Early in the development process for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Academy Award-winning Lord of the Rings movie director Peter Jackson saw the game and offered Monolith producers some advice: Don't make a movie game.
"The thing he really pushed us to do and was really supportive of doing was to not make a movie game," Monolith design director Michael de Plater told GameSpot. "He's like 'make the best game you can that's not a movie game.' There's no point in trying to reproduce [the movies] as a game. So he was really supportive."
Jackson's Lord of the Rings films spawned tie-in games from Electronic Arts that told the stories of those films. And in 2012, Warner Bros. released Lego: Lord of the Rings, which also followed Jackson's movies. A Lego: Hobbit game, based on Jackson's movies, is coming later this year.
Instead of basing its story on Jackson's movies or even other events from J.R.R. Tolkien's writing, Monolith's Shadow of Mordor tells an original story set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The story begins the night Sauron returns to Mordor and puts players into the boots of a conflicted Ranger named Talion, who has Wraith-like abilities.
It's not only Jackson who is involved with Shadow of Mordor. de Plater explained that Monolith is working "really closely" with special effects and prop studio WETA Workshop, which rose to prominence for its work on the Lord of the Rings series, for the game's world and character design. He said the New Zealand-based company's attention to detail in the areas of equipment and culture has been "really valuable."
In addition, Tolkien purists might be happy to learn that everything Monolith creates for Shadow of Mordor must be approved by Middle-earth Enterprises, the top-level licensing company for the Lord of the Rings brand. "Everything goes through them," de Plater said.
But it doesn't end there. de Plater pointed out that Warner Bros., which holds the rights to Lord of the Rings video games, has some "professional Tolkien scholars" on staff. "They look after everything," he said.
Also in our interview with de Plater, we asked about the game's branding. Nowhere in the Shadow of Mordor title is "Lord of the Rings" mentioned, despite the game existing in that universe. Is it possible that Warner Bros. is trying to establish a new sub-brand of the larger Lord of the Rings universe with Shadow of Mordor?
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves at all," de Plater said. "Everything hinges on how good this one is."
Shadow of Mordor is coming to Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PC, but not Wii U. No release date has been announced. For more on the game, be sure to check out GameSpot's just-published preview featuring additional insight from de Plater.