Massively OP Interview: Exploring LOTRO with the Tolkien Professor

If you are looking for a bridge between you and the sometimes dense (but quite popular) works of J.R.R. Tolkien, then you could do no better than to sit at the feet of the Tolkien Professor. Dr. Corey Olsen has been teaching about Tolkien and his collective works for years, providing understanding and fostering discussion in a way that is always interesting and accessible.

Recently, Olsen started up a new course at Signum University (where he is both the founder and president) called "Explore the Lord of the Rings on Location." This free, public course meets every week for a lecture through a chapter in Tolkien's famous trilogy, followed by a "field trip" in Lord of the Rings Online to locations mentioned. It's been a highly publicized event so far, with Standing Stone even creating a special lecture hall in Bree for the series. Interested parties can attend in person in the game, watch via Twitch, or catch up with afterward on the series' YouTube channel.

We caught up with Dr. Olsen to talk about the making of the course, the history behind his university, and his interaction with the long-running MMORPG.

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LOTRO starts testing player housing improvements

One of the most requested and most delayed requests by the Lord of the Rings Online community over the years is a revamp to the game's limited housing system. While a complete overhaul isn't happening right now, the good news is that Standing Stone is starting to test some big improvements that will allow players more freedom in placing housing decor.

The main change in this upcoming patch is an adjustable housing hook system that sounds similar to what's used in SWTOR: "You can now adjust the precise location of interior housing decorations once they are placed in a hook. The decoration hook UI now includes four scroll bars that allow decorations to be rotated as before, but also to be moved east/west, north/south, and up/down. Exterior housing decorations continue to only allow rotation."

The test server patch also includes additional chat channels and premium housing writs to facilitate the transfer of the newer houses.

Source: Patch notes

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The Daily Grind: What is your favorite MMO magic system?

While there are plenty of similarities among magic systems in MMOs (hey, how about you cast another fireball? There you go, champ!), there is a lot of variety as well. I'm always attracted to systems that put some though into their design, such as Guild Wars 2's illusion-based Mesmers, the mix-and-match Necromancers of Vanguard, and Lord of the Rings Online's wordy Rune-keepers.

At the very least, I have to applaud developers who at least put in the effort to gussy up the same mechanics in a new outfit. But when a team eschews the tired magic tropes and starts to get imaginative with spellcasting? That's when I perk up and pay attention.

What's your favorite MMO magic system and why?

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Betawatch: The Repopulation changes hands (January 20, 2017)

The good news for fans of The Repopulation is that the game is coming back online. The bad news is... well, it's completely changed hands, with Idea Fabrik (owners of the Hero Engine) taking the game and making it their own. Will it be as good as it could have been? Will it release and be stable? We just don't know right now. But it's coming back. The owners are also starting just by bringing the alpha back online, lest you expect a whole new game out of the gate.

And there's more beta news! Oh, boy, is there ever more beta news.

And yes, there's a list, and it's just below. Did we miss something in there? Let us know down in the comments. Do you want to share your opinions on this week's beta news? Do so in the comments. Sharing feelings about betas? That's what the comment section is for, folks, don't let us stop you.

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World of Warcraft posts initial patch notes for patch 7.2 testing

The initial build of World of Warcraft patch 7.2 is up for testing now, but be fairly warned: It's not all of the patch. It's not even necessarily a majority of the patch; as confirmed by community manager Lore, the main focus right now is stability and testing the new Demon Invasions, which means that players can expect to see many further iterations before the patch goes live. There's an entire chunk of stuff coming with the Broken Shore, after all.

You can peruse the patch notes for this first build now just the same; they include some nice additions like a "Sets" tab for transmog collections, higher item scaling for World Quests, and more options for gaining reputation from Emissaries past Exalted. You can also take a look at some of the new models already in the patch, including new class mounts of various hues and a long-overdue new model for Trade Prince Gallywix.

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Dungeons and Dragons Online hypes Dragonborn race, Ravenloft expansion, and sentient weapons

In 2017, Dungeons and Dragons Online will officially add its third campaign setting to its melting pot with Ravenloft. Executive Producer Rob Ciccolini wrote in his producer's letter that the "fan favorite" setting would come later this year as the game's third expansion along with sentient weapons.

Ravenloft is only a part of DDO's grand plans for the year. Ciccolini said that the fun will begin with Update 34 (which contains a new dungeon and the reaper difficulty level), the game's 11th anniversary event, Update 35 (which will add the playable Dragonborn race), and Update 36 (which will return to the Forgotten Realms). The expansion and a further update will wrap up the team's plans for 2017.

We spoke with Ciccolini and the team at Standing Stone Games this week about DDO and the studio transition. Standing Stone said that the Ravenloft expansion "could include new playable race or races as well."

