Still Waiting…

So I’ve been playing LOTRO. As a gamer who likes to try many aspects of a game before settling into one roll, I played a character throughout the introduction as different races and classes. After doing this a few times, I had one take on the game that overwhelmed all others: It simply wasn’t epic.

Part of this is probably because I am playing on a laptop with a barely adequate gaming system, so all of my sound is jumpy, graphics are lagging, and my senses are simply underwhelmed. But also, the game cannot (and understandably so) compare to book in regards to the dire feel in regards to the quest. In the book, Frodo is carrying the ONE Ring. The ULTIMATE source of Evil. The entire world will COMPLETELY PERISH should he fail.

In the game? You’re… well, I’m not quite sure yet, to be honest. As slow a read as Tolkien can be, he is more successful than this online manifestation of his work in establishing the threat that looms over. A lot of the threat I feel in the game actually comes from having read the book and knowing what’s going on elsewhere, actually. My quest has no real end; it is seemingly chores streaming together that may or may not end up with as much importance as is being hinted.

I’ll continue to play. It’s generally not a boring game, and hopefully the plot will have more draw as I advance. But for right now, I’m still waiting for that one big hook to really get me immersed and make me realize the brevity of the situation.



What’s the deal with LOTRO cutscenes?

by Theo Dentchev

LOTRO starts off with some beautiful looking graphics, and a cutscene in which Gandalf sits at a fire smoking some pipeweed, telling you a story. Good stuff right?

And then you start playing the game.

In the first cutscene you encounter you’re most likely going to miss at least the first few lines of dialogue before you even realize that you’re in a cut scene. Why, you ask? Because the “cutscene” is just in game characters with text above their heads or in the text box at the bottom left of the screen. Don’t get me wrong, the in game graphics are really nice, great colors, good animations. But they’re in game graphics. Would it have been too much to ask for some cinema-like cutscenes? Or at least some sound instead of having to read dialogue. I mean, using in game graphics makes it so that at times it is difficult to notice immediately that someone else has started talking, and by the time you look to see the text above their head they’re already on to the next sentence. You could of course look at the text box in the bottom left, but then you miss whatever limited visual action might be going on. All in all this provides for a relatively poor form of storytelling.

Then again, maybe I’m just biased. I’m not quite old enough to have experienced the text based rpgs of the early days of gaming. In fact, the issue of my age is compounded by the fact that I didn’t really start playing video games (outside of pokemon on the gameboy color) until 2003 – very recently. And even then I didn’t really play rpgs as much as I did action-adventure games. So I am accustomed to playing games where the cutscenes are cinematic and the characters actually talk. I guess both styles of story telling (cinematic cutscenes and in game cutscenes) provide the same information, and you could understand the story equally well either way, but the presentation makes a huge difference. I will be better able to appreciate a story which I can enjoy and which is easy to follow.

I’m no game designer and have no idea of how difficult it must be, but would it really be that much harder to incorporate cinematic cutscenes into MMOs? Even if it is harder than doing for console games, games like LOTRO are supposed to have a strong focus on storytelling, so wouldn’t it be worth the effort to tell the story better? It would enhance the entire experience of the game, making it more immersing and engaging.

– TD

P.S I just realized that I haven’t gotten very far into the game, and it is still entirely possible there will be other cinematic cutscenes in the future. However, I still condemn the lack of such cutscenes in general, and the use of in game cutscenes instead.

Technology… You’re a Double-Edged Sword.

Matt Thumser

Hello. My name is Matt Thumser, and I am a Mac. I am not a PC, nor do I wish to become one. However, every so often I feel pressured by others to do so. I’ve been feeling it a lot lately. Worlds of Wordcraft is a brilliant class; that can’t be denied. I’ve never been in a class so forward-thinking, one that is so technologically advanced that has encompassed so many different media. In a single class period I’ve used books, movies, and computer games to make a point understandable. Obviously, the class is brilliant. It is also, however, very demanding in terms of technology. Again, I am a Mac. Lord of the Rings Online does not like this. Therefore, I was forced to become a PC as well. This in itself was no easy process (I’m looking at you, Boot Camp). It’s tough installing new drivers onto your newly installed copy of Windows when those drivers are on a disc in a bedroom hundreds of miles away. I guess you could say things are okay now; Windows has been installed, and I’m now a combination Mac and PC.

