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.


Full Circle

Monday, July 27, 2009

As I was listening to a gaming related podcast (Shut Up We're Talking, in case you're interested, I highly recommend it) I realized I have come full circle from three years ago when I got sucked into LOTRO. The thought actually came out of a comment about the Saga of Ryzom, which simply served as a memory spark. After my too-brief one week Alpha 3 experience in the LOTRO beta, I scoured the Internet for every single MMO type game out there. Why? I couldn't get enough of what I just experienced. It wasn't just the IP that I loved, but experiencing a new world and a new story. I needed more of that, for lack of a better word, high. Ultimately, I didn't end up playing anything during the interim between beta phases, but I came very close to downloading the Saga of Ryzom because it was free to play. (I know nothing about that game except that it's nothing like LOTRO).

What I mean by coming full circle is that I'm currently on a LOTRO playing hiatus. Actually, this extends to all of my gaming, as I haven't clicked on any of my game icons in weeks. I've gone from an insatiable hunger for anything MMO to a complete lack of interest in any game. And I, being both an introspective person and a blogger, have to ask myself why.

Now, I could post perfectly legitimate excuses like "I'm max level", "I've done all the content", "I'm burned out on LOTRO" etc, etc. Like I said, legitimate. But also not the real reason - mainly because I'm not playing anything right now. So what's the deal? Well, I think I'm in a dearth of new experiences. And that's my queue to cut to a bit of a personal aside.

See, I don't play games to game. It's not the game or game-i-ness of games that drives me to play. Certainly I'm a completionist which comes from some sort of achiever mentality, but the root reason for me stepping into games is to step into experiences. I don't care about if the fighting mechanic isn't as good as such and such a game or if the next game has more content. I desire to experience something. This often manifests itself as story, for story is the driving force behind compelling experiences - or ones that aren't superficial. But ultimately a game runs out of experience. One might call this simply burning out, and that's a way to put it, but what am I burning out on? Experience.

Alright, enough throwing around that word. It's already getting old. Next question: what do I do about it? Simple answer - nothing. I can't. A game is what it is and by it's nature isn't just an experience forever delivering to me what I want. Ultimately it becomes simply a game, even the ones that deliver additional content that often feeds experience. Okay, so I didn't stop with that word. I can't, just like I can't fix my problem. It's who I am as a gamer, as a consumer of entertainment. I love movies, TV shows, games, books - they all give me experiences.

There's something unique about games though. I haven't yet pinpointed what that might be, but I can make a guess towards the interactivity and unique ability to engage the consumer on a deeper level than all the other, what I'll term, passive entertainment. I play Railroad Tycoon because I love trains and want to experience trains. I play Roller Coaster Tycoon because I love roller coasters. I play Galactic Civilizations because I love space (that's an over simplification for brevity's sake). I play LOTRO because I love Middle-Earth and I wanted to experience it. It wasn't because it was a good game, though that helped greatly. It was because LOTRO being a game uniquely enabled me to enter into an experience more fulfilling than other media could provide.

The long answer to what I can do about my problem? Ignore it. Learn to live with it. Get over it. However you want to call moving beyond my futile endeavor to have a "perfect experience" and just enjoy LOTRO, and other games, for what they are. The idealist and dreamer in me makes that hard though. I see potential in games for so much more than they're able to provide now. As a storyteller I see opportunity for intense, moving, and impactful delivery of narrative and story. I see beyond the game.

LOTRO will always be with me and always hold a special place in my heart. I'm too loyal to forever abandon my first love. And too monogamous to cheat (or is it too cheap?). I have a lifetime subscription to this game and for me, that means exactly that. I will be a player, a Middle-Earth adventurer for the lifetime of this game.


Still Awake

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Just wanted to let everybody know I haven't died or fallen off the earth or anything. I was house sitting the last week and away from my gaming computer, but I think I'm sort of taking a break as well. I do need to log in and see how everyone in the kin is doing though so...

