Tolkien breaks into realtime strategy

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COMMENTARY: Publishers EA Games and Vivendi Universal will be gearing up to distribute their new realtime strategy titles, which are based on the JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings -- EA having made use of the movie license, and Vivendi the books.

With the final installment of Peter Jackson's rendition of the trilogy, LOTR: Return of the King, hitting cinemas this Boxing Day, the timing of the games' release is perfect to cash in on the guaranteed success of movie.
 
What makes the release of these titles unique is the fact that not only are they extremely similar in content, they're also the same genre of game -– realtime strategy. This poses an immediate problem for both publishers as it's highly unlikely both games will persevere with hardcore gamers.
 
EA's LOTR: Battle for Middle-Earth and Vivendi's LOTR: War of the Ring will initially walk in the shadows of current market stalwarts Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos and Command and Conquer: Generals, both games having recently seen well-received expansions. While their main competition lies with Warcraft 3 (as it shares the medieval/fantasy theme), the new titles will be hard-pressed to break the hold current RTS games have on interested audiences.
 
Ed Del Castillo, president at Liquid Entertainment, believes his company's title -- War of the Ring -- will break the mold in regards to typical RTS gameplay. The game's visuals and game dynamics instantly draw a similarity to that of Warcraft 3; however, Del Castillo is confident that Fluid's game does plenty of things differently.
 
“It all comes down to how it all plays in the end game,” Del Castillo said. “If you play Warcraft 3, once you get really good at it, what you realise is there's really only one way to play the first five to 10 minutes … if you haven't built your first hero right off the bat … you're going to lose the game.
 
“One of the main differences … in our game [is that] the heroes play a much more supportive role,” he said. “It's an interesting thing because a lot of the abilities that are in Warcraft 3 can be seen … in Battle Realms. We like to say [War of the Ring is] a successor to Battle Realms, although some people like to look at [War of the Ring] as a successor to Warcraft 3.” The feudal Japanese-themed Battle Realms was Fluid's first realtime strategy title, released back in 2001, a year before Warcraft 3.
 
Del Castillo believes the key to good realtime strategy is attention to detail. In the case of War of the Ring, it was to keep true to Tolkien's world (as the books depicted). While the license made sure Fluid didn't meddle with the main story events, the developer was given plenty of leeway to flesh out the game's storyline, as well as its characters.

“What we've done with War of the Ring is focus a lot more on the surrounding events in order to explain the key events. So, from a realtime strategy perspective you'll be very pleased only because there is the opportunity to win and lose [as opposed to a linear story].

“From a Tolkien fan perspective, they [will] like all the ancillary stories brought to life. Like: 'Why did Legolas go to the Fellowship of the Ring? Why did Gimli end up in Rivendell?'

“As long as we weren't violating the spirit of the universe, or violating the spirit of the characters, they allowed us a lot of freedom.”
 
LOTR: Battle for Middle-Earth is due out sometime in November, while LOTR: War of the Ring is currently available in game outlets.

Logan Booker is staff writer at Atomic magazine: http://www.atomicmpc.com.au/

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