After finishing the most recent book of the Epic Story, I had many questions to ask the author, MadeOfLions. This lead me to create the following questions about Bingo Boffin, the Epic Story and LOTRO/Turbine as a whole.
A big thanks to MadeOfLions, Chris Pierson, QuartermasterU and DrOctothorpe for answering our questions! Also a big thanks to all the developers over at Turbine for making the awesome game we play.
Bingo Boffin Questions
Q. How did you initially come up with Bingo?
MadeOfLions answers, “I can’t really point to a single moment where Bingo came from – I had been bouncing around the idea for a ‘shadow Epic’ of sorts for years now; not in tone or in relation to the main story of the War of the Ring, but in terms of a long story that passes through many Regions and covers a really wide level-range. Eventually I sat down and started noodling some notes to figure out what sort of story could carry a narrative for a long period – it would need to be a journey, so we’d need a journeyer, and I thought a (mostly) light-hearted journey would be a good counterpoint to the frequently-dour nature of the Epic Story, in much the same way that The Hobbit feels very different than The Lord of the Rings. Bingo made himself known not long after that.”
Q. Why did you decide on having episodic quests?
MadeOfLions answers, “It takes a lot of work to make content for LOTRO, and it often gets consumed really quickly. I’ve always thought it would be a good idea to keep some content in reserve that could become available over time. That way there’s interesting stuff happening even when we’re between updates. As the story for Bingo Boffin developed I realized that it would be a good candidate for this sort of ‘unlocking over time’ content, because otherwise a high-level character could start at the beginning and play through the entire thing immediately… just like what often happens with the Epic. By making it a monthly or weekly event it’s easier to justify the sheer amount of work and resources it would take to build, because it stays relevant for a longer period of time. There’s also something to be said for the game design challenge of making something that extensive. Once it occurred to me that we *could* make a fifty-two quest storyline, I wouldn’t be happy until we did it.”
Q. Was developing the tech for episodic quests challenging or was it relatively simple?
MadeOfLions answers, “Actually, most of the tech involved for this already existed, since we needed a similar system to make the various festival quests work. The Engineering team did give us the ability to have a more complicated set of requirements for displaying Bert Bartleby’s guidance comments each week, so that needed some new tech, but that wasn’t so bad.”
Q. Will we see other episodic quest sets in the future?
MadeOfLions answers, “I could see there being some more Episodic quests, but I would want them to be something different. I don’t think ‘The Ballad of Bingo Boffin… but with an Elf!’ would be the right way to go. Bingo still has a long way to go (we’re eighteen weeks in as I write this, so we’re still not even halfway!), but if his adventure is well-received I could see us making more Episodic quests. It would just take the right story, I think.”
Q. Elyse asks: Is there a backstory to Bingo’s sweater? I’m convinced there was a grandmother who knits behind that sweater.
MadeOfLions answers, “Our Art Director designed Bingo’s outfit, so I don’t know if there’s a secret origin to the sweater in particular. I expect that some kind-hearted Boffin probably gave it to Bingo when he was younger.”
Q. How far in advance do you finish a book of the Epic Story before it releases?
MadeOfLions answers, “A book of the Epic Story can usually be played through from start to finish about a month or so before release, but that time is spent cleaning it up, adding polish, and fixing bugs. VO usually gets hooked up during this time too.”
Q. Sean asks: “Does the rest of the story have a set road map? Will the rest of Galadriel’s prophecies come to pass?”
MadeOfLions answers, “I have a pretty good idea of the overall story-line of the Epic, but I wouldn’t say we’re locked into a set road map. We try to stay pretty flexible concerning where the story takes us. When I came up with the Galadriel prophecies in 2008 I obviously had certain events in the story in mind, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that seven years later we’re certainly closer to some of them than we were.”
Q. Hypothetically, if Turbine was to do the Scouring of the Shire, would it be technologically possible to create an entire new phase of the Shire (ie HD, Isengard, Minas Tirith) & if it was technologically possible, would it be worth the amount of time and effort it would take?