Keep adventuring, I know I will, just after a respite.


Slowing Down

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Oh my gosh has it really been almost a week since my last post? I'm falling down on the job. Actually, that's the problem. A job. I really need to focus on getting out of this awful unemployment situation so I'm going to be taking more time dealing with that and a few other Real Life (TM) issues. I won't stop blogging, but they'll be less regular, like you've seen with the last week. Hopefully I won't disappear for a complete week again. I feel guilty if I do.


Orion Follows Up

Friday, July 10, 2009

Not directly to me, which would have been cool, but generally to the playerbase. He thinks some of his ideas were misleading or misread and wants to set the record straight on his opinion. Do check out his follow up post clarifying what he said in his last post.


The Perspective Dichotomy

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Oooh, another fancy post name. Yes, I like fancy post names, and using my college accrued vocabulary. Anyhow, it's not mind-bending in any way, rather a look at the different perspectives between developers and players over game design, notably emergent behavior. This post is powered by Orion's latest blog entry on his MyLOTRO page. The post in and of itself is an excellent read and I found myself fairly captivated by the perspective offered.

Certainly we need to keep in mind his blog post is his own opinion and doesn't reflect Turbine's official... whatever. Still, a well-rounded developer in LOTRO will have influence over design directions (as admitted to in the post) and it's his opinion that directs his influence.

I want to do a comparison of his perspective on MMO design versus the perspective and perception of the players. There has been much talk about design philosophy, design direction, shifting priorities, ect in LOTRO by the various bloggers. Mainly this has been fueled by frustration over some of the end-game content. I think we as players would do well to read into Orion's post with an open mind. I don't think many of us understand the direction designers come from when approaching conentent. I think we take a more casual and biased approach to design. That is, each of us has our own opinion over what is good design, oftentimes not even awknowledging it in those words. Our opinion is framed more by what is fun for us, and it varies widely. The common thread, of course, is that whatever we find fun is the best design, regardless of other's opinions. Developers have to take a less self-centered approach. They know there will be a vast array of opinion on what is fun, so in order to remain sane and not jump on the endless treadmill of player satisfaction, they spell out design into a formal process, a set of guidelines to follow, principles to adhere to.

Where this fits into LOTRO is when Orion talks about the emergent behavior seen in the Moria instances, notably the Grand Staircase. That was his baby, so to speak. Emergent behavior is in a nutshell unanticipated player behavior - emerging on the scene with the content's launch into live. This type of behavior can be seen as strategic, innovatative, and creative, but on occasion, also exploitive. The latter, of course, is a no-no - you'll get banned if caught making use of exploits. So where is the line? One man's exploit is another man's creativity. This is where the different perspectives really shines. Orion arugues that in an MMO, most emergent behavior is exploitive because it takes advantage of a bug or error in the code. For example, being able to take a fall and still live, or using scenery to give oneself immunity from being hit but still able to hit back. And ultimately the developer has to be the one to say what is an exploit and what isn't, because they're the only ones able to access the code and give a difinitive data-supported definition.

We as players don't see this background data, or the original design intent, or any number of things that go into the operation of content. We're front end consumers, and yet we still want to be armchair designers. I'm guilty of that as well. I'm not saying our opinion doesn't count. It certainly has weight as we can choose to spend our dollars anywhere we please, but we as mature and intelligent people should consider that which we do not know or understand. Orion's post is an excellent opportunity to not only understand where a devloper is coming from on their design perspective, but also gives us the tools to frame our concerns. We can awknowledge a lack of data but at the same time speak to the matter with understanding.

I now have to ask myself, using an example from before, does the use of Enrage in the turtle raid contradict or negate the design philosophy of fun the developer had envisioned and put into that content. What was the purpose? What were the goals? What I saw as positive emergent behavior very well could be exploitive. Actually, in this case I don't think it took advantage of a coding error, but rather did violate the design principles behind the content. Same with the root immunity given to certain bosses in the Moria instances.

