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Shadow of Mordor Dev Made "Some Pretty Big And Painful Cuts"

Design director says Monolith was overly ambitious at the onset of development, and later needed to cut some features.

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Over the course of Lord of the Rings game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's three-year development, creator Monolith Productions discovered that it bit off more than it could chew. As a result, the studio had to make some major cuts to the game, according to the game's design director.

As part of a wide-ranging post-mortem about the acclaimed title on Gamasutra, Michael de Plater recalled Monolith's overly ambitious original vision for the game.

"During pre-production, we didn't have good metrics on our production capacity," he said. "This led to the specification of the game being over-ambitious, which, as we started to get a clearer picture of reality, required us to make some pretty big and painful cuts."

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"This created a double dip of pain," he added. "Firstly, there was the lost work on the features that were cut. Secondly, we created quite significant amounts of new work to replace the cut features or content including some large wilderness areas and epic creatures such as the Great Beast."

De Plater pointed out that even when game features are cut, other elements must be redesigned or created to take their place. In the case of Shadow of Mordor, this created more work for Monolith than the studio originally modeled.

Could these mysterious features that faced the chopping block find their way into a potential Shadow of Mordor sequel? It's too early to say right now, but de Plater said previously that Monolith has "only scratched the surface" in terms of how it could move the series forward with another game.

Also in the post-mortem, de Plater talks about Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis System, which many consider to be the game's true innovation. He said this system originated as a "fairly simple idea" of amassing a network of personal villains, but over time, it experienced "feature creep" that made it much more complex. As a result, the Nemesis System actually moved away from the concept's core premise, de Plater said.

"For example, at one point we had multiple Uruk Factions with separate bars for Morale and Discipline," he said. "Each Captain influenced these Bars and their state determined the behavior of the Orcs in combat as well as emergent missions. At this point, their Hierarchy UI looked somewhat like a Christmas tree."

After some playtesting and refinements, Monolith sculpted the Nemesis System back to a version that was closer to the original intent, albeit with some key improvements.

"This was an improvement and evolution over the original vision which was closer to Sam and Frodo's experience in Cirith Ungol, where interrogation did not have any magical properties and you were turning your enemies against each other," de Plater said. "The final game is closer to the idea of the power of the One Ring where you are directly controlling your Enemies."

Shadow of Mordor launched for consoles and PC in September 2014 behind a strong overall critical reception--it even notched GameSpot's overall Game of the Year award. Looking ahead, the game is up for the same award at this year's Game Developers Choice and DICE Awards.

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