Developer Diary: New Monster Creation

Monsters! The Mines of Moria are filled with them, and the dev guy responsible, Raskolnikov (we'll harass him for that later!), has a dev log up that explains the process, and what we can expect to see!

Content is usually concerned about the Lore-appropriateness™ of the monsters and how they’ll affect the different quests they make. As Systems, I’m mostly concerned with the mechanics of the monsters and how exactly their skills will work. (“So, let me get this straight: you want a dude on top of a mammoth who throws spears while the mammoth attacks and then you want the mammoth to go into a rage and buck the rider off and then it will attack on its own…” ‘Yes!’ “*sigh*… I’ll see what I can do…”)

The poor guy had a lot to do, I'm sure, but the write up is entertaining and very exciting for those of us on the edge of our seats for MoM! If you've left LotRO but are excited about the expansion, why not take advantage of this weekend's free "Welcome Back " event, which includes bonus XP and free items!

Who says no to that?!

Q: Who are you and what are you doin’ here!?

A : Hey there, I’m Tim “Raskolnikov” Lang (but the Content team calls me “Man-Bat” for some reason).

I’m a relatively new member of the Systems team, having moved over from the QA team in November of last year. When I first arrived I was immediately thrown into the Forochel (Book 13) monsters: “Hey Tim, welcome aboard… you like monsters, right?” ‘Well, actually I…’ “That’s great because you get to make a bunch of new behaviors for the Sabretooth and Gauradan Mammoth.” ‘Okay, so how do…’ “Oh, and one of the FX guys mentioned something about a Grim… anyway, good luck!” (Note : It didn’t really happen like this ).

So, the short of it is that I work on monsters, which makes me a sort of behind-the-scenes guy. I don’t get all the girls like the Legendary Item guys, but on the flip side I also don’t get egged like the class guys when they “balance” your favorite class. For this Dev Diary I’ll walk you through the broad process of how a monster comes together, what components of a monster I work on and how they are created, and our broad goals for the monsters in Mines of Moria™. Finally, I’ll give you a brief preview of some of the monsters I’m more proud of (they’re like my very own hideous babies ).

Q: Nice to meet you, Bat-Face! Please tell me the process of how a monster comes together. I’m just so interested.

A: Having not detected your sarcasm, here’s how it works:

Step 1: Deciding what to make.

The World, Content, and System teams all meet in a room together where we calmly and rationally discuss what types of monsters we would personally like to see in a new region. Each group firmly, but politely, raises their concerns about the monsters mentioned. World is usually concerned about balancing aggressive monsters with passive monsters. Content is usually concerned about the Lore-appropriateness™ of the monsters and how they’ll affect the different quests they make. As Systems, I’m mostly concerned with the mechanics of the monsters and how exactly their skills will work. (“So, let me get this straight: you want a dude on top of a mammoth who throws spears while the mammoth attacks and then you want the mammoth to go into a rage and buck the rider off and then it will attack on its own…” ‘Yes!’ “*sigh*… I’ll see what I can do…”)

Step 2: Divvy up the work.

Once we have this wishlist of monsters, each department handles different sections of the creation process (though we are all interdependent upon one another).

World Team:
World makes a bunch of profiles of monsters for each area of the new region. The profiles are typically filled with placeholder or test monsters until Content has created the specific named monsters (Example: “Deadly Kilpa-kita”).

Content Team:
Content makes all the specific named monsters you see running around. They need those named monsters for the quests they create. However, those monsters are using basic behaviors (typically a standard body-body-head ground-and-pound… grats if you got the MMA reference ) until Systems has created the skills for each monster type.

System Team:
Systems (including myself) creates the skills, behaviors, and effects for each of the monster types (more on this later). However, we’re dependent upon art for the monster itself and all its animations. So initially we use placeholder monsters which can result in hilariousness; a tiny goblin batting the player across the landscape, or a Cave-claw exploding in a ball of fire. Good times.

Art Team:
These guys and gals are very, very key to the process. When I tell my friends, “I make monsters,” that’s fairly deceptive. I just tell the monsters what to do, while Art actually makes the monsters: their bodies, appearances, animations, and a whole lot more I don’t know about. Each department closely works with Art: Content talks to Art about the overall appearance and feel of the monster while Systems is more interested in the specific attack animations.

