Delving for the Heart of Middle Earth Online - An MMORPG Based on the Tolkien Books? Elbren asks some tough questions of Vivendi Universal Games' Christopher Taylor and Vijay Lakshman

The Heart of Middle Earth Online: Tolkien Online Q&A


Christopher Taylor, Producer MEO
Vijay Lakshman, VP Online Games


I've been a Tolkien fan since I was a wee young bairn, and a gaming fan almost that long. I, like many others, have waited for the day when computer and console technology would be enabled to bring Middle Earth into our homes and allow us to play in Tolkien's world.  Vivendi Universal has just announced that they will have the first (and only) MMORPG based on Tolkien's Middle Earth, (that is, based on the books, not the movies).  What's an MMORPG?  It's a "massively  multiplayer online role playing game".  It means that for a monthly subscription price, you can create a character and play him or her with other players on your MMORPG server.  If you've played EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, Shabowbane, or others, then you know what VUG is attempting to do.   And yet, there are indeed some problems with a Middle Earth MMORPG:  magic users, time, events, quests....Read on to see what VUG had to say to my questions concerning MIDDLE EARTH ONLINE!


To start things from the beginning, what will the new Middle-earth MMORPG be called?

VUG: The Lord of the Rings: Middle-earth Online.


How will this game be different from the existing MMORPGs, (Dark Age of Camelot, Everquest, and Asheron's Call)?

VUG:  The obvious answer is the setting. We'll be the only official game set in the world of Middle-earth, with all the Tolkien characters, locations and situations. We will be a very story-based MMP, with a focus on quests instead of level treadmills. We'll have a new take on the way characters advance, and we are planning on a different way of doing Player vs. Player combat (PvP). Finally, we'll be able to take advantage of the most recent technologies, especially video technology.


Is VUG making this game for Middle-earth fans that are gamers or more for gamers in general?

VUG:  Since these games try to simulate a larger population than a normal game, we can support different types of players. We can do things for Tolkien fans, MMP fans and gamers in general. If I had to pick one that we are focusing on, it's the gamers in general. We want to make a good game first.


How will the MMORPG be distinctly "Middle-earth", besides the obvious geographical and character race distinctions?

VUG: LOTR, at it's heart, is a good story, so we have many story elements that are unique to our game. We will take advantage of the story like no other MMP has done previously. We're also going to really try and make socialization an interesting piece of gameplay. The interactions between the various characters in the book were at least as important as the characters themselves.

Hobbits - 3Hobbits - 3

What races will be able for play? Any evils? (Orcs, Southrons, Easterlings)?

VUG:  The player character races will be Hobbit, Dwarf, Elf and the race of Man. There are problems trying to remain true to the world of Tolkien if we allow full-blown evil race player characters. It doesn't make a lot of sense that an orc can adventure with his elvish friend and go to places like Rivendell. But that's what can happen if we don't make a racial PvP game, and that's not our goal this time around. We want to concentrate on the Player vs. Environment style of game. We think that it will take better advantage of the social aspect of Tolkien. There is a place in our game for evil races, but we can't discuss that yet. We're also looking down the road for expansions.


What Age will the MMORPG take place? How will time move along in order to avoid/coincide with major events, (War of the Ring, Ring destruction, etc)

VUG:  Late 3rd Age. This is a very turbulent time and there is a lot for the player to do. Players will not be able to interfere in the major events, but we want them to be able to participate.


Is role play going to be encouraged with GM events and questing or will that be done like Everquest, where some servers are very RP based with events and others are purely hack n slash?

VUG:  It's very hard to encourage all MMP players to roleplay. Almost as hard as herding cats in a rainstorm, but not quite. We do have some unique tools that role-players can take advantage of, and we plan on lots of live events, plus regular updates with more quests for players to do. We will also do what we can to make the environment more suitable for role-playing -- like having a name filter to promote Tolkien-style names.


Will there be major hero characters, (Galadriel in Lothlorien, Elrond in Rivendell), to give quests and reward for quests?

VUG:. We plan on using the wonderful characters we have access to. Exactly how they will be used will be developed over time.


How will Guilds be managed? Will there be Guild Houses that can be purchased by players and used in game?

VUG: Kinships will be the name of the MEO guilds. There will be some special things that Kinships can do and have access to. Housing is a separate issue.


How will travel be initiated? Will there be an Everquest type Plane of Power travel system, horses, or how do you plan to tackle that problem?

VUG: Travel can very easily be a problem in Middle-earth. Gandalf just did not teleport around the world. If he did, the necessity of the Ring quest may have been moot. Very fast transportation wasn't available. It took days to travel by the fastest horse across only a small portion of the land. That's nifty. What isn't nifty is having players trying to get together to do things and having them be frustrated by the long travel times. We have to find a balance that both fits the Tolkien lore and is playable. I'm a big believer in grouping and socializing with other people. We're still working on this, and I expect that it will be one of the trickier problems will deal with. But deal with it we will!


There isn't really magic in Middle-earth like the D&D style of magic; in other words, wizards, enchanters, and the like aren't common traits outside of the Elven world, and even in the Elven world very rare. How will you deal with that? Will your class system be pure to the books or are you going to sidestep this and make spell casters available en masse?

VUG: Ahhh, the other tricky problem! Magic is certainly going to be a part of the game that people will take a close look at. There are good arguments for not having any type of magic casting school in the game for players. After all, there are only the five Wizards. But there are other places that we find some magic and there is definitely item magic in the lore (the various magic blades, the Rings, even some of the more common elvish items exhibit what can be considered magical traits). There will be more non-Lore schools than Lore schools. And even within the various Lore schools, not all of them use magic. The Hobbits don't cast magic and since most of our magic will be based on examples from the books, they may tend to be more subtle than not.


If you begin the game in Third Age Middle-earth, will time advance into Fourth Age, eventually, and have book events, (Elessar's crowning) incorporated into the game world?

VUG:. Oh, the future is wide open. We have lots of plans for expansions, but nothing set in stone yet. This is certainly a service that can go for years and years, we have so much content to draw on.


What will be the subscription prices? Will expansions be more $$ or will you include that in the subscription price?

VUG: There will be a monthly subscription rate. It will be very competitive with other games in the genre, but we haven't announced specifics. We are currently planning on two different types of expansions: regular updates (which are included in the subscription fee) and boxed, retail expansions that are much larger.


Will permanent death be in the game in some areas?

VUG: Not at this time. Personally, I'm not a fan of permadeath, and I've been pretty vocal about that. There are many, many problems that have to be solved -- and I think some of them are pretty unsolvable in a reasonable manner. However, we're keeping this in the back of our mind and if we can find a good place to use it, we'll reconsider.


What is the anticipated beta testing date and release date?

VUG: Early and late 2004. The exact dates will be announced later.

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