The year 2011 for the game industry is remarkable for several significant releases in the RPG genre. Their events unfold in well-known fantasy universes like it happened in The Witcher 2. Certainly, many are waiting for new adventures in the magical world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) in the coming weeks.
However, we picked another title as the «Best RPG» shown at the floor of the Russian IgroMir 2011 Expo in October. The story of The Lord of the Rings: War in the North (2011) will take players to the Middle-earth originally created by J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973). In the following exclusive interview with Jason Olander working as the Senior Game Designer at Snowblind Studios you will find more intriguing details about the upcoming release.
During our conversation Jason Olander shared with us his passion for The Lord of the Rings universe, and we even exchanged our anticipation for two «The Hobbit» movies coming to the cinemas in 2012-2013. In this new adventure you will lead the alliance of a Human, an Elf, a Dwarf and one of the Great Eagles to the northern lands of Middle-earth to fight Agandaur, who is the powerful commander serving the forces of darkness.
- Greetings! Please, introduce yourself.
- Hi! My name is Jason Olander, and I am the Senior Game Designer at Snowblind Studios, which is the developer of the new Action RPG video game The Lord of the Rings: War in the North.
- How do you find Russia?
- It is my first time in Russia and my first time in Moscow. It is a very interesting country. Everything here is very big, the buildings and the roads, but the traffic is bad. The people are nice, and the weather has been good.
- What do you think about IgroMir 2011 Russian Expo?
- This is my first time at the show, and it is filled with the Russian gaming public. All the visitors get the chance to see the games they normally can’t see at the current time. There is a big hall below, where people can play these games and attend various presentations. I enjoyed the opportunity to present our title to consumers. Though I did not have much time to walk along the show floor, I did spend lots of time in the Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment booth.
- Could you compare IgroMir to Gamescom?
- I was at Gamescom 2011. It was very large. It occupied a huge area of Koelnmesse Hall and, probably, is the biggest game convention out of all the others I’ve been to. I think a similar Russian event here is well on its way.
- Give us some background about your team.
- Snowblind Studios has a long history, and we have been pioneers in various areas. Our first epic project was Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (2001) and Champions of Norrath (2004). We have been making Action RPG (ARPG) titles for quite a while, and we are happy to get the chance to work with the famous The Lord of the Rings franchise. We used our Action RPG expertise to build a game set in the best Fantasy world of all time – Middle-earth.
- How long has The Lord of the Rings: War in the North game been in the development?
- Two and a half years. We started by making our own graphics engine for it and then working on the content for it.
- What were your sources of inspiration?
- There were a couple of things. The first would be The Lord of the Rings literature. We have been working with the license for the books and the license for the films to create an original storyline based on events in the literature. A lot of us are also J.R.R. Tolkien fans and enjoy reading his books over and over again every year. We are very into Tolkien.
We were able to use the films as the source for visual references. There are many similarities regarding the characters, the enemies and our presentation of the Middle-earth with the Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2001-2003). Many people have watched these really successful movies, and they have also become a great source of inspiration for us on the artistic side.
- How is The Lord of the Rings: War in the North game’s universe related to The Lord of the Rings timeline?
- The story takes place during the War of the Ring (TA 3018 – TA 3019), during the same time that The Fellowship of the Ring is taking the ring to Mordor. So in our storyline of The Lord of the Rings: War in the North you will visit some familiar places like Bree and Rivendell. For example, you will arrive to Rivendell almost at the same time that the members of the Fellowship set off.
Yes, players can even meet some famous characters there like Gandalf, Elrond, Aragorn and Frodo. When the Fellowship start their voyage South with the ring, our heroes go to the North to deal with the evil Agandaur – one of Sauron’s chief lieutenants – who is building up an army there.
- What are the factions taking part in this conflict?
- Our heroes in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North are Farin the Dwarf, Andriel the Elf and Eradan the Human – a classical alliance for the Middle-earth times. Farin hails from Erebor, and he represents the Champion class serving as a warrior and is the tank of the group. Andriel is the Elven Loremaster taught by Elrond in Rivendell. Not only does she use a melee weapon, but also utilizes spells and special abilities. Eradan is the Ranger, who served under the Aragorn’s command. He is a Bowmaster, but is also brilliantly skillful with swords.
