This site continued at GamebyNight.com!

Hi Everyone,

It’s been forever since I’ve updated this blog and for good reason: I’ve got my own domain! You can follow me and my thoughts on LotRO over at Game by Night. I write about several different games these days (LotRO is still my main MMO) and I’d appreciate seeing you move your subscriptions over to the greener pasture. Thanks for stopping by!

Raegn Chris

Virtual Companionship

Hello again, folks. Welcome back to my cozy little hovel, pull up a chair.

I’ve been a half-busy, half-lazy beaver lately. Gaming-wise at least, so I apologize for the lack of updates in the last few days. Darn wedding planning.

Anyways, you’ve come to find out what’s new in my LotRO world. The biggest change up is my new focus on my little Loremaster. A good friend of mine has been pestering me at work to roll a character on his server (Meneldor). After little contemplation, I decided that it’d be good to reconnect with him again and share my gaming time with an RL friend again – my others are still devoutly following WoW.

My Guardian has been waiting patiently for me at the ranger city in Trestlebridge. Poor guy. I think I even left him outside a spider’s den. As a rabid arachnophobic, it probably wasn’t the nicest thing for me to do. On the plus side, he’s earning up rested exp. awaiting my return.

After playing a tanking class for so long, it’s an interesting experience to take a step back into the DPS/CC role. The loremaster is a fun class to play, though, so I’m really enjoying. Another little perk that I love is that I can name my animals. Associating a name with them somehow seems to create more of a tie. It’s odd but I find myself wanting my pet raven out (I just got the bear) because he’s become more of a companion, instead of a tool.

When the NPC soldiers get introduced to the game, I’m really hoping we’ll be able to name them and have some options to use them in the open world, even if not in combat. It’s nice to feel like you’re not alone without actually having to group with people, even if it is artificial. I’d gladly keep my soldiers out and about for the essence of group NPC companions bring.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make up something really great. That’s what I find with LotRO. The fluff, the little things that don’t matter but that bring the game to life, is what I find to be really fantastic. For that reason, I don’t understand the “no fluff” approach of games like WAR. Why? Why limit yourself when, obviously, it can make the game more than what’s it’d be otherwise. That’s what fluff is.

I won’t go down that route, though. We’ve shared that discussion before.

My little loremaster has just found his way into the bustling city of Bree and completed the first four chapters of Book I. I’m level 16 at the moment and am having to slow myself down so I don’t out level the friend I’m playing with. It’s a challenging thing, at times.

So, that’s our report for the day. If you haven’t yet, try out a loremaster. Get your raven, name him something obscene, and go to town. It makes for a fun time.

How to Immerse Yourself

This is Daniel. Daniel loves his dog, Yeller.

Why hello there, friends and neighbors, I’m happy to see that you’ve stopped by again. Today, I’d like to talk to you about immersion. First, you’ll want to find yourself a public swimming pool and target someone who really doesn’t want to get wet. Then, you stalk them a little bit until they get close to the edge and… well, you know what to do. Push them and run like the blue hell.

I’m a fan of immersion in games too. I like to sink in, so to speak. That’s actually one of the reasons why I came to LotRO, it’s built with immersion in

Shake Yeller, shake!

mind. Still, it’s easy to miss the forest for all of the trees at times. Namely, when you’re in the throes of a grinding session or find youself doing a particularly boring quest. More than that, we tend to take things for granted once the newness wears off in a game.

That’s where I found myself this evening. Bored killing those same old spiders, birds, and wargs. That’s when I caught myself, what the hell was wrong? Yeah, it’s the same old thing but… was I having fun? So I stopped and decided to change my perspective on things. Literally.

I zoomed my camera all the way in. Let me tell you, playing the game through a first person perspective changes things up a bit. All of the sudden, killing those bland mobs became more exciting. Instead of staring at my Guardians back and idly changing outfits, I was looking at the skittering mandibles and flailing legs of a viscious arachnid. Even apart from combat, somehow, the whole landscape seemed more interesting.

I’m not going to tell you that I played like this the whole time nor would I ever. The game wasn’t designed that way, so it does get confusing at times, especially if you get turned around at all. I found myself zooming back out for a second here and there to get reoriented before returning back to first person. Still, it’s worth a shot if for nothing else to see things how your CHARACTER sees them. To this end, hiding your UI can also help a ton — if you can function without it.

Save me, Yeller!

Save me, Yeller!

Another thing that I’ve found myself doing to immerse myself are to RP by myself. I know, I know. Lame, right? Some people would probably think so, since RP is a very social activity. Yet, all solo-rp really is is a way to use your imagination and enliven your game

experience on your own. We were all kids sometime, so I don’t seem much problem in taking the act of pretending that extra little step when I’m lacking that extra little “umph” in my play time.

