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Saturday, 5 August 2017

LOTRO's Mordor trailer: a reaction


It's expansion time in Lord of the Rings Online, so get ready for some dark and depressing images on Ravalation. Sauron has done a great job of branding his homeland such that nobody ever wants to visit (SSG arguably even helped a bit with their widely discussed pre-order prices), yet many players chose to (wo)man up and venture through the Black Gate this past Wednesday. I was among them. Since I haven't played enough to write a review yet, let's discuss something else: the Mordor trailer.

I don't usually dedicate whole blog posts to MMO trailers - I don't think they're that interesting - but, as you will see, this is a very special trailer. More precisely, this is probably (hopefully) the worst MMO trailer you've seen this year, perhaps ever. If you haven't seen it yet, give it a go.


Official trailer for LOTRO's Mordor expansion (source)

It's hard to find words that can describe the amount of cringe I feel when watching this trailer. It looks like it was put together a couple of hours before launch - in fact, it probably was.

The trailer in context

LOTRO has a tradition of rushed expansions, and Mordor is no exception. Despite beta testers urging the developers to wait with release until finished, the expansion was announced to go live as planned on August the first. However, less than 12 hours before the servers were supposed to go offline, a major bug was found and Mordor was delayed by two days. During this two day period, the trailer was released. To be honest, I hadn't even realized that there hadn't been a trailer so far: news of the highly anticipated addition of Mordor to the game had done its job all by itself.

Let's look at LOTRO's Helm's Deep trailer (the previous expansion). I wasn't a huge fan of that trailer back in the day, but say what you will, it does manage to capture that Middle-earth feeling. For me, the Mordor trailer did nothing of the sorts. And it's not just that the graphics are somewhat outdated: to me the Warcraft III trailer from 1999 (almost 20 years ago!) evokes more emotion than the Mordor one... and I don't even like the Warcraft world. More closer to home, LOTRO's original opening cinematic from 2007 was actually pretty cool. I wish my in-game elven characters could actually look like that elf chick (but more on that in an upcoming post about LOTRO's character overhaul).

Finally, for a more contemporary comparison we can look at Guild Wars 2's upcoming expansion: Path of Fire and its accompanying trailer. Now that's a trailer that enthuses one about a game! And then I haven't even talked about Star Wars: the Old Republic's trailer for the Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion (2016): the best one I've ever seen for an MMO. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

Community reception

Players have expressed their feelings of horror online, for instance in the comment section of Massively OP's news article and in a LOTRO forum post unambiguously called SSG, please take down the official Mordor trailer. Some players thought at first glance that the trailer was satire or a fan video. Others point at the damage it does to the game.
"If I was a prospective player, I would see that and not even try the game. Even as a veteran player, that trailer did nothing to excite me."
- Player Kanoma on the LOTRO forum
In the same thread, player "bobbylobs" observes a trend of SSG becoming the laughing stock in the MMO gamer community:
"SSG do yourselves a huge favour and do as the OP suggests - take it down - it's a laughing stock right now, I'm not joking I've logged on to two other games tonight and players there are literally laughing at this, people are searching the internet to see it and no-one, absolutely no-one has anything complimentary to say about it, I am supremely confident it isn't generating any customers but it is definitely turning people away.
The above pretty much sums up what was being discussed in my kinship's Discord channel (consisting of mostly veteran LOTRO players of the first hour). We had a lot of fun joking at how bad the trailer was; deep down, of course, we were a bit sad too, because we all love(d) the game and it deserves better.


Finally, you know when something truly went awfully wrong when even self proclaimed LOTRO fanboys are embarrassed:
"Well I'd probably be classed as hopeless fanboi as I've bought the expansion, have no problem with the launch delay, disagreed with all the moaners about the delay, happily had my tea and watched some TV whilst the update downloaded and am really looking forward to Mordor, BUT that trailer is truly awful. On second viewing it's even worse, I really don't understand the thought process behind it. It makes LOTRO look terrible, the trailer has no plus points."
Reportedly, community manager Cordovan addressed the matter on the official LOTRO stream, saying the trailer would be "de-emphasized." I didn't watch the stream myself, but that sounds awfully much like "we keep it up, pretend it doesn't exist and hopefully people will forget about it". The latter would definitely be the best for the game.

Conclusions

Standing Stone Games (SSG) is in an unusual position. In an 'expected' game studio's lifecycle, it would start out small, getting more successful and growing bigger with the release of good games. Think of CD Projekt Red with their Witcher games. In LOTRO, we see the opposite happening. If some small game would've made a trailer like this, nobody would've noticed. But LOTRO started out as a potential "WoW killer" (back in 2007 when that was still a thing) and that legacy brings certain expectations. I would be lying if I didn't feel for the developer that made the trailer because of its reception. Not that I want to explain away the quality of this trailer: it's truly awful, and the criticism is justified. If anyone at SSG has the ability to work on their introspection skill, now's the time.

