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Submitted by Derek dela Fuente on July 27 2004 - 14:03

We send Derek off to the far reaches of Middle-Earth to get the lowdown from Mark Skaggs, Executive Producer...

Gamers can now experience Middle Earth like never before in The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth in this original creation from EA. It place you in command of a real-time, open world where you will control the legendary heroes, massive armies, and epic campaigns of Middle Earth based upon all three films of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Incidents from waging all-out combat among the vast forces of good and evil, to controlling your favourite heroes and characters, to managing the troops and resources of your side, the fate of a living, breathing Middle Earth is in your hands.

TVGâ??s Derek dela Fuente spoke with Mark Skaggs, Executive Producer, to find out more about the challenge on offer and how the team has gone about creating their own vision and the possible problems that could be incurred when turning an epic film/s into a RTS game.

â??The biggest challenge is in reinterpreting The Lord of the Rings for a new medium â?“ a game where the player is essentially in control of the world of Middle Earth. Weâ??re making the world into a sandbox where you can interact with and control all of the characters, creatures, and magic that youâ??ve seen in the movies. The resulting freedom and power that weâ??re giving to the player is incredible, but we need to stay very true to the look and feel â?“ and spirit â?“ of what Peter Jackson created for the films. So, weâ??re building a living, breathing Middle Earth world which has been painstakingly crafted to feel like it has been transported from the movies.â?

â??To mangle a quote from Gandalf in the upcoming The Return of the King film: We set up the board, but you put the pieces in motion. You take control of the armies, heroes, and creatures from the films. You decide whether to play as good or evil. You decide where to send the Fellowship of the Ring, how and when to fight, and how to deploy your forces when battle is joined. You decide whether to use the ring or not.â?

â??The practical challenges to the team arise in art, technology, and game design. We have to do justice to the visual beauty and epic scale of the films â?“ this means we have to make our game world look amazing, bring our characters and creatures to life, and stage huge battles that create the same sense of awe and wonder inspired by the movies. We have to make our units believable and fun, creating a new dimension for the heroes of the Fellowship of the Ring and the Ents, Trolls, Orcs, Uruk-Hai, Nazgul, and other key characters and creatures.â?

Reinterpreting the EA style of gameplay from a film is not the easiest of tasks whilst also staying true to the storyline but as we all know EA always appears to do it better than any other game publisher.

Players will lead the forces of good or evil by controlling one of four unique groups, from the Riders of Rohan, the city builders and defenders of Gondor; the wizards and hordes of Orcs from Isengard; and the vast armies of Mordor commanded by the Dark Lord Sauron - each with its own playing style, resource management, and base-building techniques. You are in complete control of the epic campaigns depicted in all three films of the trilogy and they are more than faceless units for every character in the game expresses real-time emotions that change depending on their situation. The primary objective is to win total control of Middle Earthâ??s amazing world.

â??If you see a major battle in any of the films, you can be sure youâ??ll find it in the game. Massive battles like Helmâ??s Deep, Isengard, Minas Tirith will certainly be there, as well as smaller encounters like the skirmish with the Uruk-Hai in Amon Hen, which I mentioned previously (shown at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). We will in essence be staying very true to the films and Pete Jacksonâ??s vision but allow the player to rewrite the outcome of the battles.â?

â??All of the major characters and creatures from the films are in the game â?“ including the Fellowship of the Ring, the Wizards, Ents, horsemen, soldiers, Orcs, Trolls, Mumakil (the huge elephants you saw in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), Nazgul, Fell Beasts (the big flying dragon-like creatures). There are others as wellâ?¦ many others.â?

â??Gameplay for different units varies tremendously. Heroes will be very powerful and will have special abilities that can be upgraded throughout the game as they gain experience. Soldiers and Orcs can be found in large numbers and are commanded in formations. They fight hand-to-hand with swords, clubs, axes, and other melee weapons â?“ although some are equipped as archers. Siege weapons like catapults and Trebuchets fire balls of burning pitch or rocks â?“ but they are large and slow. Gandalf and Saruman can use magic. Big units like Trolls and Ents can actually use elements of the world as weapons: we call this our â??interactive battlefieldâ??. For example, a Troll can uproot any tree and use it as a club. Trolls and Ents can pick up and throw rocks and boulders that lie scattered throughout the world. There are many other examples.â?

Taking command of strategic territories across a highly detailed, 3D map of Middle Earth and turning the tide in the battle to control The One Ring is a mammoth task amongst many gameplay ideas and strategies on offer.

The film, as we all know, is a visual feast of technology innovations and ideas and so in turn the development team on the game must work hard on their own core technologies and 3D engine to ensure the perfect synergy.

â??The engine enhancements have allowed us to take serious steps towards creating visual effects that match the film experience. Weâ??re able to put many hundreds of units on the screen with good frame rate on a low-end system because weâ??re implementing a new technology that we call â??LOD Everywhereâ?? (LOD stands for â??load on demandâ??). Weâ??re building a melee combat system that will make our hand-to-hand combat the most realistic of any RTS. Weâ??re also taking advantage of the technology on the new graphics cards to do what we call â??fantasy lightingâ?? â?“ itâ??s a combination of art and technology that gives our game world a rich, lush appearance that is like nothing else out there. Weâ??re upgrading our technology in several other areas as wellâ?¦ these are just three examples.â?

The game will be broken into 25 missions based on all three films of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This allows the team to recreate some of the most well know battles of Middle Earth. From the battle for Helms Deep to the epic siege of Minas Tirith.

To explain the very diverse events and to show the depth of gameplay is to focus on two ways you can play the game. Everyone is familiar with the narrative of LOTR and the events of the three books have been clearly depicted in the films. This is what the team term the â??golden thread of playâ??, it means that you can play the game from start to finish by the book. For example this means using Ents to attack Isengard and utilising the Riders of Rohan to support the battle of Minas Tirith when the gates are broken by the hordes of Mordor. However you donâ??t have to play by the rules!

Ultimately the player is in control of the battles and so this means you can alter the events of Middle Earth. So you could decide not to take the Ents to Isengard but to use them to defend Minas Tirith, and then instead take the Riders of Rohan to lead the charge of Isengard against Saruman and his forces. Itâ??s really down to you and the outcomes can be unpredictable and challenging!

Mark explained the gameâ??s resource management and how unit building is handled in terms of progression, expanding and positioning.

â??Weâ??re handling resource management and unit progression/creation a little differently to the way weâ??ve approached things in titles like C&C Generals. Firstly resource requirements will be variant based on the army you choose to command, leading to very tactical decisions about protecting these valuable assets and ways to cripple your enemies supply chain.â?

â??The unit progression will also become more strategic and mixed with stronger visual elements. So when you have archers and you want to upgrade them with flaming arrows youâ??ll be required to create a unit who has to physically carry the upgrade to the units. That means youâ??ll have to keep him safe in transfer. Unit creation has also been enhanced for this game, youâ??re going to require huge numbers of units so weâ??ve design the game so you create units in groups of 5 and upwards in one click, this will allow you to control larger forces fairly easily.â?

There was plenty of interaction between the EA team and the folks at Pete Jacksonâ??s WETA studios. They met with them early on in the dev cycle and gave the team a huge amount of background material and insight into making the Return of the King. All of which are now being used in the creation of this game as well.

Mark finished by summing up what we can expect.

â??B4ME is about big battles, a big world and all the fun of Middle Earth you see in the films. I think youâ??ll find this game the most immersive LOTR experience and genre defining, its RTS gaming turned on its head!â?

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