Post Book 8 Impressions

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

First off, I have done only one of the new instances given to us in Book 8, and that one bugged out. Haven't tried it after the hotfix. But I have been looking around at the revamped content in Breeland and Ered Luin, and I'm very pleased with the result. Not nearly so much running back and forth (which got annoying without a horse, if in such a small zone as Ered Luin), the quests are better written and more organized - they flow better. Great job Orion on the revamps. I particularly liked the tour of Bree, getting players familiar with the town. I remember being sent to the Prancing Pony and looking up where it was in my copy of the Lord of the Rings (kudos for putting everything in its proper place!) after I somehow managed to miss it. No missing it now with the pointer quest to the tour.

I've not participated in the epic book continuation either, as I'm a stickler for doing the books in order, and I'm currently on 2.5.5. Hope to catch up soon. Still, what I'm hearing is good. Rarely have I found an epic quest that sucked. They might have been hard, there might have been complaining, but the fact remains they're some of the most well-crafted content in the game.

There is one thing, however, that I have to comment on, negatively. The names of all the food items have been changed to include a container or amount in the name. Like "Jar of Mint Sauce" rather than just "Mint Sauce". That means that everything at the vendor is completely rearranged and the alphabetical order is no longer logical. If there are Jars of stuff, it's all together, if it's Bottles, that's together too. But it could be a Jar of Mint Sauce and a Jar of Vinegar. Those should be near the m's and the v's respectively, as before. It's almost like alphabetizing books or movies with the word "The" at the beginning all in the t's. It doesn't make sense because it's not the significant word. I can't find anything anymore at the vendors... Of course, I'll eventually relearn the order of things, but someone got a little overzealous on their modifiers this time around.

All in all a good patch. Book 8 of course fixed a lot of bugs, and the patch notes were extensive for this. I hope to see continued quality, with a little more forethought in some areas, such as the food items, or the larger issue of raid/instance design/rewards/progression.

EDIT: This is becoming a bad habit, post post editing. Anyway, Yeebo's comment reminded me that I have spent a good deal of time fishing for the summer festival deed. I tweeted that I now have the title "Sunshine" (with the requisite "Hello Sunshine" replies) which involved fishing in four different areas, a little over an hour real-time commitment. And these timed fishing excursions are repeatable, meaning you can get summer festival tokens simply by fishing. An excellent way to invigorate the fishing scene again.


Evaluating Legacies Continued

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Okay, I'm finally getting around to this post. Took a while. Book 8 and the hotfix got in the way.

One of the comments in my Evaluating Legacies post mentioned that many of the bonuses for Legendaries give you the most reward simply by having them on the item unleveled. That is, the biggest bonus is the first bonus, with the rest giving only marginal improvement. I decided to look at a few of those I use.

First on the list is a series of critical modifiers: Relentless Attack, Devastating Blow, and Pressing Attack. The first is a tactics skill, a buff. The other two are melee attack skills. All three start out with a +245 topping out at +397. For the melee skills, I cannot say what percentage the increase is to the critical chance because that number is hidden. However, for Relentless attacks, I get a 34% increase with the first ranking. This goes up to 55% at rank 10. That's a 1.8% increase each rank. So, indeed having the first bonus is a huge increase and everything after that is quite small compared to it. Now we need to look at over all crit percentages to see the complete picture. With Mines of Moria, those became hidden in the critical modifier numbers, but if you mouse over your character sheet, you can see the actual percentages. Without the critical modifier bonus to Relentless Attack, I have a 6.4% melee critical chance. With the fully upgraded critical modifier (i.e. the 55% increase) I get a 11.4% melee critical chance. 5% is still noticeable, but barely.

Now lets look at another one I use, this time gained from my emblem. It's an increase to Rallying Cry healing. This bonus is a lot more straight forward. The percentages are already on top. Initially I receive a 3% increase. The rank 10 bonus is 11%, therefore after the initial 3%, I get a .8% increase each time thereafter. Again, we're front heavy with the bonus, but not nearly so much as with the critical modifiers.

So, simply having the legacy on the item you're using gives you the biggest bonus. Any rank ups will give less of a bonus, but 11% healing or 55% increase in critical rating is still noticeable, so ranking them up is not a bad thing. What else are you going to do with those legacies? I think looking at the numbers gives more weight to using a crafted item, as the DPS on those tend to be much higher than all but an upgraded level 60 first age weapon. You'll miss out on the sheer number of bonuses gotten from the legacies, but if you're only looking for damage, you might consider it.


Thought I'd add a bit of info about what weapon I'm using. Currently it's a level 59 Third Age Halberd. I mentioned before I got lucky with this one, but even still, if it weren't for the runics and legacies, I'd use the Peerless Thain's Halberd I have in the bank for when I need something other than common damage. I think I'd be able to get the DPS on my Third Age up pretty close to the Thain's Halberd anyhow. I've also got a level 54 Second Age Emblem equipped, legacies I want close to max. I have to ask again, what would you do with the legacies anyway?


Raising the Shire Adventures

Friday, June 26, 2009

New blog alert! By chance I stumbled upon a new LOTRO related blog. Not the usual game analysis, but rather a set of relatively small posts talking about their adventures as a character in Middle-Earth. If you're interested in something different from your LOTRO blog, do check out Raising the Shire.


Summer Daze

So, looks like the Summer Festival is upon us, once again dropping useless (to level 60 players) platinum tokens... But I should really stop harping about those, and instead focus on the fun seasonal events Turbine throws into the game. The spring and summer festivals seemed to merge together this year with the inclusion of the 2 year anniversary celebration. Still, each one is unique. What I love about the festival this time around is that players are mailed (in-game) about the festival, which opens a quest guiding you to where you can find the festival events. This is a simple, yet genius way to direct players to some excellent content.

If you'd like to read more about the summer festival and all it's new activities, check out the dev diary explaining the events. Time to laze away the summer daze! Fun times had by all and happy festival adventuring!


Evaluating Legacies

Monday, June 22, 2009

I read a thread on the Captain forums talking about strategies and merits of using the Relentless Attack legacy. This legacy increases our critical rating for the Relentless Attack buff. Some argue that this legacy is one of the most useless because the returns hardly make a difference at all. Others will level this legacy only a little bit, saving their points for what they consider more useful legacies. I think the return on investment (ROI) argument is a little fallacious.