These are our heroes, and they are going to confront Agandaur, who is raising an army of Goblins, Uruk-hais, Trolls and others I can’t name as of yet. You will have to fight all these enemies as a team using the skills and abilities of each character in order to succeed.
- What are the options to alter the appearance of a player’s character in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North?
- There are a couple of ways for that. The first one are the Mirrors placed in certain places like the one in Bree. Players can visit them and adjust how their character look, such as changing hair, eyes color, creating a moustache and so on to make your hero look the way you want in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North.
What is more intriguing, you will find thousands of items in the game: swords, armors, helmets, quivers and so on. Visually, when you equip your character with these items, you immeditately see the change.
- What is the gameplay structure like?
In The Lord of the Rings: War in the North we intend to tell our story. Therefore, for this to happen we need to guide the players during their adventures. There are still many side quests along the way and many interesting things to do. The story is very important in our game, and often it is a foundation for the combat and action sequences. That is why we chose to stick to the Story Chapters.
- Are there a lot of side quests in the main storyline of The Lord of the Rings: War in the North?
- Side quests present themselves in different ways. Some of them will ask you to gather various items. For instance, Andriel will have to find certain herbs and plants and deliver them to characters who need them. Other missions present themselves during the main storyline. Maybe an Elf is taken prisoner somewhere, while the players are in the middle of another quest, and the players will have to rescue her.
It is possible to fail a side quest in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, though it will not affect the course of the main storyline. So players and their Fellowships will not fail the whole story, but they might miss the achievement of a particular optional goal. The rewards also vary greatly. Some of them will simply say something like «You did that! Great!». After others, players will get special armor pieces or they can go to a blacksmith to create a unique weapon for themselves out of previously collected items.
- Are any puzzle-solving skills required for your audience?
- We do not have many puzzles in the game, since we focused more on presenting the game with a lot of Action and Combat experience. Players will solve puzzles in combat, such as how to get through a certain battle encounter, especially, when meeting a new type of enemy you have not seen before.
- And what about mini-games in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North?
- Sometimes players will need to combine certain items within your Inventory I would not call them mini-games, because these activities in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North are very Action-oriented. It is like a mini-game in itself, since we have so many different items in the world that you can find. After that, you need to spend some time learning how to use them in combat.
- Is there a special form of crafting at present in your project?
- There is crafting, specifically, for Andriel The Loremaster. She collects herbs and other ingredients within the game world. With them, she can actually craft certain potions including healing ones, special elixirs or combat boosts for use on herself or on the other members of the party. Armories and blacksmiths can be found in some of the towns. You might find some crafting choices there, but mainly they repair the gear you bring to them.
- What is the importance of dialogues in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North game?
- The dialogue is very important. There is a lot of dialogue in this game, and we worked with great voice cast. During the course of certain events, you will get the chance to interact with various characters such as Elrond’s twin sons, for example, who were mentioned in the books and the films. These characters havea primary role early on in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, and you will be able to communicate with them. My personal favorite would be the talking Eagle, Beleram.
- Can we recruit any NPCs to a party?
- Actually, you do recruit one a very important NPC, the Great Eagle, Beleram. He is a great Eagle of the North, which you can read about in the books and see them in the films as well. You encounter Beleram very early in the game and get a chance to rescue him. He then becomes the fourth member of your Fellowship.
His VO is also a great addition to The Lord of the Rings: War in the North. During the course of the game, you can call him in extremely tough situations, and he can swoop in to take out your most troublesome enemy or help you in a difficult battlefield spot.
- What is the organization of the in-game Skill Trees in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North?
- Sure, I will be glad to talk more about it. It is an RPG game we have been developing for a long time. While focusing on the Action, we never wanted to forget about the RPG side. In our title you will collect experience points from killing enemies and completing quests. As you level up, the first thing for you to do is to distribute the available skill points to get more Strength, Dexterity, Stamina or Will depending on how you want to develop your character.
