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Missing MMO Music Features – LOTRO Leads, Nobody Follows February 1, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, Need for Speed World, World of Warcraft.
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12 comments

Lord of the Rings Online can be a bit of a mixed bag.  Depending on your point of view, you can easily find much to like or dislike about the game.

On the plus side it brings to the table a lush and beautiful environment that brings alive the the world of Middle-earth in ways impossible in the books or the movies.  It is one thing to read about Frodo stumbling across the three trolls that had been turned to stone, or to see it projected up on a screen as Peter Jackson’s vision.   It is something else entirely to be wandering through the Trollshaws and to discover them on your own.  Being given free reign to wander Middle-earth is like a dream.

The game also has classes that do not all fit the standard RPG mold, a variety of different content options fit with various group sizes and skills, and, of course, many an NPC that looks like Anderson Cooper.

Anderson Cooper 360... and counting

Anderson Cooper 360… and counting

On the flip side, we have LOTRO the game, which suffers from many flaws.  It is showing its age, and it frankly was never put together as solid as a lot of other MMOs have been in any case.  It is another copy of the WoW quest hub model, and as is common in that model, the quests can be too “same-ish,” too repetitive, and too boring, so that even when the route through the game is wide enough for some choices on what to do next, it often ends up as being six of one and half a dozen of the other.  For all the beauty of the environment, the character models leave much to be desired.  And then there are the elements of its free to play business model which have become more and more intrusive as time has gone along.

And I am sure we as players could come up with more items for each side of the equation.

But do any of these, good or bad, make LOTRO stand out?

Leaving aside the Tolkien lore, we certainly have our choice of beautiful worlds to explore.  If that is your thing, you should probably be playing Guild Wars 2.  A non-standard, non-traditional class seems to be a line item requirement for the genre.  Even WoW had hunters, which were odd at the time, but have become extremely popular.  Scalable content and a variety of content options are likewise becoming pretty common.  And, frankly, clean shaven and close cropped, who doesn’t look like Anderson Cooper?

Of course, the complaints can find homes elsewhere as well.  A lot of games are showing their age and WoW has set a bar for fit and polish that few have reached.  The quest model is an issue because it is so damn common.  Character models are a bigger issue in other games for me, like Wizardry Online.  And the noxious tendrils of the free to play business model are the default in the industry now.

So LOTRO‘s stand out in the genre is the Tolkien lore, which nobody can take from it.  At least not until 2014 at the earliest.

But LOTRO has something else, something that sets it apart, something that makes it a joy, and that is its music system.

That your character can pick up a musical instrument and play notes is great.

That you can have your character play a song from a pre-made file, so you can essentially be a street musician is even better.

And that you can have multiple people in a group play different parts from a song that stays synchronized so that you can essential form your own band is a master stroke.

Back when we were last playing LOTRO, we began working with the music system and ended up spending a good chunk of each night just playing music as a group.  We would check The Fat Lute, a web site devoted to LOTRO music, ever week for new tunes.  Music was a lot of fun for us.

Music... and Anderson Cooper

Music… and Anderson Cooper

And we were hardly alone.  We would run into people playing music alone or in groups all the time on a Saturday night.  Bree was alive with music.   And this lead all the way up to events like Weatherstock, where bands in matching outfits perform, even bringing their own compositions to perform.

When I go back and log into LOTRO every month to make sure I get my 500 Turbine point Lifetime Memebership stipend (As Abe Simpson said, “I didn’t earn it, I don’t need it, but if they miss one payment I’ll raise hell!”) During my trip to pick up my check, I often spend a few minutes playing the Popeye theme on a horn at a busy street corner, which is often worth a chuckle.

And, as far as I know, no other MMORPG has copied, recreated, or outright stolen this feature.

Which is, frankly, amazing to me.  The easiest way to denigrate an MMO you don’t like is to dismiss it because they copied feature x from game y.  This is because, of course, they all copy features from each other incessantly.

Yet here is this music system, which has been around for year now, and still remains pretty much a LOTRO thing.

I have to wonder why.

If I were the Rift team, this would be high on my list.

If I were running EverQuest II, weapon smiths and woodworkers would have a huge piles of instrument recipes and New Halas would be a cacophony of music. (Or, if I were Smed, I would totally have this on the list for EverQuest Next.  Perfect sandbox feature.)

Hell, it would even fit into World of Warcraft, where their philosophy won’t let them do player or guild housing because it takes people out of the world.  A Music feature like this puts people into the world, into towns and other gathering places, and gives them something to do.

Honestly, I think music is a blind spot for most MMO developers.  It is graphics and mechanics and classes and skills and balance and… oh yeah, sound.

Yes, sure, there is always a sound track and incidental music.  But how many people turn that off or play without sound.  And for all of Syp’s Jukebox Heroes columns, the sound track is static thing, released but rarely revisited.

Even Star Was: The Old Republic and its vaunted sound work ends up being hours of (tedious) talking and relatively little music.

I cannot fathom why a game like Need for Speed World doesn’t have a dashboard radio interface to let you play some of the game music tracks as well as control and play music from your own computer.  When I was playing the game a lot a while back, I used to play driving music to go along with it.

Hell, in some games we are moving backwards.  One of the lesser known “features” of the Retribution expansion in EVE Online was the removal of their in-game music player.  They have gone to the more traditional MMO scheme of “you will listen to the music we want you to, when we want you to.”

Ah well.

So what do you think?  Does the industry have a blind spot when it comes to music?  Is the genre missing out by ignoring music features?  Would they help player retention and make games more “sticky” as it were?  Or would music be more of a distraction and take focus away from the core elements of such games?