Every legacy operates on very small percentages. 12% increase is the highest I've seen for a fully upgraded legacy, and that was on a level 60 first age weapon. 12% to 100 is only 112, not a big difference at all. It doesn't matter what number you use as your "principle" either because the effects are already balanced for not being overpowered (generally), regardless of the numerical value. That means legacies cannot give too much of a bonus, or the skill would become unbalanced. So, if one does argue the ROI isn't worth it, you have to carry that argument to all legacies.

The legacies you choose to level are generally worth it because you feel they're worth it. It all depends on how you play your class. Certainly there are some legacies more useful relative to others within a class, but none of them are completely useless. The better strategy discussion would be to evaluate the merits of the legacies based on a playstyle, rather than dismissing any one as having a bad ROI. They all do, considering the time sink involved in the legendary item system.


LOTRO Overview

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Looking for a good overview of LOTRO, not written by a professional gaming site giving artificial scores? Want some insight that only a game developer would have but one that isn't compromised by working on the game himself? Do check out Psychochild's blog post from earlier this month. It is a nice run down of all the basic features in LOTRO and gives a balanced perspective on the gameplay.


Book 8 Patch Notes Review

Friday, June 19, 2009

I mentioned before I would wait to talk about the Book 8 patch notes until they were finalized. That time has come. This is going to be a epically long post. You have been warned. The format will be as follows. I'll hyperlink the relevant note I'm discussing, summarize what's necessary, and commentate. I'll not be going over all the notes, of course. That would just be insane. Instead, I'm picking and choosing what seems to be of most interest to me. Therefore, I'll be skipping much of the class specific information (aside from captains, because I play one), and a lot of the minor bug fixes. "Major" news is the idea with this post.

Epic Book Continuation

There's no surprise here. Like always, I'll say the epic books/storyline is one of my favorite parts of this game. Sounds like this book will focus on small fellowships.

Summer Festival

The seasonal content is a nice diversion for a couple days. I think we'll still be seeing the token drops. Really long period of that. I'm no longer a fan of the tokens since they're not scaled to level 60. Now they just take up space in my bags, if I even choose to collect them. Still, festivals are always fun, and sounds like there will be new activities.

Lothlorien Gift Boxes

This has been an issue since Book 7. The drop tables weren't right or something. Looks like these will be more friendly, though chances of a first age are completely gone. I like the changes, but I'm don't really care about first ages. My current third age weapon will be hard to beat as it is. And I'm not really grinding legendaries at the moment either.

First Age Legendaries

They're acquired by barter items now, gained through the instances/raids. Much better system as it eliminates getting first ages for the wrong class. Good change here.

Vendor Stacks

We can buy partial stacks from vendors! Yay! I always hated filling up to a full stack by clicking one at a time. Nice convenience change that just makes our LOTRO lives better. Like it says, it's the little things that count.

Boat Keepers

About bloody time! That lake is beautiful, but swimming across Evendim multiple times gets tedious after a while. Just like a swift travel route. Nothing fancy, but oh so nice. More convenience changes. Gotta love em!

FM Change

Hmmmm, I don't know if this will really affect things much. I don't play in fellowships often enough to really see what causes a FM induction - stun, knockdown, or on purpose (burg skill for instance). I guess it's not so nice we have one less option for FMs, but then again, we can induce them ourselves with the right class(es).

For your convenience (word of the day it seems) I've linked to each class's patch notes:
Captain Commentary

First on the list that interests me is we can once again rename our banners. Yay! I'm all for fluff changes and I like naming things. I miss it now that I no longer use Heralds (Ruth is so lonely).

Our Cry of Vengeance skill will now have a 10 second window of use and longer range. This is a very good thing. Nearly 2/3 of the time I use that skill, I'm either too late, or not in range of the downed player and it's completely wasted. Very helpful change, especially since the In Harms Way nerf. Makes up for that just a little bit.

Lastly, we can once again use Gleaming Striker, Flashing Bane, and Shining Star scrolls from the solo legendary instances in the Dolven View. When I saw that we couldn't use these post Book 7, I was annoyed. There was no longer anything to modify the Emblems. That was a mistake, obviously, not an intended change. Finally we're getting the fix. Good deal!

All in all I think the captain changes are good this time around. Repeated nerfs will wear on you.

User Interface

I'm happy to see that there is now a /ui command that saves your ui, which you can then load as a new character. Seriously, this is such an awesome feature. I hated going onto my alts (not that I did very much) and having to rearrange my ui all over again. I've done so many tweaks to it on my main that it takes way too long to change it all over again with another character. And then I don't even remember where I put half the stuff that's not visible all the time. Good stuff here.

More skinning options. I don't use skins, finding the default look satisfactory to my gameplay. But many people do, and unleashing the creativity of the player base is always a good thing.

Effect icons will once again pulse properly when running out of time. I don't know when they stopped pulsing, but it became hard to see when an effect was almost complete as sometimes the icons would stay opaque, and sometimes they would stay transparent. Makes it hard in high stress, distracting activities like instances or raids to quickly see what's going on. And that's important - getting the information to the player as fast and as efficiently as possible.

Quest Guide

Indicators on the map now pulse. I always made them pulse manually by moving my mouse on and off the item in the quest guide so I could more clearly see where it is I'm supposed to be looking, especially when I have multiple, large-area quests active and overlapping each other. Nice to see refinement like this.


Lockout fees will increase each week a house is in lockout (from not paying your bills, lazy bums!) until it reaches 90% of the purchase price. Not so bad for you normal house people, a bit expensive for the deluxe house. I did loose my house once before they were unloosable (That is not a word, I know) but I got my money back from that. I learned my lesson - pay my bills on time. Or rather, log into the game at least once per week to check on it. I got distracted by my school work at the time so I have a legitimate excuse for getting evicted!


Exploit fixes here. Good to see they're still working on this issue. I wish they had been faster at fixing the initial problems with the radiance instances post MoM release. Let's hope they've learned from that situation and will rapidly develop hotfixes for major issues like that.


We're seeing a lot of changes to crafting here. The basic system stays the same, but things have been much more streamlined, such as use levels, crafting materials, tool tips, etc. There was an excellent dev diary talking about the changes, so check that out rather than these notes for the scoop on crafting re-vamp.

