Join Date: Aug 2002
Battle for Middle Earth Screens and Interview.
INTERVIEW: BATTLE FOR MIDDLE-EARTH HOISTS BANNERS
We never thought we'd be dying to wage war across Middle-earth, but EA's LOTR-themed RTS looks irresistible. Exclusive chat with the game's producers inside
16:44 From the team behind C&C Generals comes The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth, a PC RTS that makes full use of EA's LOTR movie licence to present strategy fans with a glorious battle-infested game that reeks of grandeur.
Recreating a number of the stunning battle scenes featuring in Peter Jackson's movie trilogy, LOTR: The Battle for Middle-earth is being built on an enhanced version of the engine used for Generals and will feature two unique single-player campaigns and yet-to-be-unveiled multiplayer modes.
In single-player, players will be able to don the mantle of either good or evil and take command of the major armies appearing in the films, each army boasting their own distinct strengths and weaknesses. The experience will be backed up by movie footage and voice-overs from the actors starring in Jackson's film trilogy.
We recently got the chance to chat with Battle for Middle-earth senior producer Mike Verdu and executive producer Mark Skaggs, who spoke to us about waging war across Peter Jackson's vision of Tolkien's much-loved fictional world.
First off, can you give us a brief introduction to The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth?
Verdu/Skaggs: We're putting you in command of the armies, heroes, and magic of Middle-earth. This fantasy strategy game makes Tolkien's legendary world into your sandbox - where you control the fascinating characters and creatures from the films, including the Fellowship of the Ring, Ents, Trolls, Nazgul, Orcs, Uruk-Hai and many others.
You can choose whether to lead the forces of light or the forces of darkness. You decide how to fight at Helm's Deep, Isengard, Minas Tirith and the other epic battles shown on film. The fate of Middle-earth lies in your hands.
Realising Middle-earth is a key part of the title - how are you bringing it to life?
Verdu/Skaggs: When you see a troll uproot a tree and use it as a club - or watch an Ent claw a chunk out of a building - you'll realize that we're creating a living, breathing Middle-earth. The characters and creatures are true to what you see in the films, but they have an added dimension in the game. They seem to have a life of their own, right down to emotions.
And the world itself is visually rich, with beautiful terrain like you've never seen in an RTS game. You'll be able to explore the Mines of Moria, the grassy lands of Rohan, the dark fortress at Isengard, Fangorn Forest, the blasted lands of Mordor, and many other locations.
Grass blows in the wind, reflections ripple in the water, snow and rain fall from the sky, burning lava flows along the ground. We really believe that fans of the films are anxious to immerse themselves in this world.
We know that players will be able to play as good or evil. Can you elaborate here? For example, will there be two unique campaigns?
Verdu/Skaggs: Yes, there will be two unique campaigns - the good campaign puts you in control of the Fellowship of the Ring and the armies of Rohan and Gondor. You decide how to deploy your forces. You decide where to send the Fellowship. You decide where and when to fight.
If you choose to play the evil campaign, you'll get a chance to conquer Middle-earth with hordes of Orcs and Uruk-Hai.
How are campaigns and missions broken down, and how many missions are there in total in the single-player part of the game?
Verdu/Skaggs: We're re-conceptualising the solo-play experience, so we'll have more details on that later. Of course we'll have a robust multiplayer component.
Can you tell us about the units in the game? Will there be hero characters like Aragorn and Gandalf, for example, and will there be a unit experience system?
Verdu/Skaggs: With this game we're going to great lengths to make sure the units look and act like they are living creatures in this world. If you've seen a creature or other unit in one of the films, chances are you'll see it in the game. Heroes play a big part; Aragorn and Gandalf will certainly be there, along with Gimli, Legolas, Faramir, Boromir, and many others.
Major heroes will be powerful and will have special abilities. Heroes will indeed have a unit experience system and will grow even more capable as the game progresses.
How about resource management and unit/building upgrades - is all that included?
Verdu/Skaggs: There are different resource management models for different sides. We're not quite ready to talk in detail about these, but the resources collected - and the way they're used - are interesting and appropriate to the world and the side.
As for unit upgrades... Well, we're going to have lots of ways to let you upgrade and train your units. For example, you can take a formation of soldiers and train them to acquire a new skill. You can also upgrade formations of units with new weapons.
The screenshots of Battle for Middle-earth are really quite impressive. Have you adapted the Generals engine in any way to allow you to incorporate specific gameplay features? If so, what are the specific features?
Verdu/Skaggs: The engine is being upgraded pretty dramatically; not just the graphics, but also many of the logic systems and AI components.
We're implementing a technology that we call "LOD Everywhere" that allows us to put a tremendous number of orcs on the screen with a decent framerate even on a low-end system. The scale of the resulting battles is just staggering.
We're adding new lighting that takes advantage of some of the new technology on graphics cards; the end result is a game world with a visual richness and beauty that you associate with the films. We're building a melee system that will make our hand-to-hand combat the most realistic of any strategy game out there.
These are just three examples of ways that we're upgrading our technology - but we're making strides in many other areas as well.
We get the impression that the battles in Battle for Middle-earth will be a combination of skirmish-style stuff and mass battles with hundreds of units - is this the case?
Verdu/Skaggs: Yes, there will be a mix of smaller encounters and huge battles.
Battles will be based around the battle scenes in Peter Jackson's movies - exactly which battles are you recreating, and how closely will they mirror those seen in the films?
Verdu/Skaggs: If there is a major battle in the films, then you can count on being able to experience it in the game. As for how closely the game follows the movie - it depends on the choices you make.
We put you in charge of deploying the armies and then fighting the battle. The end result may wind up following the film pretty closely - if you choose to make the same decisions - but could also follow an entirely new course.
What if the Elves had been deployed differently at Helm's Deep? What if the archers on the wall had been able to kill the Uruk-Hai carrying the torch (which set off the charge that breached the fortress wall)?
If you're playing the evil side, what if you chose to field an army with a different mix of units - like having more siege ladders and archers? What if you chose to attack with different tactics?
Is it a relief, from a development point of view, having the LOTR movies to draw on for source material, or does part of you wish you had more room to flex creativity?
Verdu/Skaggs: The movies give us an amazing amount of material to draw on - and we're honoured and privileged to be able to take advantage of the spectacular world that Peter Jackson has brought to life for the films.
We don't feel like our creativity has been limited because we are interpreting this amazing vision for another medium - and we can add details that bring the game world and characters to life in a way that will feel fresh and yet familiar to fans of the films.
What are your plans for Battle for Middle-earth multiplayer?
Verdu/Skaggs: We have some very exciting plans for multiplayer, but we're not quite ready to talk about them just yet.
Obviously a major part of the appeal of Battle for Middle-earth is the re-enactment of the movies' battles in videogame form. But take away all that for a moment - how does is stand up as an RTS game in its own right? What sets it apart from the crowd?
Verdu/Skaggs: You hit on a very key point. Our objective first and foremost is to make a great game. We're spending the time and energy to create some key innovations. It's still too early to discuss the specifics, but I think that when we add perhaps the most well known - and well loved - licence of all time, we'll have a combination that will be very, very exciting..
For you, at this current stage of development, what's the one thing in Battle for Middle-earth that really stands out, and why?
Verdu/Skaggs: It's a magical experience to fire up the game and see the world of Middle-earth as your sandbox. The characters and creatures seem to live and breathe and the environment is just beautiful. I work on this game every day and am still struck by the experience... I think to myself: this game is going to be amazing.
Hmm...That's lot of orcs...