Needless to say, I haven’t fully immersed myself into the world of LOTRO. The story arc is yet to fully reveal itself; after all, I have only completed the intro. So far I’ve seen Blackwolds lay siege to the town of Archet, and nothing more. The actions I’ve witnessed bear no resemblance to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Names are familiar, however. I’ve stumbled into Bree-land, and into the Shire. I’ve traveled into Hobbiton, and visited with Bagginses. This, I can relate to, and appreciate. I almost feel proud to see these names in the game, because these are the names I’ve grown up reading. The feeling’s not that different from what I imagine it must feel like for a parent to watch their son score a touchdown in a football game, or see their daughter hit the hardest notes in a choir concert. It’s a great feeling to have.

My experience in LOTRO is just beginning. Maybe the story will change to follow the books, and maybe it won’t. Who knows? Either way, I’ve got a world to explore.

Toads are Terrifying

by: Calvin Patimeteeporn (Calvirth)

While I would love to describe th intricacies of the Epic Book 1 and Prologue, I can’t because of my horrible LOTRO skills. My inadequate skills of gaming has severely hindered my advancement to higher levels in the game and I apologize for not being able to reach these quests. However, I have a great substitute topic:

Why is this game SO. CONFUSING?

Today, I realized I have more than one sack to place my items in. I also realized that I can eat a numerous amount of food to regain health (morale? I dont know what to call it). I realized that I can, in fact, change weapons and sell items. All of this happened either today or yesterday. Did I mention I’ve been playing for a month?

Yes. A month.

Within that month I’ve discovered the wide variety of objects that can harm or kill me. Bears, wolves, man-eating spiders, and toads. YES. TOADS. How something so small can withstand 20 blows from an ax completely astounds me but I guess Shire toads are extremely resilient. I’ve also been called “n00b” in this game, or even better, completely ignored by other gamers who approach me and then quickly run away when I say, “Hi”. This world confuses me so. A frog can hold up a fight against me but when I fall from a manageable height I am left limping. Or how other gamers interrupt my fight with beasts to land the final blow. Or how it is only when I have very little health left do I fall off a cliff and into a wolf den where I am basically ripped to shreds by “Snarling Wolf” and “Wolf Leader”.

Besides my own frustration with the game, the virtual world of LOTRO that I actually HAVE experienced is amazing. The feeling that I have the entirety of Middle Earth to explore is real and the game designers attention to detail is amazing. It gave me great pleasure to walk around the Farthings and visit famous pubs, or even recognizing characters from the first book.

However, I am fully determined to reach the appropriate levels to enter these quest. Otherwise I would let down my avatar, and Calvirth will not stand for this.

Hear this Toads of The Shire! YOU WILL FALL BEFORE MY AX! I SWEAR TO IT!

Prologue Quests = Boring

My first experiences with Lord of the Rings Online have been rather boring. I have not yet gotten to the Epic Book 1 quests but I did complete the Prologue Quests.  Just like any other game, LOTRO uses the prologue quests to get the player acclimated to the game. For some people this is certainly helpful but for others it is just boring and tedious. I have very little experience with MMO’s, but even I found myself paying very little attention to what I was doing during the Prologue Quests. The quests themselves did not provide all that much action or excitement. I found myself leading my character around to various people and talking to them about things I didn’t care about. I was bored most of the time with the tedious and repetitive tasks I was presented with. Even when I strayed from the quests to go kill some wolves, the game could only keep me entertained for so long. I want instant gratification and excitement from a game and the Prologue Quests did not provide this for me.

                The quests were clearly designed to introduce the story behind the game as well as the controls and various aspects to the game. As a player, I had read the LOTR book and watched the movie. I had a pretty good idea of where I was and what was going on. Also, my experience with gaming made it very easy to figure out how to play the game with very minimal help from the game itself. I found myself being forced to do various activities with my character that I didn’t want to do. I understood the concepts of learning skills, using skills, attacking enemies, talking to characters and so on and so forth. Undoubtedly the prologue serves a role of great importance to new and inexperienced games, but for me it just proved to be tedious. I wanted to complete the prologue quests and get them out of the way. Granted they did not take any more than an hour, but still they left me with a bad first impression of the game.