Step 3: Wrapping it all up.

Once all departments have completed their first pass of the creation process we go back over all the monsters with the help of QA and make sure all the placeholder values have been replaced with legit data and that everything looks good and plays well.

Q: “This sounds like a clear and efficient system! Everything works perfectly, right?”

A: We do have hiccups in our process (for example, while writing this Dev Diary I noticed that the Gauradan Mammoth wasn’t performing its “rage” animation), but we’re always striving to improve it.

Q: Art, Content, and World all have cooties: tell me what you do? *bats eyelashes*

A: Weren’t you reading? I make monsters. But more specifically I create the skills the monsters use, the behaviors that determine how those skills are used and the buffs/debuffs those skills apply.

Our system is quite robust. And while I don’t have control over everything I’d like to do, I have enough control (thanks to Engineering, who created all of these switches, knobs, and dials I can play with) to make some pretty crazy stuff: knock-backs, auras, a huge variety of buffs and debuffs, multi-attacks, skills which only function when the monster is wounded, etc, etc, etc…

Q: So, what you’re saying is that with great power comes great respo…

A: Not quite ;) (P.S. Batman is way better than Spiderboy ). My main goal is to create a fun experience, but there are lots of hurdles to overcome: monsters that are bug-prone (typically due to me being a bit too crazy with the skills), monsters that are too hard, monsters that are too easy, monsters which interact with other monsters poorly, monsters which are great in groups but can’t be soloed, or monsters that are just plain boring. Combine all of that with trying to make unique skills so that not every monster feels the same and you definitely have a challenge on your hands trying to make it all work. But, despite that, it’s a blast! This is, by far, the best job I’ve ever had and I’m super excited about the Moria monsters I’ve made. So let’s talk about Moria…


The Lord of the Rings Online™: Mines of Moria™ is our first expansion for LOTRO. Moria is also huge, intimidating, and not for the faint of heart. In other words… THIS IS MORIA!

And yes, I wrote this entire Dev Diary just to make that overused joke!

Our main goal for the monsters living in Moria is for them to live up to their nasty reputations. So, when we first sat down to plan out these baddies, this was our list of goals:

  • More extreme monsters (IT’S LIKE A JET MADE OUT OF BICEPS! )
    • Attacks and debuffs that players feel , rather than ones which are ignored.
    • Players (you folks) are getting a bunch of great, powerful stuff like Legendary Items, Trait Sets, Rune-keepers, Wardens, and another 10 levels. The monsters need to keep up with all of that and continue posing a challenge.
  • More reactive gameplay
    • Give you more opportunities to use tactics and strategy to fight more efficiently (more on this below).
  • Better feedback on what monsters are doing.
    • Knowing when a monster is winding up for a big attack, knowing when a monster is being buffed by an aura, knowing when you are being debuffed by an aura on a monster.

At the time of writing this, I’ve completed the first pass on creating all of the behaviors, skills, and buffs/debuffs for the new monsters we’ll be doing, and I really think we’ve achieved our goals. The polish passes I’ll be doing will really confirm or deny that but will also give me a chance to tweak things to make sure, above all else, these little beasties are fun to fight. Here’s what we did:

More Extreme Monsters

The idea here is to give a monster’s attacks a big enough impact on the player that you actively want to avoid it (which ties directly into our reactive gameplay). In general, where we used to increase numbers by 10% we might increase by 50% instead. This goal is simple in initial implementation, but more difficult during balance passes. A Lore-master fights completely different than a Champion, yet both classes need to be able to solo a single on-level mob with relative ease. That’s where the tweaking gets tricky; a mob that debuffs the player’s melee damage output by 50% isn’t that big of a deal to a Lore-master, but now I’ve severely decreased the Champion’s effectiveness.

More Reactive Gameplay

Simply raising the numbers will certainly get your attention, but it doesn’t translate to “fun.” Making combat with monsters more exciting and fun is what we want to accomplish, so we did this by trying to make a monster’s skills reactive in someway. A drake sprays fire at your feet setting the ground on fire; you’d better jump out of the way if you don’t want to take a hefty chunk of damage. An orc enters a rage bestowing a Corruption buff on itself, allowing it to deal more damage; time to use your Corruption removal skill unless you like taking an extra 50% damage each time the orc hits you!

