What LOTRO Might Have Been

August 14, 2012

Opinions

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.

Here is (as far as I know) the only trailer of what MEO could have been like…

 

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.

Lastly I leave you with a great video that when I watch gives me the feelings of the first time I played LOTRO back in the beta. 

 

Sources
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Avatar of Andang

About Andang

A lifelong Tolkien fan, Andang loves just about anything related to Tolkien. Andang is also a lifelong hardcore gamer with a huge love for any genre of game, as long as it is good. Andang currently writes for A Casual Stroll to Mordor and Middle-Earth Network's Gaming Team. He is also a co-host on Random Fandom, a weekly news podcast here on Middle-Earth Network. You can also find Andang on his YouTube channel and his Facebook page and if all that is not enough he has a twitter as well.

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29 Responses to “What LOTRO Might Have Been”

  1. Atzumo Says:

    Rather, I want to know what would have happened to LOTRO if Casual Stroll to Mordor didn’t exist. Surely it won’t be as popular as it is today right?
    At the very least it wouldn’t be as fun to play, IMO

    Reply

  2. Luinori Says:

    Interesting that the shield design shown in the last part of the MEO video was kept in LotRO.

    Reply

    • Avatar of Andang
      Andang Says:

      There are lots of things that likely got kept from MEO as Turbine got to keep all the content that was created and then changed things from there.

      Reply

  3. Tony Says:

    A few years back I found quite a lot of concept art and in-game shots from MEO. Wargs and goblins looked pretty radically different. A couple were of Moria and, trust me, we should all be glad they waited on that one.

    Reply

  4. Zilkin Says:

    I still remember reading about the isometric MEO like 15+ years ago. Couldn’t even find any screenshots of it on quick Google search anymore…

    Reply

  5. Avatar of Ian
    Ian Says:

    That was a very interesting read!

    And it is very true, we do owe our existence to LotRO–I never would have, by chance (if chance you call it), join the same server Mark’s kinship was on, walk into a river for no reason, just so happen to meet one of Mark’s kin who was also in the middle of the river for no reason (seriously though what are the chances of THAT??), join the kin, become friends with Mark, join the team when it was first formed, etc.

    But I can’t help but feel that MEO sounds like it would’ve been a little more interesting than a WoW clone.

    Reply

    • Avatar of Andang
      Andang Says:

      I remember you telling your story and it is one of the most interesing ones as to how you found M-EN.

      Also I agree that it could have been a better game but it might not have survived as WoW pretty much killed everything that came out before it.

      Reply

      • Avatar of Ian
        Ian Says:

        Oh yeah, you were in Teamspeak when I was talking about that! Sorry for subjecting you to that again. ;) Haha.

        And that to me is why the MMO market is one of the most depressing things there is (in the industry).

        Reply

        • Avatar of Andang
          Andang Says:

          I think the MMO market is picking itself back up with things like Rift, Guild Wars 2, SWTOR and of course LOTRO.

          Reply

          • Avatar of Ian
            Ian Says:

            Guild Wars 2, without a doubt yes! TOR? TOR is severely lacking…

          • Avatar of Andang
            Andang Says:

            SWTOR did make the market more depressing but it did make the MMO space exciting before it came out so that is where I was pulling that from. SWTOR is a really sad MMO but still had an ok story.
            That is another thing I thought was interesting how SWTOR kept touting its story would set it apart when LOTRO has had an amazing story going for years now.

          • Avatar of Ian
            Ian Says:

            Yeah, that’s all BioWare does in their marketing is tout their “amazing” stories as if it were some groundbreaking thing, when in actuality they rehash the same points over and over with EVERY game they do.

  6. Vonrothbart of Landroval Says:

    Watching that last video makes me want to go home and play all day! LOTRO is still my all time favorite MMO because of the visuals and the lore.

    Reply

    • Avatar of Andang
      Andang Says:

      That video is likely my favorite fan created video because it really captures the fun of LOTRO and puts back in the excitment of seeing it for the first time.

      Reply

  7. AdamKickman Says:

    Wow.. what could have been. I remember being hesitant to try LOTRO as I was a fan of the books and films but wondered how could they put all of that into a MMO. A sad thing actually happened. I was playing DDO and the servers went down. I was f- it and dl LOTRO and said ill give it a shot. DDO has not been updated since lol. I remember that afternoon I first stepped into Middle Earth and as a elf spoke with Elrond. Lotro has become my favorite game of all time as I have in just over 18 months logged hundreds of hours..

    This article is why I love CSTM. The community here and in game is amazing and is one of the bright spots that keeps me returning to Middle Earth on a daily basis. So thankyou for this article Andang and thanks to Merric and Goldenstar for putting up with us every Saturday night.

    Keep it coming :)

    Reply

  8. Andy Says:

    Rift and swtor both tried some new things but as they both hit slumps in subs and f2p within a year of release they either missed the mark or became victims of their own hype. Guild wars at least has it’s own game to launch itself from so it’s easier to avoid wow clone/killer comments.

    I think lotro’s sucess was partly due to it not overhyping at release and partly that it seemed to be accepting that it may never beat wow but would find and establish it’s own niche.

    My memory of the beta for lotro was rerolling away from a dwarf after running through what seemed to be an empty wasteland between the thorins hall area in the north and the next chunk of map that had quests in.

    Reply

    • Kanati Says:

      SWTOR is/was definitely a victim of hype, not only from Bioware & EA, but also from the “fans”. The expectations were set so unbelievably high, no game could have possibly met them.