                As for the quests and their relation to Tolkien’s world, I think there are many similarities. The most obvious of these similarities are the races, the characters, and the landscape in which you play. All these are taken directly from Tolkien because after all the game is based on Tolkien’s work.  A further similarity can be drawn to the Hobbit Prologue Quests.  Here the player begins in the shire just as Tolkien’s story begins with Bilbo Baggins in the shire. The game play itself begins to shift away from Tolkien’s world as the action begins. Tolkien must begin his writing by describing all the various aspects of the new world he is depicting.  In the game however, the character is instantly immersed into the landscape and everything can be seen through the gamers’ eyes. There is no need for words or descriptions as a constant visual is provided. The player is instantly in control and can do as he or she chooses. The player is not being influenced and directed by Tolkien’s words, but now rather the player is in control and making a story for himself.

                Another interesting comparison between Tolkien’s world and LOTRO is the way in which both initially develop. Tolkien describes the world he has created with his words. Any reader would be totally unfamiliar with Middle Earth and its inhabitants, so Tolkien must devote many words to describing these things. In a similar way, the designers of LOTRO assume that a new gamer has no idea what he or she is doing. So the designers put the Prologue Quests in to familiarize a new player with what the game has in store for them.  Both “introductions”, although very different, are also similar in that they both try to create comfort and familiarity with something that may be new or unusual.

                Perhaps it is because I just don’t like MMO’s in general, but I did not enjoy my first experiences with LOTRO. While doing the Prologue Quests I just wanted to be fully immersed in the game. I wanted instant satisfaction and a chance to win but with LOTRO this is not possible. It is a long, winding road to the top and I do not think this is a road I want to travel. I enjoy games that I can become good  at and win at quickly. I do not like having to put extensive time and effort into games to become good at them. I especially do not like this when it comes to games like LOTRO where time and effort are more important than skill. Judging by the Prologue Quests and my prior knowledge of  what MMO’s are I know it will take a lot of time and game play to improve my character.  This is not my type of game and it is not something I can see myself playing much beyond  what is needed for class.

-Matt Almeida

The Harrowing of Hell: Installing LOTRO on a Mac

When I first saw the prompt for this weeks post I have to admit that I was at a loss.   All I could remember from the LOTRO prologue quests were some dwarves, some elves, and some sort of cave.  I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention.  To help you understand why I blindly skimmed through the opening quests I will provide a step-by-step walkthrough of my experience with LOTRO thus far.

STEP 1: Installing Bootcamp

On the first day of class I discovered that my brand new MacBook Pro was essentially useless as configured.  I would need to run Windows in order to properly run LOTRO.  I would have to install Windows Vista using the Bootcamp utility found in Mac OSX.  In theory Bootcamp allows a Mac user to boot into a Windows OS installed onto a partitioned section of ones hard drive.  I ordered a copy of Vista on Amazon and it arrived without delay.  The installation of Vista was a breeze, Bootcamp made everything seem so simple.  Sadly, I fired up my machine to find that all of the critical drivers were missing.  It took five days of hunting to find the proper drivers; at this point I was about ready to lose my mind.  Finally Vista was up and running!

STEP 2: Installing LOTRO

As I previously explained, Bootcamp allows a user to install Windows onto a partitioned section of their hard drive.  I chose to devote 32 GB of hard drive space, the maximum recommended by Bootcamp, to my Windows install.   Given that Vista will take up somewhere between 10 and 15 GB, one should be left with a decent amount of storage space within the partition, I had around 18 GB of space left over.   I purchased my copy of LOTRO online, opting for the digital download.  After the game itself was installed it was necessary to download various patches.  I was quite surprised when I was told that the patches would take 5 hours to download, but who am I to judge.  I powered down my screen and went to sleep, hoping that LOTRO would be playable in the morning.  The next day I was greeted with a gut-wrenching error message warning me that there was not enough space within the partition store all of the data needed for the game.  For some reason the patch consisted of over 20 GB of information.  In an attempt to salvage the situation I reinstalled the game on my external hard drive, ensuring I would have enough space.  Going through the entire installation process again was one of the most frustrating experiences of my budding college career.  After two days, and countless fits of hysteria, LOTRO was finally ready to play.