Maybe a little more realistically for you is to download the Lord of the Rings trilogy audiobook onto your MP3 player. Seriously, this is one of the best things I’ve done to bring the game to life for me. There’s nothing like getting the lore on two fronts to suck you into the world. Context provides understanding, understanding provides depth. Alternatively, you can pop on one of the movies while you play. The experience isn’t quite as long-term (the audio trilogy is over 70 hours long, I believe) but it can certainly help.

Damn it.

Beau Turkey over at MMOCam (a great blog from a very down to earth gamer) has this little thing he calls the Immersion Project going on. It’s a set of rules for how to play the game. Realistically, I don’t think I’ll find myself playing a makeshift cartographer before logging on, but the essence of this ruleset is to step into the world,  give it more depth, and to actually see that forest you’ve feel you’ve missed.

So, try out the above. See how it works for you. Hopefully you find yourself sinking a little bit deeper into the world we all love.

In my spare time…

Hi Everyone,

In lieu of playing LotRO today, I decided to work on my other hobby a little bit. It’s rough but I’d like to share it with you all. Let me know what you think in the comments.

I play all of the parts in the song using a multitracking program called Audacity. It’s optimized for headphones (due to the high gain/distortion). Please let me know any constructive criticisms you may have to improve my future recordings. I’m no Slash or Travis Stever but, hey, I can try right? ;-)

I think tomorrow I’m going to redo the last part. It’s a tad too slow compared to the start of the solo. Enjoy!

Jeffrey Steefel’s Ten Ton Hammer Interview: A Breakdown

Jeffrey Steefel - Executive Producer of Lord of the Rings Online

Jeffrey Steefel - Executive Producer of Lord of the Rings Online

In the latest newsletter, Turbine pointed us in the direction of a recent Ten Ton Hammer interview with Jeffrey Steefel. The interview has a lot of information and is a truly interesting read. It is just a little bit long, so I’ve decided to break down the important points for you. Read on to hear what’s changing and get a sneak peak inside the head of a lead game designer.

    Ten Ton Hammer: Will we see a level cap raise later this year?

    Steefel: That is absolutely our intention. We can’t release details or anything like that, but we know that it’s an important step in the advancement path of players, so that’s being slated for later this year.

This is something that they’ve talked about doing a little bit in the past, as well. The main question is how this new level ceiling will be introduced. Will it come with an expansion or book? The tradition with other MMOs is to increase the maximum level with each expansion pack. I don’t think Rohan (hopefully) is coming out before the end of the year, so that leads me to believe they’re going to raise the level cap with a new book update.

On one hand, it’s a good thing because such a raise allows people to advance and also opens up the doors to developers. On the other, however, it leads me to wonder. The “add 10 levels” mindset puts a ceiling on your game. Eventually, the maximum level is bound to get too high. No one wants to level 80 times more than once, just to be competitive.

    Jeffrey Steefel: […] Basically, Moria is a giant part of our world now, and like many places in Middle-earth we want to make sure that players have awesome opportunities to go back there. The work has really just begun in Moria, and players will have lots of opportunities to go back into Moria and enjoy it in ways they haven’t yet. There’s a number of new instances of varying sizes that allow players to go back.

New instances are good. A+ for effort. Despite the increase in content, some people are bound to complain because, let’s face it, they’re complainers. No, as someone who hasn’t breached Moria yet, I can’t talk. A lot of people are ready to be done with Moria but I may be bringing more of this neat content into it will re-enliven it a little bit.

    Ten Ton Hammer: You’ve said all along, ever since we’ve been talking to you about LOTRO, that once we’re past the Misty Mountains we’d become a larger part of the war and start to see it going on. We’ve had our rest in Lothlorien, but what’s our next step? What’s the next big stop on the way to Mordor.

    Steefel: After Book 8, as we move forward in the later part of the year, we’re going to be moving into southern Mirkwood and Dol Guldur. […]Then there’s Dol Guldur itself, which is an incredibly huge, majestic, and very, very evil fortress that was Sauron’s fortress, so obviously you’re going to be up against a lot of interesting old and new foes.

So, it’s full of wargs, amirite? Both the grey and brown variety. ;-)

    Steefel: What these Skirmishes are going to do is […] take you into instances that we’ve built based on a lot of our experiences over the past year, especially the three- and six-man instances that people are really, really enjoying.

It sounds like the Skirmish system will pick up where our smaller instances have left off. Skirmishes, by the name, sound like they’ll be a scaled back version of our current dungeon iterations. Very cool. I can see the more group-oriented players looking at this as something bad because it encourages people to solo. At this point though, it could go either way. Right now, I’m optimistic. I tend to play during off hours, so finding a group can be challenging. This could help a lot.

