Vivendi Universal's upcoming game based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is one of the brighter third-party offerings on the GameCube's horizon. The game is being developed by Inevitable Entertainment and puts you in the role of Bilbo Baggins in a 3D action adventure game that follows the plot of the book fairly closely. We checked in with Troy Skinner, the game's producer at Vivendi Universal Games, to see how things were going.
GameSpot: How long has the game been in development?
Troy Skinner : The Hobbit has been in development since early 2001, so we're just passing the two-year mark.
GS: What's been the biggest challenge in designing the game?
TS: The biggest challenge is definitely making a game that will live up to the expectations of Tolkien fans. There is a real balancing act in exploring elements of the book that work well as gameplay, while making sure that the entire package holds up as a representation of Tolkien's world. Every video game has its challenges, and this is the very best kind to have.
GS: Did you have to take any dramatic license with The Hobbit's story to make it work as a game? Why or why not?
TS: We've been given some leeway to add elements that aren't part of the book, as long as they are consistent with the spirit of the work. The novel lends itself very well to an action adventure game, but certain parts of the game still benefited from "original" elements like additional enemies that didn't appear in the book, or the extension of environments detailed in the book.
GS: What were the key gameplay elements you felt the game had to have in order to be true to the source material?
TS: We knew from the start that the game had to have the One Ring and Sting. Luckily for us, a ring that makes its wearer invisible and a powerful sword are not difficult to translate into good gameplay. It was also very important to feature the major settings and characters from the novel.
GS: What's been the biggest technical challenge you've had to deal with?
TS: Creating a game for every major gaming platform is hard! We've had various bumps and bruises along the way to get the PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and PC versions up to speed, but in the end everything has worked out very well.
GS: How did you settle on the style of gameplay?
TS: The Hobbit was written for a younger audience, so it made sense to create a game that would be enjoyable for younger kids, as well as adults. We looked at the different types of game we could do, and an action adventure game with a heavy emphasis on the action seemed like the best way to go. We didn't want to make the game inaccessible by loading down gamers with hard-core RPG gameplay.
GS: What can you tell us about the gameplay?
TS: The Hobbit is fairly linear, separated into 12 chapters that roughly correspond to the story flow in the book. In each chapter, Bilbo is given a set of tasks he must complete, and he will often run into people or things that offer side quests that aren't part of the main storyline. Gameplay within the various chapters consists of running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, exploration, combat, stealth, lock picking, puzzle solving, quest object collection, and quest completion.
GS: How did you settle on the game's look?
TS: Because the book was a bit lighter than Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series, the development team wanted to go with a style that conveyed a little bit of whimsy. That's how we ended up with the very colorful, stylized world in The Hobbit. There are a lot of very interesting settings in The Hobbit, and we wanted to do them justice. By opening up the color pallete, and staying away from the drab browns and grays, we were able to create a very distinctive set of levels. No two levels look the same, and they all look great. Once people get to see how much visual variety there is in this game, they are going to love it.
GS: How is it working with the GameCube hardware?
TS: Working on GameCube and with Nintendo has been great. The best thing about the GameCube is that it doesn't get in the way of making the game. Instead of fighting the Cube to see who's the boss, the developers can concentrate on making an incredible game.
GS: Are there any special features in the game?
TS: We are working with two composers at Slackmates who are providing the orchestral and acoustic score. They will be recording the orchestral music with members of the Northwest Sinfonia (Medal of Honor, Myst III: Exile, Total Anniliation). The acoustic music will be recorded with individual Celtic musicians from the Raleigh, North Carolina, area, home to Slackmates. They have provided a compelling score of interactive music that consistently pulls the player deeper into the Tolkien universe. The score will cover combat, character themes, and intense gameplay sequences. We are also providing a vast amount of ambient music as a backdrop to the exploration, platforming, and stealth elements of the gameplay. This ambient music is being composed in-house and will use many elements of the orchestral and acoustic music to bring cohesion to the score.
GS: Thanks for your time.
For more on the game, check out our exclusive behind-the-scenes video.