      I think your point about LOTRO success being due to *not* overhyping and accepting that it won’t beat WoW’s subscriber numbers are right on the mark. I would add that the LOTRO we have today seems like a very different game from the LOTRO that launched. I don’t mean the expansions and new zones of course, but rather that Turbine has done a very good job rethinking and retuning the low-level zones the leveling-game in general.

      Given the IP, and the money poured into making it, I doubt SWTOR would have ever been given the chance to find its own niche and audience which is too bad because even with all its flaws it’s still a pretty fun game. Of all the MMOs I’ve played, only LOTRO is more enjoyable for me.

      Reply

      • Avatar of Andang
        Andang Says:

        I think that is a great point that LOTRO seems to always stick as my favorite MMO because it makes itself different from other MMO’s in that it really embraces the connectivity of the fans with the game and also does a great job revisiting old content and making it fresh.

        Reply

    • Tony Says:

      RIFT’s been doing fine from any angle, really. Trion makes a profit, they’ve expanded their company and they’re putting out an expansion. I don’t think they have much to worry about there. People complain “no one” is in it, but those same people would say that about LOTRO — they’re largely trolls.

      SWTOR was never sustainable in that sense from all the numbers and monetary figures that came out. And once they started bringing up F2P at all, they ensured that most of their potential customers would sit around until it was implemented. They shot themselves in the foot with that one.

      Reply

      • Ellywen Says:

        Imo Lotro is not better than SWToR at all.

        Each has its enjoyable and its annoying bits.

        For this game to go f2p is a good move.

        Reply

      • Avatar of Andang
        Andang Says:

        I agree Ellywen that it is a good move for SWTOR to go F2P but they made a mistake by telling everyone that they were thinking about F2P way before they were even thinking about putting it in the game.

        Reply

  9. Avatar of Carica
    Carica Says:

    Thank you for the insightful article and video.
    LotRO is still one of a kind with its lore and community. :)

    Reply

    • Avatar of Andang
      Andang Says:

      LOTRO will always be set apart because of its lore and the people who are in it. Without those two things it would likely be like every other MMO but it is not and that is what makes it great. I sometimes underestimate the value of people to an MMO but it is definately true with LOTRO.

      Reply

  10. Bugo Says:

    Some of the concepts you listed sound like interesting ideas. Like the different paths you can take and book thing. And I like the upbringing concept too for the character creation.

    Reply

  11. Avatar of Matthew
    Matthew Says:

    While I am happy that LOTRO has given people passionate about Middle-earth a venue, and it has helped them to pursue their passions.

    That said, I do not like the way that most Online games seem to be so wedded to the Dungeons and Dragon’s model of Character Classes, and the way that they handle Skills.

    I do not know how many people are aware of the older tabletop RPG worlds that were developed in the 1970s and 1980s as an alternative to Dungeons and Dragon (and one of which surpasses Tolkien in the depth of its development: Glorantha).

    Greg Stafford developed Glorantha in the late 1960s, as a way to deepen his own understanding of Mythology, and Glorantha is very, very different from Middle-earth.

    Glorantha is more of an “Ancient” setting (Think Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome), set in a Bronze Age setting.

    It is closer to Robert E Howard’s Hyboria than it is to Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

    But what Greg Stafford did for Role Playing games is something that should be applied to Middle-earth:

    Stafford removed the element of “Statistics and Skill/Attributes” as numerical values from RPGs, so that players would focus more upon the story-telling than upon raising their hit-points, or increasing their level.

    Stafford also developed RPGs based upon Joseph Campbell’s exploration of Mythology, which I have been applying to Middle-earth in the same way that Greg Stafford applied it to Glorantha.

    In the 1980s, I talked with Greg about this at great lengths, as we both were well read in Campbell, and I had actually been a student of Campbell for six weeks a few years before his death.

    While Campbell remained largely ignorant of the real of “make-believe” mythologies (and thus never bothered with examining Tolkien, Howard, Moorcock, etc. His work still applies to these genres.

    It would be nice to see an online world that was developed using the concepts of a focus upon myth and story telling, and where the characters had no quantified statistics, levels, etc (and certainly NO SPELLS – although this is not to say that Magic doesn’t exist in Middle-earth).

    This would be a tough sell for players who typically play online games to watch their stats rise to astronomical heights.

    How many of them would be willing to play a game were their character description contained no numbers, and was just a narrative description of the character? No class. No Hit Points, No “Character Stats” like “Strength,” “Dexterity/Agility,” “Health/Constitution,” etc.. No Skill percentages or levels.

    But such a world would probably produce more that could then be marketed to an audience who was interested in actually watching the characters live in such a world.

    Reply

    • Avatar of Andang
      Andang Says:

      Thank you very much for this very interesting concept as I think it could be easiest to implement into RPGs and then maybe into MMORPGs since RPGs usually focus much more on story and hardly at all about the players levels.
      I have always found it very interesting how RPGs are so different from the MMORPGs when they are really suppost to be nearly the same with the obvious exception to multiplayer. This difference could be why SWTOR is not doing better right now and why I am getting tired of all these MMOs being very similar to each other.
      It seems that since MMORPGs are so attached to the level system many of them keep making the same game as everyone else the difference being that they have a different setting and art style. It is really disappointing to see where the MMO market it at but at least thre are games like LOTRO and Guild Wars 2.

      Reply

  12. Avatar of Lorgelas
    Lorgelas Says:

    For all the crap Turbine gets,they really did do a good job.The second video is a great reminder of that.It would suck to never have been able to play LOTRO

    Reply

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