Interview: Turbine’s Jeffrey Steefel Talks LOTRO, Design Philosophy, Part Two

The Lord of the Rings OnlinePicking up where we left off (which you can read here if you missed it), in the second half of our interview with LOTRO Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel we delve into some slightly more esoteric subjects; getting into the hows and the whys behind LOTRO’s map size, the experience of working on a licensed vs. original title, and the force which drives him to get up every morning and go to work at Turbine.

Before that, though, I would like to belatedly rescind one of the remarks I made in my question about the size of the world. Having recently started a new character in the game with no run speed buff, no horse, and no ports aside from the Map Home, the world suddenly feels anything but small. Particularly when swimming across Lake Evendim for the tenth time.

Perception of world size is inversely proportional to the speed at which you’re traveling across it, and my former main was a Hunter, who could reach all four corners of the map in seconds flat.

Aside from that, Jeffrey was quite an interesting person to speak to, and I regret that I lost track of time and did not have the opportunity to get into further areas of discussion with him.

But, there’s always the next interview.

Press play to listen to part two, or read on for the transcript:

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The MMO Gamer: I would assume you’ve worked on both original and licensed properties, correct?

Jeffrey Steefel: Yep.

The MMO Gamer: Extra work aside, which ones did you find more fulfilling?

Jeffrey Steefel: It depends on which part of me you’re talking to. I think they’re both fulfilling for different reasons. If you’re talking to the pure creative design side of me, it’s always cooler to do your own thing, right?

On the other hand, by starting from something, especially something like Lord of the Rings that is so fleshed out, it gives you a lot of freedom to explore creatively in other ways, to really go to town on some of the other things that you might focus on.

Even just being able to build Angmar, having just the few things I know about it: I know the Witch King is from there, I know it’s in the north of Eriador, I know they burned The Shire way back when. It gives me a little bit of a hint about what’s going on, it doesn’t stop me from being unbelievably creative.

And also, the fact that it’s one thing if you’re building a 10-30 hour game, and I need to build from scratch IP, story, environment, everything to cover that. That’s creative and that’s manageable. If you tell me, “Ok, I need you to create a story and a world that’s going to at launch encompass 500 hours of gameplay, 70 million square meters, and feel full, and rich…” that feels pretty daunting to me.

I’m going to come back to you and say, “Great, I’d like 50 million dollars, please. And I’d like to take a team off into a corner for ten years to work on it.” There’s a reason that Spore has been in development for what? Eight years, nine years?

The MMO Gamer: Thereabouts.

Jeffrey Steefel: Because that’s how something really new and innovative comes out at scale. They have been working on it, and working on it, and working on it, and working on it, and they’re in a position where they can. They’re inside of a company that can basically say “Ok, we’re going to take this tiny little percentage of our profit and we’re going to spend it on this R&D thing that’s just going to sit there for going on a decade, and maybe something unbelievable will come out of it.”

Turbine is really growing, and the success of LOTRO is really pushing that well, and we want to get to a place where we can do that, where we can just say, “You know, we don’t know where this thing’s going. And our business doesn’t depend on it going anywhere. And we’re just going to invest in it and really let it grow in a creative way.”

That’s the difference between the good old days of garage shop gaming companies that started up as a bunch of guys—Turbine started that way, Asheron’s Call, EverQuest, Smedley was at 989 Studios with a small group of people just working on something that they loved, maybe it was going to turn into something big, maybe it wasn’t, that pressure wasn’t really there.

That’s where we need to get to. We need to get big enough on the things that we’re fairly certain can be successful to create those little sandbox areas for that stuff that might just crash and burn, or it might be the next amazing thing.

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  1. Orodruin Khuzdul says:

    It’s disappointing to see how much Steefel’s views have changed with the development of “The MInes of Moria.” Basically he’s gone from upholding a game “faithful to the books” to a game with certain “needs” that is anything but a believable world.

    I was kind of hoping that LOTRO would be something new — something realistic to a point, and more mature in terms of more deeply involved gameplay and less neon lights and flashy graphics garbage. Since PAX, I’ve begun to doubt him. Hopefully, he’ll prove me wrong.

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