Initially, this was a bit challenging for the same reason that balancing the Extreme Monster numbers will be difficult: each class is different. “We can make a monster that has 90% mitigation vs. all damage, but Light damage will punch through that mitigation!” Too bad not all classes have skills which deal Light damage. Everything started coming together, though, when we realized two very basic things: each player can move and each player can deal damage. That sounds fairly obvious, but it actually made us realize how many options we have:

  • Player avoidance: dodging out of the way of an attack that is charging up, getting out of the pool of acid the monster spit at your feet.
  • Kill a specific target: you’ll want to kill a monster that has a debuffing aura before you off his minions, a totem which buffs nearby monsters should be destroyed first, a boss monster who is protected by his allies is most efficiently killed by destroying his minions first.
  • Attack timing: mobs that temporarily enter a combat state where it’s best to not attack them, mobs that temporarily enter a combat state where they’ll take additional damage if you attack them at the right time.
  • Target timing: mobs that buff themselves but only when they have high health which encourages you to attack them first, mobs that buff themselves only when they have low health which encourages you to finish them quickly.

Combine that with some of the new features we got from Engineering, like a buff that a monster places on itself that players can dispel, and thus is born monster Corruption buffs. Add in the existing ability of most classes to interrupt certain monster skills in mid-action and the varying ability of the classes to cure Poison, Disease, Fear or Wounds and now you have a fairly large suite of reactive elements for monster skills.

Q: Now wait just one gosh darn minute, did you stop to consider that…

A: Yes I did! At least, I tried to think of everything. Reading the above will probably generate a bunch of questions/concerns from you guys, which is great! I suspect that this Dev Diary is already too long as it is, so I’ll try to answer any questions you guys have in the thread attached to this article.

However, I think the biggest point I should make right off the bat is that I really tried to make all of this optional as best I could. Am I forcing you to constantly move your character around, forcing you to carry a bunch of cure potions, forcing you to only attack monsters at certain times? No. If you come home after a long day and you just want to relax by killing some goblins for a quest while you advance your deed, no problem. You may not kill that mob as quickly as others or you may end the fight with less morale than normal, but you will still be able to easily solo an on-level mob.

More Monster Feedback

Q: Monster Auras and monster charge-up/induction attacks already exist, but it’s difficult to see what’s going on so that I can properly react to it…

A: I agree! This turned into my own personal mission shortly after I started, “Tim… are you okay? You’re red in the face, twitching, and frothing at the mouth… more than usual, that is.” ‘WHAT THE HELL IS THIS MONSTER DOING!?’ “Didn’t… didn’t you make it?” ‘I KNOW! AAAAAAARGH!’ Thus began the sane process of writing a formal specification about how we could improve the monster feedback in LOTRO. I spent days on it, polishing it, putting in great MS-Paint pictures of examples of the feedback we could use. By the time I had finished I felt like I had crafted Shangri-La. Then came the day of the meeting; you know, the type of meeting where you’re all calm and reasonable. If I did indeed enter that meeting with Shangri-La, I felt like I left it with New Jersey, but hey, Jersey’s great… *wrinkles nose*. (Dramatization. May not actually have happened .)

The new monster feedback is broken down into five groups (with a bonus group): Induction Skills, Auras, Skill Animations, Monster Stances, and Less Spam.

