The Lord of the Rings, The Third Age Q&A

We talk to Electronic Arts about its upcoming RPG based on the wildly popular fantasy movie trilogy.

The Lord of the Rings juggernaut has been one of the few film franchises to make the transition to the gaming realm without too rough of a trip. The first two games released by Electronic Arts managed to re-create the satisfying experience of hacking orcs to death and saving Middle-earth from the evil of Sauron. Players who managed to make it to the end of last year's Return of the King were treated to a cryptic teaser for a game dubbed The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. EA ended speculation on what kind of game Trilogy would be today with the announcement of The Lord of the Rings, The Third Age, the game formerly known as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The game will send players on a quest that will span the events from all three films and let you interact with more than a few familiar faces. We had the opportunity to talk to Steve Gray, executive producer for The Lord of the Rings, The Third Age, to find out just what's going on with the promising game.

GameSpot: What is The Lord of the Rings, The Third Age?

The Lord of the Rings, The Third Age sends players back to Middle-earth.

Steve Gray: The Lord of the Rings, The Third Age is a new role-playing game for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox that brings the story of all three of the Lord of the Rings films to life. You play as a group of characters that you create. Those characters live in the world of the Middle-earth depicted in the films, interact with the characters of the films, and experience the events of the films. The Third Age is in development for all three consoles and is scheduled to ship this fall. We're also working on a Game Boy Advance version that will ship this fall.

GS: How long has the game been in development, and who has been working on it?

SG: We've been thinking about building an RPG for The Lord of the Rings since we started on The Two Towers. Serious development didn't start until we were into building The Return of the King last year--but this is a game we've wanted to make for a long time.

I've worked on the two currently released EA The Lord of the Rings games: The Two Towers and The Return of the King. I also directed one of Square's RPGs--Parasite Eve--and was involved with the Final Fantasy series. I've worked on a bunch of other products over many years, but those are probably the most relevant to what I'm doing now. The core of our team comes from the EA Redwood Shores--The Lord of the Rings team that created The Return of the King.

GS: How did the game come about?

SG: I've been thinking about building a Lord of the Rings RPG for at least 10 years--I just never had the chance to do it until now. With the completion of The Return of the King game and the fact that we had total access to everything in all three films to build a great RPG around--now seemed like the perfect time to get started!

GS: How did you decide on the gameplay mechanics?

SG: Once we started work on The Third Age and knew that it would be a role-playing game, we began brainstorming on the most interesting way to tell the story that we all know and love while giving players a major role in the events. It's a delicate balance. You are playing as player-created characters who need to find their way through Middle-earth and participate in the story in interesting and meaningful ways, building and experiencing a story wrapped around the thrilling events of the New Line Cinema films.

You travel on a sort of "S" curve that weaves in and out of the path of the Fellowship through the story of the trilogy. At times you'll be behind or "next to" them; at other times you'll be in the same time and place as members of the Fellowship.

While there is a clear beginning and end to The Lord of the Rings, The Third Age, there are many paths to choose between the two. The main focus of the game is the quest on the side of good, but you can also unlock evil encounters, and we think players will really enjoy playing on the side of Sauron in addition to playing as good guys. The environments are very open, and there are optional side quests that will give the player a lot of freedom to make their experience unique.

Unlike the previous action-oriented games, The Lord of the Rings, The Third Age will offer a proper RPG experience.

GS: Where did you look to for inspiration when deciding on the mechanics?

SG: We looked to both what we love--and don't love--in other RPG games that are out there, but our chief inspiration comes from the films and the fiction themselves. This game ends and begins with the spirit of Middle-earth that Tolkien created and Peter Jackson imbued the films with.

GS: What are the gameplay mechanics? Is it real time? Turn-based?

SG: The combat is turn-based, and if you have played Final Fantasy it will feel familiar to you. Obviously we have our own game mechanic, but we want fans of the genre to be able to quickly pick up and easily start playing the game. Riding a horse or a warg is definitely an important part of the adventure experience--especially in Rohan. During combat there are special play mechanics and skills associated with riding.

GS: What can you tell us about the game's story? What will it cover? How will the story be told?

SG: The Third Age covers locations and story points from all three movies of the trilogy. Some of the highlights in the story are Khazad Dum, Helm's Deep, Osgiliath, and Minas Tirith. Locations and story are very tightly linked because we know how the story progresses through the locations. We aren't going to change the story--why would we try and second-guess Tolkien!? However, we are going to show you more of the world that Peter Jackson envisioned. In-game cinematics will advance the story--we want to keep characters in the world of the game at all times. We are also going to use footage from the films in a new and different way. The seamless transitions in The Two Towers and The Return of the King are really cool, but we've moved past that idea in The Third Age.

GS: Does it tie in with the previous two games' saves at all?

SG: The Third Age is a completely new game, and we want players to start with a fresh experience.

GS: Will there be any online component to it (multiplayer or content download for PS2 HDD)?

SG: We are focusing on making the single-player experience as rich as possible, so there are no online plans at this time--but if this changes, we'll let you know!

While you'll be fighting for the side of good, you'll be able to get your evil on in the game as well.

GS: Will there be any unique content for the various platforms?

SG: The Third Age will look and play pretty much identically on all three consoles. There's also a Game Boy Advance version, which is totally different than the console games, obviously.

GS: How much involvement did New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson have with it?

SG: Our game revolves around the events--both major and minor--depicted in all three films. We are working closely with New Line Cinema to delve deeper into the events of the films; they're very involved. We all want The Third Age to feel as authentic as possible to the world of Tolkien that Peter Jackson brought to life.

GS: How much involvement did the movie cast have with it?

SG: We'll be using voice-over from the original films' cast as well as the wealth of other film assets we have access to through our partnership with New Line Cinema. We have yet to record this year's voice-over, but we are definitely writing lots of new dialogue for the actors. As well as our old favorites, we hope to include a few more characters that you haven't seen in our games yet.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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