    Steefel: We’ll be taking those instances and then adding a dynamic component; depending on the size of the party that actually goes into this instance, the content will be dynamic and respond to that by providing content that is tailored to the size of the party in a dynamic fashion.

Also wonderful. I can’t wait for more details on this update. One thing makes me take notice though, “we’ll be taking those instances.” Loud and clear, Mr. Steefel. This change will only apply to new instances and there’s potential that it will only apply to some of them, at that.


    Steefel: We’re also going to give you the opportunity to create your own customizable soldiers. If you’re going into battle and really want to feel like you’re leading a group into this encounter – besides your fellow groupmates of course – so we’re going to give you the ability to create customizable soldiers. This way you’ll always feel like, even if you’re alone or in a small group, that you’ll feel like you have a large group with you.

But wait, there’s more…

    Steefel: We like humans grouping together too! I don’t think there are any plans to take these Skirmish soldiers out into the open world landscape. This is really just to bring that particular functionality to the Skirmish environment.

I was a little concerned about the prospect people being able to bring these soldiers anywhere with them. Undoubtedly, it would cut down on players grouping. Still, I’m a little disappointed that we won’t be able to use soldiers to fill in empty slots for instances. I suppose that the issues going along with that (again, forcing people away from grouping) would outweigh the benefits but, I have to tell you, I’m having a lot of troubling getting fellowships together for instances. I digress, I can’t wait for this change to make it into the game. It’s only the start, we must remember. The base for things to come.

An interesting response to a question about overseas money being reinvested into the game…

    Steefel: […] the game is worldwide, the more we have to reinvest back into our game. […]We’re trying to have the same cadence in our content updates as we have in the past, but we’re spending some of our resources and time on things like “how are we going to make sure our infrastructure and gameplay we’re providing are solidly positioned for the future?” We want the game to continue to grow and evolve for years and years to come, and that takes a lot of time and energy.

So yes, content updates are coming slower. And yes, it’s the fault of the East. *shakes fist* ;-)

    Ten Ton Hammer: One of the ways LOTRO sets itself apart is through the legendary item system. Some players believe that the development on that system has gotten stale and has veered away from the original vision for that system. Could you talk a little bit about the future of item advancement?

    Steefel: What we’re doing now is feeding the system, and in upcoming books we’re going to be making changes to how the legendary item system works and fleshing it out some more. We want to provide different types of inventory and provide a more robust playing field for the types of things that you can find. We want to also find more ways to get these items through experience and encounters. […]. Again, it is a powerful system in the way it is intrinsically tied to the advancement of players, so we have to be very careful and proceed cautiously so we don’t do anything that will fundamentally change the advancement path for any particular player build.[…]

This question stands on its own.

    Steefel: It really strains our system. We are in the process of making some pretty big changes, both in the technology and our infrastructure so we can expand our capabilities quite a bit. […] That’s what we’re focused on, and we’re spending a lot of time and energy in making sure that things get markedly better. And I think players will be seeing that. We just need to catch up with ourselves a little bit, but I think players will be seeing improvements soon.

Sounds like we can expect hardware upgrades of some kind. Personally, aside from the hearing about stability issues, I’ve had no problems. My connection is always far better than anything I ever had with WoW, latency wise. Still, this should come as a real positive to many players.

    Ten Ton Hammer: Some players contend that PvMP gets unbalanced with each book that’s released; either for the Freeps or the Creeps. What are you doing to alleviate that?

    Steefel: Our developers working on PvMP spend a lot of time culling over the forums and trying to understand what is working and what isn’t working.

You heard him, zerg the forums! Gwaaaaaaaaaa!

    Steefel: For Moria, we did a number of things […] Ettenmoors, tries to take an assessment of how many people there are on either side of the conflict and […] try to balance them out by granting session play characters to either side. That has certainly helped us out with some of the terrible imbalances that we’ve had in the past, but we’ve done some other things as well in terms of reorganizing some of the content and making it easier for people to find each other.

    There’s no question that it is a challenge and we’ll continue to work on it. We’re definitely aware of it and we’re trying to make it better as often as we can and to the best of our ability.

This is just a teansiest bit vague. “This is what we have done and now we’re *cough* mumble *cough*. Sorry, what now? Oh yes, raids!” Still if they’re aware, all we can do is hope. Again, this is an area I’m not too familiar with. But don’t worry creeps and freeps. I got’cha back.

That’s about it. There’s a lot of interesting information and insight that came out of this interview. Again, I encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s a good chunk of text though, just like my own little summary.

