There's absolutely no shortage of Lord of the Rings games currently in development, though some have gotten a bit of a higher profile than others. This past E3 equalized everything, though, as each and every game based on the timeless fantasy epic that's currently in development was proudly on display by its respective publisher. Universal's PS2 game, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, is easily among the most impressive of the lot. The action adventure game retraces the events of the first book in the story and lets you play through the narrative as three of its most important characters: the brave hobbit Frodo, the powerful wizard Gandalf, and the mighty ranger Aragorn.
Surreal, the game's developer--which is also famous for the Drakan series of games--promises that it will provide the experience most loyal to Tolkien's timeless story. We were quite anxious to find out more about it, so we managed to get in touch with Todd Clineschmidt, the lead designer on the game, to provide us with some input.
GameSpot: So the game is based on Fellowship of the Ring. How will it retrace the significant events in that narrative?
Todd Clineschmidt: The game follows the entire narrative of the first book, Fellowship of the Ring, beginning in the tranquil Shire and ending on the hostile shores of the River Anduin. All of the key events from the book are brought to life in the game, such as the Barrow downs, the Flooding of the Ford, and so on.
GS: The three playable characters will be Frodo, Gandalf, and Strider. Will scenarios be designed around the special abilities and affinities of each? Can you give us examples?
TC: Yes, each player character's abilities will be put to the test throughout the game. For example, we have designed areas suitable to Frodo's stealth and creature-avoidance abilities, which greatly vary according to those scenarios designed for Aragorn's melee and bow combat or Gandalf's spell-based attacks. Each playable character offers a different experience, and therefore our approach has been to design and tune each area specifically for the character played there.
Another thing we are doing is to have AI-driven members of the Fellowship journey in real-time with the player as they progress through an area. For example, as Aragorn, you set out to reach the top of Weathertop in search of Gandalf. Frodo and Sam, as in the narrative, come along with you. In our game, you won't always be required to journey alone.
GS: Will there be any instances when players will be able to see key events in the narrative from the eyes of more than one character? For instance, will we be able to see something like the hobbits' flight from the dark riders from both Frodo's and Aragorn's perspective?
TC: Not exactly. The same scenario will not be played out multiple times from different characters' perspectives.
GS: What sorts of abilities will the characters acquire over time? Gandalf could presumably learn new spells, but what about the stealth-oriented Frodo or the combat-oriented Aragorn?
TC: It depends. Some of the player (or "playable"--I thought this word fit better) characters will gain new weapons throughout the game. For example, Frodo will acquire Sting when appropriate. However, Gandalf will not gain new spells but instead start with a complete magical arsenal. To stay as true to the narrative as possible, this approach is the most logical.
GS: What memorable Middle-earth locations will you guys re-create in the game? Are there any you're especially proud of?
TC: We are creating all of the key locations found in the narrative. The regions include The Shire, The Old Forest, Bree, Weathertop, Rivendell, Moria, Lothlorien, and the River Anduin. Found within each of these regions are the specific locations, such as the Barrow Downs in the Old Forest or the Midgewater Marshes in the Weathertop region. I'm proud of all of the areas. Each is unique and offers a different look and feel, consistent with Tolkien's detailed descriptions.
GS: How large are the game's environments, and how long do you think it will take players to get through the game?
TC: Because we have created all of the key areas found in the narrative, the game is quite large. We are estimating 15 to 20 hours of gameplay.
Steadfast in Faith
GS: What about characters? Any cult favorites in there, or are they all big-time players? What effect will NPCs have on the game?
TC: We're including a wide variety of NPCs throughout the game, from the hobbits to Olog-hai. I'd say Tom Bombadil and Gollum are likely candidates for "cult favorite" status.
GS: We've learned that Tolkien Estate is playing some sort of role in the game's development. Can you talk about this?
TC: We actually work with Tolkien Enterprises, not Tolkien Estate. Tolkien Enterprises must approve many things, such as the locations and character designs. This ensures that the game we are creating accurately represents Tolkien's vision as closely as possible.
GS: We've also heard that you're all big Tolkien fans at Surreal. Care to talk about what each of you brings to the project in this regard?
TC: As fans of the fantasy genre, you have to be a Tolkien fan. His amazing work basically shaped the genre and has excited the imagination of millions. We grew up reading Tolkien. We're all excited about having the opportunity to bring Tolkien's world to life in 3D.
GS: There seems to have been some sort of mysterious resurgence of interest in all things Tolkien. How do you think this will affect the game you're making? How do competing games, which use a different manifestation of the "property," affect yours?
TC: There's obviously a strong inherent fan base in place due to the massive popularity of the books. With the release of the Fellowship of the Ring movie, it's apparent that there is also a new generation of Tolkien fans who have emerged from that. Our aim is to immerse both the longtime fan of the novels and new Tolkien fans into Middle-earth. While the movie and its spin-off games are unable to cover all of the main key points found in the narrative, our game will contain them. Creating a game based on the actual narrative vs. a movie script means that the end result will be a much closer fit to the original. In other words, our game will give the complete story, true to the narrative, whereas the others may not.
GS: Do you have any words for Tolkien fans out there who are perhaps skeptical about how an action adventure game based on the Lord of the Rings might turn out?
TC: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings narrative is the quintessential fantasy action adventure script that all other fantasy is derived from. What could be better?
GS: Care to cover anything we might have missed, or do you have anything to say to those eagerly awaiting this?
TC: Have no fear. The game is awesome and will be available soon--very soon. Everything is coming together quite nicely.
GS: Will you guys please develop a game based on The Silmarillion, after you're done with Fellowship the Ring?
TC: We'd love to, but at this point, all I can say is "maybe."
GS: Can you imagine how cool Ungoliant would look in 3D?
TC: You got that right!
GS: Thanks for your time, guys, and we sincerely look forward to seeing more on the game.
TC: Thanks! We're looking forward to getting it done and out for gamers to enjoy.