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lord of the rings games Interview with Chuck Lupher

The Hobbit is one of the most beloved novels of all time, when we here at Gaming Havens found out that Sierra had begun work on The Hobbit for the Nintendo Gamecube and then that it would also be released on the PS2, XBox, and GameBoy Advance... we were speechless. Could it be done? Would they ruin it? Would it have good gameplay? Then along comes Chuck Lupher, Design Lead on The Hobbit to qualm are fears and show us just how dedicated the team is to bringing Bilbo to life. Read on!

Flinch: When were you first exposed to Tolkien's Middle-earth?
Chuck: I read my dad's copy of "The Hobbit" when I was in Jr. High. I still have it. It's a beat-up green covered hardback. Since then I have read "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" several times. Tolkien's works are what sparked my love of epic fantasy.
Flinch: What titles have you worked on in the past, how have they influenced choices you've made here with The Hobbit?
Chuck: I've worked on a wide variety of games. Action games, platformers, RPGs, FPSs, flight sims, on both PC and console platforms. Most of the inspiration I've had for working on "The Hobbit" has actually come from games I've played. Zelda, Final Fantasy, Mario, Jak and Daxter, Spyro, Tomb Raider, Wild Arms, Breath of Fire, and many more.
Flinch: Have you looked to other Tolkien novels for content in developing The Hobbit?
Chuck: Due to the restrictions of our license agreement, we've had to be very careful about the source material for game content. Of course, we've studied the entire The Lord of the Rings series. But, in developing content for The Hobbit, we've focused almost exclusively on the lands, events, characters, and history available in that book.
Flinch: How much of the conversations from The Hobbit novel will be shown in the game? Will there be a long exchange between Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Dwarves early on, or will we jump right into the Game?
Chuck: As you know, conversations in The Hobbit are often long and detailed. These lengthy speeches don't always lend themselves to a good pace of game play. In the main, we've been forced to 'summarize' and 'edit' conversations, then, whenever possible, move edited information around into game play. We've done everything we can to provide players with all the major conversations of major characters from the book.
Flinch: Is it intimidating to work on a title as well known and loved as The Hobbit?
Chuck: Yes, but only because we are trying to develop a great-playing action/adventure game while remaining true to the literary work. Most of the team members are hard-core Tolkien fans so it's a responsibility that's not taken lightly.
Flinch: What is the key approach to game play during the game, will we be focusing on Combat, Stealth or a good mixture of both?
Chuck: There's certainly a good mixture of both of these game play types. At its core, "The Hobbit" is an action/adventure game. Gameplay within the various chapters consists of running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, exploration, combat, stealth, lockpicking, puzzle-solving, quest object collection, and quest completion.
Flinch: Will the enemies in the game directly reflect the enemies from the book, or have there been enemies created to fill gaps as needed?
Chuck: The creatures from the book are well represented in a rogue's gallery of enemies that include: spiders, goblins, trolls, wolves, bats, and wargs. In addition to these, there will be a good number of new creatures to contend with. We have roughly 25 different enemies in the game.
Flinch: After finding the One Ring, how often will its power be used to aide Bilbo throughout the game?
Chuck: As much as the One Ring desires to be used. _ We've actually set up a system that limits the length of time the One Ring may be worn. As we all know, the One Ring has a mind of its own and can slip off the wielder's finger at inopportune times.
Flinch: Will the riddle exchange between Gollum and Bilbo be a big present in The Hobbit?
Chuck: Yes. We've put together a pre-rendered movie which summarizes the riddle exchange. It is beautiful and dramatic.
Flinch: How much history of Middle-earth will the game go into? Will Gandalf teach the player as much as he taught Bilbo along the way?
