Monthly Archives: December 2012

Anglo-Saxon and Viking designs in LOTRO

I was recently intrigued by a post on the forums, where someone had spotted the fact that the famous Gotlandic picture stone depicting Sleipnir and a Valkyrie had been used, very cleverly, as the new superior scholars craft object. I had noticed this with the Great River expansion, but hadn’t, incorrectly, actually considered it of much interest to other people. For those of you who don’t know, my real life profession is an Archaeologist, and like many archaeologists the world in which I work sadly has far more to do with cold wet muddy fields in Yorkshire than expeditions to the Congo and Egypt, and more trawling through computer files and boxes of dull 19th century pottery than meticulous work under microscopes on ancient artefacts… however it does have its moments, and does have some uses in Pub quizzes and geeking out in computer games like LOTRO.

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A period I have always loved, and been fortunate enough to work on sites from, is the Early medieval period in Britain, often called the Anglo-Saxon or Viking period. This era stretched from just after the Romans relinquished control of the lands they occupied in the British Isles around the beginning of the 5th century, to the 11th century following the conquest of Britain by the Normans (themselves actually descended from Vikings) over a period of years after 1066. It was a period dominated by the Pagan originated cultures of Norway, Denmarks, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Northern Germany, and is a period from which in Britain, and abroad, many of the historic texts Tolkien loved originated, and many of the cultures he designed had their roots.

Working on any period in archaeology means you build up a mental collage of designs and objects from the period of study.This is especially true when you have a finds specialism as I do, where over time you build up a mental reference library of information and images from which you draw parallels, and avenues of research, and comparison, to the current objects you may be studying. I have often recognised designs in LOTRO clearly influenced by actual historical styles and designs, and the Rohan expansion is no exception, drawing on Saxon and Viking age imagery more than ever, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to point a few of the more tangible and recognisable ones to you.

The below image is taken from the Cliving mead hall, and the dark design on the pillars is a texture used in Rohan, and is immediately recognisable as a piece of Urnes style art from the late viking period (11th-12th century), usually found on stave churches.

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Compare it with the below panel from the actual stave chruch at Urnes

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I am fairly certain that the texture is actually a Photoshop manipulated version of this carving, as I can see the same tendrils and terminals as on the above examples, though it has been carefully Photoshopped to form a closed figure of eight, more suitable for game textures (I sure hope they paid their usage fees if they got it off the web!). You will see this texture tweaked and reworked, again and again, in Rohan, from small details and architectural features, to chunks of barge boards on building eaves, but especially in Cliving where it forms a large percentage of the textures used.

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Another nice touch are the following carvings, found even more commonly. You can see the largest unmanipulated chunks on the large pillar to the right of the door, and the diagonal beams in the roof, and more heavily manipulated on the pillars and other surfaces.

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Theses are clearly derived from a beautiful series of acanthus scroll carvings (a sample image of them below), also from a Norwegian stave church, and particularly these examples from Heddal stave church in Norway (also below). As before there has been a lot of manipulation and Photoshop work to stitch these together and adapt to a usable pattern, but there are still large and readily identifiable portions, and they can be seen on many elements from beams and eaves boards, to the Rohan milestone.

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Carving around Heddal stave church door, identical to that at cliving.

Carving around Heddal stave church door, identical to that at cliving.

Cliving Door frame

Cliving Door frame

Next up we have some rather odd, but perfectly period appropriate designs, though perhaps a little less more clumsily added to the objects in the virtual world. Obviously the below image from Meduseld itself has some more Urnes artwork manipulated for its top border, but it is the circular and oval motifs forming the border below that most interest me.

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As you can see below, the central oval portion with the green ‘gem’, is simply this image below of a 9th-10th century viking oval brass brooch, worn by women in pairs to hold up their dress, possibly named a Smokkr… though often called slightly erroneously a hangerok by reenactors. Indeed, I think it is literally just this image with the central portion turned green.

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The two circular designs flanking are extracted from the next object, which also adorns many surfaces in Meduseld, from the gate, the fixtures, to the king’s throne itself. Again you can see the Urnes designs worked into the walls, but what I ask you to look at here is the metal work and hinges on the doors.

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Here you can see similar designs on the top edge of the king’s throne, with red and green highlighted gems

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And finally, on the main pillars in Meduseld, the full object is visible, with highlighted bosses, again with our Petersen P51 oval brooch behind it.

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This is, of course, the fabulous belt buckle set from the Sutton Hoo burial (below), buried in the 7th century, and probably belonging to Raedwald, the King of the East Anglians and High King of Britain, who was, interestingly enough, actually from a Swedish dynasty called the Wuffingas.