The next thing you would do here is to select the actual skills that we might mention again during the course of this Interview about The Lord of the Rings: War in the North game. In general, there are around 25-30 unique skills per character in each appropriate tree. You will get just one point with every level, so you will have to choose them wisely. That is really the meat of how you customize and build your character to the way you want him or her to perform in combat.
All the three heroes can be great, when it comes to melee combat, since it is a focus of things. We wanted to make sure that it is in your face, it is brutal, but everyone would be good enough in it. Skill trees will let you create your style of play. Basically, there are three different types of skills.
Active ones in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North represent new attacks, enhanced attacks and their combinations to do crazy things on the battlefield. Passive skills will allow you to get more Hit Points or better Healing. Then there is a sort of cooperative skills giving a benefit to the whole group – not just to you, but to everyone involved in a party. It is incredibly important in the Co-Op play.
- How does the Combat System work in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North?
- In terms of camera, it differs from an isometric perspective, instead providing you with a view over a shoulder. We are presenting a dynamic and fluid combat. There are standard, heavy attacks and various combos. When you develop your character and level up, you will be choosing new skills. There are various skill trees and amongst them you can also find special combat moves.
For instance, there is a great Sweeping Strike in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, which does damage and knocks enemies back all around you. There are pull ups and cool downs for the attacks to accumulate power. You will use a combination of usual and heavy strikes strengthened by your special skills to get through fierce combat encounters.
- What tactical choices are available to the enemy AI?
- We have everything that is required to challenge players, when it comes to various enemy types. There are filthy Goblins, for example, which do not do a lot of damage, but you will face their swarms during important battles, so it is important to get rid of them as quickly as possible. Another species is a Giant Uruk-hai carrying a big shield. They keep blocking you, so you will not succeed if you are only using standard attacks.
In The Lord of the Rings: War in the North you will have to master a variety of techniques to beat the various enemies. For Giant Uruk-hai, players will need to use a heavy attack to knock these enemies back and then perform a full strike to try to get the shield out of their hands. There are different types of Trolls, but players will always need rely on their dodging tactics. Trolls are slow, but also huge and powerful. With them, you will have to strike and then to move away. As you can see, players will need many specific tactics to counter Middle-earth foes.
- We discussed earlier some examples of combat skills, but there are also other skills as well including classic RPG ones. You can get more armor for the Dwarf or more powerful Healing for the Elf. The game world has some hidden areas that only specific characters can see. For instance, the Dwarf is able to uncover hidden caverns that hold gold in particular places.
He can walk up to them, and everyone will get a little bit of gold out of these sources. However, only the Dwarf can use this ability in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North. We also have hidden caches throughout the world. Here only Eradan the Ranger is able to find marks of the Rangers, which can help to discover locations of such secret caches.
As you can see, everybody can go out, collect loot and find hidden chests in various areas. Working in a conjunction, you can have even more fun within the game, since we have added a lot of great items.
- Tell us about the game world and its navigation mechanics.
- Like I mentioned before, you will visit some well-known places from the literature and the films. They will be familiar to you, but for The Lord of the Rings: War in the North we have also brought to life areas mentioned in the literature but never featured in the films. You will come through the town of Bree, take a journey to Barrow-downs, go to Rivendell and to Mirkwood, which is one of our favorite environments, and it looks really beautiful.
Then you will travel up to the North, where you will see the mountains. It looks great inside and outside like the ancient Dwarven Mansions that had been corrupted and taken over. We will present you with all sorts of various environments. You will travel on foot, and the Eagles will also help you to get around.
- What can you say about your graphics engine of The Lord of the Rings: War in the North game and its capabilities?
- We developed this engine specifically for The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, and there are two important things in this aspect that were built from the ground up.
First of all, we wanted to ensure great fidelity and realism of the game world. It is important, how everything looks like here. The next important factor is the Networking. While doing a Co-Op game like this, it is necessary to do everything right from the very beginning.
