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Are you going to buy an Xbox One X This Holiday Season?

Hope to Receive it as a Gift

Game Profile
Vivendi Games
GENRE: Action
September 24, 2002
Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest

Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest

More in this Series
 Written by Ryan Smotherman  on October 03, 2002


First a best selling novel and then an incredible motion picture, the first novel in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Rings, looks to have been taken into an entirely new interactive level with the recently released videogame for the Xbox. Of course, we're enjoying the game and working hard on getting a review together, but today we have a real surprise for all you fantasy loving freaks out there. Recently we discussed all things Lord of Rings with Associate Producer, Rob Irving of Black Label Games, and WXP Producer Patrick Moynihan. Obviously, these would be Lord of the Rings experts have put forth great effort into their latest project, and they gave us the full skinny on the development process, the final product, and those confusing licensing agreements. Enjoy.

Gaming Target AF0F0F(GT): Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us here a Gaming Target. Could you please tell us a little about yourself and how you are involved in the Xbox version of The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring?

Robert Irving: I work with most of the Tolkien titles that we're creating here and had the enjoyable experience of working directly with the WXP team on Fellowship of the Ring for Xbox. Given my background in design and scripting (which I've done for about 10 years), I spent a lot of time with WXP's excellent editor helping to finish out the game. Basically, I did a little bit of everything to help out wherever I could to get the game out the door.

GT: I don't think many gamers are familiar with WXP and their work, could you share with our readers a brief summary of the company and what exactly it does in the gaming industry? You guys wouldn't be labeled as a typical console games developer, correct?

Patrick Moynihan: Our history is a bit different from most, yes. Our first major project was actually a theme park attraction for Disney Imagineering called "Cyberspace Mountain". The attraction consisted of two parts. First, you used a touchscreen display to design your own roller coaster on one of three alien planets. After completing the design, you could walk to a full-blown motion simulator ride that would allow you and a friend to get inside and ride your rollercoaster. All the graphics were rendered in realtime on a state-of-the-art Silicon Graphics Onyx workstation. To this day I believe it is still the only Disney attraction ever to turn guests upside-down.

Working with that state-of-the-art hardware really gave our artists a head-start when PC's finally started getting 3D accelerated video cards. We did a few technology demos for Nvidia, and from there we started work on Fellowship of the Ring.

GT: So the Xbox version has absolutely nothing to do with the PS2 Lord of the Rings title?

Robert: I wouldn't say that Xbox has absolutely nothing to do with PS2. In fact, it's more of a parent to the game, as most of the assets for both games came from WXP. Toward the end of development, the art and level resources for the game were handed off to Surreal, who then implemented the game levels in their own engine. At that point, the two games began to diverge, and the results are definitely very different.

Overall, however, the game levels and the story content are very much the same.

GT: What influenced the decision to base the game directly off the book instead of the blockbuster movie, and precisely how close to the book is the game going to be?

Robert: The rights to the movies and the book are separate entities. When we made the decision to create Tolkien games, Vivendi Universal Games purchased the rights to the content of the books (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) from Tolkien Enterprises. So we've always intended to work from the books, which gives us a much broader range of content to work from - and a lot of different avenues which we can take to develop it.

GT: What kind of preparation was done for a game of this sort? I heard Lord of the Rings experts were actually brought in to make sure the game is as authentic as possible.

Robert: The most critical detail was for all of the development team to be familiar with the works. All of our team members are very familiar with the works, and most have read them several times (at least). Most importantly, the team is very passionate about Tolkien and what he has meant to the fantasy genre and the game industry. Everyone understood exactly how big a task it was to bring an interpretation of his work to the game world.

Part of our duty to the franchise is to work closely with Tolkien Enterprises and to get their approval on project content, look and feel, and storyline. To do this, we have worked with both a creative director and an art director that act as liaisons to Tolkien Enterprises. These two have the rather daunting task of evaluating content and making sure that it is appropriate to the spirit of Tolkien's Middle-earth.

