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Developer Diary - Epic Battles Introduction


Developer Diary Epic Battles Introduction

By JWBarry

"Suddenly from the Dike yells and screams, and the fierce battle-cries of men broke out.

Against the Deeping Wall the hosts of Isengard roared like a sea.

Some of the Riders were driven back, further and further into the Deep, falling and fighting as they gave way, step by step, towards the caves.

Again and again the Orcs gained the summit of the outer wall, and again the defenders cast them down."

The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter 7, Helm’s Deep


Aloha, and welcome to the Battle for Helm’s Deep!

Bringing the Battle of Helm’s Deep to life has been a massive challenge. Representing armies of thousands in a compelling visual way, ensuring the game client and server can withstand the enormous amount of information and events that need processing, and attempting to make you feel like you’re a part of the battle, a small part, but one that can have great influence, have pushed our abilities into new realms of technical, design and artistic solutions. We believe we’ve risen to the challenge presented by this epic battle and have delivered an experience that is faithful to the story of the books while bringing a heretofore unseen sense of scale and grandeur to the Lord of the Rings Online.

Why something new?

In addition to presenting the army and the battle in as great of a scope and scale as possible, we wanted to iterate and push what instance gameplay meant within these spaces. We didn’t want to draw a bunch of fake enemies around you and have Uruks come into your little area 4 at a time. Helm’s Deep, broken down as a series of events, doesn’t lend itself to the classic instance format and structure. Rather than attempt to shoehorn that in, and diminish the quality of both, we started from drawing board on what the events and battle itself was calling for and would be best portrayed and enhanced by. This led to new type of instance, the Epic Battle, with several new systems and approaches within.

The High Level Gameplay Goal

We want you to feel like you are part of a gigantic battle being waged between two armies, to be immersed in the scope and scale of warfare. If you watched a documentary about the Battle of the Bulge, to do the conflict justice it would have different parts that focus on the infantry soldiers, tank drivers, local commanders, artillerymen, snipers, the theatre commander, pilots, and many others across many slices of time and many locations throughout the battle. We want to present as many of those perspectives as possible in an engaging, fun manner. This led to 3 distinct yet complementary ways of approaching and playing these instances.
You can be the Engineer, using catapults, pushing over ladders, disarming black powder bombs, repairing doors, extinguishing fires, upgrading barricades, placing traps, and do just that and win. 
You can be the Officer, encouraging the soldiers on the field, providing offensive and defensive boosts, marking priority targets, changing the soldiers’ equipment, and play a light RTS style of gameplay, and win. 
You can be the Vanguard, standing atop the wall cutting down your enemies as they jump off their ladders, utilizing killstreak skills, gaining special offensive and defensive benefits from killing different types of enemies, and inspiring all of your allies when you sacrifice yourself for a Hero’s Death, and win.
Finally, you can be the hybrid, mixing and matching components of all three, to find the greatest degrees of flexibility and success. The way you wish to approach the battle is yours to choose.

How do I get in to play?

The new Battle for Helm’s Deep panel can be accessed from the ^ Start Menu, or by hitting ‘Shift-B’. This panel contains 3 tabs, ‘Road to Battle’, ‘Promotions’, and ‘Battle History.’ The ‘Road to Battle’ is a map of Helm’s Deep, with numbers indicating the steps and phases of the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Once you’ve selected the battle you wish to partake, the right panel will update with the name of the instance, the group sizes available, a description of the encounter, and a visual display of the best medal you have earned on each of the quests and objectives that can be found within.
Selecting Launch will send you into the space immediately, while Queue will enter you into the Instance Finder queue to find a group to play with. All Epic Battles solo spaces allow for two players to play them together, without an increase in the difficulty of the space. We encourage you to find a friend and play together.
You can also find the Battle for Helm’s Deep instances within the panels of the Instance Finder.

They have an army…

We knew the boundary needed to be pushed on the visuals of the instance to represent this properly. We needed to present something that went beyond what had ever been seen before, and it needed to not be just smoke and mirrors, it couldn’t be just a visual gimmick. We didn’t just want to attempt to draw a lot of guys on screen (a difficult enough challenge in and of itself) and have them all just stand there but not mean anything. We wanted as many of them to have purpose and be involved in the gameplay as possible. They needed to be able to be engaged by the player and also to engage with the player. Thus the Distant Battlefield was created.
10’s of thousands of White Hand eager to march upon Helm’s Deep
There are several layers to the Distant Battlefield. The furthest is an aesthetic layer to show the enemy army and their gathering and filling of the battlefield. From there, enemy formations emerge and march upon the wall. An enemy catapult has pulled up and begun firing shells at the wall. Upon collision they will damage any unit within the area of the explosion. The squads of enemies number a hundred apiece, and upon reaching the wall they’ll begin climbing ladders and grappling hooks and engaging in close quarters combat with the Rohirrim. Any squads waiting for their turns at the ladders will fire arrow volleys, damaging any they hit atop the wall, including the orcs and uruks.
In response, the player has access to catapults, ballistae, and rock drops to damage the enemy formations. Aim well and you can destroy the catapult and stop taking fire. For the squads, each enemy you defeat with your siege equipment is one less enemy you will need to battle atop the wall. It’s not simply incrementing a score counter or providing a visual effect, it’s tangibly changing your gameplay and affecting the course of the rest of the battle. Thinning their ranks as they march in is crucial to success.

Character Upscaling

One of our first points of discussion was access. The feedback for mounted combat was that it was a lot of fun and a great addition to the game, but was only relevant to those who were at level 75. So we asked ourselves, who gets to play the Battle for Helm’s Deep? How can we bring as much value to your expansion purchase as possible, regardless of where you currently are in the game? Can we allow you to always be able to play with your friends? How can we provide the most accessible system possible? The answer we arrived at was Character Upscaling.
Starting at level 10 you will be able to access and play the Battle for Helm’s Deep. When you enter a battle, for the duration of the instance, your character will be statistically treated as if you are level 95. Your morale, power, and primary stats will be upgraded to those of a level 95, your current skills will have their damage and properties upgraded to those of their level 95 version, your gear will be upscaled as well though it will maintain its current level differential (If you are 15 and your sword is 10, you will be 95 and your sword will be 90). You will not get any new skills or traits or equipment. It’s as simple as ‘Click, Enter, Play.’

In Summation

Bringing Helm’s Deep to life, in a way that does justice to the books, and meets the expectations created by watching the scenes from the movie, has been a massive challenge and undertaking for us. We’ve gotten the opportunity to rethink a lot of our previously held truths and conventions of instance design and explore from the ground up what being a part of a war is like, and then create the systems to bring that experience to life. We look forward to sharing it with you. See you on the Deeping Wall.

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