Adding a "make all" button is a good refinement, as well as fixing the stupid default to 0 thing. That is annoying.

I've included links to specific professions for your convenience:

Jaxom the Yeoman

Jaxom is quite happy to see the critical items for farming have been reduced to 1 instead of 3. This does come with a price increase, but that's understandable. Nice to use stacks of mats up equally.

Jaxom is also happy that farming fields produce optional critical cooking ingredients. Looking forward to trying those out.

And Jaxom is elated to see food can stack to 50, and crafting ingredients stack to 100. Less trips to MD for cooking as he can store much more food on his person. Must have one of those portable coolers.


Happy to see that auto-combine on runics will pull from the most populated items rather than randomly. That way mutiples are used up first. Just common sense here, but something easily overlooked. Glad it has been changed.

Loot System

Rare Lothlorien monsters now drop Mithril Flakes. About time! You mobs better look out. There's a whole host of levle 60 players that are now gunning for you... er, swining their swords and firing their bows.

Rolls on keys will only apply to players who have not added the key to their ring. Why someone would purposefully roll on a key they already have, I don't know. Accidentally, well, that makes more sense. Glad to see this "fixed".


Elated, yes, elated to see the lighting issues in Moria have been cleared up. They were visually annoying, having the ambiant light at your feat and partially through the ground in certain places. I'm a oogler of nice looking graphics, and when things don't look quite so good, I get cranky. Well, not really, but I love it when things do look nice, and LOTRO is a nice looking game.

Creature Pathing/AI

The only reason I bring up this bit is because here we find the lovely humor of whomever it is that writes up these patch notes. I will, for lack of a name, attribute this to the company as a whole. Turbine has a wonderful sense of humor:

"Moose in Forochel will no longer stand around and allow themselves to be turned into Moose-burger."

"Burrow Mobs Take 2! Once again, monsters which "burrow" (Cave-claws, Shades, Dark-waters, Neekers) will no longer do so when they are near death, because that's annoying. Our first attempt at fixing this was equivalent to a 9mm; it should've been enough to get the job done, but it wasn't. *This* time we’re pulling out the Desert Eagle .50, that outta stop these jerks."


Yay! I'm done. Whew! What a set of notes. I heard one comment that LOTRO patch notes give EVE a run for it's money. I assume that means EVE has long patch notes. I've never played it. I don't know how helpful or entertaining this was. Probably not much. On the whole I'm quite happy with the Book 8 changes. It doesn't address some of the larger overaching concerns I talked about in the last couple of days, but that's not something you see in a free patch. More like an expansion scale, or over a longer period of time. And I think that's what needs to happen with a lot of the critiques - Turbine needs time to look over the data, feedback, etc and come to the conclusions themselves. I think they will, considering the past track record with this game.

I'm looking forward to the patch. I really need to get back into the game for the epic quest, which I'm currently sitting on 2.5.5, I think. It's been that long since I looked at it. The only "new" content that I would participate in this time around is the epic storyline. I don't raid, and I haven't gotten any radiance gear anyhow.

Keep up the good work, Turbine. Glad to see the effort in this patch.


Kinship Contest Complete

Looks like the kinship contest has been finished and the winners are in. Were my predictions and pessimistic comments true or was I full of it? Let's find out...

What did I predict would happen? That a kinship created purely for this contest would be the winner. That it would be filled with characters created for the sole purpose of winning the contest, and completely defeating the purpose of a kinship. What really happened?

The overall winner was Order of Middle Earth on the Brandywine server. The kinship was created on 2/25/2008. Clearly not created exclusively for this contest. Neither were the second and third place kinships, the Old Timer's Guild on Gladden and Lords of Evening Twlight on Meneldor respectively (I wonder if that's a purposeful misspelling of 'Twilight').

Strike one for Jaxom...

What could be the case is that existing kinships were used to leverage/power level new players for the express purpose of gathering lots of points. Is that the case? That's impossible to find out. We just don't have access to the date when certain characters were created if their player is anonymous. If they're not anon, we can guess by scrolling through their character log, looking at the level up section, and going all the way back to the level 2 level up.

Strike two for Jaxom...

I of course didn't look at every kinship on every server that won... the MyLOTRO site takes so long to load pages for me that it would be time prohibitive to check them all out. Let's call that:

Strike three for Jaxom...

I'm out on all accounts. Indeed, the contest was a success, and while I still believe that that power-leveling new characters probably happened, if kinships were created only for this contest, they didn't win. I've thus eaten my own words. Congratulations all you winning kinships! And congratulations Turbine for being successful despite my cynicism.


Random Screenies

No need for much of a preamble here. Have some random shots from yesterday's (or maybe it was the day before) excursion into LOTRO.

Northern Lights
Evendim Landscape
Moon and Constellations

I particularly love the northern lights in Forochel. Such a wonderful sky in this game. All three screens feature it prominently.


Book 8 Release Date

Got this via Twitter. Those of you who use twitter and read this probably follow @Turbine, so you already know this, but Book 8 will be released on 6/23 in North America. I assume the NA qualifier means Europe will get it later. I think that's normal is it not?

The 23rd is a Tuesday, which is the usual day for releases. My guess would have been the 23rd or the 30th. So, we'll probably see the official finalized patch notes by Sunday or Monday. I'll be sorting through those when they release, probably dropping a massive post in the process.

EDIT: Totally wrong about patch notes release. They're on the lorebook now. Later today or tomorrow will see my thoughts.


A Design Philosophy of Fun

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This has been a long-brooding topic and now broadly covered by a number of people, both professional and amateur. I of course fall into this latter category, but I want to attempt to draw all the lines of thought together. There are two guiding questions: First, "What is LOTRO's design philosophy?" Second, "Is it 'good' design?"

Let's start with a catalyst: From Dusk 'till Dawn posted a rant clearly tinged with frustration about the choice to make the turtle in Filikul immune to the Burgler's Enrage skill. The turtle, named Nornuan, will give the player its attacking a stacking DOT debuff, eventually overcoming the healer's abilities. One strategy is to let the first tank die and a second take over. The Minstrel (or Captain) will rez the first take, whose death canceled out the debuff. However, another strategy would be to take a Burgler along and use the Enrage skill, which will cause Nornuan to attack players randomly. Given the number of players within this raid, no one player will usually have more than one instance of the DOT debuff. The minstrel will have to focus on more than one person, but using Enrage is a viable method towards completing the raid. Well, until Book 8 when Nornuan becomes immune.

