LoTRO Developer Diary: Instances 2.0

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Despite their recent decision to adopt a free-to-play model, Turbine remains ambitious and passionate about Lord of the Rings Online. So passionate, in fact, that they are┬áreimagining┬átheir vision for the game, and taking a microscope to the game’s entire instancing system. Judging by the staggering amount of instanced content and handcrafted material, this undertaking is clearly not for the faint of heart. Fortunately for us, Turbine’s developer team is not afraid to get their hands dirty and dig right in to areas of the game that they feel are lacking the accessibility and quality that the players (and the team themselves) have come to expect.

Turbine’s very own Joe “jwbarry” Barry dropped by the official site last week to post his Developer Diary on the extensive overhaul that is to take place within LoTRO’s instances. Joe and his team feel that their instanced content, which is so integral to the overall game experience, is not finding a large enough audience due to imposed level restrictions. With this old system in place, the developers could spend months fine-tuning beautiful new instances, only to release them to a fraction of the playerbase. Further, LoTRO’s current Skirmish system has been so successful that the Turbine team has decided to take it’s winning features and apply them to Classic instances. Several aspects of Skirmishes are being studied with the intention of implementation into said instances.

Skirmishes were the first feature to bring the group teleportation mechanic into the game. That is, the ability to be warped (along with your group) directly into an instance from any part of the game world at will. Classic instances do not currently employ this feature, and as such, players are expected to travel by foot (or mount) to the physical entrance. Joe Barry’s first objective was to bring this particular convenience to the Classic instances.

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The next (and most important) revamp is Scaling. Scaling different aspects of a game allows developers to dynamically tailor hard-coded “difficulty” settings to a chosen variable, thus extending accessibility (and subsequently, value) in all directions. Group size scaling, as the name suggests, allows for the content to be altered based on group size. However, Joe and the team felt that this mechanic trivialized their efforts to emphasize individual experience, and ultimately chose to leave it out. Another subset, difficulty tier scaling, would allow players to manually set a difficulty according to taste. This feature was temporarily set aside, due to the undesired standardization this feature imposed upon monster difficulty, and the impact it had on the uniquely hand-crafted nature of certain instances. Joe says he will “keep this tool in the bag for a later date.”

“Where is the scaling, then?” you may ask, and understandably so. Level scaling is the star feature of this Developer Diary, and it reportedly works like a charm. Players can tinker with the level range of an instance, and at the same time, retain the custom feel of the instance on the whole. We have a winner!

Rounding out the Diary, Joe Barry divulges information on the new questing system in instancing, as well as some chop-jobs (cutting some instances into multiple, independent pieces) that are in the works. Read up on the LoTRO goodness here.