MadeOfLions answers, “The Shire is pretty big, and I’m not sure we’d need the entire thing in order to convey what we’d want to convey about the Scouring.”
Q. Grey asks: Will there be any ‘meanwhile back in zone x’ quests?
MadeOfLions answers, “Almost certainly! There’s a lot of interesting events happening elsewhere while the War of the Ring is progressing, so I could see some ‘Meanwhile…’ quests in the future, like we did with the Interludes in Wildermore.”
Q. Grey asks: “How much research into historical civilizations went into the worldbuilding of especially Eriador? What were the main inspirations for modelling different groups of people? (More obvious for areas like Dunland and Rohan)”
Pierson (Lead Worldbuilder and lore-guru) answers, “It really depends on the civilization. For a lot of them, especially enemy cultures, we took some linguistic cues and maybe a couple stylistic flourishes, from real-world groups, but still kept most of it in the realm of make-believe. So the various mountain-man cultures (Angmarim, Dunlendings, Bree-folk, Dead Men of Dunharrow, etc.) drew from assorted Celtic languages, since their role as compared with, say, the Rohirrim, is like the Celts to the Anglo-Saxons, but the actual cultures, such as they are, are mostly our design (with the books as a guide, naturally). The assorted Easterlings, Haradrim, and Corsairs follow a similar pattern, and we’ve tried to be even more careful with them because we don’t want to just say “Southrons are Africans.” The Rohirrim are very strongly identified pre-Norman England, particularly Mercia, as they do in the books, and the Gondorians borrow extensively from Byzantium and the eastern Mediterranean in general (the Arnorians, if they were still around, would have drawn from Rome, albeit a more northerly version of it, and using Sindarin in place of Latin), though in both cases we don’t cleave exactly to their real-world equivalents. The Lossoth have a heavy Finnish/Saami influence (though, again, they aren’t meant to be 1:1 analogues). The folk of Dale, and the dwarves nearby, use a fair bit of Norse, and the hobbits a good dose of Frankish. The Woodmen of Rhovanion, when they appear, pull from Gothic just like the Professor did in the legendarium. And Elves are Elves and Orcs are Orcs.”
Q. Will the quest counts in the store for quest packs be updated to accurately represent the number? (in some cases the actual number is much smaller than the amount indicated in the store)
QuartermasterU says, ‘We try hard to make sure that we’re not over-stating. In the store descriptions, we try to account for actual quests, rather than deeds and quest totals. Our goal is to give you a good estimate of the amount of fun you can have and we’d rather under promise and over deliver. Maybe?’
Epic Story Questions
Q. Are any characters harder to write than others? If so, why?
MadeOfLions answers, “It’s actually pretty hard to write villains, especially among the Nazgûl, because we have a relatively small number of lines from which to draw their voice. For other serious villains, it’s important to me that we keep them from being too cartoonish, which can be a danger if we veer too much into ‘You foolish fool!’ territory. Sometimes it’s okay if things are pan-seared, though.”
**VOL IV BOOKS 1-4 SPOILER ALERT**
Q. Was there a plan when Vol I was being written to have Mordirith return for the Gondor story?
MadeOfLions answers, “It was always the plan to have Mordirith return as we moved closer to Mordor, although we hadn’t yet nailed down that he would be Gothmog. We made that discovery during the planning for Volume IV, and it was the subject of a number of emails with the heading G=M? as we worked out if that was feasible. I love that it was, and I think that it makes his return (and Gothmog’s status as second in command as seen in The Return of the King) more powerful and affecting.”
Q. Are the Minas Tirith tier passwords in the dark timeline different from what they would be normally? Are the passwords of Minas Tirith LOTRO’s way of telling us what timeline we are in like the spinning top from Inception?
MadeOfLions answers, “There are a few telltale signs in there that serve the same purpose as the totem from Inception (such as the continued use of the phrase ‘The End Has Come,’ which Denethor repeats several times, and which appears on the Withered Tree scroll by the model in the Dome of the Sun), but I didn’t plan the pass-words with that in mind. Some of the pass-words do vary from character to character, though.”
