Blog: What's next for Return to Moria?

2024/03/07
Written by Jon-Paul Dumont, Game Director

[Editors Note: Updated 2024/03/13. The team discussed this blog and the update in more detail on Forge Talk Episode 3, the upload of this is embeded at the bottom of the blog, and the transcript is below that again.]

    Tasmû udshik sha Zahar! It feels good to be back in a mine! 

    Greetings fellow Dwarves and Dwarf-friends. It's hard to believe it's been over four months since The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria™  has launched. In that time, Epic named us one of the year's Legendary Titles and our players have rated us above four stars at both the Epic Games Store and Playstation 5. More importantly, I’m still waiting for someone to correctly translate the Khuzdul phrase at the end of the credits.

    But as Durin’s folk would say "Igat rabbâ!” meaning “back to work.” That’s exactly what the teams here at Free Range Games and North Beach Games have been doing. We have been poring over your feedback and crafting our second title update. We don’t have an exact day for the launch yet, but we expect it in a matter of weeks– between the end of March and beginning of April. 

    Today’s blog is just a taste of news on the update. But don’t despair! This Friday, March 8, we will be hosting another Forge Side Chat in our Discord to talk more about it and take your questions. Plus we are partnering with the Nerd of the Rings YouTube channel to stream a live play of the update and really show off the changes, fixes and additions. Look for that stream closer to the update’s launch. 

    So what is exactly in this second Title Update? Here are the top highlights, with even more to discuss soon. I’ll try to limit the number of exclamation points, but if you can’t tell, the team is excited. 

  • Solo players can pause the game!
  • New decorations for your base including rugs, new lamps, and furniture!
  • Change the difficulty of the game, including modes for large groups, solo players and story-focused players!
  • Reworked building and stability and added all new building blocks that fill in a lot of gaps!
  • More sound and VFX, especially in combat.
  • More quality of life and bug fixes than can I list, including fixing bad seeds for Orctown, Baranzinbar, axe fragments and muznakan; Dwarves won't starve while you watch the credits; better multiplayer connection stability; everyone can get achievements not just the host;  and a lot more!

Ok who was I kidding? That was all the exclamation points.

    Oh and one more big one. On the Epic Game Store we will release the Alpha Preview of our biggest feature update. SANDBOX MODE. It’s an early playable of a whole new way to retake Moria. Think of the game as you have it now as the Campaign. When creating a new world you can now choose to make it a Sandbox. This strips out the linear narrative and lets the procedural generation go wild. Only the Doors of Durin and Dimrill Gate are where you would expect it. Everything else is remixed, scrambled and placed in Khazad-dum’s various Levels and Deeps. There are new kinds of environments, a whole new, non-linear way of experiencing the mountain’s biomes, new weapons and armor recipes to discover and a renewed focus on the survival part of survival-crafting. And of course the deeper you delve, the harder it gets. 

    Hear more about this new mode and why it is an “alpha preview” along with the roadmap for getting it out on consoles in our upcoming Forge Chat in Discord [see below for the Forge Chat recording]. For now, here’s some teasers of new menus, areas and items you can expect to see in the update and on show during the gameplay show with Nerd of the Rings mentioned earlier.

New items to help make your base a home.
Some of the new weapons and armor
A sample of one of the Elven Biomes that can be found in Sandbox Mode
Dare you venture into Moria in Sandbox Mode?
An example of what the difficult options will look like (final UI may differ)
Where players will find the Alpha Preview version of Sandbox Mode on PC on release

    Finally we know there are a lot of questions about other major community requests. First, we will have more information on the Xbox version after this update is live. Unfortunately that means it will not make the projected timeline of Q1 2024. It's still coming, it's just going to take more time, we want it to be terrific and will share more details as soon as we can.

    We also know features like crossplay, dedicated servers and other platforms are on people’s minds. We are still evaluating the best way to execute on these which means it wouldn't be right to promise them yet. But we are still working on the right way to do these things.

    Ok, that’s it for now. Tune in on Discord for more and I can not wait until you get to play this update.
 
    Return to Moria Official Discord

Forge Talk Episode 3 + Transcript


Notes on the Transcript: Hi everyone, following community feedback we’ve included the transcript for the Forge Talk below. However, in order to preserve the clarity and ensure the following could be read without having the video playing at the same time, some edits have been made so it’s not an exact 1:1. We’ve also included some section titles to help if you want to search for a particular topic within the text. -Clare

[Intros]

Clare Byrne, Community Manager: Hi, everyone. Welcome, welcome. And thank you for joining us. If you haven't seen it yet, I will post it again in the chat. Just the blog we're discussing is the recent information about what's to come from Moria. Written by Jon Paul. And I suppose, like for the most part, this stuff is spoiler free, which you guys say? Unless there's maybe some questions about later game stuff, I think we're probably going to be minimum on the spoilers and we'll maybe just be careful and put a warning before we say something we think might be a bit too far. But I think it’s pretty okay.

Jon-Paul Dumont, Game Director: Yeah, I think if anything we might slip with some names of some later locations in the game. But I don't think [there is] anything all that spoilery.

CB: No, I don't think there'll be any narrative spoilers or anything like that. So I think we're good there. So we're going to chat about what's to come. All the news and the updates and a bit of behind the scenes on some of the work that the team has been doing and the new mode that's coming. Oh and also there's some screenshots in the blog, so we might be referencing them when we're chatting as well. If you want to have that open on the side. And then we'll be taking some questions as well at the end. So I think without further ado, do we want to go around with introductions? 

JD: Sure. Well, I'll start off. I'm Jon-Paul. I'm the game director and I'm really excited to go through all of these updates and news for everyone. 

Bradley Fulton, Art Director: Hi I’m Brad Fulton, I'm the art director, and I'm also really excited. We've got a lot of work that we've done in the last few months that we want to share with you guys. 

Michael Downing, Creative Director: Hi I’m Michael, I’m the creative director. Yeah, and what these guys that I said, I read the blog post that was like, Wait, we did all that? Oh man! We're really, really excited to share the latest build.

Eric Leive, Lead Producer: I am Eric Leive, the director of production and especially being the person sort of running the spreadsheets and the progress, it's been rad over the past like two-three months to see the progress and see how much has changed, so I'm super excited to talk about it.