Music, Skirmishes, and Anderson Cooper September 16, 2010

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, Lord of the Rings Online.
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5 comments

It was the first Saturday night of the newly Free-(ish)-to-Play Lord of the Rings Online and it wasn’t so bad.

At least not on Firefoot, our server of choice, and something of a low population server to start with.

Sure, there was some lag in and around Bree.  Some of those with short memories were crying on OOC that there has never been lag in Bree before, but I could tell them different.  Oh, there used to be plenty of lag in Bree on a Saturday night back in 2007.

And there was that annoying “find the zone line” behavior where you suddenly stop and cannot move while resources load.  You can spot other people hitting the line by their running-in-place behavior.

Doing the Bree Shuffle

Still, it did seem prudent to get out of Bree proper when we could.

When I arrived Garfinkle and Enaldie were already in game.  They said that Earl wouldn’t be able to make it, but they were outside the Bree gate playing around the the LOTRO music system.  It was going to be an evening of music and skirmishes for our short group:

  • Roderigo – levl 25 human Burglar
  • Garfinkel – level 26 elf Minstrel
  • Enaldie – level 26 elf Rune Keeper

When Garfinkle said they were playing with the LOTRO music system, I thought he meant the original music interface that allowed you to play an instrument through your keyboard.

But when I got out to them, they were playing a very good version of House of the Rising Sun using the ABC music interface.

Covering The Animals

The ABC interface allows you to load up a midi-like file and play it through your instrument in-game.

I vaguely remember this being introduced into the game, but I never really looked into it.  But watching them play, I had to join in.  I was sent off to The Fat Lute, a site devoted to the ABC music system in LOTRO, where there are thousands of songs that have been transcribed into the ABC file format.  Go take a look.

While I was checking out the site, Garfinkel played the threatened promised Scotland the Brave on his bagpipes.

Hae ye enough yet laddie?

There is a surprising amount of traditional bagpipe music on The Fat Lute.  The only downfall is that you cannot march while you play the pipes.

I figured out a bit of what was going on with the music, but needed to run back into Bree to purchase an instrument.  We decided to hit the skirmish system first before braving the lag-prone capital of Breeland.

We headed over to the skirmish camp, which was right across the road, and found out that we could not do the tutorial as a fellowship.  You cannot even be in a fellowship.  You have to go alone.

Well, not alone.  The first thing they teach you about in the skirmish tutorial is how to summon a companion, a soldier who will fight for you and who looks a lot like Anderson Cooper.

Anderson Cooper was the third theme of the night, after music and skirmishes.  He is all over Middle-earth it seems.  He’s in the Prancing Pony.  He’s running the skirmish camp.  He’s your soldier in a skirmish.  And I think he’s even hanging out in the Forsaken Inn.

So we broke our fellowship and went into the tutorial on our own.

As usual, the guiding NPC, who looks like Anderson Cooper wearing a fake beard, had some ailment that kept him out of the battle.

Your eczema looks aggravated as well

But the Anderson Cooper clone was eager to go.  The second thing they teach you is that if Anderson Cooper dies, you can just call out another one.  There certainly seem to be enough about.  I wonder what CNN thinks about this.

Anderson Cooper 360... and counting

We made it through the two tutorials mostly unscathed.

Garfinkel was defeated a couple of times… but he’s with the band.

We then got ourselves back in a fellowship and took on the skirmish at Amon Sul… also known as Weathertop, where Candaith was hold up.

Things started out okay, with us and the Anderson Cooper triplets running around while Candaith did most of the work with his bow.  Tough talker that Candaith.

Reporting live from Amon Sul

However, once we got to the final wave, things fell apart badly.  We were defeated soundly, as we were on our last visit to Weathertop.  It is not a good location for us so far.

We thought we might try it again in easy mode, maybe set the skirmish to “solo” and go in, but the interface doesn’t let you skimp like that.  If you have three people, you have to choose a small fellowship.

The interface did not bode well for future skirmishes though.  The choice for group size is solo, duo, small fellowship (trio), fellowship (six), and raid (more than I’ll ever see).  However, as a group of four, it seems like small fellowship will be out and we’ll have to face the six player level of content.

We’ve done that before.  It doesn’t work.

With that bit of down news, we decided to go back to music.

We set up just outside of the skirmish camp and started to go through the song list over at The Fat Lute.

We found a few decent multi-part pieces.  We would each take a part and equip the appropriate instrument.  In a fellowship you can append the word “sync” to your play command, then you can all start off together and play the different parts like… well… a real band.

So we got out there in the best Nairobi Trio spirit and played.

Playing together

We were alternately impressed and laughing out loud.

The three part version of Rhiannon was really good.

The music from the Star Wars cantina band was both good and hilarious.

And some pieces were just over the top, trying to do to much, losing the song in the flood of music bad.  But even those were fun and worth a laugh.

When Garfinkel gets to a high enough level, he is going to have to teach Roderigo the Theorbo skill.  That is a Middle-earth bass and it has an amazingly good sound.  In fact, all of the instruments sound very good.

Our spirits thus revived, we decided to try out another skirmish.  This time it was the defense of Gondomon.

We did much better.  Nobody was defeated.  Well, Anderson Cooper went down left and right, but you can always re-summon him.  After our victory, we started to check out the vendors who sell things for skirmish marks.  I was glad to see that they sell different looks for your soldier.  It got a bit confusing with the same guy running around thrice.

After that, we played around with music some more.  The whole LOTRO music system is pretty amazing.

It is, in fact, one of the real differentiators for the game.  I do not know of another MMO that has anything similar.

LOTRO, it has something special.

Music... and Anderson Cooper

Now the question for next week… if Earl is back, do we continue in the Lone Lands, work on skirmishes, or try some of the four part music pieces?