Dev Diary – Helm’s Deep Quest Notes
Dev Diary – Helm’s Deep Quest Notes
By Jeff ‘MadeOfLions’ Libby
Welcome to Quest Notes, the place to go for news and information about all things related to the Epic Story! In this edition we’ll be talking about the inclusion of the next three Books of Volume III in the Helm’s Deep expansion, and some of the interesting challenges we faced while bringing this section of the story to life.
Helm’s Deep and the Epic Story
When you buy the Helm’s Deep expansion, you will also get access to the next three Books of the Epic Story:
Volume III, Book 11: The Golden Hall
Volume III, Book 12: War in the Westemnet
Volume III, Book 13: Helm’s Deep
But why are these Books tied into purchase of the expansion? I wrote a post on the forums in September to explain the decision, and I’m including it here if you missed it. Please bear with me if you’ve already read it!
“I'm glad you guys enjoy the Epic Story! We spend a lot of time and effort making it, and for me, getting to play in the Professor's sandbox with so many of his creations is an absolute joy. We had a few options available to us when the time came to figure out the contents of the Helm's Deep expansion, and we chose the one that honestly seems like it provides the best value for you guys. I was always a little saddened when players would make lists of 'What am I getting when I buy this expansion?' because they always ended with something along the lines of 'And not the Epic... you get that anyway!' It does seem to diminish the value proposition of the expansion when you can experience its featured event or location without picking it up.
We're a Free-to-Play game now, so obviously that requires a change in approach. We gradually modified the way the Epic worked. People forget now, but when the transition to F2P happened the existing expansion packs didn't have free Epic Books - you had to pick up Mines of Moria in order to do its six Epic Books, and if you didn't have Mirkwood then Volume II Book 9 was also blocked away. As the level cap increased and we got further and further into the game (and further along in our story's timeline), we loosened restrictions on what you needed in order to experience those Epic Books. You could play them for free, and you could solo them (if you wanted - except for the Volume II Epilogue. That one's on me, guys. Sorry!)
But those were expansions that were already out at the time the F2P transition happened. In fact, when we were developing Rise of Isengard, I was still designing the Epic under the assumption that it would only be available for players who purchased the expansion. I mean, I was sending you into the ring of Isengard, and into the past to experience it when it was still pristine, and onto the roof of Orthanc, and into the dungeons underneath... basically, no expense was spared. But if you could see all these iconic aspects of Isengard without buying the expansion, well, what were you paying for?
Wormtongue didn’t buy Rise of Isengard, but he still gets to see it?
I had a choice to make. We could make the Epic in such a way that it avoided all those iconic locations that are part of the 'expansion content,' and that way the Epic could remain separate from the expansion and stay free. Or we could keep it the way it is and charge for the Epic as part of the expansion, so you only get to play the Epic in Isengard if you bought the Isengard expansion. But there was a third choice, and it's the one we went with: I could refuse to change the Epic, keeping it in Isengard with all of the iconic things and happenings there, and we keep it free. It's certainly the biggest public relations win - I mean, who doesn't love free stuff? We were adored as heroes of the people, and life was good.
But there would come a time in the future when the decision wasn't so easy. What if there were a system looming on the horizon that would be the centerpiece of an expansion, such that everything was tied into it, and the Epic Story needed to interweave with it in such a way that we couldn't separate the two, but we also couldn't give you the entire system for free? Ah, I'm sure our Future Selves will handle it.
Well, here we are in the future, confronted with a system that allows you to experience the Battle of the Hornburg in all its rainy glory, and an Epic Story that would be doing you a disservice if it didn't tell the story of that battle. There are players who play the Epic even without buying the expansions, and I am sorry that this is a change for you guys. But it's a change that serves to reward the players that do pick up the expansion, and makes the expansion a better deal, more worth your time and your money. This is just an expansion change for now - I'm hoping we can keep the Epic Story free in other updates. But for big expansions I'd expect that it'll be featured as one of the Things You Get on the 'virtual box.'”
Right in the Thick Of It
There are many interesting design challenges we face while designing the Epic Story for LOTRO, but one that comes up in every single Update involves the delicate balance between getting involved in the story as depicted in The Lord of the Rings and dancing along the outskirts of the main narrative. If you’ve played through previous Volumes of the Epic, you’ll know that we do both; there is no requirement that we maintain one approach exclusively, and for that I’m very glad! It allows us to provide a good mix of scenes and experiences, some familiar and some unexpected.
Never has this been more significant than right now, for as we approach the crucial Battle of the Hornburg we’re coming not only to the greatest test in the history of the Kingdom of Rohan, but we’re also coming to the favorite sections of many book-readers and movie-watchers. Even a simple recounting of the things that happen in just a handful of chapters from The Two Towers could serve as a Best Of list for many Tolkien fans:
1. The Restoration of Théoden by Gandalf
2. The Casting-Out of Gríma Wormtongue
3. Éowyn, Shield Maiden of Rohan, Is Given Her Duty
4. The Eorlingas Ride For Isengard
... I’m going to stop the list right there, and we haven’t even gotten to the Deep yet! There are a lot of significant moments during this stretch of the story, and leaving any of them out of LOTRO’s Epic Story would be a shame and cause for disappointment. On the other hand, we’ve always prided ourselves on not simply recounting the story, but on also expanding it. In this way, players can explore territory and have adventures that fill in some of the spaces the Professor didn’t bring the narrative to in detail. We’ll be doing that in the three Epic Books included in the Helm’s Deep expansion as well.
In fact, due to feedback from players during the Beta phases for the expansion, some of these experiences will have full voice-over support. Instances found within Epic Book 11: The Golden Hall (which depict some of the events in that list above) will now be completely voice-acted.
There will be adventures throughout West Rohan along the way, but I think it’s safe to say that when the rain starts to fall at Helm’s Deep, you’ll be there.
Of Elves and Dwarves and Hobbits
‘But my character is a hobbit!’ I hear you protest, ‘Wouldn’t the men of Rohan have noticed a hobbit in their midst? My immersion is being ruined! Only Men of Rohan should be at the Battle of the Hornburg. I read The Two Towers and there was one Elf, and one dwarf, and a Ranger of the North there.’
It’s true, and I’m not going to claim otherwise. We did spend a fair amount of time trying to come up with ways to sneak your character in between the lines at Helm’s Deep, but nothing really felt right: dressing up in oversized armor felt too silly (‘Muppet Man? That never works!’). Making Aragorn or Legolas or Gimli exit stage right whenever you showed up felt too forced, as if they were avoiding you on purpose in order to not destroy the Space-Time Continuum (‘Where we’re going, we don’t need continuity!’). And avoiding the battle entirely felt like the very heart of the story was being left out. We were never going to skip Helm’s Deep.
Instead, our approach has been to convey what the battle would have felt like if your character were a part of it. It’s a compromise, for sure, but it’s one that allows us to get you involved in the battle in such a way that it still *feels* like the Battle of the Hornburg, even if there’s a hobbit there, or an extra dwarf.
Related side-note: no Elf army. You know what I’m talking about.
Sorry, Haldir: you’ll be staying where you are. Thank us later!
A Few Teases
If you’ve read some of the earlier editions of Quest Notes, you’ll know that I always like to end these diaries with a few screenshots of Epic-related quests, presented without explanation or comment. So let’s get to it!