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If you keep your eyes open you will see these designs again, and again. You will also spot that many of the building in Rohan are remarkably similar to Norwegian Stave churches and Saxon buildings. One of the great strengths of Peter Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkiens works, is his art departments ability to look carefully at historic cultures that influenced Tolkiens writing, and use these as an inspiration for their designs, and it seems Turbine is doing similar, which I can only applaud… only next time guys, please try to make it look a little less like you cut and pasted a belt buckle onto things!

For those of you wondering if this is a new method by Turbines art department, please take a look at the following screen shot taken many moons ago of the floor in Mordiriths room in Angmar, specificallythe circular thing we are stood on:

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… Heres a closer pic under our feet

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Finally, here is an image of the 9th century Anglo-Saxon Strickland brooch …familiar at all?

Strickland brooch

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The Future of LOTRO and the path ahead

When will it all End?

I have been reading a lot of articles, forum posts, and fishing about generally for info recently (being awake at unreasonable hours with a newborn baby will do that to you), and I have caught sight of a number of discussions and bits of information which have been intriguing to me, about LOTROs immediate and long-term future.

Firstly, there seems to be a lot of prophesying, and doom calling about LOTRO. I have seen plenty of speculations about the end of LOTRO, usually carefully worded as; ‘ all is not well‘,’enjoy it while you can‘, and such, nothing careless enough to be overtly falsifiable, except perhaps this post from The Tobold/MMO Troll, speculating:

I think Turbine will manage to get out another expansion covering the 2nd half of Rohan, but it – like RoR – will be significantly lacking, and overpriced for what is offered.  Players will rightly expect a Helm’s Deep instance of some sort, and it will not be included at launch. If Turbine manages to create such an instance, it will be a raid, and likely the only instance included with RoR2.

Turbine will not make it to Gondor as most would expect next, in 2014. The game will start actively bleeding players in mid-to-late 2013, and be shut down before the end of 2014. If a Gondor expansion is offered, it will also be feature lacking but at a premium price, and the game will shut down within two months of its release.

Brave words, and kudos from me for actually sticking your neck out. I disagree that ROR was significantly lacking, or over priced, but I guess everyone’s mileage will vary on that subjective point.

But to address the actual point being made here, I do think that this is actually a strong potential scenario, least wise the timing of A potential closure date for LOTRO, due largely to licensing. Turbine has the license for LOTRO (and it seems The Hobbit from the following source) until 2014, and an option of extending this to 2017 (source). What does this mean? Well, presumably any extension, would have a monetary payment attached to it, I can’t see any reason to make it an extension ‘option’, unless it was a precaution to save money and close earlier if the game was not profitable. The next 18 months will be crucial. If the profits (and thats actual cash coming in, not the amount of people who play, or love the game) are not seen to be worth the additional license extension, then the end of 2014 will almost certainly be the closure of LOTRO. However, if the Hobbit Movies and the second half of Rohan (presumably including Helms Deep) manage to draw in enough additional players, then we may well find Turbine and WB taking up this option and extending beyond.

I have seen suggestions pointing to Turbine past titles, such as Asherons Call, as an example that they may just let LOTRO dwindle on for years, but this is largely wishful thinking. The crucial thing missing here is the license. Self created, or low value, IP’s don’t cost much to run. Middle Earth as an IP will always have a large figure attached to its  existence, before any other running costs are added, and as such the scope for carrying on under unprofitable circumstances will be unlikely.

Staff losses

It’s sad to see people lose their jobs, but it happens all the time. We lost a 1/3 of our workforce this year too, but we are not collapsing as a company, despite seeing some hard times, there is often the inevitable churn, particularly after a larger project, or towards winter. Some of my friends work in the gaming industry for some quite large companies, and its inevitable that there are layoffs from time to time, especially after major releases, and whilst it sucks, and may indeed reflect some streamlining, or even downsizing, of the team (Community Rep and HR people are often first in line), it doesn’t always bode badly.

That all said, I am fairly optimistic we WILL see an extension beyond 2014, and I think a lot of the grousing currently is based on this trickle release of content LOTRO, and of course on the ever popular addition of grindy mechanics. The reason I say this is that actually, many people I know have enjoyed Rohan, and indeed Mounted Combat, they are mostly subscribers, and a good number buy Turbine points too, including ourselves, so are actively funding the game. It is impossible to judge or draw conclusions from such anecdotal evidence as this, but that is precisely my point. Often if you are on a quiet server, or reading forums, it is easy to get the impression that the sky is falling, particularly the unofficial forums, which tend equally on the negative side as the official forums do on the ‘fanboy’ positive side. I still see very busy chat, and kin channels, though having poked my head on other servers, I have no doubt a merger, or opening up some free transfer routes between some would not be a bad idea, though I guess in the current climate, moves like this would only be taken negatively, or as another sign of doom.