Sweet Cherrie, Dusk 'till Dawn's author, asserts this is unacceptable constriction of player behavior - and the developers are trying to force the player into only one strategy - the one they approve of. I agree with her thinking on this, and I judge it to be poor design. Why? Let's get into that by bringing up an article link posted in the forums. There's a nice discussion going on over there as well.

This article is an interview of Craig Morrison, Director of Age of Conan, conducted by MMOGamer.com. The second page, second comment by Morrison, is where the relevant information comes into play. What is good design? Morrison contends that good design first and foremost is creating fun. If it's not fun, it's not good design. He goes onto criticize many developers of spending "90% of [thier] time on the last 10% of any design, preventing players from doing stuff."

Here's what I see going on with the type of content development in Filikul - preventing players from doing stuff. And thereby limiting their fun. Poor design. Or perhaps misdirected design. Why is it necessary to curtail the creative use of the tools already designed for us? Good design is creating fun encounters. I cannot speak to Filikul being fun, because I've never experienced that content, but I know for certain that any content is more fun if there are multiple ways of completing it. It's replayability. If I can go through content mutlipile times without doing the same actions over and over again - without gettin bored, that content is fun. Morrison speaks to this in the interview as well.

The Enrage change in Filikul is ignoring part of your design to force your design ideals into the current work. Rather than embracing creativity, it's being constrained, and ultimately that curtails fun.

I would be remiss in this post to ignore our own developer's perspective on the issue so now I point to Orion's blog post on his myLOTRO page. Here Orion says he generally agrees with Morrison, but thinks that most MMO designers don't follow the 90/10 rule mentioned. He's more optimistic, if you will, and explictily states he does not believe LOTRO's designers to follow that philosophy.

On the whole, I agree with Orion. LOTRO has indeed been a bastion of flexibility, creativity, and good design. He has been personally further refining creativity and in essence creating more fun in the content revamps of the lower levels. I played through the new and old elven starter quests, and watched a LOTRO newbie play the new quests. The progression and storyline in that small part of the game has been improved. The design has been improved. The fun has been improved.

I think that in the post Moria exploit-ridden instances, we've perhaps seen an overzealous effort to constrict the playerbase in the Filikul raid. That's understandable, but an overcompensation. Using Enrage, by all accounts I've read, does not break nor exploit the raid. In some respects, it makes the raid harder as the healer must focus on more than one target. Like an overcompesation on the road may lead you to a ditch anyway, so too could the Book 8 changes to Filikul.

LOTRO's design philosophy is one with the primary goal of fun. Fun is freedom and growth within the rules. Fun is accessiblity, flexibility, creativity, and replayability. Too many rules and you lose those factors. Let's not lose sight of the fun factors in LOTRO.


Relating to Your Mates

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

This is an unforeseen follow up to the kinship post today. Suzina, over at Kill Ten Rats, posted some interesting thoughts on kinship relations, this time looking at the phenomenon of new vs old. That is, what sort of gap is there between the newer players in the kinship and the older players.

For myself, I don't play regularly, so I struggle to even keep people's alts straight, let alone who's a new player in our kin. I try my hardest to be friendly to everybody who's on, even if I have no idea who they are. Heh. I'll usually ask, do I know you by another name or are you new? Of course, if I'm not ever on when they are, they might have played a month with us before I even met them, so then they're not really new are they?

I find myself relating to what Suzina posts but also not. I joined my kinship in beta, right when everybody else was new to the game. So there is the "old crowd" that I've known for a long time. Then there's the newer folks who I don't happen to share so many fond memories with. Not their fault, I just haven't gotten to play with them as much. But when I think of my kinship, I picture the oldies, even the one or two who don't play anymore. I have to wonder, is that a bad thing...

Not really, unless I make it a bad thing - like I look down on the "newbies" etc. I do think our kinship does do a good job in general welcoming new folks into the fold. Our kinleader is amazing at helping them feel at home by grouping with them, assisting with quests, passing on crafting items.

As a bit of a side note, many of the "core" kinship members, those that started in beta, came from StarWars Galaxies (like Suzina's group). With the new Bioware StarWars MMO, I know a lot of them will be headed that direction when it releases. And I think I'll be following them. I certainly won't stop playing LOTRO, and I don't think many of them will either (lifetime subs and all) but it really illustrates how strong a kinship can be in an MMO, and why belonging to one where you feel that kind of loyalty and connection will help your experience in any game, LOTRO included. To reemphasize the last post: find a kinship, but find one you can connect with. A kinship is merely a tool, it's the people that make it alive.

And if your kinship can overcome the new vs old barrier, more power to you - you've created a true community, not just a collection of avatars.


One Kinship to Rule Them All

No, I'm not going to rant about the ill-thought-out kinship contest again. Actually, I am curious as to what that's looking like - if my predictions are true or it actually shaped up to how the devs envisioned. But anyway, I want to talk about the role of the kinship as a fun-inducing game mechanic.

I think one of the strongest parts of LOTRO is the community. Turbine has noted that our player base tends to have a more 1 to 1 ratio between males and females (not sure on the specific ratio, but guys still lead). It also tends to be older. Therefore, I think the LOTRO community is generally more mature. What does that mean for kinships? Well, a kinship is an integral unit to the community. Having the same group of people available to you and in close contact (via kinchat) is an invaluable tool towards enjoying the content. That's not to disembody the kinship as a group of real people, but like every game system, it's a means to your enjoyment.

Is the kinship necessary, however, to "getting the most" out of LOTRO? Many have argued indeed joining a kinship is the best (and maybe only) way to experience the game to its fullest. Why is that? We have to go back to the state of the community - it's excellent. So, by that logic, it's not necessarily the presence of a kinship in a player's experience that improves their gaming, but rather the presence of good people. I use that term losely to mean people who exhibit quality relationships with their fellow gamers. We can debate the precise definitions of all this elsewhere. Suffice to say, a kinship can be helpful or harmful, depending on the people within.

Here's where I really get into my point: what makes up a good kinship? I will be modeling much of my opinion based on my own wonderful kinship, but don't think what I say here is the only definition of a quality kinship.