Genie Hyatt, Lead Gameplay Engineer: Hi, I'm Genie Hyatt, I’m the lead gameplay engineer and I'm also very excited to be here and very excited for you guys to get to play all these updates we've put in. 

Ryan Mattson, Lead Level Designer: And I'm Ryan, I'm the lead level designer and yeah, same, same to everything. Very excited, very happy to be here. Thanks everybody for showing up. It's fun to talk about this stuff. 
    

[Xbox, Crossplay and Dedicated Servers]

JD: Yeah. Why don't we jump right into it? I know some of the news that everyone is really looking for and probably the line in the blog that got a lot of attention, which is: we are absolutely still working on the Xbox version. We're not ready to launch it in the next couple of weeks. So it won't be Q1, but it's coming and it's going to be good and it's going to have all of these updates plus another round of updates between now and when it comes out. So we're working on it. We are hoping to have a better idea of its launch window after this update is out or just really focused on this particular update. I know everyone really wanted a date on Xbox. We will get that to you once we know it. With the team, the size that we have, we wanted to focus on really getting some of these updates out and continue to work on the Xbox, but really not put it out until we feel like it's going to be the best version it can be. So it's coming. We're working on it. It's not Q1 and we'll be able to talk about its launch window after this update is over.

And then… Oh yeah, the other thing is we get a lot of questions about Cross-Play, so different platforms being able to play with each other, other platforms beyond the Epic Games store, on PlayStation 5 and Xbox as well as dedicated servers. And so for all of those things, we are actively actually putting people on investigating them, but it's hard to, and so as we've focused on this release that progress is a little bit slower, but we are investigating those and we're hoping as soon as those investigations are concluded, we can come back with a better update about each of those. So Xbox and Cross-Play. Xbox, definitely happening. We're working on it. Cross-play and dedicated servers, we're investigating. We're excited about doing those, but we have to sort of figure out, we have to finish those investigations first. So those are kind of the big things. I know a lot of people are probably asking about. Clare, I mean, did I miss any other sort of big, big topics that we don't want to wait until the end on?

CB: No, I think that's everything. I’d say you could probably get started on the new stuff, if you like?
    

[Bug Fixes and Changes + Dev Favorites]

JD: Yeah. So we've got, if you read the blog, we've got a whole bunch of different things that we've updated and some big stuff. But one thing I don't want to leave to the end is, what we have been doing for the last few months, we've been adding these new features as well as fixing a lot of bugs. And so I want to take a minute before we kind of go through and sort of read a bullet list of updates and talk about them, talk about maybe some of everyone's favorite bugs that we've fixed in the last few months. I will say, and I'm going to spoil the number one, so maybe this isn't a bug, but the fact that the game didn't pause when you were playing in solo is something that I think we on the dev team really wanted. We were shooting for it at launch and there was just a couple of things that kept it from happening and we fixed all those bugs and now we've got it so that's what I'm most excited about. I'm probably the most excited about in terms of an iteration being able to pause and solo offline mode. That's why it's number one on the list. But I thought we could maybe go around in each member of the team. We just talk about one of the improvements or bugs that they're the most excited about. Maybe, Genie, do you want to start? 

GH: Yeah, I can start. I am really excited that random buildings in the world when you touch one thing shouldn't explode anymore. Especially, well I guess we’ll talk about it a little bit more, but in the new mode I found myself accidentally exploding buildings a lot more and it was so upsetting and that should no longer happen anymore. When you're like, I don't want this banister, you should be able to take out the banister and the rest of the building should still be there. And that's really satisfying.

JD: Yeah. How often do you find a building with a locked door and you try to pickax and break the door and then the entire building blows up, but then the door stays there. So we fixed that. Michael, what was your favorite? 

MD: Another building one. And in general, we like took a big whack at retuning stability to make it a lot easier to build. But one bug in there that's driven me insane is, you know, you can build out your three by three floors. You can build like three of them if they're wood. But if you build out the one by one floor, you can only build like it partway through. And so there's always these little gaps you can't quite fill with the one by ones, and that's fixed now. So now you can build a lot more modularly and a lot more creatively. And also just that inconsistency can stop driving me insane.

JD: Yeah, we're hitting a lot of that, that line item in the blog of reworking the building stability because I know Bradley, I think you're your favorite is probably building related too. 

BF: Yeah, we've gone through and we've actually overhauled every single building that has an interior in the game. They'll still be very recognizable. They're still based on the same designs. But the goal here was to make sure that they line up better with what players themselves are capable of building. So everything is using the same, exactly the same parts and built the same dimensions. And it's one of those kinds of changes that won't immediately be obvious just looking at it. But when you go to, you know, what most players will do when you find a new building, you make a base in the new building rather than starting from scratch and you want to start to change and modify the existing building. And they were all built using the same parts, but there would just be, like, little things in there that would collide with, you know, the logic for building. And we rectified all those things that we could find. So just generally overhauling an existing building is going to be a much better experience.

JD: Yeah, and a little bit of a spoiler for when we talk about Sandbox towards the end, but one of the things we did in sandbox was strip out all of the pre-made bases. So the first couple of nights in Moria are a lot of running around and finding a place to be safe. So I find myself doing a lot more, building a lot more restoration and those changes you talked about help that a lot. Let's see, Ryan, what was your favorite that we fixed? 

RM: My favorite that I just fixed recently was addressing a pretty common player complaint in either navigating early in the game and trying to find a particular location in Orctown that you definitely have to go into and clear out. There are some generations that were just really, really, really tough to find it. It was always connected, but it was really, really hard to find it. And so going through using some sandbox features that we actually added to make the world generation there a little bit better and getting those things to be a little bit easier to navigate makes that one nice, which is good.

JD: Yeah, I think I should apologize to Ryan for how often I would send a post from the community that was “Can't find this” or “how am I supposed to go from here to there?” 

RM: Well, the nice thing is that we also logged lots of those complaints as either individual tasks or bugs. And so I got to knock out like three or four things assigned to me with one particular fix. So that felt good too. And then the later game one we get to, you know, I think could we mention the area? It's not really a spoiler. 

JD: I think you could probably mention the name. I think I actually mentioned the name in the blog post. 