STEP 3:  Playing LOTRO

Against all odds I was finally in the game and it was time to dive in, I was extremely excited to create my character.  I spent quite some time customizing and perfecting my elf hunter, and soon it came time to give him a name.  I had previously spent a good deal of time trying to come up with some clever allusion; I wanted a unique and meaningful name.  I had a short list of about ten names, all references to the fantasy novels of my childhood.  I typed in my first choice only to find that it had already been taken.  I was disappointed but surely another name on my shortlist would be available, WRONG WRONG WRONG.  They were all taken.  I eventually settled on Pennborn, a name I pulled out of thin air.  By the time I got into the game itself I have to say that I was a wee bit frustrated.   Now I was in the game, I had my character, but I was locked into an extended tutorial.  I began to doubt that I would ever actually be able to play LOTRO.  At this point I was so frustrated, and so eager to actually get into the main game, that I powered through the introduction and introductory side quests with unprecedented speed.  I absorbed next to nothing, the story flew right over my head.  Little did I know, I would eventually have to blog about my opinions on the introduction.

In conclusion, if you want to play LOTRO… buy a Windows machine.

Zack Goldman

Weaving the Threads Together

So far, I have played through almost all of the Prologue, but I have not yet traveled to the Shire to begin the part of the journey that follows in Frodo’s footsteps. As an Elf, I began my experiences in LOTRO hundreds of years before the events of the Fellowship, fighting not against Orcs and Sauron, but against Dwarves. They had attacked Edhelion, the city where my character, Elyon, lived, and I was able to take part in the battle and witness the destruction of her home. Then, the story moved forward to the ‘present’ day–the time period where LotR takes place. A group of elves, including Elyon, had returned to the ruins of Edhelion, hoping to bring back to the place some of its former glory, but after finding some dwarven weapons among the goblins scurrying about the place, she was dispatched to the court of the dwarf Frerir, a friend of the Elves (but not of the Dourhands, another dwarven faction that ruled the area).  After helping the dwarves with various preparations for winter (such as cutting lumber and skinning auroch hides) and weeding out some problematic inhabitants that the Dourhands were not taking care of (mainly poisonous Skorgrim’s Bloom flowers and goblins), Elyon was able to meet up with Elrohir, a son of Elrond, who had discovered that the Dourhands were attempting to bring Skorgrim, their dead leader, back to life in exchange for allying themselves with the forces of Angmar. Elyon joined forces with Frerir’s dwarves to stop this from happening. Tolkien only knows what comes next…

Overall, I felt that the experiences my elf went through were very relatable to the world of LotR, with a few exceptions. First of all, the fact that Elyon was present at the destruction of Edhelion really made her feel like a real elf, who would have memories from hundreds of years back (as Elrond does of the first defeat of Sauron). The NPCs (non-player characters) were all concerned about the land, as elves are, and though they gave me tasks to do, the tasks (like clearing out the slugs from the pool) made sense until I ‘discovered’ the dead goblins with the dwarven axes. After the journey to Frerir’s court, however, the side quests made very little sense. If there was such urgency in finding out what the Dourhand dwarves were up to, why would I chop firewood and make auroch jerky? The dwarves would be perfectly capable of such tasks themselves, and if Elyon’s mission were really so urgent, she would not be asked to do such mundane jobs. So, that sort of broke the nice storyline I was playing out, though I did see the need for her to get experience fighting monsters and for her to level up a bit before leaving the Prologue for the ‘real world.’ The rules of the game interfered with the suspension of disbelief I was experiencing at the time. Or, not exactly the rules, but the necessary mechanics of playing a game interfered with the flow of the story and thus with my suspension of disbelief.

At first, there was almost no connection to the events of LotR, but as Elyon progressed in the storyline I began to see more and more threads connecting her journey to the one depicted in the book. At first, the only similarities were the fact that elves and dwarves had ancient grudges, and that the elves were struggling with living in Middle Earth (as evidenced by the sad attempt to rebuild Edhelion). Basically, she was living in the same world as Frodo and the Fellowship, and that was it. Then, there was Elrohir, seen only a couple of times in the book, but still a part of it, and the alliance of the Dourhand dwarves with Angmar–a province of evil, allied with Mordor and home of the Witch-King in LotR. So, as the journey went on, Elyon’s seemingly separate path began to merge with that of the Fellowship–a common desire to see the Free Peoples survive and to defeat the forces of darkness. The quest to stop the Dourhands shows the largest leap yet towards the merging of the storylines of Elyon and the Fellowship, as confronting any sort of force from Angmar would directly relate to confronting the forces of Mordor. Now, I just have to keep playing and find out what’s next on Elyon’s journey through the Third Age of Middle Earth.