INTERACTIVE MIDDLE-EARTH

You’ve just left your friendly neighborhood googolplex after soaking in the spectacle of Peter Jackson’s masterful The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. It was much better than “Cats,” and you’re going to see it again and again. You’re planning to read (or re-read) the canon of J.R.R. Tolkien — including “The Silmarillion,” which even the most hardcore Tolkien fan readily admits is crap, but you can’t help yourself. And, in the ultimate display of fandom, you dash to the local videogame store to pick up the The Lord of the Rings videogame…only there isn’t one.
To quote Duane “The Rock” Johnson — and, yes, I’m aware that quoting a professional wrestler is a capital offense in 37 states and the District of Columbia — “What in the blue Hell?!” I can purchase a Lord of the Rings “glowing goblet” from Burger King, which is probably radioactive and going to give me cancer (although eating Burger King’s food is going to give me cancer), but I can’t get a The Lord of the Rings videogame?
Not to fear, Balrog-breath: two of the game industry’s largest companies are currently digitizing Tolkien for your benefit. Electronic Arts is producing a series of games based on the New Line movie trilogy, while the interactive branch of Universal Studios is producing a series of games based on the books. Universal’s first games are for the Microsoft Xbox and the Game Boy Advance, while EA’s games are entirely multi-platform. EA hasn’t yet announced much of anything, other than they’ll ship their first product just as “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” hits theaters this Christmas; Universal’s Xbox game, which comes out in mid-’02, is a first-person action/adventure with outstanding visual effects (and beloved supporting character Tom Bombadil, who’s MIA from the flicks).
But both these companies face as much of a challenge as Jackson did in adapting Tolkien’s works to another medium. In fact, there hasn’t been a videogame based on The Lord of the Rings in almost a decade, due to the epic scale of the source material and the cost of acquiring the license. (I’m discounting the dozens of unauthorized fan-created games of the 1980s and 1990s because, despite the best intentions of their creators, they’re universally awful.)
What’s most ironic about the situation is that virtually every successful game in the videogame genre of RPGs, or “role-playing games,” should be paying royalties to the Tolkien Estate. “The Legend of Zelda,” “Diablo,” “Warcraft,” and hundreds more RPGs beg, borrow, and steal from the world of Middle-earth. Universal’s game was originally meant to be an RPG, but when they realized that their game would come off as an imitator of imitators, they switched to an action/adventure approach…
Get the rest of the feature, including links to downloads of classic “Lord of the Rings” games in part two of INTERACTIVE MIDDLE-EARTH>>>




Posted on January 10, 2002 in Features by
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