The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Designer Diary #4

Lead game designer Chris Tremmel talks about the adventure elements of the upcoming game from Electronic Arts.


Designer Diary #4- Action Elements

By Chris Tremmel
Lead Game Designer

I work with the combat and control (C&C) group on The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King. We're responsible for everything in the game that a player interacts with, from hitting an orc to climbing a ladder to collapsing a siege tower. Our recent tasks have included working on the behavior of orcs and other nonplayer characters, adjusting the combat brain of the physics engine, and developing really cool interactive combat objects such as weapons a player can pick up and attack enemies with.

We've been working quite hard on making the combat system in The Return of the King a vast improvement over the system in The Two Towers. The biggest change is probably the number of enemies the player encounters at one time. In The Two Towers the player would occasionally run into 10 or 15 enemies, which the player would then fight one at a time. In The Return of the King there are areas where the player faces up to 40 orcs, many of which attack simultaneously. Fans familiar with The Two Towers will find that the combat experience in The Return of the King feels familiar but much deeper.

Killing orcs should be even more satisfying in Return of the King.
Killing orcs should be even more satisfying in Return of the King.

The addition of new playable characters has improved and changed the combat system. For example, with Gandalf as a playable character we've had to create a basic magic system. This allows for all sorts of cool new combat moves. In one of my favorite new moves he impales an orc by levitating it with his staff and dropping it onto his sword. We think this will make the game even more enjoyable this time around.

The new fight moves in The Return of the King are not only fun but also authentic to each character. We had the actual stunt team from the movie here at EA working with us to design the in-game combat moves. Then we painstakingly motion-captured the movements of each stunt double to ensure that each character moves in-game the way he or she would move onscreen. Some of these moves are even exclusive to the game! For example, Aragorn has a move in The Return of the King that was originally shot for the Helm's Deep battle in the Two Towers film but didn't make the movie's cut. We motion-captured it, and it's really cool; Aragorn puts a knee in an orc's kidney and follows it up with a quick slit of the throat.

Aragorn will have some very special killing moves in the game.
Aragorn will have some very special killing moves in the game.

But fight moves aren't the only exciting new combat feature in The Return of the King. The game also features combat-oriented environmental interaction. This means objects in the environment can be picked up and used as weapons. There are several of these in the works, but the coolest so far has got to be the war pike. Throughout the levels you will see war pikes leaning against walls or stuck in the bodies of the dead. These pikes can be picked up and thrown like a javelin to impale the chosen target for an instant kill. In addition, there are boulders that the player can use to crush enemies, exploding objects that set enemies aflame and send them flying, catapults that topple siege towers, and even a fell beast that crashes into Minas Tirith and takes out a tower. All of these are triggered by the player.

Gandalf will possess some unique attacks.
Gandalf will possess some unique attacks.

The combat systems in The Return of the King have been a challenge for us, especially developing a system that allows you to fight so many enemies at once. We want the player to feel and look heroic while doing many unique things in combat. We hope we have achieved this while retaining a fairly simple system that everyone can enjoy. It's been no easy feat.

We're still putting final design touches on the combat systems, but our success with these challenges comes down to a clear vision and an incredibly talented development team. It's very easy to scoff at something new and not want to try it. But our group is good at doing the exact opposite. Our attitude is: "Got a cool idea? Bring it!" Obviously this attitude keeps things interesting. I can assure you there is never a dull moment while working with this team.

That's about it for me. Thank you for your interest in me, my work, and The Return of the King. Maybe when you impale an orc with a war pike, you'll think of me. Thanks again, and stay tuned for next month's designer diary!

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