Monday, April 26, 2010

The eventual expansion of Eriador

Below is a rough map showing the outlines of most of the existing Eriador zones, as well as several potential additions. You will notice that some are quite a bit larger than existing zones, and may need to be divided even further. This map is only intended as inspiration and suggestion.

I will be adding some concept stuff to this soon.
Below are links to several of Travisimo's well thought-out region concepts. While some of the details disagree with my concept, they are full of excellent ideas.

Monday, March 22, 2010 will it be divided, and what will it look like?

I apologize to the two people who may or may not follow my blog, for the recent lack of updates. I now present: some thoughts on Rohan, as I posted in the official LOTRO forums.

I disagree with many who assert that Rohan will or should look anything like Eregion. Eregion is definitely higher in elevation, MUCH different when it comes to vegetation, and as depicted in-game, is much too dry.

That said: Rohan is comprised of a few distinct regions, but let's focus for a minute on the wide steppe-plains of the west and east emnets.

This is ostensibly what it should look like:

Now, let's break the region down a bit. Unlike 'Southern Mirkwood' which has a few different 'zones', Rohan will have to be a collection of 'regions' akin to Eriador. Here is Rohan as we know it:

Here is Rohan as it could be divided into regions OF ROUGHLY EQUAL SIZE TO THE SoA REGIONS:

Let's go from the core out.
-The smallest scale implementation of Rohan would include the West and East emnets as well as the Eastfold.
-Anorien and the fens of the Entwash delta might wait until a Gondor expansion.
-I expect Isengard to be a mini-region akin to Rivendell.
-I believe it likely that we'll see Dunland not as part of the Rohan expac, but as part of a book update before or after.
-The Wold is largely empty, and if they're going to skip any terrain here, I'd expect it to be that, sadly. A better alternative would be to lightly populate it and use iterative terrain to create a big open field.
-Fangorn...whether its part of Rohan, or an update unto itself, I cannot foresee a future in which Fangorn is not included.
-The Anduin, Emyn Muil, and Dead Marshes all might be part of a different update or storyline, but as we know them from the books, we tend to associate them with one another. I would hope at least, that we could visit Amon Hen as part of the East Emnet. Perhaps the Great River could be its own book update.

Monday, October 19, 2009

More mixed news from Turbine Q&A

Turbine posted it's second official Q&A document a few days ago, and it contains the usual mash of prefab questions. Among these, a couple stood out:

Q: Minstrels currently suffer a 2 second root after a healing skill and animation completes. Is this working as intended or something that will be addressed?

A: This is intentional, for the time being.

This could be construed as a good or a bad indicates that they are clearly aware of the issue, but are not taking any steps to correct it in the near future...on the other hand, perhaps they to plan to do a major combat revamp later on to address this and other 'animation rooting' problems.

Q: Why is so much gear "Bind on Acquire"? If it is just to stop trading, why not "bind on Account"?

A: We want to have certain items be bound to the specific character. Bind on account would not accomplish this. It’s one of our ways to encourage players to engage content on their characters as they progress through the game using various classes. We are not considering Bind on Account at this time, however, it’s a nice idea for a set of “inheritance” items.

This makes plenty of sense for gear items, but for some, such as housing, which is an account-specific feature, it would make TREMENDOUSLY more sense for trophy items to be bind-on-account, and allow storage in housing chests. This is currently one of two major flaws with the housing system. On a related note:

Q: Can we expect to see the guild and housing systems advancing any time soon?

A: Not for Siege of Mirkwood, though we’d love to revisit these systems at some point in time.

Understandable, but will disappoint many a 'fluff' player.

Q: Where does Mirkwood fit, size wise, with previously released regions?

A: Mirkwood is roughly 75-80% of the size of the Northdowns.