I have a final note, though. Yes, the trailer is bad, and I can't really blame people from thinking "wow, this game went to shit, glad I didn't buy Mordor". But there's one thing I need to say: I've been tremendously enjoying the expansion so far! It's actually pretty good. New space to explore, new levels, new actual content rather than gear grind (in fact, less grind for the new essences and even some efforts to reduce power creep) and an interesting new light of Eärendil mechanic. There is that special kind of community buzz that seems reserved for expansions. Everyone is sincerely excited - I mean, the game actually made it to Mordor! - so it truly feels like an expansion. If you're not playing Mordor because of the trailer, you're missing out on something.

15 comments :

  1. That really is an astoundingly bad trailer. It's not just the appalling combat animations (I'm sure they don't look that bad in game - what did they do, drop half the frames?) or the static camera or the empty backdrops or the fatuous over-titles or the bored, perfunctory voice-over or the simple fact that it looks like a trailer for a low-budget indie from the late '90s...

    It's that it exudes "We Don't Care". No professional supposedly AAA game company could release a trailer that bad if they cared about their game, their image, their players or their business. It says "We've given up".

    I don't believe that's the case but it's what the trailer is saying, loudly. Someone needs to knock some heads together at Standing Stone.

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    1. Well put. I think what this trailer highlights is SSG's complete lack of self evaluation. The adult thing to do would be to take responsibility and admit that it was a mistake, or show a sense of humour. That's what the SWTOR developers did with the "thrill of the hunt" meme that emerged as a reaction to the CXP system. By being good sports about it, they showed both a sense of humour and that they don't take themselves so seriously. Sadly, I haven't seen the LOTRO devs admit a mistake (not even once!) in the 10 years they've been developing the game. I can't imagine there being a healthy work environment at SSG.

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  2. I have to agree, this trailer looks like something MMOs would create back in the 1990s. Ouch. Hopefully it won't be seen by potential new players.

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    1. I honestly feel that's an insult to trailer creators in the 1990s!

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    2. It wasn't intended as an insult to the creators back in the 1990s, more an observation of how far we've come in being able to tell a story. The folks back then were figuring out all of this stuff and/or building the needed tools. :)

      One of the reasons Blizzard has done so well with their in-game cinematics is that the team who works on those used to do Machinima. (I believe the group that did the Swtor HK-51 trailer also did some machinima.) It is that type of skill and experience that can really make these things work.

      As a digression, I wonder how many MMOs (outside WoW) still have people making machinima?

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  3. Seeing this made me feel a bit guilty for that time I lamented how lackluster I found SWTOR's patch trailers. :P Because this... wow.

    I think it's mainly the second half of in-game footage that does it. The first half is not great, but serviceable. But the game footage looks so boring! Couldn't they have got a few more people together to make the battle scenes look lively or something at least? It's truly baffling.

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    1. Haha, yes! Similarly, I was looking back at what I wrote about KOTFE's trailer, and I felt bad for complaining about its tropiness.

      As for this one, I'll stick to how a player on the LOTRO forum aptly summarized it:

      "It only lacks

      direction
      pacing
      story
      visual idea
      editing
      "

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  4. I wouldn't doubt either if this trailer was made just 2 hours before the expansion release. It feels very amateurish and didn't receive any kind of feedback by other people in the company before going live.

    Worse is I think just taking it offline won't help much either. Once something is released to the internet it will forever be available somewhere. It is just how the internet works.

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    1. The only thing that would somewhat save PR is to officially retract the trailer and release a new, good one. As you say, you can't take anything off the internet, so you'd have to supply something in its stead.

      Of course, that's never going to happen, because it would require SSG admitting they actually did something wrong. Perhaps I'm too bitter, but I've never seen them do that before the past decade, so I'm not holding my breath.

      It's sad, but just letting this drift is probably the best approach, so that development time can go to the bugs, oversights and missing things of Mordor instead.

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  5. I've a feeling that the manager who decided that they had to release ASAP was the brains behind this trailer.

    Rule #1: don't put fight sounds in a trailer unless they sound epic (this doesn't).
    Rule #2: Don't put in narration that sounds incredibly stupid (this does). Rule #3: Write all of the headers out in one location and see if the entire written portion MAKES SENSE. (This doesn't.)

    This trailer looks like it was done by a manager who knows how to put together PowerPoint, because this is a PowerPoint stack with animations in it.

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    1. Personally I imagine it went something like this:

      A: Hm, we don't actually have a trailer for the expansion yet...
      B: Well, X used to do the trailers, but s/he stayed with Turbine...
      C: Don't worry, I can put something together, I know how to use MovieMaker!
      B: Sure, sounds good to me!

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    2. I forgot to put it in the article, but "this looks like it was made in Powerpoint!" was actually one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when watching the trailer. Not very reassuring that you think the same. /Sigh

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    3. An uncomfortably high knowledge of Powerpoint is what I get for being a part of Corporate America. (Unfortunately.)

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  6. Wow... that trailer is horrifying. I would be incredibly embarrassed to have any association with it.

    I am glad to hear the expansion is fun so far though. That is encouraging. I'm a couple levels from starting the slog through Moria. *shudder* I didn't enjoy it much my first time through. So feeling the dread.

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    1. Haha, compared to Mordor, Moria looks like a friendly place! Luckily you'll have plenty of open, beautiful space to explore once you've left the mines. :)

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