‘Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor’ creators mine Tolkien lore for game

Aug. 06, 2014 | 12:00 p.m.
The Wraith, Celebrimbor, Talion in "Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor." (Warner Bros. Interactive)

The Wraith (Celebrimbor) and Talion in “Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.” (Warner Bros. Interactive)

Last month, filmmaker and J.R.R. Tolkien ambassador Peter Jackson made his final appearance at San Diego’s Comic-Con International to promote one of his feature film adaptations of the literary master’s work. But December’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” wasn’t the only project inspired by the imagined geography of Tolkien’s universe to make news at the pop culture expo.

During the “Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor” panel, it was revealed that the Wraith, a character in the newest “Lord of the Rings” franchise video game, was actually Celebrimbor, the greatest Elven smith of the Second Age. He was deceived by Sauron into working with him to forge the Rings of Power, then murdered along with his family. His spirit was residing in Mordor, awaiting vengeance against the Dark Lord, when Talion, who was also murdered at the hands of Sauron’s forces, came along.

Passing fans of Jackson’s original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the prequel “Hobbit” films might find this an interesting storytelling tidbit, but for ardent Tolkien enthusiasts, it arrives as an enticing piece of lore that helps complete the cycle of how the rings came to be, and along with the “War in the North” video game, opens up more of Middle-earth to explore through a gaming console.

Hero Complex caught up with the game’s director of design, Michael de Plater, to discuss how the game connects with the story line and what players should know before “Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor,” from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Monolith Productions, is released Sept. 30.

Hero Complex: So, first off, who is Celebrimbor, and why was revealing him so instrumental?

Michael de Plater: He’s the guy who worked with Sauron to forge the Rings of Power, so in terms of the authenticity and how fundamental he is to the story, he’s obviously a pretty great character for us. Celebrimbor is interesting because though he’s definitely an elf; he’s in that same realm, having that shade of gray in his morality having worked with Sauron and been a victim of his own pride as well. It’s interesting to have someone who made the Rings of Power — which are, of course, the rings that the Nazgul hold — being the source of power for Talion, who has a lot in common with those guys in that he started out as Numen and he’s been on this journey. … Every single thing [in the game] is straight from the lore that’s in “Lord of the Rings.” His role in forging the Rings of Power, the fact that he worked together with Sauron … so it was a big reveal, but it’s not exactly a spoiler. We debated whether or not we should reveal that it’s Celebrimbor.  But for the 99.7% of the population that doesn’t know who he is, if you do go into the game with that knowledge, knowing how authentic he is, that’s going to enrich the experience.

HC: And Talion — what’s his story?

MD: We’ve got two lead characters, though they’re inhabiting the same body. We’ve got Talion, who’s a ranger of the Black Gates who was slaughtered when Sauron returned, and the Wraith who resurrected him. The beginning of the game is the very sudden, jarring event of his death and his resurrection — of him meeting this Wraith, and then heading into Mordor.  Through the course of their quest, both of them are learning more about themselves and their histories and their pasts. Having Troy Baker as the actor playing Talion … he did an amazing job of bringing him to life and bringing so much more to his personality and his character.

The thing with Talion, and how he’s different from Aragorn or Boromir or Faramir, is that he’s not royal. He’s definitely someone who has an everyman background. In that way he’s more like Sam. He’s someone who’s being dragged into these epic events, pretty much against his will. And, of course, Celebrimbor, who’s connected to these events, is more like Frodo. So that duality is something that comes up a lot in Middle-earth and in “Lord of the Rings.”

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo, from left, Jed Brophy as Nori and Richard Armitage as Thorin in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf, left, and Sylvester McCoy as Radagast in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (James Fisher / Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage as Thorin, left, and Dean O'Gorman as Fili in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Graham McTavish as Dwalin, left, Ken Stott as Balin, Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Richard Armitage as Thorin and William Kircher as Bifur in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman, left, and John Callen in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf, left, and Sylvester McCoy as Radagast in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Azog, portrayed by Manu Bennett through motion-capture technology, in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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William Kircher as Bifur, left, John Callen as Oin, Richard Armitage as Thorin and Ken Stott as Balin in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Stephen Fry as the Master of Lake-town, left, and Ryan Gage as Alfrid in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Peggy Nesbitt as Sigrid, Mary Nesbitt as Tilda and John Bell as Bain in a scene from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Azog, portrayed by Manu Bennett through motion-capture technology, in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Lee Pace as Thranduil in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Orlando Bloom as Legolas in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Ian McKellen as Gandalf in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Orlando Bloom as Legolas in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Lee Pace as Thranduil in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Luke Evans as Bard in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a poster for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (Warner Bros.)

