SDCC 2014 – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor

Most fans of the Lord of the Rings franchise may be salivating at The Hobbit trailer that they witnessed during SDCC and after. Gamers and fans of Tolkien’s franchise will also be anticipating the release of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, an action game being developed by Monolith Productions and published by WB Games. We had a chance to sit down with Art Director Phil Straub, Lead Writer Christian Cantamessa, Director of Design Michael De Plater, and the voice of Talion (the game’s lead protagonist), Troy Baker.

The story will follow Talion, a ranger of Gondor, who witnesses his family’s brutal murder before finally being slain himself. When he is resurrected he quickly realizes that he is “possessed” by the wraith Celebrimbor, one of the creators of the 12 rings of power. Utilizing his new wraith-like powers, Talion begins his quest for not only vengeance, but to rid the world of the evils of Mordor.

The game is an open world, Assassin’s creed-esque tale where player’s actions will not only affect the story line but the power struggles found in Orc society. New to this game is the nemesis system, where Enemy AI will not only provide a fresh and different combat sequence, but they will remember past encounters with Talion as well. In one of the trailers, a badly burnt orc does not take too kindly to seeing Talion again after having been flung into a fire during their previous encounter. This will affect their personality as well as how the game advances.

One of the most pressing questions for Phil Dunn was how to interpret Tolkien and adapt it for the game, where he spoke of wiggle room provided as the story takes place between the Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy. This was also the motivation behind picking the character of Celebrimbor (referenced in The Silmarillion), as the lore behind the character had so much room to be played with.

The game promised many features including a different and ever changing combat system (one that was inspired by the Batman: Arkham series), where the makers of the game could “creatively show death”. Phil believed this would be achieved by being “rooted in reality” while mixing in some more cinematic elements. Along with creating a vast amount of unique hair, head, and body type variations for the Orcs of the game, Phil and his team were tasked with making a set of unique and challenging enemies and showcasing them in a way to create tension, excitement and an immersive experience for their audience.

The inspiration behind the nemesis system was the the opportunity to give gamers an open world and open book story to play with and trying to distance themselves from the “cannon fodder” and “cardboard cutout” enemies normally encountered in an action game. Micheal also saw a real opportunity to innovate in terms of player deaths, where time will actually move forward after Talion is slain as opposed to rewinding after each player’s death.

After closely working with Peter Jackson and his team in pre-production, Micheal spoke a bit about being able to treat Middle-earth as a “real place” as opposed to a fantasy world. He underlined the importance of “making the best Middle-earth for a game” as opposed to making a movie game. While the game may follow a similar philosophy to the movies, it isn’t chained to that franchise.

Mentioning the relationship between the lore and their own original story, Cantamessa was quick to point out the inspiration versus adaptation and how the game was more inspired from the books than any of the movies. When creating the backstory for Talion, Christian wanted to make sure he was likable, motivated and that gamers would be able to empathize with him as the wraith and Talion’s story would intertwine to create the bigger story of the game.

Speaking to the pressures of dealing with the Tolkien fanbase’ sometimes high expectations, Christian laughed and said that you must firstly treat the lore with “respect” and you have to “try not to worry about it too much on your daily work,” noting it was more of an honor to be able to contribute to this vast story.

Christian also worked closely with Troy Baker to craft the character, and the two worked closely together to find the right feeling and setting for Talion’s emotions. It was a big challenge for Troy to try and stray away from something that was “safe” and be inspired by the lore without basing his character off of another. Christian and Troy discussed the backstory of Talion’s character, and although there is an element of revenge, they quickly realized that “revenge has a very short wick” and that the story better represents trying to figure out Talion’s and Celembrimbor’s identity. Rather then “get in the way,” Troy hopes gamers will be able to chart their own path and play Talion how they see fit.

While the game promises some new innovations to a popular action style , whether classic Tolkien fans will take to it is another question entirely.

The game drops on September 30th for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC!

Source: Shadow of Mordor, Liberty Voice

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