First, the people need to be open. If you're not a people person, if you don't like talking, if you're not sociable, why bother with the social part of the gameplay? Just be the lone wolf out there, Turbine makes it easy to solo most of the game. And you can PUG when necessary, if you really want to. Then again, one might say go back to single player RPGs, but I don't want to be mean. Hehe. Seriously though, a good kinship is one that is accepting, open, friendly, etc. That doesn't mean the kinship has to take anybody into their ranks (lots of friendly kinships have recruitment requirments). It does mean that once within the group, the new player is as much a part of the team as the old.

Second, the people need to be sharing. This is another aspect of being open, but it goes one further. You're in a kinship to help each other with the game. It is a social group, but it's also part of an activity. If all your kinship does is chat, then you're not using the most of the tool, nor really giving each other any additional gameplay. Certainly there are purely social kinships out there that are a blast to hang out with, but I think the better kinship endeavors to help each other with quests, crafting, deeds, etc. You don't have to have a strict regimen of who helps whom and on what day, but it's the willingness that counts.

Third, the people need to have some semblance of organization. A good kinship needs, if it wants to participate in more organized content like raiding and instance runs, needs to have organization that reflects this desire. If the structure of the kinship is muddy, than chances are the same people aren't going to make a raid any clearer. When the kinship plays together, even in a less formal setting than raids, there should be a cohesiveness to their play - they ought to play well together, work off each other, communicate, etc.

I think these three things are a good starting point for a successful kinship. This is the type of kinship those that insist on joining one are members of. I think LOTRO is lucky to have a good number of these groups, but there's also lemons. No game is free of the leeches, the rude, the selfish. Take an average workplace and you will see the same general breakdown. People come in all shapes and sizes, so when picking a kinship, don't be afraid of floating from group to group, if it's possible. I got lucky on my first shot, but that's an exception. Be serious about your kinship scouting. These are real people, and a real group you're going to be associating with. And the key is fun. If the kinship is not fun, regardless of all other considerations, then it's time to find something new.

Good luck out there and happy adventuring!


Your Friends or The Game

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why do I play LOTRO? To answer that, I have to first go back to why I play games. That's easy though, I love getting sucked into the worlds the games create. Why is Mass Effect so awesome to me? It does a very good job at creating a world you feel connected to. Why do I love Lord of the Rings Online - because it does a great job at linking me to a world I love so much. I started playing LOTRO because of the IP connection. From there, I discovered it was a good game. But what about now - what keeps me playing?

Honestly, I have to point more towards my friends than the game itself. No game can sustain interest forever, and nearly three years with one game is a long time (August 2006, closed beta). But in the process of playing LOTRO I gained some friends. I was extremely fortunate in running into the kinship I'm a part of. When I haven't logged in for a while, I don't feel guilty for not playing. It's not my monetary investment. That paid for itself already. It's not the game that I'm missing, or I would have logged in. It's the people. I feel like I need to keep in touch, let them know I'm still alive, kicking, interested, etc.

The best moments in LOTRO have been playing with my kinship. My first memory of grouping with a bunch of them was going through the Great Barrows. Such a blast, especially since previous PUG runs weren't successful. And every point thereafter where I would play with a kinmate, the game ceased to have any of it's faults. Well, that's not quite accurate. The faults were there, but they didn't matter, because what I was currently doing was fun. And it was fun because I was doing it with another player who I enjoyed playing with.

MMOs are more than just games, LOTRO no exception. They are venues to hang out at. I wouldn't continually go to the billiards hall and shoot pool by myself, even if the first few times were fun. I would go over and over again because I was hanging out with my friends. The same holds true for MMOs. There's the activity, then there's the society. It's the latter that holds our attention indefinitely. People are an endless resource of activity, and when you find people you like, your friends, it doesn't matter what you do, so long as your doing it together.

LOTRO is fun primarily because of the people I play with. It's secondary that it's a good game. Any MMO that can create the easiest system to play with friends will ultimately be the winner, so long as the activity within doesn't detract from the "hanging out". For example, let's say an MMO had City of Hero's/Villians sidekicking mechanic, arguably one of the best ways to bring friends together, but there was absolutely nothing to do except maybe kill things. Even playing with friends would get old rather quickly. So, there's a limit, a balance to this issue. No game will be endlessly fun, but a game must have a "reasonable amount" of fun in the first place in order to build the foundation for playing with friends.

So, is it the friends or the game that keep you playing? Maybe both? Which has more influence?


Content Bereft of Purpose

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why would content lack purpose? A number of reasons. Perhaps the rewards aren't appropriate for the time necessary to undertake the content. Perhaps the content has no impact on the player or the world around them. Or perhaps the content simply is outdated. It's the latter I want to bring up as a discussion, pointing to a Kill Ten Rats post from today (barely).

Suzina brings up the fact that the level 50 end game content from Shadows of Angmar is no longer relevant to the current cap. First, I'd like to mention this has been a problem since the inception of a level-based MMO. Not even the 800 pound gorilla and most popular MMO in the world, WoW, has done anything to fix it. What's nice about LOTRO is that there seems to be a continual influx of new characters into the game. Visiting Bree on a weekend will usual greet me with a host of pre-40 players. This to me says that the level 50 content is still somewhat relevant to a certain set of players. At least potentially. I certainly can't say one way or another what their playstyle is like and if it will take them to Carn Dum, The Rift, Annuminas, etc when the reach 50. What is certain is they don't have to play that content to advance, whereas when the level cap was at 50, the advancement did come from instance "grinds" and raid runs for better gear and deed improvements. Add into the mix the content revamp currently in progress and I think LOTRO does offer better incentives to play and replay the older content. Just not for level 60s.

And there's the rub. I like the idea of getting more level 60 relevant rewards for the older content. But not rewards comparable to reward for level 60 end game content. It just wouldn't be fair, if the older content is easier. That leads to the idea of scaling the level 50 instances, raids, etc to the level 60 players. Here's why that's a problem: At some point, there will be so many options for end game instance runs and raids that the player base becomes diluted amongst the choices. It will make grouping for content harder in the long run. Secondly, many of the level 50 end game content is within a larger content progression starting before level 50, making it a challenge to scale the content unless it is completely revamped to stand on it's own. I prefer scaling of rewards rather than the content itself, but with some tweaks to make it fair.