HC: In expanding this world, how did you come up with the specific story for a character many did not know?

MD: We worked very closely with Middle-earth Enterprises and also, during our world design, with WETA as well. The first point was the themes from Tolkien. One of his most inspirational quotes for us is, “There can be no story without a fall.” We knew that we wanted to tell the story of a fall with these characters. So we looked at Boromir as being one of the most interesting characters within “Lord of the Rings” because he is so conflicted. In some ways he’s almost a villain, he’s a threat to the fellowship, but he’s doing it for what he believes are the right reasons. Of course, ultimately , he sacrifices himself to save them. And then, so much that comes up in “Lord of the Rings” is, What if? What if Saruman had gotten the One Ring to challenge Sauron? What if Galadriel had taken the One Ring when Frodo offered it? She even said, “You wouldn’t have a Dark Lord, you’d have a Dark Queen.” I think we had the idea that, What if someone actually got to face Sauron with that type of power? That’s what made Celebrimbor so exciting because he is authentically powerful enough and central enough to the lore that we can tell an authentic story that really hit on those themes.

HC: Why choose a tale based in Mordor?

MD: We wanted to make the right decisions for this game, as opposed to being a movie game or a game from the book. So, we needed to find the right setting and the right context in Middle-earth that would be best adapted for the game. That’s why Mordor was so great. You could take something that was very iconic — it’s certainly one of the most iconic and important places in “Lord of the Rings” and it’s got Mount Doom and Barad Dur and the Black Gates — but at the same time as being iconic and key, it’s fairly unknown and hasn’t actually been seen very much — in particular at this time, which is 60 years before Sam and Frodo head through there.

HC: The Nemesis system, a thinking/learning gaming platform, was used to make “Shadow.” How does it affect the characters and storytelling aspect of gameplay?

MD: [The characters in the game] have a concept of memory. So if they’ve survived a conflict with you, or they’ve defeated you or if they’ve been stabbed in the back, they can become confident and vicious or they can become paranoid and fearful. Because their emotions are so extreme, that leads to things that are good for gameplay, like coming after you and hunting for you or fleeing at the first sight of you, or putting themselves in the middle of a stronghold and surrounding themselves with more bodyguards. So there’s this mapping of the idea of personalities and motivations and your gameplay. Over and above that is the writing of these guys. Turning them into characters that actually feel like villains was so important as well. We worked with quite a few writers, but one of them was Dan Abnett, who’s written for Marvel and currently does “Guardians of the Galaxy.” He took all of these ideas and moments that we were capturing for gameplay, these showdowns and confrontations, and he, along with the other writers, made them into these memorable soundbites and moments.

HC: Those moments include some cool weaponry…

MD: That was one of the exciting things about having Celebrimbor. He’s the greatest Elven smith since his grandfather, so this is someone who is really ideal for bringing in the idea of upgrading and forging and crafting your weapons. We wanted to treat the weapons like actual characters, like Glamdring or Sting, so over the course of the game they’re really being transformed into something legendary because of his skill as a smith. Celebrimbor was such a good smith that he was a friend of the dwarves. So, when they go into Moria (in “Lord of the Rings”), and they see written over the gates of Moria that riddle, “Speak friend and enter,” Celebrimbor wrote that, and it’s a reference to his friends the dwarves — which then is a reference to his skill as a smith.

– Jevon Phillips | @storiz | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


2 Responses to ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor’ creators mine Tolkien lore for game

  1. kirk says:

    PLEASE do not just port this over to pc. The Tolkien fan base is so extreme that we deserve an actual game and not port.

  2. Vilius says:

    Hey please make a film where everything started,from silmarillion!! and move foward until LOTR

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