RM: Oh that's right, you did! Yeah, so we made Barazinbar easier to navigate as well and that's one where we also utilized another feature that we worked on for Sandbox and some other content that we made specifically for Sandbox. Well, not specifically for Sandbox, but to help add variety and such to that mode. So Barazinbar should be easier to navigate for people as well, which is another common complaint we heard. It wouldn't be the case in all generations necessarily, but there were a lot that people were like, “I don't know how to get through this area”. So that was a really nice one to address

JD: And a few things like “can't find this fragment of Durin's ax” or “this one of the Muznakan, I can't find it” or “can't find any of the figurines for it.” Those are a lot of those bugs that I know really can degrade the moment to moment for a lot of players. So I'm really glad we fixed those. Let's see, Eric, Is there a favorite one from your list?

EL: Yeah, it’s sort of a series, and for this I want to give a shout out to Jared and Cam. Jared is our UI/audio sort of dual type pokémon and Cam our VFX artist because there are just parts of the game that you know, like, it was not strictly a bug, but you know, like, combat was kind of quiet, not a lot of VFX to it. So we've added a lot of sizzle and sound to combat and to the crafting stations. You know, my single favorite thing that I've seen recently is just the forge you can build sort of glows a little bit and you know so adding some more of that, like, quality update was really exciting to me.

JD: Yeah that's a great point and a lot of things like better sound that feels more weighty and not so loose when you hit an Orc with a shield bash. Better VFX when you've got when you've charged up your weapon. I think we redid the VFX on every one of the runic weapons and so there’s a lot more sound and sound effects in combat. It's amazing how without doing a whole lot more on combat, just adding in better sound, better VFX makes everything feel a lot weightier. 

EL: But again, you know just getting the both visual and audio feedback when you get a perfect lock. Right. Feels really satisfying to me.

GH: Yeah. We didn't put blade combat fixes in the blog post but I'll take that. There are actually were a lot of changes that should make that moment to moment combat feel better, like the VFX that we're talking about, the sound effects that we're talking about. There is a little bit more like knockback and weightiness to your attacks. The blocking is better and with the addition of the difficulty mode which we can get into later, combat actually did get quite the facelift. 

MD: Yeah, that's not even touching enemy behavior changes that went along with difficulty modes and I’ll sneak preview… There's a couple ruins that are now just way more fun to hit things with.

EL: Yeah, not to discount, like, Genie You did a ton of work in there too, so tip of the hat to you as well. 

JD: Yeah, thanks everybody for that. I mean, there is, I think what was the last count Eric, on the total number? There's a lot of features that we added and there's a lot of polish iteration that we did. But in terms of just pure bugs… I think, like, one of our badass engineers, Russell, I think fixed, like – not even in the teens – about the 20 different crashes, and so I think our total bug count when we do the patch notes is going to be insane because it's probably something like 200, 250 bugs on top of the new stuff?

EL: Yeah, we're currently sitting at about 200 that we've already resolved and a lot to talk about sort of philosophy about that a little later. It’s a sort of “And Counting…”, right? So we're in burn down mode, which is mostly bug fixing. You have bugs coming in that you're resolving. So we're currently sitting at like 140 ish that are happening, but I'm guessing that it's going to be equal numbers, you know, So probably we're looking at like… 350 to maybe even at the high side 500 issues resolved for this release. So it's going to be big.
    

[Current Phase of Update and Process]

JD: Well, that's a great topic you brought up. I know we got in the community a lot of really valid questions about, like, why was I so squirrely with when the release was coming out, and I know you were talking about burn down. So the phase of the project we’re in, or in the phase of this update, is we've got everything in and working that we want. Now we're in what we call the burn down, which is we have a total number of bugs and issues and we are all playing it ourselves, and each day we're trying to make sure that we're fixing more things than we're creating and that leads to a certain number. And so, when we commit to a specific date this far out, that means we'd have to live with a certain number of bugs in order to hit that date. And so this time around, we decided we're going to wait until we hit zero issues that we feel like we want.

So that's why that window is a little bit wide, because we just don't want to put things out with more bugs in it. And if that ends up taking us an extra week, we don't want to say, man, we promised it on March 30th. We'd rather say, Hey, it's probably in this window. And when we all say it's this is it, we're good, then not to say we're going to fix every single bug in the entire game, but when we feel like this is really quality, then it goes out. And right now our estimate for that is that's going to land probably at the end of March, beginning of April. 

EL: You know, the other important thing to add there is that we've already passed through what we call feature lock, which means that the features are more or less as we intended them. So now it's about bug fixing, playing it, getting internal feedback and making adjustments based on both that and the bugs that we're finding together. So that's what we consider the burn down period. 
    

[New Features - Solo Pause] 

JD: So that said, let's get into the meat. So I already mentioned in my, sort of favorite, one of the favorite things we did was add in pause for Solo. That is, especially if you're playing by yourself, it's a game changer, you know, not having to leave the world in order to go refill your drink is pretty strong. I don't know if anybody wants to talk about their experience with that. I mean it, for multiplayer, it still keeps going. I mean it acts like a multiplayer game. So you're not going to be pausing the entire game. But for solo and offline, you'll be able to pause it. And that's pretty, pretty exciting.

EL: Yeah, I would say with an elementary school kid, it's pretty clutch because like the number of times I'm interrupted and then come back and I'm either under siege or I've died of starvation in answering homework is great. So quality life wise, it feels wonderful to me. 

JD: Yeah, well, one of the honest behind the scenes kind of things about game development is, you know, we're trying to ship the game. We want to get it out on time and we kind of look out and go “Man, I kind of want the game to pause” and go “Well, I don't know if we have time for that and it might be buggy… and I bet everyone will be fine with that, a lot of games don't pause.” And then we come out and we're like “Oh, we should have put, we should have let you pause in solo.” And so immediately top of the list type of thing. You just, you learn as you go and that's one of the things that I'm really thankful for this community is how often and how vocal y'all are. And it helps us really understand and reprioritize. We've absolutely read everything you guys say and mess with our lists a lot for that.

Well, let's hit the next thing, which it's funny for all the work we put in the sandbox, and we're going to talk about sandbox and building soon. I think the most energy we got, and Bradley I'll toss it to you on this one, I think the most energy we got was the new decorations for the base.