  • Induction Skills: It could be tough to tell when a monster was charging up for a big swing or a big breath attack, so we’ve added in some new FX to each of the induction skills. We already had great FX for a healing skill (the green ring), but now we have similar FX for attack skills (an orange/red ring). Now, when a monster performs an induction there are clear and consistent FX communicating that to you.
  • Auras: Similarly to induction skills, it’s sometimes tough to tell which monsters are being buffed by an Aura or whether you’re being debuffed by an Aura or not. With the help of the FX team, we’ve added in some new FX for the source of an Aura and the target of an Aura. This way you can clearly see when you’re being affected by an aura, and you can clearly see which mobs are being buffed by the aura.
  • Skill Animations: Sometimes a monster’s special attacks would use the same animations as their basic attacks. This made it pretty confusing when you suddenly lost a bunch of morale or were debuffed when nothing different appeared to happen. This time around we’ve more closely coordinated with the Art team to ensure that each special attack has an animation different from the basic attack animations.
  • Monster Stances: This is a fairly small band of feedback which some intelligent monsters in Moria will have. A monster with a stance will use a specific skill(s) while in that stance, and will not have access to other skills in other stances. I give an example of a monster with a couple different stances below, but the main goal of using stances is to help call out to players what types of attacks you’ll likely to see from that mob.
  • Less Spam: This was a general decision to try and limit the number of fancy special attacks an average mob has. If you’re facing a generic goblin and he’s hitting you left and right with all sorts of special attacks it, becomes a blur and not only are each of those attacks less special, but it’s more difficult for the player to determine what those skills actually did and which ones you want to react to.
  • (bonus) Improved Icons: There’s definitely room for improvement with how our icons look and how they’re laid out. We won’t be able to make everything perfect, but we are trying to make some improvements. At the time of this writing, we’re still in the process of determining which improvements we’ll have time to implement, so I can’t comment about what future changes you’ll see; but our goals are two things: clarity and consistency.

Q: Huh? What? Are you still talking? It’s a miracle you get any real work done…

A: Fine, fine fine… I’m not at liberty to discuss some of the more exotic creatures being created, but here’s a taste of some of my favorite bread-and-butter monsters I created for Moria, which incorporate a bunch of the above stuff I talked about.

Orc Berserker:
Stances : When you see this guy on the landscape he will be in one of two stances, either Aggressive stance (red) or Inspirational stance (green).

Aggressive Stance: When the Orc Berserker reaches low levels of morale, he begins entering a rage. Every few seconds that rage buff increments, increasing his damage output. The rage buff is also a Corruption buff, which means you can use Corruption removal skills to dispel the buffs.
Player Tactics:
Avoid getting multiple of these guys low in health at the same time. When you do see an Orc Berserker entering his rage, kill him quickly before his rage buffs pile up, or use your Corruption removal skill to dispel his buffs, making him more manageable.

Inspirational Stance: If the Orc Berserker has taken damage he will enter a brief state where any time you hit him, he’ll be healed a small amount. At the end of this state he will be “winded” for a brief time and will take extra damage from any attacks that hit him. (Inspiration for this skill came from the movie Predator.)

Player Tactics:
Pay close attention when fighting this guy! When you see him enter this state, either back off or stun him. Wait for his buff to wear off and then strike hard and fast, taking advantage of the time when he is more vulnerable.

Not only do these guys look nasty, they’ve got a very thematic skill: Momentum. Each time the Troll attacks and hits there’s a very good chance he will receive an incremental buff to his damage and attack speed. The more times he hits, the faster he attacks and more damage he deals.

Player Tactics:
How do you remove these effects? Easy: break his momentum. Any time the Troll becomes stunned or dazed he loses all of his “Momentum” buffs.

Goblin Defender
Stances : When you see this guy on the landscape he will be in one of two stances, either Aggressive stance (red) or Defensive stance (blue).

Aggressive Stance: This little fella carries a shield and knows how to use it. He will begin performing an induction and will then smash out with his shield, briefly stunning anyone in front of him.
Player Tactics:
Look for him performing his induction and interrupt or stun him. If your skills are still cooling down, quickly jump back and watch as his shield hits nothing but air.

Defensive Stance: So long as the Goblin Defender has a high morale he is able to fortify himself. Every few seconds his Fortify buff increments, granting him greater and greater mitigation. This buff is a Corruption buff.
Player Tactics :
Focus your attacks on this goblin first in a fight, by lowering his health he will no longer be able to Fortify himself. If the goblin does manage to get a couple increments of Fortify buffs, use your Corruption removal skill to dispel those buffs, stripping him of his enhanced mitigation.

Well, that’s it. Hopefully you found it interesting and are excited about the monsters you’ll face in Moria. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments please feel free to post in the thread as I’ll be keeping my eye on it and will respond when I can. Catch ya later!

P.S. Oh yeah, I think we made another Grim… or two.


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