This is one of the more worrying answers. We've seen from the new Mirkwood trailer here that the zone LOOKS fantastic. However, being this small, and encompassing all five levels of advancement past 60, would indicate that it's an incredibly dense area in terms of content, much like Moria. However, many players, myself included, have been clamouring for LESS dense areas -- areas akin to the Brandy Hills, Far Chetwood, even parts of Evendim. Also, from the maps we've seen from PAX, the Mirkwood area seems to be directly across from Lothlorien, which is incorrect -- there ought to be many miles of land between the river and the Mirk-eaves.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A partial list of lingering issues

I - Mobs:
1.) Lothlorien
-All shrews need to be swarm, not normal
-Wolverines need to be swarm, not normal
-References to 'rabies' need to be removed
-Lizards need to threaten before attacking
2.) Misty Mountains
-'Reindeer' should be renamed to Elk and use the appropriate model
-Giants need to be updated to the new directional induction tech, instead of rotating
3.) Trollshaws
-Troll density needs to be adjusted down in many areas
-All wood trolls need to be adjusted from elite to signature
-Giants need to be updated to the new directional induction tech, instead of rotating
4.) Forochel
-Elk should be renamed to 'Reindeer' and use an appropriate model
-Sabertooth mob aura visuals need to be adjusted to display frost cloud
5.) Eregion
-Saberteeth really have no purpose or place here. Replace with bears. (Tal Caradhras.) It doesn't make sense for saberteeth to share space with wargs anyway.
6.) Evendim
-Giants need to be updated to the new directional induction tech, instead of rotating
-Goblin and tomb-raider density needs to be reduced along the Barandalf
-Elk need to use an appropriate Elk model, instead of deer

II – Art:
-Scrub lizards, Anduin lizards, and Waterworks lizards need to be visually differentiated.
-Many shields still exist with either improper names or artwork (ie: Elven soldiers shield has a Dwarven appearance)
-Lothlorien sentinels frequently appear armed with Dwarven and human weapons and shields.
-Elk, Deer, and Reindeer currently all use the same model.
-Wooden plank nodes in Moria still display branches atop them.
-Mallorn distance impostor sprites in need of updating

III – Graphics/Engine
-Waterfalls still in need of finishing.
-All maximum draw distances need to be increased: terrain, level of detail, object draw/distance impostor threshold, frill distance.
-Upper and lower body avatar animations need to be divorced. (ie: emotes should play their upper half, if appropriate, while mounted.
-Certain mobs have only one attack animation. All mobs should have at least two, and unique mobs and bosses should have an increased level of animation detail.
-Fog needs to be updated to be volumetric. Fog should be visible from outside its boundaries and not simply 'fade in' when a certain perimeter is breached.
-There is no slider for weapon particle effect intensity. There should be. (legendaries)
-Horse-riding animations still out of sync

IV – Systems/Skills
1.) Mail system
-Autocomplete feature required
-Multiple item mailing still not present
-'Save' feature would be nice
2.) Mount system
-Mounts need a substantial increase in sturdiness.
-BPE should be enabled while on mounts
-If you are afflicted by a slowing effect when you mount, it should not affect the mount (ie – hamstring)
-Criticals should not auto-dismount
3.) Stable-point
-Stable route prices need revision; many make no sense
-We still do not have linked stable-routes
-Housing areas require stable-points for return trips
-There is no boat travel point on the friendly Annuminas pier; this should be a logical replacement for the bizarre stable point in Echad Garthadir
4.) Housing
-Add a 'mailbox' feature to permissions to allow other chars to use your house mailbox
-Housing storage MUST be able to store bound items. With the tech from shared storage (only allowing the char to which the item is bound to retrieve it) this should be possible now. Permissions could be adjusted to allow certain people to return bound items to their owner's escrow (to prevent people from filling up kinhall chests with bound items as a DOS attack.)
5.) Skills
-Hunter 'rain of thorns' and 'rain of arrows' should not require LOS
-Dwarf 'Endurance of Stone' needs to add frost mitigation
-Fellowship skills (as displayed in the fellowship tab of the skills panel) should carry across to all characters on an account.

