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Interviews

Looking Back... The Lord of the Rings Online

Jon Blyth swaps phat loot for a fat lute and sings his way through the Shire

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But the more I've learned about Tolkien, the more fascinated I am with it, and so I read more. There's people on my team that know everything you can imagine knowing about Tolkien and his literature. I've got someone on my team who actually reads and writes the runes...

HUMOUR
Steefel: There's a lot of humour in Tolkien, but it's a bit dry and more sophisticated. I think it's also kind of buried beneath the drama, chaos, evil and everything else that's going on. I thought they did a really good job of putting that across in the movies; the whole way that Sam, Merry and Pippin were played for comic relief. That relationship really is in the books. Hobbits in particular are sources of humour, because they're provincial people generally speaking, and very opinionated.

We're not talking about it at this stage, but one of the things that's going to happen with this new update are some live events, and there's going to be some really funny stuff in that, too. Minstrels playing Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd with the in-game music system. I've heard it's amazing.

Zoom

THE JACKASS FACTOR
Steefel: In some respects, letting the player make his own fun is what these games are about, and we're going to be focusing on that increasingly. The first thing you want to make sure you deliver is the environment - that it's a great place to be in - and in our case, it needs to be a place that feels like you're really in Tolkien's world.

We feel like we did that. Also, we needed to present a game that's structured and fun: something that really gives you guidance through your experience, so we don't just drop you somewhere and say, 'Have fun!' The next big thing is to give you tools and ways to make your own fun - everything from the music system to the live events we're doing. A lot of people don't know that there's already a version of tag that you can play.

IT'S NICE, BUT IS IT TOLKIEN?
Steefel: We understand that Middle-earth is the fantasy destination, and it's got to be right. Tolkien Enterprises have been great though: they know we're making a game, and there has to be a magic-using class. People really want magic, and they want it to be fun. People want things that flash and explode, and lasers that fly through the air, and clearly nobody did that in Middle-earth.

But as long as you wrap it up right, and you make it clear he's doing these things through learning and wisdom and is understanding how to summon the natural energies in Middle-earth, then everyone's fine with it. They've come to really trust us, and that helps a lot. Especially with Angmar, which isn't described much in the books, and doesn't exist as a viable entity in the third age.

ART FOR ART'S SAKE
Steefel: We had to be careful not to copy the movies, because our licences were for the book. Plus, we wanted to make sure that our focus was on the source material itself. Instead of worrying about 'let's be like this' or 'not like this', the only thing that matters is, was it described in the book, and if so, how was it described?

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Gandalf is described as a guy in a great pointy hat with a long white beard, so our Gandalf is going to look a lot like the movie Gandalf. We do whatever makes sense - sometimes it's like the movies and sometimes it isn't.

BOW TO WOW
Steefel: I ran the studio at Sony for a while, and until WOW came out, the prevalent conversation was always that there'd be a couple of million people willing to play these games, but it was a narrow, niche market. Now, we're exactly where we want to be: if you ask people who are the leaders in the MMO base, WOW and LOTRO are the two games they're going to mention.

We're the only other people in there as far as we're concerned, and that's great - because we offer a lot of other things that WOW doesn't. One of those things is going to be the way in which we run the service in terms of live updates and live events. What's happening ongoing in the live experience is as important as the actual product that's shipped.

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