I suspect a lot of the current agitation and annoyance is at the lack of a instance cluster, as this was exactly the same after ROI whilst waiting for its cluster. Once again, in that instance, Emma and I were in a totally different position to many people of only having just levelled through all the content. But its true that what we could do with now is some instances, and not long after, some more content to arrive to keep the game moving forward for other elements of the player base.

Update 9: Instance Clusters, scaling, crafting XP, area loot and a BREEliant revamp.

So we are getting some Instances, and soon, but again, this is not up to everyone’s expectations, or to everyone’s liking. Complaints seems to range from; Why is it Hobbit themed and not Rohan, why are there not more 6 mans and raids, why is it in two parts, etc.

To address the Rohan issue, I think its clear Turbine are aware they need to grab more potential customers, and cater to them, to drive up profits, keep hitting targets, and allow that crucial 2014 extension.

You may have heard there is a new film out in a week or two, part of a trilogy, by Peter Jackson. They are, I’m told, quite popular. If you ran a Middle Earth game, would you want to miss out on this opportunity to attract new players? In addition, if you were attracting new players, would you want to give them some Hobbit themed instances, and make them scalable to a lower level so they could try them out without having to level to cap? Would you also think that giving them some crafting XP to help speed up the journey a little, and adding area looting to the game to improve mechanics would help? What about some new Steam packs, and perhaps revamping some of the lower level hubs like Bree and Archet to look more in line with the current endgame spaces, and impress new players? You betcha.

From the longer term players such as ourselves point of view, would you want two instance clusters in Rohan, one with East and one with West? It would be a bit monotonous to me, as a Dwarf there is only so much Green, Grass, Horses, and Blond blokes telling me their ‘need is Dire’ I can take. In Eastern Rohan there would only so many ‘meaningless white hand boss A‘ threats you could conjour up for instances, but for Western Rohan there is Helms Deeps, Edoras, The Paths of the Dead, and presumably some more Isengard stuff… so If you are going to replace one of these potenital clusters with a Hobbit themed cluster, and there just happens to be the first movie out with the Eastern Rohan expansion, it seems like a no brainer to me.

Why there are not more 6 mans and raids I do not know, or why they have been delayed. I presume that they have the figures, and know what sells and what is popular and are basing it off that. I personally prefer the 3 mans, but I guess, anyone who has read this blog would say thats obvious. I can only assume the scale of Rohan and what they need and want to deliver, and the size of the Dev team, are not perfectly matched. I doubt, given the need there seems to be to maximise profits, that they will be hiring more soon, especially as they had a few new guys around Rohan we met in Betas, and some new high profile staff members at Turbine generally, so the current team is having to break content into smaller chunks.

In addition they have scaled the Mirkwood cluster, including the raid, and finished the second half of the Moria revamp, so some extra content there, and something else that will definitely make it easier for a new player, and provide incentive to purchase these two pieces of content as they are now usuable whilst levelling, and also at level cap, especially as Mirkwood will now provide things to do at end game indefinitely.

New Areas and Old?

We know we will be getting Western Rohan next year, or possibly early the year after and, given the available space, it will be another large area, with some of the most iconic locations in Middle Earth in, so plenty for old and new players to look forward to. I have no doubt there will be a cluster with it, and that it will be inevitably delayed, and indeed that the expansion will be a similar price to this year, perhaps a little more?

There has also been suggestions we may get some more landscape prior to ROR: Part 2 as well, or some other content. A few posts that have been swiftly deleted on the forums have suggested so. A post in the Beta forum described how to find a way out of Limlight onto the Rohan side of the River via a Youtube video, and work your way over the Hills into a secluded forest valley, with a dusting of snow, which was far too polished for the usual Off Piste areas, and also had paths and an NPC Ent. I cannot now find this, or the Youtube Video it linked to. Sadly ,I didn’t copy them to my hard drive in time. *Edit: thanks to Roger from Contains Moderate Peril who pointed out it is still there, but has been made private by the owner

In addition there are also some images visible in a google image search still, which linked to a thread in the LOTRO forums detailing the Western Wold and Northern Fangorn. One image has disappeared entirely but appeared to denote the areas on the map on the large hill range behind Cliving, to the West of Harwick, and the North of Mirkwood, all South of the River Limlight, as I have highlighted below. Naturally the thread was very quickly deleted.

Rohan Secret

A Google image search for ‘Northern Mirkwood LOTRO‘ linking to a Forum thread which has gone, produces the following result. I saved the images below. Quite how accurate these are, or what exactly these entail is anyones guess, I’m sure BETA participants can verify it. These are just copied directly from Google Images and were not taken by me. I haven’t currently even logged on to Bullroarer since pre ROR release.

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This seems to be looking out of the Orc Camp in Limlight a gorge, to a narrow valley leading up through the mountains to the south, towards northern Fangorn

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A bridge in the Limlight over the river, leading to the valley

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Another view of the new bridge

Intriguing stuff! It seems like this snow dusted forest and the gorge up towards Fangorn are all one and the same thing. Looking forward to finding out!

