The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Designer Diary #5

Lead designer Bret Robbins talks about the gameplay in the upcoming game from Electronic Arts.

Designer Diary #5--Gameplay

By Bret Robbins
Lead Designer

As lead designer I supervise the design, preproduction, and production of every level in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The process of producing each level is lengthy and involved. It starts when I meet with the other producers to figure out the overall ideas and themes for the level. Once we agree on these, we create a script for the level. Maps are drawn up, along with concept art, storyboards, and then animatics, which are like moving storyboards. This allows us to fully conceive a level before we start building.

Each level in the game falls into one of three categories and features distinctly different gameplay.

The levels in The Return of the King fall into three different categories: linear levels, where the player journeys from point A to point B, with occasionally divergent paths along the way; system levels, where the player has a specific mission to accomplish independent of the level's geometry; and arena levels, where players experience the game's major combat.

Designing levels in The Return of the King has been very challenging. For one, we wanted the levels to be much bigger and more complex than they were in The Two Towers. We've added elements like environmental interaction to the mix. Rather than just being pretty background, the environments are now an integral part of the gameplay, which demanded new ways of thinking in our level design. Designing cooperative gameplay has also been a new challenge. Cooperative play was probably the number one fan-requested addition, so being able to include it in The Return of the King is very satisfying for us.

Designing the levels to support co-op play provided a challenge for the team.

One of the biggest challenges we've faced has been accurately representing the scope of the movies in an entirely different medium. We feature all of the major locations from the upcoming movie in this game, including Minas Tirith, the Paths of the Dead, and the Black Gates of Mordor, to name just a few. What makes this even more amazing is that with all of the playable characters we’'re introducing, you can play different characters as they follow their own respective paths. So now you can play not only Aragorn, Legolas, or Gimli, but also the hobbits on their journey to Mordor and even Gandalf as he defends Minas Tirith from Sauron's army.

Despite these challenges, The Return of the King has been a very rewarding project for me. Watching the levels go from ideas on paper to amazing game levels has been thrilling. Our art and engineering teams are brilliant and have fully realized our design goals. It has been really exciting.

Thanks for taking an interest in what I do, and enjoy The Return of the King. Stay tuned for next month's design diary!

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