[New Features - New Base Decorations]

BF: Yeah, I think, you know, our priorities for the initial launch of the game was to, you know, support the craft and system and have all the things like Dwarven activities that you could do and most of what you could build in your base was very activity focused. Really our goal with this update was to give you all the options to make your base really feel like a home and so, you know, the biggest things, like the rugs, the banners on the walls, the bookcases that we had, these were assets that we had made for the exploration, but they're some of the more interesting things you could build and what does a Dwarf, who’s delving into Moria to recover the history of his people want? He wants to catalog that lore so you know the bookcases are there, sort of a symbolic representation of that. Tables and chairs, like, one of the things that doesn't feel like a room you live in unless you have tables and chairs. So those were high on the request list and so it's something that we definitely wanted to get in there. Then there are just some other, you know, decorative features, things like different colors of lighting. With the hearth, you know, it's always going to throw in a lot of really warm light to make your home feel very cozy, but then, you know, you want to have control over that sort of the mood of each room. So there are multiple different colors of lights that are available. And then we also have some statues that should be able to build to really kind of add that Dwarven touch. So that's just a sample. I believe there's probably a few things in there that I missed, but really the goal was to have, you know, a sort of cozy home base building kit.

JD: Eric, What was your what did you say about people in the community were worried we hadn't talked about an update and were worried we had pulled the rug out from under them? 

EL: We would like, specifically, we put the rugs back under you!

JD: Yeah. So you got rugs now?

EL: Well, you know, if I can say a word about this, too, you know, like, in my past I’ve both worked on a lot of Lord of the Rings games and The Sims, and so, like, you know, to me, the if we're doing a crafting game, it's those sort of homey stuff that I think really starts to help fill out. So, you know, as we were looking at it and a lot of the stuff was things that we put in the world, but we didn't give you access to, to place yourself and it just felt like a really, you know, nice win for everybody. And hopefully you guys enjoy it! Just a note on the lighting like I can't stress enough how exciting the different colored lighting is too, because, you know, it really makes the room feel different. So I love that stuff. 

JD: And we've also got some exciting ideas for an update after this one. There's a couple of things that are going to go out, like the bookshelves, the scroll shelves and the vases, that they'll be purely decorative in this release. But we've got a lot of ideas that we're investigating on how to make those more interactive. So build them now because you know they'll be cheap now. 

Yeah, I'm really excited about that. And the other thing, you know, part of the inspiration behind adding in more decorations, like, the image has the rugs and the banners and the chairs, but there's a lot of other objects and building blocks we added in that were things that you could see out in the world but couldn't build yourself. Like if you took one of the tavern buildings and made it your base and then a siege came in and destroyed the bar counter, you couldn't replace the bar counter because you didn't have access to that. So we went through building by building and grabbed everything that you could see or restore and made sure that it's going to be in the building menu. So, being able to recreate the bar or be able to recreate the bedrooms, there's a lot of things like that. Even just some of the decorative paneling and banisters and things that you couldn't build before and now you can.

And I think also, Michael, we're talking about retuning how many hit points the hammer hits on building blocks so restoration can be– and even I think even nerfing the amount of stamina it costs– so that restoration can feel a lot more satisfying. 

MD: Yeah, I literally have that change locally on my computer, I just need to push it so, you know, from the start with that first hammer, you'll be able to go and it won't take, I don't know, some 20, 30 minutes to go through and restore one building. That'll be a really fast and satisfying process. We want you to just like -I think we even have like- yeah, we have, we have like some new stuff in there that should even make it faster to plop a hearth down, take it, take that base back over, repair it. It won't blow up. You can put new walls in and it’s feeling really good.

JD: And a whole new hearth meant just to fit into the existing buildings a little nicer. So that's coming too.
    

[New Feature - Difficulty Settings]

JD: So let's get to the next one, which is a big one. I know that, you know, Genie, you and Michael worked a lot on, which is difficulty settings. And this was the feeling that you could just tell playing the game that the player, if you're playing with eight people felt kind of easy and if you play by yourself, can be pretty hard in a couple of places. And so it was important for us to go in and add in difficulty modes. So I don't know if Genie or Michael, one of you guys want to talk about that feature? 

GH: Michael do you wanna give the first overview?

MD: Yeah, you know, I think exactly what Jon-Paul said at launch, I think we kind of got pretty nicely that like, 3 to 4 player experience, and then just tuning a game to be able to scale up and down like that all automatically just is a pretty tough thing so we want to just give the control over to you guys. So, “hey, I'm here just to like, vibe out to the cozy game. Let me turn this all the way down. I'll turn Orc difficulty down, I'll turn sieges and hordes all the way down. So I can just kind of restore Moria and kill everything pretty easily.” Or “you know what? I want to have a much harder survival game. I want, like, combat to be more tough. I want enemies to attack me more often and to hit me harder. So it's a really big challenge.” You can just notch it on up now. 

JD: And Michael, we decided that the quote easiest is Story, which is experiencing the story but still having some challenge. We decided not to let you completely turn off Orcs, that's maybe a different mode for the future. 

MD: Yeah that might be something in the future but you know if you bring it all the way down to story, everything should be fairly trivialized. There are things like, if we get rid of Orc camps where the black diamond's going to be and that's stuff we want to tackle in the future, but to kind of get this feature out, well, we kind of compartmentalized it too. It's still the same game for everyone. But, you know, you have a lot more control over how challenging it is.

GH: When we say how challenging it is, it's also not just combat difficulty or enemy aggression. There’s changes to world drops and mining drops and like, how long it takes to be hungry and things like that.  Yeah, I think especially with a game like Lord of the Rings survival crafting, you're going to get so many different experiences people want between like, “I just want the really cool Lord of the Rings game” versus “I want to starve!” so this’ll make that easier.

MD: One of the things I thought that ended up being really interesting, when I sat down to do difficulty settings, because it's not- the way we thought about it- it isn't the spectrum of easy to hard. It's almost more, like, we do have that story mode Jon-Paul was talking about, but then we have like, Solo, this is the package of “I'm playing by myself” all the way up to a larger group. 

And for some of the things for Solo, I actually ended up making them a little bit harder, not combat difficulty, but like the amount of ore you get because it's tuned for so many people, if you are a solo player and you find one big iron vein, you're set for years. So now actually in solo you, by default, you get less ore, but that's also on its own slider. So if you're like, ”no, that was a bad idea”, you can just slide that back on up 

JD: And it's pretty exciting that it is real time. So you don't have to make a choice. When you make a world, you can set it to one thing. You can actually be in the middle of a horde, decide you're getting your butt kicked, change the difficulty down, beat the horde and then set it back up again if you want. You can make all of those changes. You can even play the story part of the game in one difficulty. And then when you're at the end and you're ready to just kind of keep rebuilding, you could set it to a different setting and just bathe in the riches of Khazad-dûm. 