V – Audio
1.) Voice-over
-All of the non-main character Dwarf VO done for Moria is in dire need of replacement
-Some of the Angmarim have not been updated to the proper accents
-Unique VO's for certain Fellowship members still lacking
2.) Music
-Annuminas/Evendim theme still used in default cave music loop
-Eregion still has multiple zones which use music from the North Downs or Evendim
-There is STILL no toggle for combat music. (should be landscape only)
-Many instruments which are not physically capable of playing chords (ie: horn, clarinet) can still do so ingame
-The zone boundary around Caras Galadhon needs to be tightened up so the audio doesn't constantly switch back and forth with the Lothlorien woods audio.
-Many of Chance Thomas's orchestral tracks are grossly underused, such as the 'Archers of the Galadhrim' track which would be perfectly at home in Fanuidhol.
3.) Sound Effects
-Lothlorien requires its own ambient sound track, not the default woods one used in ND and Bindbole Woods, etc.
-Weapon-on-armour sound effects need to be revised and expanded
-Non physical impacts still make the generic 'smack' sound when they hit you (ie drake fireball)
-Block and Parry sound effects need to be much more distinct

VI – User Interface
1.) Fellowship/Social
-Hovering over fellowship-members' portraits should reveal their location (zone, not region)
-Inspect needs to be enabled on all social panels.
2.) Who/fellowing panel
-Upon opening the /who or fellowing panel, NO level range or zone should be selected
-Location filtering should be doable by REGION (ie North Downs) as well as zone (Nan Wathren, Nan Amlug East)
-All ranged social options, such as inspect, should be enabled on the /who tab
3.) Target marking
-Target marking needs to be enabled even while solo (not in a fellowship)
-Target markers need to show up on the targeted mob/npc/pc portrait
-Target markers need to have increased (or variable) opacity
4.) Chat/CLI
-We are still limited to 4 user-channels
-There is still no /target command
-Hitting shift+R needs to re-tell the last person to whom you sent a tell
-When friends and kin members sign in, their names should be right-clickable, with the regular social interact option
5.) Buffbar
-Defeat dread and revival sickness still show up on the buff line
-There is as yet insufficient delineation between buffs and debuffs in terms of visual clarity
-There is no option to customize how these are displayed, esp timers.

VII – Quests
-Level-cap quests need to reward extra cash or Destiny as a basic function (not something specially coded in for individual quests)
-The nested instance quests in Moria still do not seem to have any purpose or reward, other than petty cash.
-Escort NPCs in many older quests need to have their AI reworked so as to be less suicidal.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mixed News from Turbine Q&A

Turbine has published the first set of questions from their official 'Ask the DEVs' thread awhile back . The full article can be read here.

Once again, instead of using actual questions, they generalized based on the themes of the incoming questions to create a marketing-friendly article. There are a few tidbits of good information, such as the inclusion of an auto-complete feature for mailing (still no multiple attachments though; gah). However, one answer in particular stood out as very disappointing:

Q: Why was the decision made to go the route of radiance gating? Were there other options on the table other than gear? Couldn’t it be placed on a trait?
A: The team wanted a means of gating content behind a progressively difficult barrier that could be overcome. At the time a popular method to gating raid content was to require players to go through long sequences of quests strung throughout instanced content. Instead LotRo chose to have players acquire tangible rewards in the form of radiance-statted gear.

We think that the look and the attributes of our “Tier Sets” are rather rewarding in and of themselves. That they further unlock the ability to acquire even more powerful gear is a big plus. Trait-based gating feels less rewarding as players progress through the various milestones of the process so we’ve decided to stick with using radiance gear to gate access to our raids.

That said, there is a rather significant change to radiance coming with our next update that should give players a better means of gearing up to more easily defeat the encounters of our raid zones:

Players will no longer cower at anything less than 8 dread levels. Starting at 8 dread players will cower at the same rate as they currently do at 5 dread on live. All current penalties to attributes and skill levels still apply as they do currently on live though so you’ll still have to do some level of gearing prior to entering the new raid zone. Only the cowering behavior is being modified to allow for greater discrepancy between the radiance level on a player’s gear and the gloom level of the raid zone.

Further, content is planning to somewhat relax the amount of gloom experienced throughout raid zones while incrementally increasing it for boss encounters and challenge modes. The amount of gloom experienced from cluster to cluster will gradually increase as it has in the past; but it should be easier to gain initial access to raid zones as well as overcome the gloom of a given raid zone in order to get back on the hope side of the scale via consumables.

