LOTRO Legendarium: 10th anniversary interview with Standing Stone’s Rob Ciccolini

As Lord of the Rings Online players revel in the varied activities of this year’s 10th anniversary celebration, the crew at the newly formed Standing Stone Games has a huge task ahead of them: To capitalize upon this monumental milestone and prepare to shuttle players into the “endgame” of the books.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Executive Producer Rob Ciccolini to talk abut the anniversary, its hiccups, and upcoming Mordor expansion. As the page turns on a new chapter of both the game and its development team, it truly feels like we’re about to venture into the unknown in more ways than one.

Massively OP: Why do a scavenger hunt for the 10th anniversary? What was the story behind its creation?

Rob Ciccolini: We wanted to celebrate some of the most iconic places and events that players have experienced and bring them to some of the most historic locations in Tolkien’s world. We also wanted to create an event that players could experience over the course of a couple of months, so people could enjoy the anniversary over an extended duration. Finally, we wanted to build something we could add onto in the future, so new players could experience the scavenger hunt when they are ready for it, and we could expand the event for future anniversaries.

The team gathered one (long) afternoon in a conference room and brainstormed some of the events and locations that were most important to us. We then scoured years of community feedback to identify the things players considered their most significant accomplishments. We used our knowledge of the game’s history to identify NPCs and other bits of fun that the community particularly loved.

When all was said and done, we narrowed that massive list to a series of three quests for each week, one week for each of our ten years. Finally, we then added the work to our development schedule, while also building the Battle of the Black Gate (for Update 20), and got it ready in time for our 10th Anniversary!

By our count, the scavenger hunt is absolutely massive, with 30 quests spread out over 10 tiers. How long did that take to create?

It certainly wasn’t a small amount of work, which is part of the reason why we wanted to create something we could bring back and add to in future years.

There is some concern in the playerbase that parts of the scavenger hunt is inaccessible for low- or mid-level characters, which some feel is unfair when pursuing the rewards and achievements. What is your response to this?

We’re interested in having a wide a range of players run the content. Our three-tiered system lets players pick quests that are appropriate for their characters. In addition, we are making some adjustments so low-level players can access some of the tiers they could not previously.

That said, we feel we would do a disservice to the game to limit nostalgic content to only specific zones. Many of the iconic places exist in dangerous areas, and we don’t feel a scavenger hunt would be complete without them.

Looking back over 10 years, what would you say is LOTRO’s greatest accomplishment?

We are most happy about how we have been able to bring Tolkien’s world to life, and tell his epic story in an exciting way that players can experience themselves. We’re also thrilled at the diverse and exceptionally creative community that our game has helped support. Seeing the things people create in our game, whether it’s music, theatre, poetry, storytelling, or other endeavors never ceases to amaze us.

Are there any further plans to expand the player music and housing systems? Those always seem to be in high demand.

We recently spent a large amount of development time working on premium housing and creating a system that allows players to customize their housing in a wide variety of ways. We’re considering ways to support the music system, and without saying too much about it yet, we’d love to bring a new musical instrument to LOTRO.

Right now, our priority is on Mordor and other areas of development, but I’m sure we haven’t seen the end of work on housing and music.

Which zone was the most difficult for the team to create?

Each zone is its own interesting challenge. In Rohan, for example, there was a desire to make sure the kingdom was a land and not just a zone. Sometimes, the challenge is that there is so much story and lore from the books that it can be daunting to recreate it faithfully. Other times the challenge is the opposite; where the books only lightly touched on a zone, we feel a bit of pressure to make sure our own stories feel true to the source, so we can fill the world in meaningful and compelling ways.

Is Chance Thomas being tapped to score the Mordor expansion?

We aren’t ready yet to announce who will be scoring the music for our Mordor expansion.

What are some of your long-term goals for LOTRO in terms of growth, focus, and marketing?

We intend to continue to grow and expand the game for many years to come, with the community’s support. As we near the end of the formal epic story, we look forward to seeing the player characters themselves take a central role in the events that shape the world. There are a wealth of options to explore in Middle-earth, and many stories yet to be told.

What is your personal favorite LOTRO zone? Quest? Expansion?

A lot of the veterans on the team look back fondly on Great River and feel it was the point where the game reached a place of maturity and hit its stride. Some of the quests in Fangorn — following the hobbits’ footprints, helping out the Ents, and the Lost Man of Rohan — are personal favorites.

It feels that the studio is holding back on the big Mordor expansion announcement (including the name) until the anniversary celebration is past. When might we expect to hear more about the expansion? Is there any time frame for testing and release?

We look forward to telling people more about our expansion within the next few months, and are hoping to start giving players a sneak peek at Mordor in June on Bullroarer (our public preview server). At this point, the most we want to divulge in terms of an announcement is “this summer.”

Every two weeks, the LOTRO Legendarium goes on an adventure (horrid things, those) through the wondrous, terrifying, inspiring, and, well, legendary online world of Middle-earth. Justin has been playing LOTRO since its launch in 2007! If you have a topic for the column, send it to him at justin@massivelyop.com.
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