In honor of CSTM’s Anniversary I thought it would be cool to look back at the origins of LOTRO as there are people who probably don’t realize it was not always being made by Turbine and wasn’t even always called LOTRO. Well to find out what LOTRO might have been we will look back at the games long history.
What LOTRO Might Have Been…Before World of Warcraft (WoW)
Way back before LOTRO was being made by Turbine a studio called Sierra was making a 3D top down MMO which was set to release in 2000. This was far before Lord of the Rings became a proven franchise with the movies and so the 5 Million dollar cost was too much. They were then sold to Vivendi Universal who started over making a more modern (at that time) MMO.
Turbine was involved as the publisher/developer with Vivendi Universal. Vivendi Universal was making Middle-Earth Online (MEO) to bring to all the people early in the year of 2005. The game was still set in the Third Age with a difference being that the fellowship had just left Moria at the time of the player entering the world. At the time the design choice had the player never interacting with the fellowship and instead focusing on the player’s journey.
Middle-Earth Online was set to release with all the realm of Eriador even including Moria right at the launch. This was rather surprising to me since LOTRO’s first expansion was the Mines of Moria.
An interesting thing to note is that with MEO your race actually mattered. All classes were locked to a single race. It looks like each race had two classes each and each class had two ways to progress. There was a good way and an evil way to progress, each with its own storyline, quests, objectives and even good only and evil only locations. This would make each class and even class alignment result in different kinds of gameplay adding more variety to the class lineup. Also the Vivendi was planning to put a cap on the number of elves to show the small numbers of them left.
When you created a character you could also create upbringing and vocations which allowed you to really customize your character and make it your own. Upbringing would include your origins such as a farmhand and vocation is basically a fancy name for the crafting system found in LOTRO today. Another cool thing that should really be brought back was player made books. That is right friends you could actually write a book and sell it to other players. You could actually have your character become a famous writer which would have been amazing for role-playing.
Another interesting design choice with MEO is the skill progression. Instead of getting new skills when your character levels up you would get new archery skills from shooting a bow and new melee skills from attacking things with your sword. There was even a training system similar to the training system in EVE where you spend real world time training your character over several days.
Combat was to be key stroke based much like how it is in LOTRO today. MEO also had a very similar system to the instance system found in LOTRO today. A difference being that you could actually host encounters that anyone could join similar to how the instance finder that was recently added to LOTRO works today.
The respawn system seems to work exactly the same with the exception of giving a different reason every time as to why you ended up at a respawn camp.
While PvP was still up in the air the most likely thing would have been that since your characters choose moral paths they would have an open world PvP system.
A funny thing to note in the IGN article (referenced below) is that it compares MEO to Star Wars Galaxies which I thought quite refreshing to remember a time when WoW was not on top.
Vivendi later loses its rights to Lord of the Rings and so Turbine took things over. By this time WoW had already been released and had already changed the MMO market forever. To ensure survivability Turbine adds on two extra years of development (3 if you include Moria) and creates the LOTRO we all know and love. LOTRO gets released in April of 2007 and goes on to have three successful expansions with another one planned to release on September 5th.
While we will never know how successful the MEO might have been it is likely based on the MMO market around 2007 that without switching the game to LOTRO, the game might not be doing as well as it is today.
Turbine has done a good job considering the lore and producing quality content for the players. While we don’t know what MEO might have done, it has been a good run for LOTRO and should continue for years to come.
Another thing to note is that A Casual Stroll to Mordor and Middle-Earth Network might have never come to pass without LOTRO being around. Some people don’t realize but without the founders of M-EN meeting in LOTRO there might not ever have been this awesome network. Also if the popularity of MEO was low or the game died, CSTM would have never happened and that would be a sad day for everyone. Can you imagine a world without hobbits, pie and all the LOTRO news you want to know?
Happy 3 years CSTM and thank you for letting me play my small role in it! Thank you CSTM fans as well for making CSTM such a great site and a fun one to write for.