First, do it with the existing barter system. We see something similar with the repleted epic storyline instances and reflecting pools. Add repeatable quests available only to players at 55+ (a reasonable overleveled point) that are exact duplicates of the level 50 quests in these instances and raids, but use this barter item as the reward. The turn in rewards for these barter items could be level 60 barter items like the Lothlorien leaves, crafting recipes, not-quite-uber armor (i.e. not the radiance gear, but perhaps something similar to the crafted gear), etc. These are just random things I've come up with at the spur of the moment. I'll leave more creative and adept minds to really ponder it... like the devs should they chose to go that rout. Require multiple barter items for the rewards because the level 50 content is relatively easy compared to the level 60 content - in other words, ensure the reward matches the effort for fairness. Never should the reward be equal to what could be gained through current end-game activities or that would render that content purposeless, ending us back where we started, only in reverse.

In the mean time, if you haven't experienced the level 50 end-game content and you're a level 60, do so anyway. It's fun stuff, and it doesn't take nearly as long with the extra 10 levels. Who cares if the tangible rewards aren't worth it - the experience is. Do it with buddies, people you like to hang out with. Friends make or break a game. And that's a topic for a future post...


Raid Accessibility

Friday, June 12, 2009

I was excited, having heard about WoW's raid progression, attunement requirements, gear requirements, etc that LOTRO was going a different route with high-end content: casual is king. The Rift proved this. Anybody that was at level cap could conceivably run a successful Rift Raid (with some experienced players guiding the way, of course). As long as you weren't still wearing your level 15 armor at 50 (exaggeration) you were good to go. Like I said, that made me happy. But I never took advantage of the ease of access. I discovered that I didn't really like tuning out the rest of my world as I played. Live games cannot be paused, so when your in the thick of it and the phone rings, the dog wants out, your mother is hollering... well... that's a problem. So I like to play solo mostly, or casually grouped so I don't have to worry about the various interruptions that come from living with others and a dog.

But I liked the principle behind "easy" raid accessibility, even if I don't actually raid. It sets LOTRO apart from the pack. However, with the advent of radiance, we have a paradigm shift. Maybe that's a bit melodramatic, but Unwize's latest post gives a good rundown of the situation.

Now let's turn to a blog entry by Amlug, one of the devs over at Turbine. Posted to his MyLOTRO page, Amlug talks about raid accessibility a bit. And I see a pattern emerging. The earlier raids are getting some of the restrictions reduced (i.e. less gloom requires less radiance), and the increase in instances to get radiance gear provides more options, and a potentially easier set of instances to run for the gear (skip the harder ones). I imagine that the new raid for Book 8 will see a relaxing of requirements in 4 to 6 months as well. Why? Not because we complain about it, but because it makes good business sense. If your hardcore populatin has moved onto the next bit of content, why keep hardcore requirements for content the hardcore aren't playing? If you can extend the lifetime of your content by pushing it through stages reflected on your customer's style of play, who not? The only draw back is the rest of us are doing this "watered down" content after the rewards are relevant.

For me, the casual, I just like seeing the content. For me, the accomplisher, I just like getting the quests and deeds done. Who cares about the gear/rewards? More will come, and I suspect the causuals interested in raiding have a similar mindset.

So, let's not despair over radiance and raids. We're still going a different direction. Perhaps the effect is the same in the short term, but it could be worse - we might be playing a grindy "Asian" style MMO.


Old Content Revamp Dev Diary

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Orion is continuing his quest to revamp the older content in LOTRO and make it much more accessible. I'm quite excited about this process, if the Elven starter zone is any indication. This is some quality work. Of course, as a high level player with no alts that I regularly log, I'm a bit bummed I'm missing all this good stuff back at the lower levels. New quests you say? I'm a completionist. You say new quests, I have to do them... on the same character... no matter what level. Yes, it might be very strange for me to take my level 60 back to the starter zones and do content 40+ levels lower than me, but darn it, I'm just not an alt kinda person.

Honestly, I play this game for the awesome story and environment. Game mechanics, while important (and ironically take up much of this adventurer's bloging) are secondary. Let's see Middle-Earth... oh, yeah, and it's a game.

I think this whole process is one of the best investments of Turbine's time and resources into LOTRO. They certainly had the Shire and the early Breeland areas well polished, but the rest did feel rushed in retrospect. Hindsight is 20-20 no? Strengthening the draw that newer players will get from this refurbished content will only strengthen the game. I'm excited for when some local people I have recently found out will begin playing this summer. I'll be rolling my first ever serious alt (got all my character slots taken up by getting my feet wet with other classes) and playing with them as a static group. And that's great because, if I don't manage to get my 60 back to the newer low level stuff, there will be new stuff to me too! Good times and happy adventuring!


The Mirrors of Khazad-Dum

There's another "Exploring Middle-Earth" article up, this time pointing to a player-created lorebook entry about the mirrors in Khazad-Dum. I first have to mention that I love the idea of an official LOTRO wiki, that combines both the developer's entries, as well as the players. Secondly, and this time about the lore, I think the idea of putting mirrors into Moria is an excellent means around the whole "long dark of Moria".

When I read those passages in the game, I felt the inky, tangible black. When the movies were created, I had to wonder how in the world they could spend so long in total darkness. Of course, it wasn't total darkness thanks to "movie magic" but they did well enough. And once again with the game, I wondered how we as players could operate in such a large expanse with so little light. Then there was the mirrors. Dwarven ingenuity is something glorious. Of course they would have a way to light their own halls. It only makes sense, and that legacy system still should have something in place when and if they decided to return. I think Tokien probably envisioned roaring fires, but that's a lot of fuel for a relativley small band of dwarves looking to retake Moria. I'll let Turbine's invention slide simply for its elegance.


Twitter Updates

When I mentioned the creation of a Twitter account and that it was linked to this blog, I neglected to mention that I would be posting little "MEA Update" blurbs from time to time. These comments and thoughts are too small to merit a blog post, so Twitter is the natural place for them. Where this really shines, is when I'm actually playing the game and something interesting happens. I will still do the progress reports when I accumulate enough game-time and activity of import, but I tend to forget little details. MEA updates are awesome for that. Of course, if you follow my Twitter feed, the actual blog posts will get a "MEA Post: ..." and the title/link.


