The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth Designer Diary #4

Senior producer Harvard Bonin explains what will make this upcoming strategy game different than the rest.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth
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The developers talk about the AI in the game. Double-click on the video window for a full-screen view.

There was a time when all real-time strategy games seemed a bit too similar--you'd always collect resources, build a base, and build an army as fast as you could so that you could trample your opponents. But recent games have introduced new features and new ways to play, like EA LA's upcoming game, The Battle for Middle-earth. The new game will feature a dynamic campaign and four very different playable factions that have different resources, different armies, and completely different strategies. And considering that much of the development team has worked on fast-paced games like Command & Conquer: Generals and Red Alert 2, it seems safe to assume that the new game will be just as action packed. Senior producer Harvard Bonin explains.

What Goes Into Making Middle-earth

By Harvard Bonin
Senior Producer, EA LA

I'm one of two senior producers responsible for The Battle for Middle-earth. My duties revolve principally around the day-to-day trials and tribulations of developing the game. I work with the development directors, the art design team, and the coders to make sure the game is coming together smoothly. I also review the output for quality. Since we have such an experienced, dedicated team, it really makes working on the game exciting and fun.

The game will let you command huge armies.
The game will let you command huge armies.

One challenge we've encountered is adapting a linear, established story into a wide-open game environment. But we found a way to do it and actually make it still feel like you are playing in the movie. The go-anywhere world of Middle-earth offers people the opportunity to fight the legendary battles over and over, yet not always achieve the same results. You may achieve victory in The Battle for Middle-earth in a different way than the movie does, sometimes dramatically so. Remember, you can also play the bad guys in The Battle for Middle-earth and experience results that certainly never happened in the books or the movies. You could say that the game will give you a chance to get outside of Mordor and rule Middle-earth with an iron fist. This offers a lot of potential for interesting, complex, and sometimes surprising scenarios.

I had previously worked on the Command & Conquer games, all of which were more traditional, real-time strategy games while The Battle for Middle-earth is a more dynamic game. Yet, a major component of this game is character emotion, and this simply would not have been possible in the Command & Conquer world. Tanks just don't lend themselves to having emotions. If we had introduced the element of emotion into C&C we would have done it on a much smaller scale. In The Battle for Middle-earth, character emotion is the centerpiece of the game. It has been challenging, but we were happy to try something new.

We've committed to making really great games and The Battle for Middle-earth is no exception. We've heard that some gamers get tired of working on the same game franchise all the time, but not us. We love Command & Conquer and we love The Battle for Middle-earth, and we are very happy living in both worlds.

Ever been attacked by a tree?
Ever been attacked by a tree?

As far as innovative features go, we feel that the emotion system is pretty exciting. We've also completely revamped the user interface in hopes of lowering the barrier for entry for new players. A standard real-time strategy game interface can be pretty daunting if you haven't played one before. One key thing to remember is that this doesn't mean the game will be any less deep than our previous efforts. We're simply allowing players to get to the meat of tactics and strategies in a better way. Along with the things mentioned above, we're also changing up our base building with a new system called "Camps & Castles." Users will finally be able to easily build a pretty-looking base easily. When coupled with our "building veterancy," users will be able to create cool new bases in a very simple way. Now, along with individual units, your base buildings will grow in experience and gain improvements.

On the whole, The Battle for Middle-earth has the potential to be a really unique game, so I think the whole team is really excited about it. Plus, we're all fans of the books and the movies. Everybody really likes The Lord of the Rings, so we're having a great time. And as for what's next after The Battle for Middle-earth? Well, that's a surprise!

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