Coupled with the upcoming changes to make dungeon-rewarded radiance gear more easily obtainable, we hope that this change to our dread system provides an easier ramp-up to those frustrated with the old means of radiance gating. At the same we expect to provide a suitable challenge for top-end kinships looking to push the envelope. Again, more success should equal more gear which in turn should equal an easier time overcoming our raid content.

I am at a loss to explain why Turbine continues to defend this mechanic, when it has been almost unanimously derided among the community. I can't think of a more universally despised feature in this game (other than perhaps Hounding Fear), and yet Turbine insists upon pushing this Radiance gating down our throats. If they would but embrace traditional gear-gating, they'd find that a much larger percentage of their population would be able to participate in and enjoy raids, and there would be more freedom in content and encounter design.

Barring that, there are several other ways to implement a gating mechanic that are LESS contrived and polarizing.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Moria Soundtrack Review

Original Sound Version has posted a review of the Mines of Moria soundtrack. You can find it here:

I have posted below my full review of this soundtrack as well:

I believe it to be among the finest video-game music ever conceived. Here lies the terrible dichotomy. While I absolutely adore the orchestral music by Chance Thomas, I find the synthesized themes that dominate inside Moria to be unbearably brash and over-pronounced. I don't mean to discredit Stephen DiGregorio here, as he has written some first-rate pieces for Shadows of Angmar. This is a flaw in implementation more than in composition. The type of music that DiGregorio has written simply does not suit the MIDI/synthesized instrumentation, and would likely sound fine with acoustic instruments and the full dynamic range that they are capable of. Lastly, the problem is compounded by the fact that whomever assigned these various tracks to spaces in the game world tremendously favored the synth over the true orchestra, and as such, hearing Chance's music while playing is much too rare an opportunity.

I don't want to end on an overly negative tone, so I will once again reiterate how spectacularly successful Chance is at capturing vital images from the words of Tolkien and bringing them to life. My one wish in this regard would be for Turbine to have the money to pay him full-time to flesh out the entirety of their Middle-earth.

Here is the track by track breakdown:

1.) The Hollin Gate: This, of all tracks, works perfectly to capture an air of mystery, and of impending wonder. The violins on the repetitive fourths play over a very simple bass line, but it manages to evoke so much in the way of atmosphere. The first glimpses of the primary Moria theme can be had in this track. Its situation in the Walls of Moria subzone is a good choice, however it is unfortunately alternated with some of the synthetic music, and is interrupted by combat.

2.) A Journey in the Dark: This is the theme that greets you as you enter Moria for the first time. It is likely the most substantial iteration of the primary Moria theme to be had in the whole soundtrack. The wandering violins are back, but this time they accompany a lush full orchestral pronouncement of the Theme. However, said theme always ends a minor step up from where you think it ought to, illustrating how all is not well in the Dwarf Kingdom. Heavy low brass are more prominent here than in the previous track, as is a voiceless choir.

Some players will encounter this theme for the first time while doing the 'Fall of Moria' session-play instance. Here it repeats, to the credit of the designers. Sadly, in the Great Delving, it only plays upon entering the subzone each time, and then the game cycles the synth music. It is also interruptible by combat, a poor decision that plagues many of the new areas in the expansion.

3.) Drums in the Deep: True to its name, this track begins with ominous drums, followed again by low brass, and an urgent, racing string line on the cellos and basses. What follows then is an almost John Williams-esque action piece, punctuated by heavy use of minor third chords at odd intervals. Just after 1:30, a fantastic vocal section interjects, with Dwarvish chanting. During the churning string sections, a metallic anvil clang can be heard, evoking a Holstian feel. At 3:10, the track winds down in a somewhat artificial manner -- it could have gone on repeating its prior sections for another two minutes, and not overstayed its welcome. All in all, a splendid action piece which would suit many a dungeon-fight sequence.

