Lauren “Budgeford” Salk is the content developer best known for bringing to life the wonderful new festival events like the Haunted Burrow of Fall and Winter-home during Yule. We were able to send her some questions we had about working at Turbine and the design process that she graciously answered for us. Let’s get right to the questions!
What is it like being the only female developer working on content for LOTRO right now?
When I started, there was another woman working on the content team, so it actually took a little while for me to be the only one. At that time, it was far more disorienting and daunting to be new than to be one of the few females. While men definitely outnumber us, I don’t really feel that I’m living a hermit’s life on Female Island or anything. Our Executive Producer and Creative Director are both women, the lead of the Systems Design team is a woman, and two engineers on LOTRO are women as well, so it’s not that crazy. I’ve worked other jobs in which there were many more women than men, and after a while you just don’t notice the gender imbalance. It’s the same with this team.
What are some of the ways that you try to draw people into content that they may not initially be interested in or well informed about?
I think all LOTRO’s content designers are trying to get people to play the content they make. Accessibility is one of our biggest goals. Making sure that players are given in-game tools to find new content easily. We use every incentive we can think of or get our hands on to encourage people to play new stuff.
Before I came on, festivals weren’t announced in game, and they were difficult to get to. Now, we give players a mail to let them know everything has begun, we give them vector quests that send them directly to a Festival area so that there’s no confusion about where it is, and we always start people off with a free small sample of the rewards so that they can at least see what they’re missing if they decide not to partake. I’ve been trained to consider these things for every festival that has new content.
To us, there’s nothing worse than putting a lot of effort and development time into something that 99% of players are never likely to see. We can’t force players to enjoy every type of content we introduce, but we always try to introduce them to it as clearly as we can. At the very least, people will be able to make an informed decision that something new might not be for them.
When developing new content, what comes first? The imperative of the system or the results you aim to achieve?
Both, and it’s been an evolution. I began as an artistically-minded Associate Content Designer, fresh out of QA, who [rightfully] feared overly-complicated design logic. At this time, my boss advised me to keep things simple whenever possible. The results were always my first consideration when coming up with something new. When I planned to do something, it started as a very simple idea, like “Hedge Maze!” How hard could that be? Then the idea starts to fill in with details, and it’s the details that depend wholly on what our game can practically handle. Festival designs often become very complicated behind the scenes in order to fit within the restraints of the system.
For example, when the Hedge Maze was introduced, a number of limitations were brought to my attention after my initial design proposal. I was happily thinking how simple it would be to design a fun maze and throw hedge pieces down on the landscape, and have quests sending players in to complete objectives. I found out that there was a concern that having many players line up for a new event would create land rush, possibly causing servers to crash. I was given small piece of new tech that allowed me to generate a public instance with a max limit of 25 players, thus creating a new standard for festival events: instanced, 25 players max.
Instancing the Hedge Maze caused a new problem: the maze needed to be confined to a certain unit on the landscape. We had bugs in which players could cross a boundary by running too close to the edge of the maze and end up in some horrible limbo state that would have made Customer Service want to hang me if this hadn’t been noticed during testing. I don’t remember the details of what would have happened, but the maze needed to be redesigned as a result; players on the outside could not cross the boundary of the unit containing the instance, and players inside the maze couldn’t step out of the bounds. There is a wide buffer zone between the two states now. This became yet another factor to be considered when making future content!
And this list goes on, and grows with every new event that I make, often becoming part of the mental template I use to make new festival content. It’s easy for me to consider both the system and the design equally now that I’ve been doing this for a few years.
LOTRO is well-known among Tolkien fans to be very lore accurate when it comes to telling the story of Middle-Earth. Is every developer at Turbine a Tolkien expert or do you have someone designated to do the ‘’lore check’’?
We have two designated lore experts who do all of the story and name vetting, and they work within the guidelines we’ve been given. They’re the ones with the terrifying mental encyclopedias and an ability to correctly use Sindarin grammar. Others among us, however, have read the books numerous times and are very familiar with the lore, language, and story. There are certainly varying degrees of expertise among the developers here, but knowledgeable familiarization with the IP is pretty standard. It’s difficult not to be a huge fan of the story.
Do you have a favorite festival?
The Haunted Burrow was my favorite, with Winter-home as a close second.
Do you have a favorite festival activity or event?
My favorite event so far is the Bar Fight. Nothing quite like smacking fellow players high into the air.
With the opening of the Haunted Cellar during Fall festival and Winter-home for Yule, Lotro player now have high hopes to see some addition to the spring and even Summer festival next year. Will their hopes be fulfilled?
We do our best to keep our events full of new content to continue bringing players back to each Festival. While schedules don’t always allow for a brand new event with the magnitude of the Haunted Burrow, we do try to make sure new rewards are always offered, and the content polished and enhanced to keep things fresh for returning players.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to future goodies you help build for us!