CB: That’s awesome, that was actually going to be one of my questions!

GH: You can hit just the escape key at any time and just change the settings. And we do have different presets, but we also expose a ton of sliders. So if the presets don't feel quite what you want, you can go ahead and customize just exactly whether or not you want enemies to be really easy, but you want starvation to be really hard and things like that. 

RM: I'm so happy that's what you did when you were designing it, Michael and Genie, because that's exactly the Cadillac mode of difficulty that I want when I play games. And so when I saw you folks implement that, it was really, really nice and definitely made some of my play experiences feel a lot better.
    

[New Features - Additional Quality of Life for Building]

JD: Well, let's move into building now. We talked about building a bunch, so we talked about not exploding in your buildings, we talked about reworking the environments so that the world grid of building fits better, giving you more building blocks that can fill in the gaps that weren't there from the beginning… And it feels like we did a whole lot more on building than that, even though that sounds like a lot. What else?- Michael and Genie, who did difficulty settings, also did a lot of the building rework -what are stuff that we missed in terms of quality of life for building?

GH: Build higher. Michael, would you like to talk about that?

MD: Yeah, yeah. You know, I mentioned earlier that we just really ended up making stability way more stable. So before, as you would build up, you would lose a lot of stability just as you would move out. But like in practice, this kind of led to having to put a little bit of a weird configuration of columns down just so you could put a little railing on your roof because it was destabilized. So now you lose way, way, way less stability as you build up. So you still, you know, you still can't build out infinitely. You still need to put down columns, but you should be a lot less limited in terms of putting in small pieces of decoration or like, just kind of getting your build even up and started when you're high without a ton of columns going there.

GH: We also, I think, made stairs easier? like, John Paul, one of the things that you're always talking about is how you want to build a second floor, a third floor, and you don't want it to be so hard. I think it's a lot easier now. 

MD: Yeah, the stairs are a lot easier. We also added a lot more options on stairs. Weirdly, my favorite part that we added is this half meter high stair that you find around the world that's perfect for bridging these small gaps. So I love that thing. And then also, not only did we go in and just strengthen stability, Genie, you did a lot of work, there were a lot of these situations where it seemed like pieces were connected and should be getting like, stability from each other. I guess we could have put this in the big chunk, but now, like they actually will connect and won't just randomly explode on you. You want to talk about that?

GH: So that goes a little bit into wonky implementation details. But essentially, yeah, you're used to be able to put a building block up against another building block and be like “That should stay right? that fits there.” ind then it would be like, “No, never mind, I am unstable here, I can't be here!”. And we've just made that better. 

JD: And we went from that trade off. I think at launch we wanted the trade off to be nothing floating. Everything looks realistic, everything supported by a column with the stability. And what we found is that being kind of slavish to that concept made building frustrating and so we basically said, well, let's just let people make a couple of things that float a little bit more or break a couple of our internal rules a little bit so that people can just make what they want. And that was actually one of the cool things, Michael got together with, what, like four or five of our elder community members that had really crazy endgame bases and got their save games and interviewed them and had them give a little tour of the base and asked what was frustrating, what was working for them, what then didn't. And I think we hit a lot, I think there's a couple of things we still want to try to hit, maybe in an update after this about making, you know, there's still some dirt piles and a couple of things that are still a little bit frustrating to clean up and we're going to fix that, or we want to fix that soon. But hopefully there's a lot- it’s just be a lot easier to make what's in your head, very cool.

EL: Yeah. I just want to say thanks to the folks that did talk to Michael and share save games and stuff, that was hugely helpful as well. 
    

[Quick Mention of Additional Fixes]

JD: Yeah. So we're just looking at the time, we do want to leave some time for questions that we haven't even gotten to sandbox.

So we did talk about sound and VFX and combat. I think we talked about combat a lot. I'm going to skip that bullet and we talked about a lot of the quality of life and bug fixes. You know, we did see a lot, especially on PlayStation 5, issues with multiplayer connectivity. We've done a lot of work on that. You can never say we fixed everything, but I think we've done a lot of work on stability in connecting, like I've mentioned, a lot of crashes and a lot of like the high, a lot of customer support tickets. Thank you for putting in the customer support tickets. There's a super helpful for us. It helps us see the volume of an issue.

So a lot of things around “Why does the host in a multiplayer game the only one that gets the achievements?” So we've worked on fixing that. And then the other one, which is man, is one of the things that you got to be live to find out how often people didn't want to watch the credits because their Dwarf would die of starvation while watching the credits. So part of me thinks maybe the credits were too long, but also we fixed that so that you don't have to die in order to watch the credits. So those are a couple of things and there's a whole lot more.

[New Feature - Sandbox Mode]

JD: But why don't we get into the big part of the update, which is sandbox. And so, we’re really proud and I'm really proud of the Lord of the Rings adventure story that we have in the game. We really set out to make something that felt authentic to Professor Tolkien's vision for the Dwarves and fulfill some of the things that he hinted at in the appendices. So, we're really happy about that and then when we looked at it and we said, ‘Well, how do we go even better with this?” And we felt like, “man, people kind of just want to live in Moria and restore Moria and be a little bit more surprised”. And so we sat down and kind of asked ourselves, how can we take the handcuffs off of the procedural generation system? How can we maybe say, “Hey, if you want the story, the adventure, you play what we shipped with” and so we decided to call that the campaign. And then we wanted to make another mode where we can just really let the random generation go nuts.

Now, I know Ryan and I had a couple of conversations where he had to coach me through being comfortable with both. I thought “But the Crossroads needs to be at this exact mile marker, or the lower deep, or the tomb.” And so there's a lot of things where we decided, you know what, that's the campaign. And in this world, we're going to let people be surprised and every generation, I think Ryan, only two landmarks are in the same place as they are in the campaign. And that would be the doors of Durin and the Dimrill gate. Is that right? Everything else could be potentially higher up, lower, further, in a couple different places. 

RM: I think you won the crossroads fight, actually, to be honest, because I think that's one other landmark that is in one place, it is set. 

JD: Well it at least needed to be in the middle. Oh, we're having the conversation again! Yeah, I wanted it in the middle. But everything else…

RM: It's in the middle because it doesn't make sense in a lot of other areas.

