Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tolkein Meets Snakes on a Plane

I saw Snakes on a Plane at a midnight opening night screening at the movie theater down the street from Fenway Park. A well-informed (and intoxicated) audience such as this one is well aware of something that the characters in the film initially are not; that there are, in fact, snakes on the plane. The film's humor stems in part from that knowledge. The audience shares in a knowing chuckle as characters react in ways that we know to be foolish because, unlike the protagonists, we are aware of the snakes.

"Go deliver these pickaxes to Hollin Gate," the Dwarves tell me. Well, no reason not to get a quiet little evening swim in. Now where is that dread aura coming from?

Turbine faced a similar storytelling challenge in preparing the Mines of Moria expansion. One would imagine that the overwhelming majority of players who have gotten a LOTRO character to level 50 is sufficiently interested in the subject matter to have read the books, seen the films, or both. A non-trivial number of players, such as myself, will jump into the lake just to see what happens. Under the circumstances, going the horror/comedy route was probably the best possible way of opening the gates of Moria.

The issue, of course, is that I am not the wise and powerful Gandalf the Grey. I am not Aragorn, future king of Gondor. I am not Boromir, bold warrior of Gondor, strong Gimli, agile Legolas, or even a fool of a Took. Those legends were the Fellowship that had to run when they encountered the Watcher in the Water. Allarond is a random level 50 human champion. There are half a dozen of us milling around the broker in Bree at any given time. The Watcher in the Water does not get driven away from the Hollin gate by random level 50 champions. The Watcher in the Water, like Chuck Norris, eats five meals a day. The first four are champions, and the last is the rest of the raid group.

What to do when the player SHOULD lose?

Thankfully for the sake of the lore, the Balrog appears only in flashback, slaughtering the Dwarves of Moria.

This is the double edged sword that the lore of Middle Earth poses for Turbine. The quest I have just describes resonates specifically because it is the Hollin Gate of Moria, and not some random cave in Azeroth.

Characters like Illidan or Arthas were created by Blizzard and killed by Blizzard, and it doesn't really bother me if players get to actually deal the killing blow. By contrast, this is Moria. Since I was twelve years old, I have known that the Dwarves dug too deep, awoke unspeakable horrors, and were overrun by goblins and creatures far fouler than Orcs. This is not some random quest hub that I expect player characters to be fixing. Even if the events of the expansion occur after the Fellowship of the Ring has come and gone, it feels strange to me to enter the Mines of Moria and find travel paths, quest hubs, and even a center of commerce with large numbers of players. And yet, that is precisely what was required if you were going to set an MMORPG inside the Mines of Moria.

What do you do when the lore of Tolkein - arguably one of the game's strongest selling points - says that you cannot do the thing that the game mechanics require you to allow players to do? Apparently you take a stand and declare that you have had ENOUGH of these cursed-by-Durin tentacles on this cursed-by-Durin lake. The result is certainly fun, but it's also a bit disappointing.


Keith said...

tell us more about moria!

instance quests
daily solo dungeons
the book story lines
how's the player base looking?

Green Armadillo said...

I actually didn't get around to starting in on Moria until last week due to busy off-line circumstances. Too many games and not enough gaming time! :)

This post covers the first book storyline of Moria, which makes reasonable use of solo instances. I have yet to see daily solo dungeons, but they probably aren't until higher levels. I joined a laid back guild that had been around since launch as soon as I arrived back in game, and the population there seems to be reasonably good. I haven't really tried to look for groups yet, so I can't comment on that department.

More early impressions and nitpicks are going up soonish, probably tomorrow. :)

Anonymous said...

There are solo daily instances in Moria; they're the 'crafting instances'. There are 2 each for ore, wood, and scholar materials Each instance offers 3 quests, and the reward for each quest completion (besides whatever crafting materials one picks up) is an Iron Garrison Token (IGT). 3 IGTs can be exchanged for one Lothlorien Gold Leaf. If one is industrious it's thus possible to earn 18 IGTs and by extension (after exchange) 6 leaves per day. The leaves can be exchanged for Second Age Legendary Items and other nice stuff. IRC it takes 15 leaves for a Second Age Legendary, meaning you can earn one every 2.5 days. The instances take about 10-20 minutes each, but one gets faster at them with practice, and lvl 60 chars can often run them in 5-10 minutes each. You also need Lothlorien Silver Branches to get the Second Age Items; branches come from repeatable daily quests in Lothlorien, and one can earn 31 branches per day.

IGTs can also be directly exchanged for runes to give your legendary items experience. Branches can also be exchanged for consumables and recipes.