4.) Khazad-dum: Beginning with an eerie modern cinema-ambiance, quickly the bass vocals join to add even more foreboding before the Orff style chanting at 1:30. The chord progression at 2:00 may seem a bit contrived, but it works, unlike the swift transition to the ending of this piece. (Though the ending bars are themselves quite good.) What I notice most about this track is how it seems abbreviated. In Nud-melek, in the game, there is a piece which cycles that appears to be an extended version of the introduction to this piece.

7.) The Golden Wood: Lothlorien, the beautiful home of the Lady Galadriel, and Lord Celeborn. Suitably instrumented with strings, flute, oboe, and a harp, with french horns for backing, and an ethereal female choir, this is perhaps the crown jewel of the Moria soundtrack. The Moria theme itself has more than one iteration here, but with a major ending instead of minor, and the pleasant variations seamlessly flit in and out of the forefront. This piece reminds one of the classical fairy-tales of old, and could not be better-suited to its ingame home. Near the end, a beautifully pure flute rendition of the Moria theme threatens to bring moisture to one's eyes, before timpani and chorus bring this piece to a majestic close.

8.) Archers of the Galadrim: This militant and relentless piece begins with some tribalesque drums, and ushers in a staccato string part which persists throughout the entire track. Here and there punctuated with the odd harp strum, there is also an overlayed female vocal track which works well to offset the rigidity of the rest of the piece. Overall, it does a good job in reminding one that the peaceful tree-dwellers can indeed be very dangerous. Ingame, the only place which I have heard this so far is upon first entering the Merrevail chamber in Eastern Durin's Way. It is entirely possible that it is used in some instance spaces I have yet to explore, however.

11.) The Falls of Nimrodel: Breaking out into the light at last! Interestingly, I believe this piece may be used only in the night-time track for the Dimril Dale.* Nevertheless, once it arrives, it gently issues forth its melodious themes on the harp. The orchestra patiently waits for its chance to crescendo, but then slowly fades as the harp beautifully descends to the last note. This is an excellent piece for ambiance, as it passes on the more concrete themes of the previous tracks, and musically replicates the sound of gently flowing water.

*As an update, this piece alternates with 'The Golden Wood' in the Dale, and synth music plays at night. This may well change in Book 7, when the entirety of Lothlorien is unveiled.

15.) Flame of Udun: This piece is accompanied nearly the entire time with a catchy drum cadence, which reminds one of the tribal orcs much moreso than its namesake. The orchestra, with its fleeting piccolo trills, and heavy trombone and horn chords, reminds one of something between an action thriller and a contemporary western. The tone chances dramatically at the entrace of the male chorus. Drama builds to a head, and this section could almost warrant association with the being of Shadow and Flame, but then the previous action music re-engages. No discredit to the piece whatsoever, but this would be a most excellent theme to associate with the Orcs, rather than the Balrog. This track is used brilliantly in the instance: The Forges of Khazad Dum.

17.) Hour of Doom: Taking its cue from earlier tracks, this piece presents the Moria theme in a subtle, but engaging fashion, before it builds and builds to what might be called an end-credits theme. It is unfortunately brief, but Hour of Doom sounds appropriately like the ending of a symphony.

I would rate Chance's music a 9.4/10, suffering only from its brief nature. Unfortunately, the pre-dominance of the synth music by Turbine's in-house sound department, and the extremely sparse application of Chance's music ingame prevent me from awarding the soundtrack itself a high mark. You will notice that I did not include half the tracks in this review, and with good reason.

I hope that Turbine realizes the error of its current track assignments, and corrects them in a coming audio pass. It would truly be a shame to let such wonderful and thoughtful themes go to waste.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Some notes on the Misty Mountains:

The density of Giants in all locations in which there are giants, especially Iorbar, is far too high.

Giants are an excellent candidate for the application of directional inductions, such as those found in Moria. These large creatures would not be able to 'turn on a dime' to target a clever player dodging their blows. This would also drastically reduce the monotony of 'giant-farming.'

The Crag-hawks or hendrevail are also much too dense, as are the bears just prior to Gabilzan.

Worms and snowbeasts are also guilty of unnatural density on the slopes leading up to Helegrod.

These areas need to adopt a more Forochel-like approach in their creature spawning patterns.