A million dollar demo for an unmade Lord of the Rings game offers an impressive look at what could have been.
Jon Burton, the retired founder of Lego game studio Tt Games, shared footage of the demo and the story behind it on his YouTube channel (opens in new tab). The demo was created as a pitch for a The Hobbit movie tie-in game while there were only supposed to be two of them and Guillermo del Toro was still attached to direct. However, Tt Games took the approach of remaking scenes from the original Lord of the Rings trilogy for the purposes of the demo - after all, there weren't any scenes from The Hobbit to replicate yet.
The demo included four fully playable levels, and another five tech demos showing off more of what Tt could do. These ran the gamut from free-roaming stealth sections where you played as Frodo - sneaking around orcs and playing a minigame to help Frodo avoid the temptation of the One Ring - to cinematic battles as Gandalf, facing off against the Balrog or Saruman. The demo was made for Xbox 360 and shows its age, but it all still looks amazing for something that was never meant to be made into a consumer product.
"We basically went way too far, and spent way too much money making this demo," Burton admits in the video. "But I really wanted to show what we could do beyond just the Lego games."
Burton personally showed off the demo to Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro in 2009, and he said both were impressed and gave Tt Games their blessing. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. wanted a game that took place at the same time as The Hobbit but in a different part of the world - sounds a lot like Monolith's Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which would come out five years later - and the project fell through.
Still, Tt Games did get to make Lego The Lord of the Rings and Lego The Hobbit a few years later, so it got there eventually. Sort of.
See another side of Tolkien-inspired gaming with everything we know about The Lord of the Rings: Gollum (opens in new tab).