Technical Problems

Sunday, June 7, 2009

So, if you follow my Twitter feed you already know that my internet was down for two and a half-days. That's the reason I haven't updated the blog. At least on the surface. Not sure if I would have had anything to say over that time anyway. I've been taking a bit of an informal break from playing regularly - taking my own advice, really. That's okay. I'm still keeping abreast of the news, which, combined with my commentary, is really what this blog's purpose is anyway. At the moment, there aren't any news items needing my attention in the game itself.

I'll be still playing though, and not abandoning the blog. No worries on that front. And I have some rumblings from a couple people in my family that will probably pick up LOTRO this summer, so I'll definitely dive back in to play in a static group with them. Always wanted a static group. My kinship is great, but we are pretty loose when it comes to when we're on and group activities. That has its advantages, namely I can take my current break without judgment or disrupting the other members, but it does add challenges too.

This adventure isn't nearly done!


Yesterday's WarCry Dev Chat Commentary

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Okay, this adventurer finally has a moment to sit down and check out the dev chat from yesterday. I'm usually always a day late with these things because I find it easier to just read the transcripts, which usually come out the next day. I'll not be addressing every question in the chat, but the ones I felt were answered well or presented new information. I'll be truncating a lot of the answers to dig to the meat so do check out the link for the full transcript.

"Completely redesigning [the legendary item system], no... [I]n that regard, we're going to be making some solid changes. [O]ur main goal is to make it feel less grindy, to better maintain the feeling of advancement and progression. Will we be able to address all of your complaints? Nope."

I'm glad to hear they see the current legendary system as too grindy. I've been putting grind on one side of a line and epic on the other, where the two are mutually exclusive. If there is less grind in the future, I think we'll be getting a more epic feeling system, as promoted pre-Mines of Moria. And of course there's the requisite disclaimer that not every complaint will be addressed. Not every complaint is... doable. For example, let us pick our legendaries. That errs too far on the side of overpowering the weapons/players and diminishing the uniqueness garnered by a randomized system.

"One of the cool features we are working on for "the Future" is the ability to exchange legacies on Legendary Items."

Hmmm... this will be a toughy. One one hand, you don't want the player to have complete freedom to change his or her legacies to exactly what they want. As before, that results in a loss of uniqueness and too much power. Then again, the current system is very much like a casino... people win on occasion, the vast majority lose, and if you play long enough, everyone, even the winners, will lose.

"There will be a method to reset the legacy points on a maxed out Legendary Item very soon."

Nice. They already fixed the relics not being refunded, now to be able to redo legendary points will be another good thing. Perhaps you have a situation that calls for a different build and your legendary weapon is statted for something else. If you have the right legendaries, it would be great to reset the points for the new build. Couple this with however they manage to trade in legacies, and you have a nice customizable system like the traits. That would feel more legendary to me. Perhaps this can work after all...

"We definitely want to bring crafters into the LI system more than we have."

That's good to hear. I know many of us have commented on how crafting seems so pointless now with LIs and radiance gear. I did have a kinmate make me a Peerless Thain's Halberd which has 6 more DPS than my LI, but there's so many other bonuses on my LI that the crafted halberd would only be useful in situations that need something other than common damage.

As to crafting radiance gear, the devs did not comment on that portion of the question. Something tells me radiance is reserved for the raiding circuit, which has stepped outside of the realm of crafting. I don't see it coming, but keep on harassing them. I want crafting to be more meaningful too. Funny I say that though, as I don't craft all that much, except for food, which doesn't have any of those issues. It's always relevant as a consumable.

"We are working hard on Mirkwood at the moment... We plan on going to new areas after that, but that is a bit too far in advance to fill you in..."

As I've said before, I'd love to see an alternative advancement to the North Downs and the Lone Lands, perhaps by opening up another path south of the Shire, Breeland, and Lone Lands. Or even the Gray Havens? Not sure how that would fit in the current story, however. If it were anywhere, it would be either in conjunction with Rivendell (we saw that wasn't the case) or Lothlorien (we still have time here) because the elves are going west. There was a briefest glimpse in one of the elven starter area quest lines, but that's it. This comment only solidifies the expected pattern: Follow the Fellowship.

"As many know Book 8 continues our re-vamp plans and furthers them into Breeland. Breeland will now cover levels 14-22 and be the current, don't read into that too much, single track for getting to 14-22. The next stage is to get two tracks from 22-32, three from 32-42 and four from 42-52. More on all this as we move forward with these changes. But the long and short is that the Lone-lands and North Downs will bother service 22-32. Complete with more quests and a stronger version of the second Book of the Epic story."

Hmmm, so just a reworking of the levels of quests within the current zones it sounds like. Glad to hear they're working on cleaning up the progression. More polish, more polish. SoA was considered a very polished experience when it released. We'll be positively gleaming after all this, but still, I'd love to see new zones as progress options.

More quests... that's a good thing. Can't have enough quests, as long as they're well written. If the Ered Luin revamp is any indication, they will be. But that means me, as a completionist, will have to revisit these areas and do the new quests, just because. GAH! Hey, at least I'll have some more content to consume, despite it being vastly outleveled.

"When we get to Helm's Deep there will be some truly significant changes to the game. We cannot comment on what the players' role will be in the battle because we are not there yet, but be assured, we have done all we can to make the tale of your journey through the early parts of the War of the Ring very important and I think that we will continue to do this in all of our future content."

I like the sound of "truly significant". Rohan is a perfect place for mounted combat. Helm's Deep is a perfect place for implementing siege mechanics and epic army-sized warfare. It'll be hard to wrap the story of our own adventures into something so confined and explicit as the Helm's Deep sequence, but perhaps there will be a way around that. Turbine has bent the rules before (Rune-Keeper).

"I am a big fan of the general environment and the little surprises you come upon while questing. That being said, would there be any chance of having a type of treasure hunting quests, i.e. while fishing you "catch" a map and then have to go and find the location it leads you to claim your reward?"

This isn't a dev response, but rather the question. The dev who answered, Orion, took it as a desire to see more riddle type quests. I like those quests as well, but what I think this question is asking is more comprehensive: A Middle-Earth-wide scavenger hunt. Only problem is that it needs to grow as the game grows, so how do you make it expandable? Perhaps just make it an ongoing deed, with various parts as the game grows. The idea is awesome though and I'd love to see something that highlights certain places in the world.