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The Stream Team: Trying out Asheron's Call before it's gone

If you wait too long, sometimes you will miss out, and Massively OP's MJ almost missed out on seeing the world of Asheron's Call. With the doors closing at the end of this month, MJ has to jump in now to try and experience a bit of it before it's gone. Join us live at 4:00 p.m. to share your memories.

What: Asheron's Call
Who: MJ Guthrie
When: 4:00 p.m. EST on Friday, January 20th, 2017

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EverQuest senior game designer Josh Augustine moves over to World of Warcraft

Former PC Games editor and EverQuest senior game designer Josh Augustine announced yesterday that he's made a move to a position on a different MMORPG: World of Warcraft.

"I'm overjoyed to announce that I'm joining the World of Warcraft quest design team at Blizzard," Augustine wrote on Twitter. "One of my life goals and a huge honor!"

Augustine previously worked on several of SOE and Daybreak's titles during his tenure at the studio, including the original EverQuest, the ill-fated EverQuest Next, and Landmark.

Source: Twitter

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Examining the potential for exercise and exploration in Pokemon GO

Just in time for your New Year's resolution, we reported on how Pokemon Go was featured in a peer-reviewed study on getting people to move more. But truthfully, Pokemon and Nintendo have built exercise games several times in the past, and Niantic never advertises PoGO as an exercise game. It's an ARG. In fact, the official site never mentions exercise, just exploring. That being said, we don't really think of adventurers or explorers as being slugabeds. So what is PoGO doing with exploration that gets people to exercise, and is it really that effective?

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Path of Exile teases new water simulation system

Can I get you a drink while you wait for Path of Exile to land on Xbox One as recently announced? Awesome. How about some water?

"Late last year we introduced our Physics Programmer, Alex, in a developer interview where we discussed the new cloth physics system he had been working on. In addition to this new system, Alex has also been working on creating a new water simulation system. We are still in the very early phases of the development of this but we're excited to share a preview of the work we've done so far."

GGG says it's "planning to make it configurable to work on a wide variety of systems" and for "all platforms with the 3.0.0 expansion later this year." You can watch the super-short teaser video with its oddly tense background music below. Water.

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Quantic Foundry's findings on WoW, SWTOR, and gender

Quantic Foundry, the gaming analytics consulting firm we've been following since late 2015 thanks to its Gamer Motivation Model, has a new blog post out this week that purports to break down participation rate in various gaming genres, including MMOs, by gender.

Parsed from 270,000 self-submitted surveys gamers have submitted to date -- 18.5% of which are from women -- Quantic's data appear to reinforce some of the basic stereotypes in gaming: two-thirds of match 3 gamers are women, almost all tactical shooter fans are dudebros, women play more high-fantasy MMOs than sci-fi MMOs, that sort of thing. But there are some interesting surprises. For example, a smaller percentage of World of Warcraft players are women than the genre numbers on the whole.

"23% of World of Warcraft gamers are women. This is substantially lower than the group average (36%). A lot of game researchers (Nic and I included) focused on studying WoW as an exemplar of online gaming, but it looks like WoW was not only an outlier in terms of market success, but also in terms of its demographics relative to other games in the genre."

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Marvel Heroes rolls out 'biggest update ever' successfully

Last night, MJ and I were nervous about scheduling her Marvel Heroes stream -- would the game really be back up and functional when it had gone down only six hours before for its so-called "biggest update ever"? Turns out our fears were unwarranted; the game was back up earlier than planned.

If you haven't been in yet, you're gonna want to check out what's changed. Gazillion has two new videos, one on powers and one on talents, and MJ's posted her stream from last night, in which she scoped out how her own toons have transformed. Let us know how it's playing for you -- last night players were frustrated over brand-new inventory issues, so be warned you might be playing the loot shuffle game when you next log in before you can get to kicking butt.

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Chaos Theory: My Secret World 2017 goals

When the year-end Massively Overthinking asked about game resolutions, I honestly answered that I don't really make any because I hadn't ever done that and didn't expect to start. Many of the goals I make as I play throughout the year are pretty specific to what is happening at that time and what I feel inclined to do right then. But the topic stuck with me, and I began thinking about what goals I did have in The Secret World.

Once I started thinking about it in concrete terms, I was able to pinpoint a few more things I'd really like to accomplish this year. It turns out there are some that are more overarching than just an in-the-moment whim. So here they are: my 2017 TSW goals. At the close of this year, you can help me gauge how well I did. (Ironically, since this column was usurped by other topics hogging the spotlight for a couple of weeks, my first goal has already been achieved. Go me!) And please, add any goals you have in the comments!

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