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Sneak Peak into the Forges of Khazad[Might contain spoilers,picture heavy and long ]

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I got to post this in full for those who dont play LOTR,and maybe cant access The Oracle link, cos it has some new screenies at the end.

Nov 4th 2008, 16:00 GMT
Developer Diary - Anatomy of a Cluster

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Welcome back, all! It’s been a while since you last heard from me. We’ve been busy working hard on providing you with many more instances and lots of new content. Hopefully, you’re anticipating the arrival of new and exciting experiences, and we’re equally eager to have you see them! I want to talk a little about our approach to Moria instances, and raids. We’ve learned a lot from our live experience with The Lord of the Rings Online™: Shadows of Angmar™ and now we are getting ready to unleash a much-improved instance system for Mines of Moria™.

When sitting down to plan the Mines of Moria, we realized that we had come far in our game, but there were still improvements to be made. We read the forum posts, heard the feedback, watched the competition, and came up with a system for our instance and raid players that we think will be to your liking. Gone are the days of behemoth instances that take fifteen hours to complete, with people begging on the LFF channel. Welcome to a new era of fast, exciting instances that provide lots of loot, lots of challenges, and a steady growth pattern in which players can learn, adjust, and gain tactical skills.

One of the things we haven’t had a chance to do with our instances in the past is establish a sense of progression. The instances got more difficult, yes, but they also lacked the ability to train players to become better, and they did not encourage players to use the skills they learned to defeat the next bosses. We also simply did not have enough of them at the highest levels to support people who were capped. Being able to create a sense of what’s next and help guide players from one instance to another is really important. We’re going to be doing this in Mines of Moria through progression, clustering, “hard mode,” and yes, loot.

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Theory of Progression

pro•gres•sion –noun
1. a passing successively from one member of a series to the next; succession; sequence.

Traditionally, in Massively Multiplayer Online games, instances have been set up with a system of gating, implemented in two different ways: Linear and Non-linear. The Linear approach is to gate each instance behind a specific requirement from the previous instance. For example, in Mega Man 2, the final Stage 4 boss or the “Wall Boss” is a boss fight where players have to have the right number of Crash Bombs and use them in the exact right places or they will not be able to go on. The only solution, if they don’t have the right number of bombs, is to return to a previous area and farm the bombs. It is a strict and simple style.

This approach can work well, but in MMO design, it leads to players having to switch out their best gear for their instance-specific gear, forcing players to carry around a specific set for a specific raid. While resistance gear is a valid mechanism for instances and raids, we believe that it shouldn’t be utilized as the only block to progression.

The Non-linear approach is similar but a bit softer, allowing players to try to beat an instance further along in the cluster (we’ll get to that in a minute) but avoiding forcing them to have requirements. A good example of this would be Assassin’s Creed. The game allows players to beat each boss after a minimal amount of prerequisites. Once the player has done the bare minimum, they have the ability to press forward and gain more advantages against the boss or try the boss right away. This may seem like a similar approach, but unlike the Linear approach, the Non-linear approach does not require a full playthrough of all aspects of the level in order to complete the level This is a subtle, yet important, distinction.

In MMOs, for example, “Instance A” gives out cold resistance gear. ”Instance B” has monsters that do cold damage, but the numbers used to design ”Instance B” do not take into account having a specific amount of points towards cold resistance. This can seem very similar to the linear approach, but without the need for the gear, it allows a well-organized group to “skip ahead” if they so wish.

We will be using both Linear and Non-linear instance progression design in The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria and beyond. Our instances will both grant loot that is useful in later instances (e.g. elemental resistances, skills, and so on) and also not require that players have loot from previous instances to succeed.

We also recognize that a lot of the players who like to raid are in it for the challenge and want to work hard to succeed. We have shipped two raids in LOTRO, and with both Helegrod and the Rift, we learned valuable lessons. Somewhat like Goldilocks, we’ve found some raids too hard, and some too easy. The next ones will be just right! We want to mix the desire for hard-core players to have a challenge once they’ve reached the top, and for casual players to not feel shut out from all the reindeer games.

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Anatomy of a Cluster

clus•ter –noun
1. a number of things of the same kind, growing or held together; a bunch: a cluster of grapes.

An instance cluster is a small group of instances that are grouped together to provide players a logical advancement path through which to gain new loot and experience within the game space. Establishing a cluster enables us, as designers, the ability to provide more story progression throughout several instances, more cohesive loot for our players, and an ability to create more tightly-wound content with a higher replay value.

Instance clusters share story elements and use this relation to solidify the cluster structure. If we could go back in time to the days of Shadows of Angmar, we could have made an instance cluster with Barad Gularan, Urugarth, Carn Dûm, and The Rift. They all share the same story of Angmar, and if clustered, could share progressive loot. We could unfold the story as the players went from instance to instance and finish with The Rift as the finale.

In addition to story elements, clusters often share similar architecture, layout design, and quest objectives, or arcs. Clusters are meant to drive you, the players, through the cluster to achieve some specific goal, while simultaneously providing you with entertainment and advancement. Most obviously, this progression is handled through the acquisition of loot. You would also be learning tricks as you go, which will enable you to approach future encounters with a better understanding of game mechanics.

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Basic 4-instance Cluster

It’s also important to note that “locking” Raid A (at the end of the example cluster above – seriously, the above is an example and does not reflect reality in any way) is necessary in the design of the cluster, and to maintain the player’s progression. In general, players should not be able to waltz into a raid without some measure of success beforehand. This can be done in a variety of ways besides simply gating the difficulty. Keys, characteristics gained for killing the bosses, quests, or even the gear itself from each instance can be used as gates to the raid.

Also, the instances do not have to be in one specific space, nor must they be perfectly adjoined in a linear fashion. These instances could be spread across a region, a division, or arguably the whole game world. Distance has no bearing on the story presented, but should be logically maintained across the distances presented in the game world.

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In the Mines of Moria expansion, we are using a very important dynamic for our raids to encourage progression: the concept of Challenges. We will be launching Mines of Moria with multiple end-game adventure instances, and one 12-man raid (not to mention all of the other smaller instances, and a handful of instances on the way to 60). This is a big accomplishment for us in and of itself. With Shadows of Angmar, we only had two capped instances (Urugarth and Carn Dûm) at launch. That is a 200% increase!

But that’s not all. Challenges are now introduced into our 6 end-game instances. Each instance will have an optional objective inside of it that, if achieved, will offer the players a piece of their first tier of the raid set. Each objective will be different, and it will be up to you to discover the Challenge of each instance…and how to beat it. If you succeed in beating all six Challenges, you will be outfitted with a full set of raid gear that will give you 60 points of Radiance. This Radiance stat will help you defeat the gloom inside our first raid in Mines of Moria. This is an expansion of our Hope/Dread system and will give the players bonuses that they can carry with them into the world landscape. As we move forward, we will be introducing new higher-tiered instance clusters that will have even better loot to obtain, along with more difficult Challenges. Our plan is to launch at least one more large scale raid with 6 bosses in our next major update, as well as some supporting instances. (Subject to change, quid pro quo, addendum, asterisk, asterisk)

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Extra Credit: Sneak Peak into the Forges of Khazad-Dûm

For your enjoyment, I’ve added some screenshots of one of our end-game instances: the Forges of Khazad-Dûm. I hope you enjoy, and we can’t wait to see you online in the Mines of Moria!

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Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: forges, heavy, khazadmight, long, peak, picture, sneak, spoilers