Once we had the license, we began assembling our Style Guide. This document is vital to all games in the Tolkien line. In it, we have assembled hundreds of images - characters, places, structures, items, and monsters - along with descriptions of these things taken directly from the text. These images are not taken from anywhere else; they are instead our direct interpretation of Tolkien's description of his unique world. All developers use this style guide as a springboard for developing the art for their games. Of course, each individual team's personal interpretation of a style guide image may vary somewhat, but at the end of the day, it all comes back to the source.

GT: From a gameplay standpoint, what did WXP set out to accomplish, and with the development now at an end, do you feel you were successful?

Patrick: We wanted to make a game that was accessible to players of all ages and genders, while allowing some depth for more experienced gamers. We also wanted each of our three playable characters to have a unique gameplay style. Frodo is all about classic platform and adventure-style gameplay with a little bit of stealth thrown in. Gandalf has a nice selection of spells to cast, and Aragorn is skilled with a sword and bow. I really like the way the game transitions between these three styles. It keeps the gameplay interesting. I think we succeeded on that level, and kept the mechanics simple enough that a large audience will be able to enjoy it.

GT: Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragon are the three playable characters in the game; did limiting the gameplay to only three characters create any problems with the plot? This considering the fact that all 9 members of the Fellowship are together through most of the story.

Robert: Using three characters was actually a significant step that was taken in the game design early on in the development process. It provided a number of challenges and a lot of extra work to make each character's play style unique and fun. Having identified three primary types of gameplay that we wanted to deliver - stealth, magic, and pure combat - we felt that the content of the game would be extremely well served with these three primary characters. (Especially since they do the lion's share of the work in the first book.)

Of course, you'll still see ALL of the Fellowship in the game - mostly in story sequences and campsites, but also you will interact with other major characters during some of the game levels. The story is developed through those sequences, so we don't skimp on the plot.

GT: During the development process was there ever times the team considered adding any other characters into the mix?

Robert: Of course, everyone has his or her favorite character, and it would have been fun to allow players to experience the game through their eyes, but there are always limitations to making a game - timeliness being the most important - that prevent a developer from doing everything that it wants to do. I think the three characters that we chose were the right choice.

GT: About how long would you say the average time to make it through the entire game would be? And are there any extra goodies you care to mention at this time?

Robert: This depends on how much time you want to spend with it. We'd prefer that people really take some time to look and explore all of the amazing detail that's gone into the game environments, and to see all of the story sequences, since there's a very large tale to be told. Someone who's just out to beat the game can probably do it in under 10 hours, but there's really a good 15-20 hours of content in there. If you get through too quickly, you're really missing out.

As for extra goodies, mum's the word.

GT: How has it been working with the actual Xbox hardware? I'm sure the company's experience with Nvidia chipsets helped the whole process a great deal.

Robert: Absolutely. The WXP technology is built exclusively to take advantage of the Xbox's graphical capabilities. We really took advantage of it for lighting and special effects, and of course the environments are really fantastic. I definitely suggest widescreen mode with surround sound for the best experience.

GT: From what I've seen of the game, it certainly has an atmospheric Middle-earth look, where did the artistic influences come from on the characters and settings?

Robert: This is all a product of the style guide and WXP's vision of Middle-earth. We were determined to really bring to life what was printed on the pages of the books. With a book there will always be different interpretations in the minds of readers, but I think that the product really does capture what it would feel like to walk around in Tolkien's world.

GT: Well, the game is looking as if it's turning out to be a real winner. With that said, what's next from the folks at WXP? Any chance we'll see you working on The Two Towers or The Return of the King?

Patrick : I can't give out any details on WXP's next project yet. However, we have already begun adding new features to our technology for the next game. We have some amazing new special effects tricks that will blow you away. We are also enhancing our AI and player control capabilities to allow for some great new play mechanics. Keep an eye on our website, for news on our future projects!

GT: Tell me, is it true that Burger King is where all Dragon Masters eat, as shown by
Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

Robert: Nope. We prefer Jack In The Box.

GT: Once again, thanks for your time.

Final Word
So there you have it, details straight from the developers themselves. But this of course won't be all of our coverage on the Lord of the Rings game. Be sure to check back soon for a full, in-depth review. And if for some odd reason you're reading this and unfamiliar with the title, be sure to check out our preview

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