Game designer Scott Crawford reveals what we can expect from the eagerly-awaited RPG
The Lord Of The Rings: War In The North is an eagerly-awaited major new RPG advenrture game for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows from Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment and Snowblind Studios, due to be released later this year. War In The North introduces players to the Northern reaches of Middle-earth, in a realm where survival depends on fellowship. Featuring online, interdependent co-op play for up to three players, gamers join forces to do battle with the enemies of this world, while developing and upgrading weapons, skills and abilities to strengthen their party. The power of fellowship – the power of three – is a necessity in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North , breaking new ground as the first The Lord of the Rings video game to embrace the authentic brutal combat of JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth. You can learn more at the official website .
Here Scott Crawford, lead designer at Snowblind Studios for story and quests for The Lord of the Rings: War In The North , reveals some of the thinking behind the development of the game
How do you approach developing new content, storylines, characters for The Lord Of The Rings world?
“First of all, I go to the source. There is a wealth of unexplored stories, comments and hints found in The Lord Of The Rings literature. JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth has such a rich and detailed history that it would have been impossible for all of it to be contained between the covers of even a really long and complex work.
“Every devoted JRR Tolkien fan has a few burning questions they would love to have answered or has pondered just what was involved in events described only in a few lines of text, but provide hints of epic adventures. For example, in The Fellowship Of The Ring, after the Council of Elrond, the good guys decide to send scouts to search the land to determine if it is safe for the Fellowship to depart. In the words of Gandalf:
‘ Some of the scouts have been sent out already, others will leave tomorrow. Elrond is sending Elves, and they will get in touch with the Rangers, and maybe with Thranduil’s folk in Mirkwood. And Aragorn has gone with Elrond’s sons. We shall have to scour the lands all around for many long leagues before any move is made.’
“Our players can expect to be part of this effort, and of course, in such dangerous times they are certain to find this task an eventful one.
“My goal in expanding upon the stories of Middle-earth is to tell a tale that may not have happened, but could have happened. And, to do so without running rough-shod over the rules and traditions established in the source material.”
War In The North stresses an innovative new interdependent co-op system; can you explain how this is represented in a meaningful way through the story?
“Our lead characters will have to depend upon the skills of their comrades as well as their own in order to survive and succeed. This is mirrored perfectly on the story side with the composition of the player party. Dwarves, Elves and Men all have their various strengths and weaknesses and each race has strong opinons of the others. In The Lord Of The Rings literature, the free-folk had to learn to put aside their differences and band together to survive. You and your friends (whether they are human-controlled or AI) will need to do the same.
“Our players’ characters come together quite by chance and run headlong into an event that threatens all the free-peoples of Middle-earth. Working together by neccesity they soon discover that together they are far stronger than any one alone. This is a reflection of the ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ theme that is a large part of the original story.
“Of course, our players will play a big part in this as well since they will have to learn how to work together with their teammates to improve the effectiveness of the party.
Within many games, Non-Player Characters (NPCs) serve a “story-telling” mode – they often are the narrators or deliver key pieces of information the drive the story; how is the story driven forward in War In The North ?
“NPCs certainly play a large role in delivering story in War In The North , but we also strive to make sure the player doesn’t feel as if his character was just born into Middle-earth yesterday. A lot of our story will come from the lips of the player characters themselves, and those who explore playing all three available races will find the characters have differing viewpoints and a different store of knowledge.
“For example, in a conversation about co-operation among the free-folk, an NPC might bring up the Battle Of Five Armies and our Ranger might choose to ask more about that event only to find his Dwarven companion speaking up to give a first-hand account of the battle.
“We hope dedicated RPG players will find it refreshing to be the one to answer a question every now and then instead of always being perpetually clueless.”
Through the movies, audiences have really come to “know” the central characters of the Lord Of The Rings universe; which characters in War In The North will stand out most and why?
“Fans will certainly encounter a lot of familiar faces in the game and they will have a chance to interact with them to varying degrees. I don’t want to give too much away, but the player can expect to see Aragorn and Elrond playing a large role in their adventures.
“Devoted fans will also encounter characters they know from the literature but have yet to see portrayed in the films or past video games. Players will encounter lesser known characters such as Radagast The Brown, Halbarad The Ranger along with Elrohir and Elladan, the sons of Elrond. Hopefully fans will enjoy seeing our interpretation of these characters as much as we have enjoyed bringing them to life.
“There are also a good many characters who are entirely our own creation appearing in the story. We are confident fans will find these characters both look and feel like they belong in Middle-earth.”
What is the role of NPCs in the game, outside being enemies?
“The player will find himself/herself allied with several NPCs sometimes very actively while other times the NPCs role will be more passive. Some are comrades in arms, others are fonts of knowledge regarding the people, places and events that comprise Middle-earth.
“The heroes of The Lord Of The Rings literature encounter a huge cast of characters as they strive to fulfill their quest and the heroes of our story (the players) will find it much the same in their quest.”
RPGs in general tend to have more in-depth storylines than other genres, and then with the basis of The Lord Of The Rings , the story becomes that much more critical. How does the genre affect the creation of NPC characters?
“As I touched on above, our NPCs have to feel as if they belong in Middle-earth – generic fantasy characters have no place in this story. Each character created and each line of dialogue gets held up to the mirror of Middle-earth, as it were. I often imagine the events, characters and dialogue from our game occuring in the film adaptation and I ask myself if first-time viewers would accept it as all part of the same story. Our goal is to create characters and events that never feel out of place in Middle-earth.”
Middle-earth itself is such a signature “character” of any Lord Of The Rings property; how do Middle-earth, and the new locations players will explore drive the character development?
“Our game will take the player to locations they may recognise from reading the books and looking at Middle-earth maps, but were never directly touched upon by the storyline of The Lord Of The Rings . Who and what the player finds in these locations will form the building blocks of their character’s own epic tale.”
What books are you reading now?
“I’m in the middle of yet another read of The Lord of the Rings . I’ll never not be reading The Lord Of The Rings for as long as this project continues. It lends a whole new aspect to the reading when you literally hang on every line looking for anything that does not fit with our story.
“I do, however, have some interests that go beyond JRR Tolkien (shocking!). I enjoy history and right now I am reading an account of the Wars Of The Roses by a gentleman named John Sadler and I would really, really like to see the next book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (I know I’m not alone in that).”