Chuck: While the game doesn't delve extensively into the history of Middle-earth, we have tried to be as accurate as possible when creating our levels. For example, we have populated Hobbiton with hobbits that would have lived in Hobbiton around Bilbo's time. Gandalf plays a guiding role in the game. He provides a fair amount of backstory, and he gives the player (Bilbo) guidance...that is, when he's around. He keeps disappearing at the most inopportune times...
Flinch: Will the cameo appearances of Elrond, Legolas, and other later established characters be seen in game form for The Hobbit?
Chuck: Funny you should ask about Legolas. In our research, we discovered that Legolas was actually in the halls of the Elvenking at the time the dwarves were being held captive there. So, we've put him, very briefly, in the game. You'll also meet Bell and Hamfast Gamgee, the eventual parents of Sam. However, you will not meet Elrond in game form.
Flinch: Will we see characters like Beorn in the game? Will they impact the games plot as heavily as they impacted the book?
Chuck: Beorn is definitely in the game and is actually integral to completing the last level, Battle of the Five Armies. Of course you'll get to play alongside Gandalf and the Dwarves throughout the game. In Lake-town, you'll even have a hand in helping Bard recover a certain arrow...
Flinch: Musically, what should fans expect from the games soundtrack?
Chuck: We are working with two composers at Slackmates ( who are providing the orchestral and acoustic score. They will be recording the orchestral music with members of the Northwest Sinfonia (Medal of Honor, Myst III Exile, Total Anniliation). The acoustic music will be recorded with individual Celtic musicians from the Raleigh, NC area, home to Slackmates. They have provided a compelling score of interactive music that consistently pulls the player deeper into the Tolkien universe. This part of the score will cover combat, character themes, and intense gameplay sequences. We are also providing a vast amount of ambient music as a backdrop to the exploration, platforming, and stealth elements of the gameplay. This ambient music is being composed in-house, and will use many elements of the orchestral and acoustic music, to bring cohesion to the score.
Flinch: Will the Giant Spiders of Mirkwood be as much of a threat for the group as they were in the text?
Chuck: Definitely. Not only will there be three types of spiders for you to contend with in Mirkwood but also a slew of other dangers.
Flinch: Is Bilbo the only playable character?
Chuck: Yes, Bilbo is the only character you directly play in the game. By focusing on one character, we've been able to really polish his interactions and animations.
Flinch: How much of the game will be dedicated to the various elements of the story, will we see Thranduil and Mirkwood? Will we be able to explore the Misty Mountains and area's like Gollum's cave or Lake-town?
Chuck: Yes, you will definitely see Thranduil. We've tried to hit every important and memorable point of the book so you'll be able to run around locales such as Hobbiton, the Lone Lands, the Misty Mountains, Gollum's cave, Mirkwood, Esgaroth, Smaug's Lair, and Erebor. Not only will there be instantly recognizable elements in each area, like Bag End in Hobbiton or the market pool in Esgaroth, but we also allow the player to explore areas slightly off the book's path.
Flinch: At this stage in production, what are you most proud of with this game?
Chuck: That's a tough question. There's a lot to be proud of. I guess I'm most proud that we managed to stick to the spirit of the story while creating a unique and visually stunning gameplay experience.
Flinch: Will the Hobbit remain a GameCube only game, or will we see a PS2 or XBox version in the near future?
Chuck: The Hobbit will be published for PlayStation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC and Gameboy Advance!
Flinch: What has been the most difficult element in developing The Hobbit?
Chuck: I would have to say trying to fit everything in! There's so much great material to pull from that it hurts to leave anything out.
Flinch: Thanks for talking with us, is there anything you'd like to add or tell the fans as we get closer to the release date?
Chuck: Just that the whole team is really excited to be working on "The Hobbit"! Most of us grew up reading about Middle-earth, and now we have the opportunity to create a game based on Tolkien's work. It's a dream game for many of us and we hope that dedication comes across to players.
Flinch: With words like that I can't wait to see what these "Children of Middle-earth" come up with! Don't forget to check your ONE Resource for Tolkien Gaming for more info on The Hobbit and all games made in Middle-earth!


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