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Massively's exclusive pre-launch Moria interview with Jeffrey Steefel

Shawn Schuster

Executive Producer for Lord of the Rings Online Jeffrey Steefel is one of the most convivial MMO-makers in the industry. Sitting down to talk to him always ends up with some useful information, a friendly conversation about a game and an industry that can be a little hard to approach. It was a pleasure, then, to chat with Mr. Steefel just last night, the night before the release of LotRO's first expansion. Mines of Moria is now live, and from the sounds of things the servers and players are having a great time of it.

Join us for our chat, then, as we talk about the Moria Beta test experience, new content coming into the game today that has nothing to do with the Moria expansion, and even a bit about the future of the game!

Gallery: Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria Gallery | 99 Photos

"We've done expansions before at Turbine and so we have some experience to draw on. The book updates we've been doing on a regular basis have taught us how to build ongoing content for the game, to be sure."

So where are you folks right now as far as the expansion goes?

Jeffrey Steefel: We're at mission control, zero hour. The servers have just been taken down and we're getting ready to rock and roll.

Great to hear. We just wanted to get some pre-launch impressions from you, don't want to take up too much of your time. Can you give us a sense of how the road to Moria has gone? Has the development process gone as you expected?

Jeffrey: Nothing ever goes as planned. (laughs) The end result is definitely what we'd planned for, and more. Personally I'm really pleased with what we ended up with. We started out pretty clearly knowing what we wanted to do. There's always some ebb and flow once you get into it, but just what Moria itself has become represents technology we've been working on for over a year and a half. We've been experimenting with a lot of it in live to make sure we'd be in a position to do what we wanted to do in the expansion.

With Moria we have these giant underground spaces, and they've panned out amazingly well. In the end everything has worked out as we expected. With the legendary item system, that's actually turned out to be even cooler than we had hoped. Along the way, it's a lot of work and surprises, a lot of learning and data ... undiscovered challenges overcome. It's what you'd expect, and what we expected, pretty much. We've done expansions before at Turbine and so we have some experience to draw on.

The book updates we've been doing on a regular basis have taught us how to build ongoing content for the game, to be sure. I wasn't surprised, then, but we had to come to terms how challenging it would be for the company to come up with these frequent and robust book updates while building an entire expansion at the same time. We did it! Now we're going to do it again every year.

You mentioned the Beta, how helpful was the feedback from that phase of development? Was the response positive among the players?

Jeffrey: Very positive response, which is always encouraging. You never know how things are going to look until you have something in Alpha for people to look at. You never know if things are going to come together the way you think they are. We had a lot of great feedback about Moria, about the new classes, and we had a ton of great feedback about how the classes were interacting with each other. We looked at that, how they interacted with the legendary item system, how they interacted with the existing content ... lots of feedback. We made some pretty extensive changes to the classes and the legendary item system, and we also made changes and adjustments to Monster Play areas, all in direct response from what players told us and what we observed.

"The key to success in the new era of MMOs: launch day should not be a stress test!"

Beta was a hugely beneficial part of the process this time around.

The stress tests seemed to come fast and furious during that timeframe. Was that a tactic that was used in the game's original Beta as well?

Jeffrey: Definitely. That's something you learn the hard way, it's so important to do. No matter how much you test on paper, how much you stress test your hardware, there is no way to replicate the behavior of a large group of humans. We push it until it breaks. We pick it up, fix it, then do the same thing over again. We hope we've done enough of that [knocks wood], but we're doing yet another test tomorrow just to be sure.

That's the key to success in the new era of MMOs, launch day should not be a stress test!

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