One of the interesting things about LOTRO that you might not consider too often is how the devs worked to give the illusion, at least, of time progressing in the game. Depending on your race, the prologue takes place hundreds of years before the events of the game to a couple days. Then, as you travel through zones and work through the epic storyline, the game tries its best to convince you that time is passing — that Frodo and the Fellowship are working their way to Mordor, that the enemy is moving against them and you, and that there is a definite “past” and a potential “future” to your journey.
The game uses several slight-of-hand techniques such as personal instancing and cutscenes to enforce the illusion of characters around you progressing. For instance, Aragorn is in both a personal instance in the Prancing Pony in Bree and in a guest house in Rivendell, all at the same time. But it’s impossible for players to experience both at once, and as the game leads you from Bree to Rivendell, you can buy into the illusion that Aragorn has traveled. By the time you arrive at Rivendell, the game wants you to think of Aragorn’s presence in the Prancing Pony as the “past” that no longer exists — at least, for you.
Personally, I’m all too happy to accept the illusion that time is passing, because it’s something that I’ve always wanted in MMORPGs and all too rarely get. People are going bananas in World of Warcraft that the devs are finally progressing the timeline after its six year “frozen in time” status.
Because of Turbine’s flexible attitude towards time, I think that there’s a great solution to the topic brought up by Wolfshead. He wonders just how Turbine is going to capitalize off of the upcoming Hobbit movies (and if they’re smart, they certainly will), but worries that since the Hobbit takes place 77 years before Fellowship of the Ring, it’s a problem that will require a creative approach.
Out of all of his suggestions, I think the “time machine” one would be the best, and I want to elaborate on just how Turbine can do that. My basic idea is this: that instead of your character somehow jumping back in time to join Bilbo’s quest, that the game create “Ancestor Play”, putting you in the shoes of an ancestor of your character going on a parallel journey with Bilbo.
Thematically, I think this works very well, since it would mirror the whole Bilbo/Frodo dual adventures thing. It doesn’t break the lore (well, any more than it already is) by introducing Bill and Ted’s phone booth into Middle-earth. Technically, Turbine’s already played around with putting players into characters other than their main avatar — Monster Play, Chicken Play, Ranger Play, etc.
The final piece of the puzzle here is what is in it for players? I’d say that your ancestor would be able to gain items, rewards and traits that can be retroactively “passed down” to your main character, say as parent to child.
However, there’s one big stumbling block here that I can’t get around, and that is the longer lifespan of elves and dwarves. It makes sense that Ancestor Play would have a parent of your character, but since an elf or a dwarf in Bilbo’s era would still be alive in Frodo’s, it’s a little harder to justify a completely new character as an ancestor, unless it’s like a sideways-relative — an uncle, brother, sister, cousin, etc.
Anyway, just a thought.