A Retrospective Look at the Last 15 Years
One of the most exciting things about The Lord of the Rings Online is how it has inspired many personal stories both inside and outside the game; families have been formed, friends bonded, proposals made, and weddings celebrated. We are honored to be able to do our best to bring Middle-earth to life in a way that supports your story, and for some of us, it’s been a big part of our careers!
Not everyone who works on The Lord of the Rings Online is a long-time veteran of the studio, and that’s a good thing! It’s important to have fresh ideas, new perspectives, and inspired skill sets over time. That said, Standing Stone Games is also gifted with extremely knowledgeable employees who’ve been with us for a while. We've grabbed employees both veteran and newer for some Q&A as we take a look back today.
Let's introduce you to the group. Pinion has worked on pretty much every type of content in the game for more than a decade, and Istien has worn many hats over 14 years, including copy editor, QA, office administration, and even Human Resources! FriendlyHat has been a designer for more than a decade as well. Made of Lions has designed much of the Epic Story and Epic-adjacent content for the game for most of the game's life, having joined the team in 2005! Sans Arret has been with us for more than four years, and currently leads our localization efforts. Last but not least, Raninia is LOTRO's Producer, and has been with us for more than a year. Thank you, all, for agreeing to answer some questions!
You shall not pass until you answer the following questions three:
1. What is your favorite part of The Lord of the Rings original book trilogy?
Sans Arret: This is a really hard question to answer.
Istien: It's gotta be Riddles in the Dark. My middle school drama club did The Hobbit one summer and I was Gollum.
Made of Lions: For me, the absolutely ridiculous cliffhanger at the end of The Two Towers, in “The Choices of Master Samwise.” I’ve read a lot of fiction in the years since that blew my mind, and it’s still unmatched.
Sans Arret: I of course loved the horses (especially Fatty Lumpkin, Bill the Pony, and Shadowfax), and Éowyn fighting in the battle of Pelennor fields, but that final trek up the mountain of Doom has always struck me. I thought Strider/Aragon was super cool. I secretly loved the bit with Tom Bombadil, but I try not to admit it too much?
Pinion: It’s hard to pick just one part, but I’ve always found the Scouring of the Shire to be very impactful. To see the Quest of the Ring to its end and all the sacrifice that entailed only to return home to find the home you left behind in the sway of a different evil is devastating. Essentially, to have to earn the right to “go home” after journeying to Mordor and back is powerful storytelling. And it helps to end the story of the Lord of the Rings where it began…among the Hobbits!
Raninia: Favorite part of the original trilogy is probably the meeting of Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas in the waters around the Tower of Orthanc. Just a really funny scene where you get to see all of these characters share their wild adventure together.
2. What is your favorite part of The Lord of the Rings original Peter Jackson movie trilogy?
Made of Lions: Leaving the theater after The Fellowship of the Ring with visions of all the great moments to come, imagining how it was all going to come to pass, and thinking “I can’t believe they managed to make this!” I stayed up all night, and was back at a morning showing at the Boston Common theater. I ended up seeing Fellowship more than fifteen times on that initial run, and the subsequent movies nearly as often.
Raninia: The Battle of Helm's Deep is just a really great scene, lots of action, great characterization, excellent score, and there's just something about a battle in the rain that really brings it to another level.
Istien: Eowyn's defeat of The Witch King.
Sans Arret: I really love watching Éowyn defeating the Witch King of Angmar! But I also get fascinated by the practical effects they used in the film.
Pinon: I thought about this for a while, but it has to be the battle of Helm’s Deep/the Hornburg. Shield-surfing and bonus Elves aside, it was visually stunning to me as a young Tolkien fan, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
FriendlyHat: The way Gimli and Legolas' relationship develops on-screen.
3. What is your favorite part of The Lord of the Rings Online?
Istien: Is it cheating to say All Of It? I really love this game and have been a fan for so long.
Made of Lions: My favorite part is usually the next thing I’m working on; the previous thing I made always feels old to me by the time it comes out!
Raninia: Just how massive it is. I think the map is one of the biggest strengths of the game, and the stories we get to tell in all parts of it.
Pinion: In terms of explorable locations in the world, it’s a toss-up between Forochel, Moria, and Mordor. In terms of story, I have too many favorites to list them all, but, even as someone who broadly knew the entire plot in advance, I loved experiencing the Black Book of Mordor.
FriendlyHat: Writing unnecessarily verbose descriptions of LOTRO food. :)
Sans Arret: I have to confess, The Shire is my favorite. I have a Hobbit Minstrel that went through each and every quest in the Shire. I always feel like I’m a tourist visiting famous places when I play. I also love Bingo Boffin, he’s the best!
Ok, confession time: What is the first bug you accidentally caused that was memorable enough to stick with you in 2022?
FriendlyHat: I was being trained on how to place physical objects into the game world, and I accidentally placed, hmmmm... I want to say it was a potato? floating in the air. I could be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure I accidentally pushed that change into the live game world, and I don't know if it was ever caught.