JD: Yeah, but there's a couple of things like, Balin’s Tomb, different place every time and every generation. And that's, you know, that's another one, you know, where Durin’s forge is, places like that all. All the forges are in a different place.

RM: Yeah. And, one of the neat things about that is that we still kind of bias their location a little bit. Maybe this is too inside baseball and you know, we don't want to spoil what generations can necessarily be like for people because there's a lot of fun discovering those things. We do kind of bias them, and especially from a tuning perspective, you know, Michael just brought up an issue yesterday that I thought was really interesting, which is, “hey, this particular forge has these particular unlocks associated with it. It would be weird if it was found in this area of the mountain versus that”. And so we tried to look into it into a way to make that feel a little bit better when it actually comes to the generation. But it doesn't prescribe like the actual location, the, you know, the X, Y or Z location of where it's supposed to go, which is something that we let the world layout system handle. 

JD: And one thing that I didn't mention in the blog, and we can be a little more clear about when we release is one, well, I did mention in the blog that we're considering this, the “Alpha Preview”. We felt like we wanted to get this out and playable, get people's opinions on it, and so we are labeling it an alpha preview. That means there's going to be maybe some kinks in it and we want some feedback on that. But we're also decided that the first version in this release is what we're calling the small sandbox. So the overall square footage is actually smaller than the campaign game and then we want to work on options for something larger and it let us really focus on what it means, what it means to be sandbox as opposed to pure square footage. But it's also kind of fun. I found it's fun because the space is really compressed, so the amount of time it takes to walk from one area to another is a lot smaller than in the campaign, so everything is a lot closer to each other. So if you want to just say, Hey, I just want to rebuild this, but maybe I don't want to rebuild the full square footage. You can do that in this one. And then we'll work on seeing if we can get larger ones. Ryan, are there other things that are kind of exciting to talk about or things- I'm kind of glossing over a lot of details on sandbox mode. What do you think are kind of the important things for people to know about?

RM: I think one of the more exciting things- so you alluded to it earlier -and it's an important part of the pillars of sandbox is to be more open and less constrained than the campaign mode and experiencing that story of the Dwarves retaking Moria. But one of the things that's really interesting about it, too, is we're trying to lean into the feeling that you would get, and exploring further and further from a safe location that is the hallmark of a survival crafting game and that is progressing upwards and downwards in the mountain. And it's really cool to see the difficulty of the encounters that you have increase as you do explore further. So that's going to be something that'll be fun to see people playing and experience in the game that's much different than what we have in the campaign. But again, the campaign's difficulty progression works really well for what kind of game that is. So it's been fun working on something completely different too, and getting everybody on the team involved. And, you know, Michael and Genie on the combat tuning front, Michael on the resource tuning front and everything, it's been pretty fun to see such a different game emerge out of it. 

MD: Yeah, I was just going to say like, it's so different to run into red eyes when you have Iron Hills stuff and so it becomes like this,”Oh, do I want to take them? Can I take them? No! Run, run away, get out! Don't, don't be here!” 

JD: Yeah, and so that’s one of the big things is in the campaign you really kind of, because you're following this adventure, you're moving in a line and I mean, the game does get a bit bigger and more, more of a sandbox as you start to break down the shadow barriers and find backtracking places. But we found we watched as players played and they tended to kind of be in one biome in Westgate and they would move they would be in the Elven Quarter and then they'd move into the Mines. And so what we decided to do is take a lot of those discrete story locations from the campaign and say, well, what would happen if we had more Elf Quarter biomes, more Westgate biomes, more mines, multiple Dwarrowdelfs and then when we scramble them, the game is not really on rails like the guard rails from the campaign mode are not there anymore. So in the campaign it was important for us that people that are maybe not necessarily comfortable with survival games but wanted a Lord of the Rings story could jump in and so that's why we kind of give you a base right from the beginning and we make sure you can't really get to a place that's way too hard for you pretty early. And that worked for the adventure. But then the parts of us that love survival crafting games are like, “We can do even more than that”. And so, yeah, in sandbox pretty early on, you can breach into areas that are way harder than you can handle and you can kind of sneak in, grab some Elven wood and turn and run. And part of that, I think the other interesting challenge there is we have a couple of locations in the campaign game that are these big, huge kind of big landmarks like the Elven Quarter. And so Bradley, some of the work you did was take the vibe of the Elven Quarter and say, How do we take this from one big key location and really turn it into a biome?

BF: Yeah, and that location and then a few more. There are things about the sandbox generation that required us to, to build some new environments and one of those was the Elven Quarter. Turning it into something that could be of different sizes and shapes and be mixed in also with some of the other kind of Dwarven architecture regions. But then also, you know, one of the things that the campaign version of the world was missing was really easy ways to get from one level to another or something pretty important in a vertical generation. So we've added some new locations that make for kind of a cool moment, sort of like the stair, the mysterious stairs up, you know, the mysterious scaffolding that leads deeper into the mines. Some really cool moments like that that I'm really excited to see players encounter. 

RM: I just wanted to call back to something you mentioned really early in the chat, Jon-Paul, too, which is the dynamic changes so significantly from the campaign to the Sandbox, where I remember with like some of the first play tests we were doing as a team inside of there and seeing people run around and just be like, Where am I? What do I do? no, it's turning to night. I need a base. I have to like, settle down and make food. And it really does change the feel of it. And that's been a lot of fun to see as well. 

JD: Balin will not help you in sandbox mode. We actually had a bug in some of our earlier play tests where the Dwarves would spawn without a backpack. And then we were like, I think we're still kind of debating. So if you guys have an opinion on it community, we're actually wondering if sandbox should start without a backpack and have to craft it and makes it a much harder start. Yeah, I mean, they go, “ah! I need some hide! I don't have a weapon! Oh my God, mushrooms filled up my whole action bar!”

GH: That sounds hard!

EL: Yeah, but I actually found it really rewarding, especially as I got further into the game and was able to craft the backpack. There was a sense of accomplishment. But the thing I want to just mention is just how exciting it was to see the reshuffle, to literally go, you know, like get through those tutorial areas and just be in a completely different space. And then like you bust through to, you know, not through Elven Quarter, but two mines or even something more dangerous was really exciting to me to see sort of that reshuffle. 