The one place where I feel Turbine dropped the ball, and this is based off of what I read in Orion's post, is not fixing the exploits quicker. He insists that emergent behavior requires, by it's vary nature, a swift address. The Moria instances went until Book 7 where they were truely fixed (for the most part). This created a set of false expectations and perceptions in the playerbase. Not only were we very tempted to use the exploits, we were learning the wrong behavior for those instances. We were enabled by the developers in our "bad" behavior.

I hope to speak to future concerns with more clarity and understanding now that I've gained a little insight into the mind of a developer. I again encourage all of you to read this article not only for the specifics about emergent behavior, but also for the different perspective. Two side of the same coin, if you will. One player, one developer, both wanting the best for the game.



Monday, July 6, 2009

There's a new contest in the LOTRO world today - design your own horse. I think this one is considerably more thought-out than the kinship contest. Too bad I'm not an artist, or I'd attempt to submit a horse. Although I doubt I could be as garish as Massively's Schuster's Shooter even if I tried. This contest applies to both the US side and European side, so everybody is welcome to be the next equestrian Rembrandt.


A Middle-Earth Fourth

Saturday, July 4, 2009

One of my few non-LOTRO posts... sort of. For the Americans out there, we all know what today is: Independence day. I wish everybody a happy Fourth of July. Enjoy the company of friends and family, BBQs and other good food. And of course fireworks (where they're legal). Middle-Earth of course doesn't celebrate an independence day, but I'll be lighting off some fireworks today in-game just because. And on a more serious and somber note, I leave you all with this touching video.


Forges of Khazad-Dum Video Guide

LOTROinfo.com has created a video guide for the Forges of Khazad-Dum. It comes in four parts, with the first on up now, the other three to come. It is an excellently produced video explaining mobs, strategies, paths, boss encounters, etc. They incorporate both an overhead map to explain routing and encounters as well as in-game video of specific encounters so you can see how it's done in the field.

I have yet to see a guide this well made and in-depth with video. Excellent work over ther eat LOTROinfo.com. I highly recommend checking it out if you're interested in running the hardmode instances in Moria. I also suggest going to the actual YouTube site as you can get the video in High Quality there, making it easier to follow the in-game action. My only criticism would be to turn off the floaty names while videoing. The advantage to the names, of course, is knowing where everything is at, but it can get cluttered and confusing at times with so much going on. Still, hardly a nic compared to the overall production value.


Summer Festival Guide

Friday, July 3, 2009

As always, the good folks over at Massively have kindly put together a guide to the summer festival. Interestingly enough, this year's guide is less necessary than last, considering we now have an in-game guide delivered to us by mail and which starts its own quest to seek it out. Cool stuff, but Massively always does an excellent job with their guides, so do check it out as well as the in-game, in-character, one.

EDIT: Looks like I linked to last year's Summer Festival Guide... Okay, brilliant move on my part, but hey, helpful readers FTW: LOTRO Vault's Summer Festival Guide.


Mobs of Middle-Earth

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A delightful feature article appeared today on the official site, discussing the types and varieties of mobs found in LOTRO. If you're new to LOTRO, this would be a wonderful article to read before playing, giving you a taste of what you could see in the game. Or, you might just like to be surprised, and surprised you will be, especially when in the deep dark of Moria, where nameless enemies of all shapes and sizes await.

I think LOTRO receives undue criticism for it's bestiary. Many argue that the mob types are boring and repetitive. I think that's a side effect of being in the relative quiet part of Middle-Earth, Eriador. When we venture farther into the east, seeing more of Mirkwood, Rohan, Fangorn Forest, and closer to Mordor, I think the mob types will become more intimidating. And, we have Moria at this point. If you care to venture to the deepest places, you'll find some pretty unique mobs.

I highly recommend checking out this article. For the veteran, you have seen what there is to see in Middle-Earth thus far, but for the new player, it's a great read. A good way to get excited about the kind of evil you'll face in your LOTRO adventurers.