I have also heard some titbits that scaling of Moria instances is a WIP, though quite how far along that is I don’t know, but given how much seems to be known about 2013 so far, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t 2014 before that rose its head.

Summary

So all in all, I think There is plenty of evidence out there, that LOTRO is still attempting to grow, and build. Scaling old Content, revamping new areas, and cosmetic revamps of low-level hubs, new instances tieing in with the Hobbit films which scale to attract new lower level players. Updating the loot mechanics, craft XP, and new started packs and promotions all make levelling a little easier and more attractive, and undoubtedly some new store items to help speed levelling further will follow in the New year. Throw into that a new MAC client and associated steam pack to open up access for more players again. All this is undoubtedly designed to help build and promote LOTRO, to increase and sustain revenue from this point on, to keep achieving profits, and hopefully get us over that 2014 bump, which I believe Tobold/The MMO Troll is right to point out.

Last but by no means least, there are plenty of signs that more Rohan, Instances, and Indeed perhaps some new areas will follow, meaning there is still plenty to be hopeful for. Not to my mind, the actions of a company thinking of closing up shop just yet, so lets just hope its enough! What will happen in 2014-17, well thats anyones guess. I suppose, we may well see lifetime accounts being sold, over priced items, little new content, who knows, we may see some tail off, though of course, we may see a continued effort to extend the games span again. But for the time being, in contrast to a lot of opinion, I think we will see a continued effort to get more content out, and more money out of us, the players, in the next 12-18 months, things that it has to be said are not mutually exclusive.

Adam (a fanboy)

Khazad Guard Baby Boom, or Real Life Hard Mode

Okay, so this post is a little over three weeks late, and will probably not be much interest to most of you, but may go someway to explaining why we have been being so quiet over the last month or so.

Our newest baby dwarf has finally arrived! Our baby girl, Thea Victoria was born on 10th November, after keeping us waiting for nine days. To start with, our local hospital was full so we were sent out of the district. As it happened, the new place was fantastic, almost like a hotel with personal on call midwives, en suite private rooms and an endless supply of toast. Adam managed to bring in LoTRO terminology, asking me if I would like to pop Dwarf Vitality whilst I was experiencing the worst of the contractions, and true to form, I answered yes, and could I use Endurance of Stone… I’m glad the midwife didn’t understand!

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The alternate title for this post is Real Life Hard Mode. The first step of this Hard Mode was that I was unable to use any pain relief for the birth, so I would have been very grateful for any additional buff; Shield Wall, In Harms Way, Endurance of Stone would all have been very welcome. Thankfully that whole process didn’t last too long all things considering.

Second part of Hard Mode doesn’t actually sound that bad – the day after Thea was born I caught a cold. See, it doesn’t sound bad. But it is definitely not fun to be coughing and sneezing with very tender abdominal muscles and not being able to take anything to relieve it.

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Everything was going very well, the original Baby Dwarf has been magic, being well-behaved, gentle with the baby, and coming close to mastering potty training in what feels like record time. We managed to acquire a newborn baby that actually sleeps at night, only having one or two feeds at reasonable hours, leaving us to play our game a little on an evening. Thankfully Adam has become very adept at playing one-handed, so he can hold the baby at the same time if she gets restless. And then came the third part of Hard Mode. Last Tuesday morning, the baby woke up earlier than usual, leaving us caught short with prepared milk. Whilst making some more, I somehow managed to tip a kettle of boiling water all down my front, badly scalding my chest, stomach and right thigh. My thigh definitely caught the worst of it, with a nasty burn blister larger than my hand. Adam came to the rescue with his first aid skills, and made me sit under a very cold shower for what felt like forever, and then wrapped the worst bits in cling film. He did the right thing and stopped it from being much worse than it could have been, but still, I wasn’t best pleased.

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So, this Hard Mode Challenge consisted of dealing with a two-year old, a newborn, and an incredibly painful fire DoT, and still managing to do the Hytbold dailies (although Adam does usually do both of our characters), the Sutcrofts Warbands (Adam was lucky enough to get a well deserved tarnished symbol on one of his Bugud runs) and getting our cappys their warsteeds.

But, with the birth of Vithars little girl a couple of months ago and our new arrival, the Khazad Guards membership numbers have never looked so good. Granted, our six man group play time is rather limited at the minute, but in a few years time we should have enough Guard members for a full raid! Hopefully in a few months things may settle down, and something more akin to normal service will resume!

Until then, we hope you all enjoy the Hobbit (Yes we certainly have a baby sitter booked, and reserved tickets for the 3d HFR version), and we shall try to make more of an effort on post as soon as possible!