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November 13, 2012

‘Lego The Lord of the Rings’ delivers a lighthearted Middle-earth

Posted in: Games

legolas tiptoeonsnow Lego The Lord of the Rings delivers a lighthearted Middle earth

Legolas tiptoeing through snow in a scene from "Lego The Lord of the Rings." (TT Games / Warner Bros.)

wave 2 screenshot 8 sam frodo light Lego The Lord of the Rings delivers a lighthearted Middle earth

Frodo and Sam hold the light of Eärendil in a scene from "Lego The Lord of the Rings." (TT Games / Warner Bros.)

Sauron has never been so cute. “Lego The Lord of the Rings” — out today for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii and PC following a previous release on Nintendo and PlayStation’s handheld consoles — applies the Lego franchise’s trademark charm and humor to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The game features the voice acting from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and follows the major events from all three installments, including the Battle of Helm’s Deep and Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring. The game emphasizes teamwork, and players can shoot arrows as elven cutie Legolas, sword fight as the ranger and king-to-be Aragorn, and destroy obstacles as mighty dwarf Gimli, among other characters. Hero Complex caught up with Nick Ricks, executive producer at TT Games, about bringing Tolkien’s hobbits, dwarves and elves to the Lego franchise.

HC: How long has this game been in the making, and why tackle “The Lord of the Rings” now?

NR: As you can imagine, we’ve wanted to make “Lego The Lord of the Rings” for a long time. There are so many fans of both the novels and films that discussions over what a game could be have been ongoing for some time. However, it’s only relatively recently that we’ve had the tools and technology to do justice to this epic and well-loved tale. We knew we had to exceed ourselves and build on the formula we had already created. Thus the creation of an immense and seamlessly streaming Lego Middle-earth was integral to re-creating this incredible story. So when you play the console games, you’ll be able to see the snow-capped peaks of the Misty Mountains from Bree, or cross into Rohan and see the glowering eye of Sauron, and know that you can travel to these incredible locations without interruption. So it’s only with this massive investment in the tools and technology that we’ve been able to do justice to this epic story.

HC: There seems to be a big emphasis on teamwork in gameplay. How did you assign abilities to different characters?

nickricks Lego The Lord of the Rings delivers a lighthearted Middle earth

TT Games executive producer Nick Ricks. (TT Games)

NR: At the heart of all Lego games is the sense of collaboration. Playing well together is what we want to encourage in both younger gamers and their families, and this duality of appeal is one of our greatest strengths. As such, the character abilities that we design must have this facet included right from the outset. In this regard we’re immensely fortunate as the characters from “The Lord of the Rings” are so varied, exciting and offer a wide range of new mechanics and abilities for the player to engage with. Whether it’s Boromir deafening nearby enemies with the Horn of Gondor, or Frodo driving Shelob back with the Phial of Galadriel, each of the characters (no matter how small) possesses something unique and exciting to offer the player.

HC: It’s pretty charming and playful.  How do you balance being true to the Tolkien franchise with that sense of humor?

NR: When we look to re-imagine a new world in Lego form, how we weave the jokes and humor into the story is always one of the most enjoyable tasks. Primarily, but not exclusively, this is achieved via the cinematics, which have become the hallmark of Lego games. It’s important here that the story we’re trying to convey is communicated clearly and concisely first, but this is perhaps the only restriction the team places themselves. Once we’ve adapted the story for gameplay purposes, the cinematics team add all of the twists and parodies that people have come to expect and enjoy. However, the work is always collaborative with the other stakeholders, in this case Lego Company and Middle-earth Enterprises. It continues to be a real privilege to work with such creative and like-minded individuals, who really understand the adaptations we need to make to bring this classic story to a younger audience. We can rely on their encouragement, suggestions and comments to ensure that the authenticity, which everyone wants to see, is there to the core.

HC: The “Lord of the Rings” movies are quite violent, and the Lego games are aimed for younger players. Was it a challenge to translate that to the Lego realm? How did you decide what to keep and what to cut?

NR: There certainly are many action-filled moments both in the films and the game, but their re-creation in Lego form allows us to maintain the scope and excitement that these key sections have, while at the same time ensuring that they’re appropriate for a younger audience. As such we haven’t needed to “cut” anything from out of the game. The key narrative points from all three films are included, but at times we’ve needed to lighten the tone by applying a Lego twist on a darker scene. It’s vital to us that we don’t talk down to our young audience, as they pick up on this all too quickly. It’s far better to apply an age-appropriate treatment to the scene, as this allows for the entirety of the story to unfold more naturally.

HC: What sets this game apart from the other Lego games?

NR: Over and above the creation of Lego Middle-earth, I think that principally there are two aspects which set this game apart. Firstly is the creation of the “Treasure Trove.” At its heart the tale of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is both a physical and emotional journey. As they engage on their quest, so the members of the Fellowship are awarded new magical items, which in turn grant them new abilities. We mirror this with the player’s abilities unlocking in their treasure trove as they complete quests and defeat foes. Moreover the player can find Lego Mithril blocks and use it to forge and equip their own new magical items. This feature, combined with the open world of Lego Middle-earth, gives the game a unique RPG-style identity, while still sitting comfortably within the broader pantheon of Lego games.

Secondly is the introduction of the original theatrical dialogue. We always strive to keep the Lego games fresh, and the inclusion of spoken dialogue on “Lego Batman 2″ was a big success. While the old mute characters of our previous games won us many plaudits, having world-class actors like Sir Ian McKellen speaking through the mouth of his Lego mini-fig, is another significant step forward. Not only does it aid in the storytelling, but we are able to add a new and suitably lighthearted twist to the theatrical dialogue. My favorite example of this is, at the end of the first film, when Frodo tells Sam that he’s so pleased he’s with him. This rather touching moment of companionship is retold in Lego form with Frodo burdening poor Sam with all his possessions, allowing Frodo to trot off unencumbered – no wonder he’s so pleased he’s with him!

HC: Why do you think the Lego games have been such a hit?

NR: It’s this lighthearted fun, combined with the epic stories and amazing characters, which make the Lego games so successful. This in turn comes down to the commitment and dedication of the teams.

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Gandalf in a scene from “Lego The Lord of the Rings.” (TT Games / Warner Bros.)

HC: Is there a moment or level or feature you’re particularly proud of?

NR: I would have to say it is Lego Middle-earth itself. To be able to stand atop the peaks of Caradhras and look back at Weathertop, Bree and the Shire, or to look onward and see Lothlórien, Isengard and Barad-dûr, is simply incredible and far surpasses anything the team has previously achieved. While the scale of the open world is immense, and the visuals are sumptuous, it’s all of the hidden dungeons and caverns that I’m particularly pleased with. We wanted players to want to explore the Lego Middle-earth we created, and we knew we’d only achieve this so long as we rewarded their inquisitiveness. So “just follow your nose” as Gandalf said, and you’ll soon find a quest, a cavern to explore, Lego Mithril blocks for you to collect or even a secret character that emerges only during the night. Lego Middle-earth provides a magnificent backdrop to the story, both in the books and the films, and our Lego version of it certainly exceeds our expectations.

HC: Anything else you’d like to add?

NR: Only that we’re all excited about bringing these amazing locations and heroic characters to a new and younger audience. That’s what’s so inspiring about the Lego games: Young gamers will learn about Aragorn, Frodo and Sauron in a way which is action-packed, rewarding but also familiar. Once they’ve scoured Lego Middle-earth for Mithril, defeated the Balrog and cast the One Ring into the fire, they’ll be able to go on and read the books, see the films and explore the broader fiction. I sincerely hope they’ll enjoy this as much as I have.

– Noelene Clark

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