After last Friday's exciting announcement from Turbine -- the Mines of Moria LotRO expansion -- we were hungry for more. Fortunately, we got it: we managed to sit down with executive producer Jeffrey Steefel, the man behind the news, to quiz him on MoM and all things LotRO. Read on for more on Volume II, nerfbats and an insight into Turbine's development process.
For more LotRO coverage don't miss our player Q&A report, teasers and rundown of the teaser site -- and keep your eyes glued to Massively, as we'll bring you all the MoM news we can over the coming months!
Can you tell us anything at all about the two new classes, the Rune-keeper and Warden?
Not yet. [when pressed] We'll be releasing more information over the next couple of months.
What effect will the expansion have on the new player experience? Won't having an increased level cap and more content put them off?
New players and the expansion content are equally important. When people talk about the 'elder game', what is it? The answer is, it's meaning the player has something to look forward to. They can leverage their skills to do something new.
The grouping system affects players in the middle levels too and there's Erigion content planned for Moria as well as high-level content. The game advancements aren't just for high-levels, the grouping enhancements will be good for new players.
We already put huge amounts of work into levels 15-22, the area when we stop holding the hand of new players, it wasn't right so we smoothed it out. There's also more solo play than at launch.
Doesn't changing lower end content make high level players cry 'nerf' and ask for the good old days back?
Everything's on a scale. We smoothed stuff out -- it wasn't really a nerf. A bigger challenge is raising the level cap. Do we want to accelerate the first 50 levels? The answer is not now. How about the relative value of players' current assets -- how do the devalue? We want to do things in an unobtrusive, additive way. Everyone's first expansion is a challenge.
We'll spend a lot of time trying to educate people about what changes we're making, how that's going to affect them. Changes to classes, combat, itemisation -- we're still working those out. We'll be more specific in the next three to six months.
What would you do if the community reacted negatively to any new changes?
I'd be surprised. Maybe if we introduced permadeath or something... There's always love and hate with changes. The majority of updates we do are as a direct result of player feedback. We're driven by player issues -- that's why we introduced more solo play and smoothed out the experience. Adding housing, the new music system -- that's all driven by the community. It's our job to solve problems. If there's major negative feedback it could be just a miscommunication, if that's the case we'll solve it.
We started this process in early beta, formalised the feedback process into the development process. We listen to both the US and EU, we use game data as well, we have many channels of input including proactive surveys, we ask players leaving the game, we ask those coming back.
Do you foresee an end to all this? What's the long-term vision?
We're creating Middle-Earth! It'll continue to exist for a long time. I've really no idea where we'll be long-term. We've enough content for a decade, we've just extended our licence that long -- not knowing where we'll be is part of the fun. As the community matures we'll move more into exploration and social areas, the community will drive us. Elders already have the ability to create and influence the world, huge kinships and raids and master crafters are already doing that. As the [MMO] scene changes overall, it'll change with time, but we don't know how or when -- what we do know is that we'll be a leader in that and drive that.
You're releasing into Asia later this year, what challenges were involved there?
They game differently, paying for hours of gameplay, so we had to build on that. It's a beneficial lesson, we're not changing business models, we're just adding them together. Different players interact differently so we could charge them differently, the hardcore 40-hours-a-week type it makes sense for them to pay a subscription, but someone who logs on for a couple hours a week, we could charge just for those hours. How many more casual players would we have if we could charge casually?
How do you plan to keep up with technology?
There are always technical challenges, but Turbine is in one of the best places to keep the game moving with technology, to deal with legacy. We're a technology company, with some awesome technologists, for example we launched without DX10 and now we merged it into LotRO.
Any further information you can give us on Moria?
If you know the lore you'll remember Gimli remembering how grand the underground city used to be, that isn't really touched on much in the book or film, but with the help of appendices etc we explore that. We help the player reconstruct what it must have been like in Durin's time. There's areas like the waterworks, another frightening area where the Nameless live, and intense encounters with the Watcher and Balrog that we'll talk more about later on. Lothlorien's going to be a small, social centre -- a bit like Rivendell -- a beautiful place where you'll meet the Fellowship and Galadriel, there's the opportunity for fun stuff there. There'll also be some less iconic stuff in Eregion, you see some of that in Book 14 with the Ringforge -- the rest is the area leading up to Hollin Gate.
How about the world-changing instances?
They're very tricky, but we did them at launch and really wanted to do them again. You have to do them in exactly the right way and the right place, now we have the opportunity to do more of that. The designs are being finalised, everything else we've mentioned is in the process of being built, so we'll tell you more as the process continues.