Pinion: It wasn't a bug per se, but the first time I caught a lot of flak for a design decision was including the quest 'A Hungry Inhabitant' in the main quest flow of the Sutcrofts in the Riders of Rohan Expansion. A quest I'd made as a silly bit of wordplay (the village of Garsfeld and a certain pasta-loving cat) suddenly became a point of debate amongst players for being required to advance the story in Sutcrofts. I stand by it!
Sans Arret: That one time I accidentally spelled “Comté” as “Compté” on a map. Je suis vraiment désolée. But it’s fixed now!
Have you put in any Easter Eggs? Care to share one?
FriendlyHat: So there's this flying potato...
Istien: I've encouraged some Easter Eggs in the past. One of which I feel comfortable revealing because it's been so long, and the designer is no longer with the company. There is a cheese shop in Cliving (Norcrofts, East Rohan), and when I heard the dev was making a cheese shop, I asked him to add a minstrel and a cat, as a nod to Monty Python's Cheese Shop sketch. I'm not sure that anyone's gotten that reference yet.
Made of Lions: Lots! Erebrandir’s Horseshoe was mostly my fault (sorry), and Bingo makes an appearance in Minas Morgul during a very brief window of opportunity. There are a few places where you can emote at NPCs to get different responses (Willem Whisker has some of these during the Ballad of Bingo Boffin). There are some references to videogames I’ve enjoyed or funny internet videos (most obviously if you wear the Horseshoe during the conclusion of ‘Turtles in the Soup’). At the time of this writing, before the release of Yondershire, I’m not sure if anyone will have discovered the Easter Egg I snuck in there, but I’m curious to find out!
Pinion: The Black Cat cosmetic pet available as part of the Fall Festival is named after my close friend’s pet cat, ‘Reznor’ or ‘Rez’, which was then changed to ‘Res’ in-game.
Do you remember the first formal task you were asked to work on, what did you do, and how did it go?
Pinion: My first task after joining the design team in 2011 was to work on a small update to the Yule Festival way back in Update 5. After brainstorming a few quests and with a little help from Nohbob and Made Of Lions, I added the quests: 'Cold as Ice', 'Filling the Field', and 'The Abominable Snow-beasts'. As a new designer, the prospect of adding content to Frostbluff felt a little daunting, but overall, I think it went well!
FriendlyHat: I was asked to make a test monster, complete with abilities. Thus was born Reginald, the mildly perturbed boar. He would do a melee attack animation and any target up to 10m away would instantly be set aflame. Sadly, for reasons that continue to elude me to this day, Reginald has not been placed in-game.
Made of Lions: When I joined the team, Ered Luin was just being started, and my first real task involved the creation of a couple easy starting quests – these turned into the wine-making quests at Limael’s Vineyard and some of the basic hunting and gathering quests at Noglond (including Gisli’s Favourite, which I wrote about last year). I suppose they turned out well enough for me to be trusted with the hobbit starting instance ‘A Road Through The Dark’ shortly afterward.
If you were placed as an NPC into Middle-earth, where would you be and what would you want to look like?
Sans Arret: I would be a Hobbit Brawler, rolling around the Shire getting into punchy mischief. I’d definitely be the one that stole all of the cheese before the festival.
Istien: I am an NPC in Middle-earth! I am in the Spring Festival. I won't say who or where though...
Made of Lions: I have been turned into an NPC! Bingo Boffin was based on old photos of me, before I had the beard I grew for Rohan (and subsequently kept). I think there’s more than a little of me in Bingo, which probably isn’t that surprising.
FriendlyHat: Where would I be? In the Shire, mid-afternoon, enjoying a solo snack under a tree. Some Longjing tea, a good loaf of bread, and an alarmingly large chunk of butterkäse. Passers-by would stop and go "Good day, Friendlyhat. Surely you don't intend to eat all of that cheese in one sitting." and I would respond by wordlessly, and with unbroken eye contact, taking a large bite out of the cheese, causing them to cease conversation and leave me be.
Pinion: If I could be a character at any point in time in Middle-earth’s history, I’d probably want to be a dwarf-smith at the height of Khazad-dûm’s prosperity. In LOTRO, definitely a Hobbit in the Shire!
What is it you hope players get out of LOTRO that you've had a hand in creating?
Pinion: To be honest, I want players to feel like they’re able to live within Middle-earth and that our adaptation enriches and faithfully expands upon the stories in Tolkien’s Legendarium. Whenever the stories we write resonate with players to the extent that the line begins to blur between established canon and our work on LOTRO, it makes me proud—not only that players enjoy our work, which is always nice, but also that it feels worthy and respectful of Tolkien’s legacy.
Raninia: I hope that players get to see the breadth and depth of Middle-earth, both in its fields, caves, mountains, and lakes, as well as its stories, both epic and tiny. It's a big, beautiful, amazing world, and we're privileged enough to get to make it.
Made of Lions: I always say that LOTRO is intended for two audiences: people who love The Lord of the Rings, and people who might discover they love it. If our game can introduce folk to the books that have provided me so much joy (and so many other emotions!) over the years, I think that’s fantastic.
Istien: Fun, and many more years of wanderings through Middle-earth!
From all of us at Standing Stone Games we want to thank YOU for everything YOU have done to make Middle-earth a vibrant, exciting, and fun place to be for 15 years! We still have so much left to see and do, and we thank you for being here with us on this journey.