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.


2 Responses

  1. […] Epic Book weighs in on Ten Ton Hammer’s interview with Jeffrey Steefel. We’re both pretty much on the same page there, so check it out. […]

  2. […] breaks down a recent TTH/LOTRO interview for some of the salient details of upcoming content.  Follow that up with a heaping dose of LOTRO […]

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