"...[R]adiance certainly has a mixed reaction from the game populace. Many dislike this as it is a stiff gating requirement and certainly draws hard lines between the casual and hard core players... [W]e are making certain that we are cautious about the way that it is used in the future. For the Book 8 release I can confirm that the smaller instances will not require radiance and that diligent players can utilize a smaller set of radiance gear to enter the new raid. We still want to give the system some more time to shake out before we make any major changes to it..."

The gear check and radiance raid requirement has been a huge topic of discussion in the blogosphere as well as on the forums. I do not see in this statement that Turbine is going to go back to a more "casual raiding" seen in the Rift, for example. Never say never, however. Turbine has shown malleability in the past.

Why is radiance currently in the game? First off, it expands the hope/dread system to be more versatile for conveying the Middle-Earth concept of good and evil. It also, more mechanically, allows higher dread encounters with appropriate mitigation. The use of gear to mitigate the dread does play into the concept of epic encounters with amazing armor (mithril was a concept in the IP was it not?) but it turned into too much of a grind, like the legendary system, and erased the epic feel when it came down to actually getting the gear.

"We are very happy with the way the Warden has turned out. I think the Warden is very close to where we wanted it to be as far as class roles. The Runekeeper seems to be doing pretty good as well but has needed a few more tweeks to get it to the right place."

Good to hear that they're fairly satisfied with the two new classes. At least on the surface. "A few more tweaks" constitutes a DPS reduction. Not sure if that's "pretty good" but oh well.

"Are there plans in the works for a new PvMP zone?"
"I am going to be coy: Not in the immediate future, but there is something that is in the works that could lead to some very interesting PvMP moments in the mid to distant future."

This was something we expected, as the level cap was raised, so were the PvMP zones expanded. Perhaps giving some variety like WoW's battlegrounds. Seeing how much effort has gone into the current zone to balance it, creating a new one would be a major undertaking. And for myself, I don't feel that PvMP is the primary focus of the game. A fun diversion to those who enjoy that type of play. There's a lot of more pressing things to deal with, IMO.

"The Amarthiel events were a huge success and we had a lot of fun with them. It's certainly something we want to do more of but there are not immediate plans to do so. But I'd keep an eye peeled."

I'd love to see more Amartheil like events as well. That really helped contribute to the epic feeling of what was going on in Middle-Earth. It was an event, it happened, then passed. It gave the world a sense of history beyond the inherent design. The world feels lived in, but having immediate events that can be talked about from different perspectives (i.e. different players) is really great. Quests are the same for everyone. Live events are different for everyone.

"We would love to do more hobbies, and we're always bouncing ideas around about different things. Unfortunately, hobbies aren't the highest priority."

Oh, that reminds me. I've not yet finished leveling my fishing... guess that's why it's not so high a priority, if some of your players completely forget it exists. Still got the hobby skill on one of my hotbars though.

"Game stability and server performance is our number one priority at the moment. We've made some great strides in that direction and I'll think you'll see more of that when Book 8 is released."

Interesting that it's not expanding the content. Then again, what good is content that can't be experienced smoothly? Glad to hear they're really focusing on getting the servers to a more reliable state. I'd love to see a continued boost in graphical tweaks as well as the server side fixes. But I love me some eye candy.

"End game and the journey there, the journey around the journey there and the time that you spend with friends and the family that you make inside the world are all equally important. Playstyles vary from person to person and we must, as designers, do what we can to try to appease all different playstyles. Thankfully, we have time to try to get to as much as we possibly can to attempt to make everyone a little happy along their own journey."

I have to commend them for trying to make sure each part of the game is approached equally, journey and destination. However, I think the IP really points to the journey as the important part. It's what changed the characters, made them stronger, showed them their true hearts. The destination was just one place on that journey. A matter of perspective, I know, but too many MMOs neglect the journey (leveling) once so many of the players are at the destination (end game). There is evidence of journey love in Orion's revamping process, and I very much look forward to all that.

I hope my commentary was worth reading. The dev chat certainly was. One of the stronger ones to date. Do check it out and leave comments here or on the forums or both and let us all know what you think. Happy adventuring!


Exploring the Halls of Crafting

Want to know more about the new Halls of Crafting coming in Book 8? Well, be sure to check out the official article and the subsequent Lorebook link for some basic info. Then check out Massively for some awesome screenshots.


Imagine the Future

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Imagine a future of MMO gaming where we can take technology like the XBox's Natal and the type of application developed by Peter Molyneux and create a world to be intimately experienced and interacted with. Characters that feel as alive and immediate as a friend standing beside you. This isn't exactly a LOTRO post, but the IP of LOTRO is based on one of the greatest stories told. I think the supreme application for something like Natal is what Molyneux did: character and ultimately story. What would be more awesome than an interaction with Aragorn or Gandalf along the lines of Milo in that video? Nerdgasm.


Book 8 Crafting Dev Diary

Perhaps one of the best dev diaries ever written, the Book 8 crafting diary is full of wonderful new information about the changes to crafting coming with the Book 8 update. I'm very much looking forward to this overhaul, not that I craft much. Indeed, I'm a cook, but it looks like cooks (and farmers) are getting some love. We're such a neglected group, especially the farmers. Do check this out - there's a wealth of information and it's even something you might want to bookmark for a while until you memorize the changes. Nice tables included!

Unfortunately, I did not see anything about crafted gear becoming better in relation to the higher end gear. I think we're never going to see that again with the whole radiance level gear check going on with the raids. Adding radiance to crafted gear would negate all the hard work done on the instances giving the radiance gear as crafting would be easier. Unless they somehow made crafting harder, which would be... well... hard. Still, this is a much needed upgrade to crafting


Ten Ton Interview with Jeffrey Steefle

This will be a short post with little commentary because it's already been done so well over at Epic Book. I honestly don't think we're seeing anything new here that we already don't know. Level cap increase (expansion or patch?), Dol Guldur is coming soon, Book 8 is almost out, there have been server problems and they're working on it, PvMP is hard to balance, new system called skirmishes, etc. Still, check out the interview. Might be something I missed.