Interview with Ed Del Castillo, Co-Founder, President and Creative Director, Liquid Entertainment.
Q) Being based on the original works of Tolkien, rather than some of the more mainstream friendly Hollywood blockbusters, one would imagine that War of the Ring could be considered a game for the fans. Is this true? Could War of the Ring be considered friendly for the absolute LoTR newbie?
A) The game is a self contained experience. As a result, newbies won't have to know the books to be able to play the game. On the other hand, those who have read the books or seen the movies will definitely have more of the world fleshed out for them and a great deal more of the backstory exposed.
Q) What do you feel was the driving force behind the genre of choice? That is, what aspects do you feel an RTS style game has over, say, a turn-based game for what you wanted to achieve with War of the Ring?
A)There are many aspects of the property that make it well-suited for an RTS. For one, there are the two playable sides in the game. LOTR is an epic struggle between the forces of good and evil, which naturally gives us two distinct sides with very different motives who can fight it out. Also, there is the mission design. LOTR, as well as the rest of the history of Middle-earth, is full of battles, slaughters, skirmishes, sieges, and routings, which we can pull from when creating the missions.
And then there are the units in the game. Middle-earth is inhabited by many distinct species and races which each have their own skills and specializations (Elves are great archers who are nimble and can hide well, Dwarfs can wield an axe like nobody's business, rangers can scout, orcs attack in numbers to overwhelm the enemy, etc). Many of these conventions of the world fell into place naturally when it came to designing the units in the game.
In terms of turn based vs. realtime, that was mostly a matter of choice. Tolkien's universe can be host to a wide range of games, but we'd never seen an RTS in the Tolkien universe and Liquid was eager to innovate on that front.
Q) It is said War of the Ring will offer events that never appeared in the history of Middle-Earth. What sort of events can we expect? Are we talking huge, story changing events or side quests?
A) The Tolkien universe is set in stone. The events are fixed and cannot change. The beautiful thing is that there is so much history which lies in the background that the Tolkien people allowed us to play with the less defined elements of the story. For example, we know why Legolas ends up at Rivendell, but not exactly how. Our game explores that. Overall, we weave in and out of the written story and help define the suggested story.
Q) Will there be character building "RPG" style features, specifically for the included Hero's and Villains from the world of Middle-Earth?
A) The Evil side has about 8 heroes and the Good side has about 15, which includes the whole Fellowship, Theoden, Erkenbrand, Eomer, Faramir, and others which we chose based on the battles that we chose to have playable. In the single player version of the game you will be able to have as many heroes as were actually there at that battle. In the multiplayer game, we give each side 5 heroes and those are fixed for game balance purposes. Right now there is now disadvantage for having all the heroes other than its a lot to manage.
Heroes have a number of features:
They gain experience.
That experience carries over from mission to mission.
They have multiple unique abilities.
They don't die. They can be defeated or captured.
Experience is pretty straightforward. Every action that a unit can perform is given a point value (although many actions, like moving around, will be given 0 points). These points form the backbone of the unit's experience. When the unit gains enough experience they will go up a level which will give them more health, and attack damage. All units, including heroes will earn experience independently.
Q) How will the online component be structured, will there be a central server (or servers), or will game networks etc be responsible for establishing servers?
A) All Connections will go through Gamespy.
Q) Will gamers be able to take the action over their LAN or play directly online, IP to IP?
Q) Can you name the 3 multiplayer modes?
A) I think we actually have more than that, let's see...
1. Survival - you lose when you have no more buildings or units.
2. Razing - you lose when you have no more buildings.
3. Catapult - There is a massive catapult on the map and if you control it you can rain hot death down on to your enemies.
4. Control - There is a place of power or two on the map and when you control them a counter starts for you. The person that controls the places for the longest time wins.
That's all I can remember right now, but there might be one more. :)
Q) It is said gamers will experience the war from both sides. How is this implemented? Will there be two campaign modes? If so, will the endings join or will the game feature two different outcomes?
A) As you might expect, both sides have different units, buildings and tech trees. Additionally, they have completely different build styles, population handling techniques, methods of building, methods of advancing their tech trees, etc. We also allow the player to see more of the evil side than you normally see in the books. Players will get to do things like create the Uruk Hai, summon Balrogs, and number of other special tasks.
Q) The mod community has made its presence felt in numerous PC titles as of late, including many from the RTS genre. Will War of the Ring encourage the modders out there to tweak and develop their own addons for the game?
A) The jury is still out on this one. We're in talks with Vivendi on it though and would love to do it!
Q) What sort of graphical features can we expect, is there any 3D acceleration involved? If so, what generation of DirectX technology are we talking about?
A) As you know, RTS tries to appeal to a broad audience which means that our min. spec. is below Geforce 2. Still, if you have the power, we have tons of really cool effects... dynamic wind modeling, dynamically rippling water (which is affected by the wind), reflective water, dynamically animating cloth system (which is affected by the wind), multiple light sourcing, real-time stencil shadows, multiple alpha layers, individually animating blades of grass, animating cloud layer, and more. We're mainly talking about DX9.
Q) Often RTS titles that claim to offer great combat fail to replicate real epic battles, and have a lackluster limit on the amount of units allowed to produce. While is it obvious limits are needed for speed and stability reasons, what sort of unit restrictions can we expect in War of the Ring? How far away are we from producing battles equivalent to the size described in the original works of Tolkien?
A) We will allow large unit battles, but are focusing on making every unit matter. Most battles should be around 20 and 100 units, with the occasional huge battle of hundreds vs. hundreds.
The answer to your second question is "that depends". It is possible to do 1000 on 1000 battles right now if the expectations for cool graphics and dwindle to nothing. I think we are still at least 4 years out from seeing epic battles that you can control and that look like they do in the movies. We can do it in cinematic, but we you include all the background computations like line of sight, range, find path, AI, multiple drawing passes for shadows and other special effects, it really taxes the system.
Even if you could do it, the question is would you want to. The amount of information that the player has to handle per second in a situation like that is staggering. It may well be too much to be fun. Still, we'll probably try to do it just to prove we can. :)