Here’s the TL;DR:

  • The level cap is being raised later this year. No details on when, how high, or if it’s coming with a new expansion. I predict that it will be a book update, possibly marketed as a mini-expansion.

  • We’re not done in Moria. “A number of new instances” will be added in the next book update.

  • There’s a big emphasis on small group instances; multiple references to players “really enjoying” this type of content.

  • Skirmishes will be instanced encounters that build upon the lessons they’ve learned in the past.

  • Skirmishes will be dynamic, meaning they will scale to the size of your party. Logic would dictate that it’s possible this type of content will be implemented into “normal” instances as well.

  • As of now, “soldiers,” or npcs hirelings, are not be useable in the open world. They will only be allowed in Skirmish encounters.

  • Server stability is an issue and they’re working on it.

  • Content updates are coming further apart due to increased efforts overseas, working on the “behind the scenes” systems, and reworking their graphics engine.

  • They’re aware of the PvMP balance issues and are working to address them. The PvMP teams reads the forums a lot, so shout yourself hoarse over thataway ————–> Fun fact: developers drink tears. True story.

A Little Vacation

Hello all,

I just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve been on a little vacation. Since my last post. It’s been a long ride the last four months with wedding planning (24 days left until I take the big walk!) and student teaching, so I decided to take advantage of my newfound freedom to step back from it all for a few days.

While I’m at it, I should probably mention that I’ll be gone for the week after my wedding too. So, from June 20th-28th, I’ll be safely tucked away at Disney World enjoying my honeymoon, 3000 miles away from my nearest gaming rig.

For now though, I won’t be posting anything new until this coming Monday. Until then, take this opportunity to check out some of the awesome blogs on the blogroll. They post enough to keep you more than entertained until I get back.

Take care everyone!

Two Parts Casual, One Part Hardcore, and a Little Bit O’ Love

I was reading a post at Under the Banner today (a great blog – this author hasn’t written much lately but her post explains why) and got to thinking about the true definition of LotRO. It’s Lord of the Riblets, in case you were wondering.

Anyways, the post really broke down how the author has been feeling lately. In short, full of boredom, hope, and disdain all at once. The author, Serielle, is suffering burn out in a big way. She says a couple of things that shed some light into her current state of affairs. Here’s one:

So, I started to run the repeatable quests in Lothlorien, since that’s the only way to get rep and the shiny gold leaves. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over… ad infinitum. I didn’t do it every time I logged in, and tried to intersperse other activities into the grindfest . . . It just wasn’t enough though.

This, I think, is a universal conditional that results from working at a game instead of playing it. Now, I believe her when she says that she’s not hardcore. As a matter of fact, her self-branding of casual-hardcore seems true to form and eerily reminiscent of my own play style. So, this isn’t an attack in any way.

The fact of the matter is that games like LotRO want you to work. That’s where they hide the barbs and hooks that define our passion. That may seem like a little much but is it not true that accomplishment is the result of effort? That more effort generally equals more accomplishment? So, logically, the more we invest, the more fulfilled we are (to a degree, of course). Yet, the downside to such design is that, inevitably, people will get worn out.

It’s a funny thing, even though LotRO is considered a casual game, it also has the most antiquated hardcore element much more than other “harder” games: grind. Grind is infused throughout the game in the form of deeds. Grinding for xp and grinding for traits are some of the core ways that you’ll advance your character. After that’s done, you grind for reputation, or crafting materials, or gear.

Grinding, in itself, isn’t much of an issue. It’s all about presentation. How you go about your grind, what and where you find your target, and how much carotene dangles in front of you all define the experience. If those three things are worthwhile and in-sync, grinding can actually be relatively stress free.

Yet, that’s not really how we have it. It causes me to wonder why grinding plays such a big role in the game? Was this the best way? I think it was the workable way. The way to slow people down and keep them playing for longer and, to make it worthwhile, they intertwined the grind with character advancement. Now, we have a system that’s more progressive (advancement/customization through effort) than most, yet harkening to the grand ol’ days of our grand pappy’s mammies.

You know, 2003?

In our oh-so-casual love affair with Middle-Earth, many of us grind away the hours, while the WoW’ers call us scrubs. Ironic isn’t it?

For all of pressure to work there is much play. More than that, you can tell that a lot of love went into the game. There are so many little details that get taken for granted but, through the eyes of the un-jaded, they are really quite wonderous.

For myself, I’m behind the game enough to have a long, long time before I’ll run out of things to do. I’m thankful for that. And, unlike many, I really don’t mind the grind. So, I wish the author the post. Give it some time. Relax and try out some warmer waters for while. From my own experience, I can say that you’ll probably never get that “feeling” back the way it once was. But you’ll find fun again, if you want it.

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