely. Some of you want things to be accessible - yep. All of you want things to be fun. A-ha! What is fun!? ...The answer is, it is subjective."

"It has become clear over the past weeks that the core of the gating issue is tied to the one way and one way only to acquire radiance loot - which is a necessity to participate in new raids. It is a combination of symptoms that combine to form the issue not a single case of “gear gating is stupid and horrible and damn you devs!”"

Creating content on the sole basis of an undefined, intangible, and as Orion puts it, subjective "fun" is a slippery slope. We have to define fun first, but again we run into the subjectivity wall. Still, I think it's possible if a majority of the players are clear on what isn't fun. And what isn't fun is exactly what Shibi is saying. Well, not exactly, and that's part of the problem, as Orion sees it. I think I might have said something to the same effect before.

The limited options present in the gear gating and radiance raid system limits fun. I greatly appreciated, and was sold to this game based on Turbine's commitment to giving players different options for completing the same or similar content. Before those options were seen in the different end-game gear. Now, however, we have only one type of gear that can be used in a raid. So, without destroying the radiance system, what do we do? We put the options in the methods of acquiring the one type of gear. Currently we have one option: hard mode. What about something to do with crafting , or monster play, or lesser raids? It's not any one of the systems that Shibi points out, but rather the limits that went along with those systems. And Orion sees this. And that makes me happy. And the next quote (from Day 2) should be proof enough:

"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."

Obviously this problem will take a while to rectify, but seeing Orion's journals gives me hope. Before now, I agreed with most of the griping, although not the incessant whining. I had given up posting on the issue further until something more substantial than the same complaining could be found. And at last I've found it. I do hope those of you who take issue with this... well, issue can see the same optimism I do.