The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Designer Diary #6

In our final diary entry Partner Relations Director Nina Dobner talks about Electronic Arts and New Line Cinema's collaboration on Return of the King.

Design Diary #6 -- Studio Collaboration -- EA and New Line Cinema

By Nina Dobner
Partner Relations Director

I sometimes call myself a relationship director because I work with both EA and the filmmakers. My job is multifaceted, to say the least, but I have two main responsibilities. While creating the game, I get the assets that our team needs from the film production team in New Zealand, and once the game is ready, I get approvals from the film studio in New York.

Acquiring the assets can be as simple as requesting them from New Zealand or as complicated as traveling there myself to help the filmmakers understand exactly what we are looking for. Our close relationship with New Line Cinema allows us access to the actual motion-capture moves, 3D models, textures, animations, film footage, scans of miniatures, and more, that were used to create the film. We are constantly using these authentic assets because we want the game to not just look like the films but to be exactly like the films.

The development team and the filmmakers worked closely to ensure every detail in the game was "spot on."

Getting approvals is a matter of working with our partners to obtain their OKs on the models, characters, and environments we have created in the game. This can be tricky. For instance, last year we had to change the color of Gimli's epaulettes four times before we were happy that it was exactly right. This year we have swatches of all the actual fabrics used from the costumes to avoid that problem.

Minute attention to detail--down to the very color of Gimli's epaulettes--is a key aspect of my work. Not even the smallest detail in the game is made up. For example, when we were reproducing Minas Tirith for our E3 demo level, we felt the team would benefit from being able to see and feel a piece of the actual movie set. Unfortunately, the set had already been dismantled. So, while in New Zealand, I searched the various warehouses to find remnants of the dismantled set. After much work, I returned to San Francisco proudly bearing four bricks from the Minas Tirith set.

The Return of the King features an immersive atmosphere that draws heavily on the upcoming film.

We are completely integrated with the film production team--down to the fact that we have an office in their building. We also work closely with the filmmakers and actors. One highlight of my work is meeting with the filmmakers once a month in New Zealand to go over game designs and the latest build of the game. We play the game together and discuss ideas, art, and the direction of the game. Not surprisingly, the game has become a big hit on the movie set. Many of the actors played the game while waiting for a shoot to start. In fact, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd (the actors who play Merry and Pippin) actually came to EA's headquarters this year to check out the game's progress.

The very close relationship we have with New Line Cinema really helps us build the best game possible. The greatest benefit we garner from this relationship is exclusive footage from the upcoming movie. Our game features footage from The Return of the King film before it is released in theaters, as well as footage that is exclusive to the game and will never be seen on the big screen. This, of course, is one of the most exciting aspects of the game and my job.

The attention to detail paid off, as seen in the incredibly detailed graphics.

The fact that the movies have done such a superb job bringing Tolkien's world to life has made our work a lot more challenging. Because the movies have shown the audience exactly what Middle-earth looks like, we feel intense pressure to make the game look and feel as authentic as possible, or players will be disappointed. This level of detail, of course, is a lot of work. To date, I have sourced about 200,000 assets for the game. However, I had no idea how incredible it would be until I finally saw the game. Every time I demo the Southern Gate level, I am literally awestruck by how real it looks. It's incredibly rewarding.

Thanks for reading about my work and the relationship between EA and New Line Cinema. Enjoy The Return of the King!

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