Q. Is it a coincidence the Palantír plotline released 6 days after Back to the Future day?
MadeOfLions answers, “Complete coincidence. Now make like the White Tree and get out of here.”
Q. Did you think about saving the Palantír reveal until next update and just ending with the Epic Battles?
MadeOfLions answers, “Very early on we talked about when we should pull the veil back on that particular reveal, and one of the possibilities was leaving it until the next update – but it was felt that it might be too confusing or lose its impact if we let it sit. I felt very strongly that once we started going All In on some of the horrible things that happen, we really had to pull the curtain back before the instance concluded. I’d like to think we’ve earned some goodwill over the years with the way we respect the lore of Middle-earth, but if we didn’t explain ourselves after ‘The Darkest Hour’ I think that would be pretty sorely tested!”
Q. Was Sauron busy when we looked into the Palantír? Why did he not try to gain information from us like he did from Pippin?
MadeOfLions answers, “I think Sauron can tell which palantír is being used, so when he sees a hobbit looking into the Orthanc-stone, it immediately catches his attention: Saruman has the Halfling, which means that Saruman probably has the Ring. He’d better send someone to get it at once! When Denethor shows you the Anor-stone, you’re not wrestling with Sauron the way that Denethor has been; you’re much more of a bystander. So it’s not to say that Sauron is busy (although he is arranging for the start of the last war), but I think he isn’t expecting to see you. If he expects to see anyone unusual, he’s probably worried that Denethor will step aside and reveal Aragorn before his own armies are in position.”
DrOctothorpe also has this to add, ‘It’s not just that Sauron could tell which stone or who’s looking in it. Isn’t there an intimation that Denethor, like Aragorn, has strength of will to wrestle with Sauron? So he would always interfere more subtly with that stone. Whereas for the Orthanc stone, he picked up the receiver expecting Saruman, and found a hobbit.’
Q. Why does Denethor show the Palantír to us as opposed to anyone else in Minas Tirith? Has he shown anyone else the Palantír?
MadeOfLions answers, “I don’t think he’s shown anyone else the Anor-stone (and certainly not Pippin, who’s surprised by it later on), but he’s shown it to you partially because you’re a friend of Mithrandir. He doesn’t trust the Wizard at all, but I think Denethor wants some sympathy for the thankless struggle that he’s been waging – by showing you what he’s seen in the Anor-stone, he wants you to understand what he’s been facing, and the terror that faces the city and the kingdom. If that information gets to Mithrandir, perhaps he’ll treat the Steward with more respect and understanding – or so thinks Denethor. I got a kick out of getting to tell Gandalf that the Anor-stone remained in the tower, though. Twice. ‘I wondered if it was so,’ he says. Twice!”
Q. Was it intentional to have the last part of the Palantír vision be of Pippin dramatically taken away and then have him be the first non-steward we talk to?
MadeOfLions answers, “It’s intentional that you talk to Pippin immediately after the events of ‘The Darkest Hour,’ because I wanted you to see that he’s all right, and I also thought it was important to have something a little more light-hearted after the heavy stuff we just experienced.”
Q. Other than the Palantír, were there any other options discussed to allow the players to experience both the Siege of Minas Tirith and catching up with the Rohirrim?
MadeOfLions answers, “There were a few possibilities, but probably the most likely alternative would have been the one we’ve used most frequently: hitting the Pause button in the moments before dawn and just saying that by super-sonic travel you’re able to almost be in two places at once. There might have been a long tunnel through Mindolluin in that event. I like the way we handled it because it lets us explore both the Siege and the Steward’s state of mind in interesting ways.”
Q. What is more likely; Bingo Boffin actually swimming or the people of Gondor accepting Gothmog as the rightful king?
MadeOfLions answers, “Oh, I don’t know that it’s as clear as all that. Do you believe that Narmeleth was redeemed? Because if people can come back from such evil, I would think that Gothmog’s claim is actually pretty strong. To be fair, that might be a pretty big if… but still.”
Once again a big thanks to everyone at Turbine for letting us do this interview!