JD: And, you know, part of what we did is we added more biomes. And there are a lot of things in the campaign mode that unlock based on story progression, but because we pulled almost all of the story out, the “story” of sandbox is in the first cinematic where you get trapped and then it's essentially like, “okay, get out”, and along the way there's some things to do. But it doesn't handhold you. And so what we found is that there are some gaps in the unlock and the power level so we made some new weapons and armor that are coming in.

So there's new weapons, new armor, a new endgame mithril battle ax that you have to sort of get towards the end of sandbox to unlock. And of course, I know one of the questions is, “can I bring my campaign character into sandbox?” Yes. So if you want to start sandbox with your ultra endgame character. Yes. If you want to go into sandbox and get the the new weapons and take it back into campaign, you can. You can even make a new sandbox, turn up your difficulty, turn your difficulty really low, or use it as a quarry for adamant and back into the sandbox. We want everybody to be really flexible with how they use all of these things.

RM: And you just implicitly answered a question that DurinDeathless was asked in chat a little bit ago, which was can you have different styles, different world saves for campaign and for sandbox? And the answer is yes. You can make a sandbox world and it doesn't overwrite anything that you already have in campaign. So that's fun. Play more. 

JD: Yeah. Barôkamlut is the name of the Mithril Battle ax. And throughout the year we're going to be releasing the rest of the mithril set. So I think we have at least four or five more planned. So more mithril is coming and you can actually get to mithril. When you find mithril in sandbox, and if you find the crystal descent and go all the way to the bottom, you will go to the hardest biome in the game. And that is where you will find the best resources and the hardest enemies. So that “delve too deep and too greedily” is something I felt like was a promise that we could add that we wanted to do even better on than when we shipped. And that's definitely something that happens in sandbox. 

We are at 10 minutes left, man, is there is so much in this update. So Clare, we should probably hit questions before we run.
   

[Questions]

CB: There's a few that you've kind of already answered as you've been going through. And one of the ones that I know that came up yesterday as people were looking at the blog was, is the screenshot the Endless stairs?

JD: No, it is not. We want to do the endless stairs. I think I know how we can do the endless stairs, but– this is going to be really inside baseball– I'm waiting until we can really pull off what's at the top of the endless stairs. And so once we're confident we can pull off what's at the top, then, we’ll add it. I think I mentioned this in the chat yesterday, the door is there to the endless stairs in both campaign and sandbox but you can't open it yet. And when it opens, hopefully everyone will be excited about what's at the top. 

One big delta between campaign and sandbox is in campaign you're really kind of at one level of the mountain, one amount of fathoms deep for a while, and then you kind of move to another height or another level. But in this one, we really wanted to get back to some of the original descriptions of Moria. It has seven levels up and seven deeps down, and because of that, we needed you to be able to traverse vertically in a lot more predictable manner. And so that screenshot is something that Bradley was working on. There's actually multiple variations of that. So when you find one of those that's basically telling you this is how you go down to a harder level or up to an easier level. 

EL: Jon-Paul You're very kind because I would just said that we have a QA person that's been running the Endless Stairs already for months. I'm totally kidding! 

JD: No, we have not. We have not built it. It was on our list of must have locations, but we're going to hold that until we can really pull it off. So we'll get there. 

CB: That makes sense. And I suppose with regards to other questions or feedback that people have, I know because I help out with the feedback tickets sometimes, that this update is hitting on a lot of tickets that we get. But then for other feedback that might not make it in, obviously we still want to encourage players to keep sending their feedback and their suggestions because everything is really considered. Whether it can be done or not is different, but you do consider everything, right? 

JD: Yeah. I mean, we get regular reports, we're constantly looking through it. And one thing that makes us feel pretty good actually, is how often we get tickets, you know, some of them are things we didn't know about, like bugs, and some of them are feedback, and often they're things that we ourselves are bugged by and would want to fix. So it's a good barometer for us to make sure that we're going in the right direction.

But yeah, we read everything in the Discord. We definitely pore over everything in the tickets and we look at all the other comments or forms of the community, even if we're not necessarily active in them. But we definitely read everything. 

CB: Let's see. Sorry, I made a bit of a list of things and see if I can pick out something while we have some time left. With regards to sandbox mode and campaign mode, because I know like some of the the biomes and sandbox mode might not show up in the campaign mode and that sort of thing, you mentioned that weapons can be brought across and stuff. Can you talk a bit about for things like building, if someone has a pre existing save, what kind of impact would that have on the preexisting save? 

JD: That's a good question. If you're playing the game now and you've got an existing save that will become a campaign world, or rather it is already a campaign world. It’s just it's kind of a renaming. So if you want to play in sandbox, you'll be making a whole new world and your characters will come back and forth but anything in the world is really kind of attached to that world. 

CB: And so, like any new items like the screenshot of the furnishings, they'll say, those will still apply to pre existing saves?

JD:  Those would be in both modes. Yeah. That's the nice thing about recipes and crafting is they'll just appear in your menu in campaign world, so you'll be able to build that stuff. Yeah. 

CB: One thing I haven't seen mentioned, and sorry if this is a surprise question, will there be an earthquake with this update? Do you know yet?
[Editors Note: Clare only noticed as she asked this, that Doctor Greg had in fact asked it at the exact same time in chat]

JD: We're still debating that. It's interesting to see that phrased in wanting an earthquake. And I'm guessing, Doctor Greg, you're inferring or you're referring to one in regeneration of resources, but the earthquake is sort of a destructive thing. And so we want to use them when we really feel like we need to, but that doesn't quite solve the problem that, I think we're still investigating the right way to do that, is get more resources, regenerating.

EL: Earthquakes - What causes the Elven trees to grow.

JD: I think right now we are leaning towards not doing an earthquake with this update, but the earthquake is not just a player experience thing for resources. It also helps make sure that save games are compatible with new updates and so if there's enough technical changes under the hood, we would have to do an earthquake. If we don't, then we'd have to decide if the players really wanted it or not. 

CB: That makes sense. So one thing that was mentioned in the blog, but we forgot to touch on earlier was you're mentioning the difference in timing between the PC and the Ps5 release of all these features. Can you talk a bit more about that? 

JD: Yeah, the Epic Games store release will be first and once it's out we're going to watch it, make sure that we get some initial feedback, and then we're going to turn around and do the PlayStation 5 update. So there will be a bit of a gap. That's mostly just because of the size of the team and focus. One thing also to mention is that because sandbox mode is in Alpha Preview, there may be a couple of updates before it's on PlayStation 5, until we're really confident in its performance. You know, PlayStation 5 and PC have different performance profiles so we want to- if we feel confident that it's going to be performant on Ps5, it will come out. And so that may actually be one or two updates after the Epic Games store. But we want to make sure when it goes to our Sony players and fans that it's going to be high quality. 