- The Co-Op portion of the gameplay looks very enticing…
- Actually, the co-op in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North is one of the best features of our new game. It is fully co-op, though you can play the entire campaign by yourself with AI support, if you wish. However, I highly recommend playing Co-op, because it is the best way to experience the game. You can play the whole story or just some portions of it in the Co-Op mode depending on how you want to do it.
We support Split-Screen for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with any two gamers sitting on a same couch. There are LAN and Internet links for these consoles and PC. Whatever combination of these you have, you can invite your friends this way or use our Matchmaking System to find a game for you to play out our story.
- What is special about the in-game soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings: War in the North?
- The music is really terrific! Inon Zur, who already created several game soundtracks, has composed our score. It was recorded in Great Britain at Abbey Road Studios in London with a full symphony present. It is a completely customized soundtrack written specifically for The Lord of the Rings: War in the North. The in-game music is an exciting addition to the story and an important part of the game world.
- How have you worked with the voice-overs?
- For this game we employed many talented voice actors mainly from the game industry. Fans might even recognize some of these voices, if they listen closely. For the Russian version, all the texts have been localized, and there will be subtitles during the dialogues.
- Now it is time for our short survey. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- Hopefully, we will continue working with The Lord of the Rings.
- What picture do you have on your desktop?
- On my desktop I have a picture of Iron Maiden – a British heavy metal band.
- What are your favorite video games of all time?
- I like Civilization (1991-2010) game series the most. I also think Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (2010) is really cool!
- Best game of 2011 for you.
- Aside from us? [Laughs].
- As you like!
- I am really looking forward to playing Diablo III (2012). It is looking great.
- Souvenirs to bring back home.
- It depends on what my wife wants me to bring her. Probably, that would be more clothes! [Smiles].
- Three things you associate with Russia.
- My family, since we are originally Hungarian, but had to leave. Now I associate traffic and, of course, vodka. Yeah! [Smiles].
- Thanks, Jason!
- Thank you for your questions!
Greetings from Jason Olander (Snowblind Studios)
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North
The Lord of the Rings: War in the North:
A Co-op Action RPG, from the developers of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (2001), that immerses you and your friends in a brutal new chapter in the War of the Ring (3018-3019 TA). Set in Middle-earth during the time of the War of the Ring, but separate from its events, War in the North is inspired by both the Lord of the Rings books and movies allowing players to draw their swords, notch their axes, bend their bows and raise their staffs against quite a wide range of deadly enemies and traverse both established and never-before-seen locations. The result is a journey that is both epic and intimate, familiar yet unexpected.
You are one of these heroes. Inspired by events from the famous book trilogy and their retelling in Peter Jackson’s films, the game features brutally realistic combat, a unique and compelling new story, and innovative cooperative gameplay that pits you and your friends against the dark forces of Middle-earth. In this game you will form your own fellowship and fight against Sauron’s forces at the North.
In The Lord of the Rings: War in the North game available activities includes: Aragorn’s scouting party of the North, while Frodo recovers in Rivendell from the wound he suffered at Weathertop; missions with the Elven sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir; the responsibilities of the wizard, Radagast the Brown; encounters with the great eagles of the Misty Mountains and more.
Key Game Features:
- The ability to craft items and potions;
- Multiple character classes including Mage, Scout and Warrior;
- An exciting main story campaign coupled with dozens of side quests;
- Classic Action-RPG action that centers on co-op gameplay and character development;
- Cross paths with your favorite Lord of the Ring heroes, as well as more obscure characters;
- Three playable races: Dúnedain (man), Elf, Dwarf, each with its own storyline and unique quests;
- A brutal new The Lord of the Ring adventure set during, but separate from the main events of the War of the Ring;
- A special Challenge Mode consisting of missions and maps built especially for co-op gameplay and not tied to the main campaign;
- Magic abilities including fire, lightning and ice attacks as well as passive morale bonuses, protective shields and wards) spells.
- GameScope: «Best RPG at IgroMir 2011».