CB: Can you go through all of the items in the teaser image?

[Decorations Image Discussion]

JD: Yeah,there was an image where someone put numbers on everything right? We didn't put that out, but I think I saw that in the community. 

CB: Yeah, I think it was in the images channel yesterday. People were going through theories of everything in the screenshot was.

JD: We could probably go through what each one of them are. Thanks to whoever did this I didn't catch who posted it.

CB: That was... jbowens, did that.

Credit to jbowens in the RtM Discord Community for adding the numbers to this image - Thank you for sharing it!

JD: Yeah. It felt like an advent calendar. We should just reveal each one of these each day before release!

EL: with some chocolate behind it? 

JD: With some chocolate behind it, of course! Bradley and Michael, I might need your help on each one of these. Let's see. So number 1, I believe, is that the new hanging lantern or is that the new support cross beam? 

MD: That's the new hanging lantern.

JD: And then 2?

MD: That’s a bookshelf… ? 

JD: That's the side of a bookshelf.

MD: Might be a scroll shelf, technically. I can't be sure at this angle.

JD: And then 3. Is that supposed to be 33 or…, I think 3 is a chair. I think that's a typo. [jbowens confirmed in chat 33 should just be 3] That's a chair. I do want to mention that the chairs and the tables in this update are decorative. So you'll have to role play with the chairs as opposed to having your Dwarf sit in them. 

Number 4 is a table. And there actually is at least one new meal table. But a table like number 4 again is decorative, although you can place other decorations on top of it, but they won't automatically serve meals from the hearth on them.

Number 5 is a rug and there's a bunch of rugs, right, Michael? I think there's like eight rugs? 

MD: That sounds like the right number.

JD: And a couple of different colors of the rugs and banners, a couple different colors. 

GH: And I think a couple different sizes of the rugs as well.

JD: There’s three carpet segments, an end and middle ones that you can actually chain together to make a long carpet. So lots in there.

The rug in number 6 that's got the little bit of a fold, that would drive me nuts. I'd want to straighten that out if it was a real rug in my house. Otherwise I'd trip on it.

MD: You will not trip on it in game!

JD: Number 7 and 8 are decorative vases. Yeah 18 also. Those are all decorative vases that we are investigating in a future update making storage. But for now they're going to be decorative. 

And number 9 is the banner. And there is, I think, at least eight or ten banners of different colors and there are sort of tapestry style banners like this and then there are flags that come out perpendicular to the wall.

I can't quite tell what number 10 is pointing to.

MD: I think that is the wall behind it, which is I believe one of the new decorative walls.

JD: Yeah, the new decorative cap wall. 

MD: One of the things we did is we had a bunch of stuff that was like “here's a three by three smaller wall” and then a different cap you can do. And it's just for ease of building. Put a bunch of those together and put them out and I think some involve caps you couldn't access before. So that's that and 11 is kind of one of those smaller walls, short walls that you can build too.

JD: And we mentioned also just updating the building blocks, but we also standardized the size of the walls and the stairs to make it easier to build. 

Let's see, 12 Where is 12? 12 is one of the small crystal lanterns on this wall. Torch is a word I was struggling with. I wouldn't call it a torch. It's not an open flame. But the true quartz gives off different colors. So mix true quartz with semi-precious gem and you'll get three different colors, right?

MD: Three different colors. Yes, definitely. At least three different colors? 

JD: Same thing with the big lamps as well. And then let's see, 13. What is 13? That's a floor tile. The bottom left of the image. 

MD: I think that's just the floor.

JD: An updated floor. Yeah. And then 14 is the tavern shelf. So a decorative armoire, I suppose.

15 is the bookshelves.

16 there is actually a left and a right version of this statue. Those are going to be just one color, a statue with the lamp. So if you want light and decoration at the same time, you’d get that. right behind that- 

MD: Those will actually work as memorial statues, which is really exciting.

JD: And being able to build the Durin statues in your base wherever you want as well, those huge monument ones.

Is that panel, that sort of gold panel behind it, Is that part of the environment or is that in it?

BF: That's part of the environment. Yeah, the base was built next to part of the static environment that's been incorporated. 

JD: 17 is the bar?

BF: Yeah that’s the counter.

JD: Yes. The counter. And you can, you can line those up together to build the bar. 

18 I mentioned are the vases… 

19 I think is one of the storage chests that shipped with the game. I hope it's going to be in this one if it's not. 

And then let's see 20 is a bookshelf. That's the wide Bookshelf 

21 and 22, actually, I think those are something on the other side poking through? Yeah. I think that's a quick plank and a rope ladder, the back side. So those are, I think, just visual. 

BF: I think 21 is actually one of the carved stone emblems. So we have some decorative stonework pieces that you can attach to. 

JD: All right. I think that's it. Did we hit all the numbers? That's most of the decorations. Yeah and there's a couple different varieties, chairs and tables.  So it's a mix. So yeah, boom we got through them all!

So look for future updates from here on out, look for a livestream. We're going to be doing a livestream with our friend Nerd of the Rings, walking through, actually playing it. So you will see a lot of this in action, playing sandbox, that will be closer to the launch.

And I think for for people that might have missed it, we are targeting the end of March, beginning of April, but it will come out when we feel like it is at the right quality for everybody. And so that's why it's a window as opposed to a date. But we are looking at either the end of this month or the beginning of the next month. That's our window right now.

CB: And we'll probably have, as well as Nerd of the Rings, we will probably be sharing some more stuff between this and then. Teasers maybe of different things.

JD: Thank you so much to everybody that came. Really glad. I don't know for anybody that tuned in to the last couple of Forge chats every time I'd be like, “Ooh, I want to talk about the update.” We're like, let's wait. Wait until we're ready. So I'm very glad I didn't have to bite my tongue this time and we could just talk about all the cool stuff we're working on. 

CB: We'll be able to, hopefully, have maybe another Q&A either after the update or closer to it as well, because I know we ran it over time because there's so much in this update. We ran out of time for a lot of questions, so we might be able to have a dedicated one sometime soon.

All: Thanks, everybody!

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