“Yesss, once we have it, WE will be the master!” a voice hisses in the gloom of a cave.

“Patience, patience, my love… Once we have the ring.” An evil sounding voice coughs, “Gollum, gollum.”

“The ring? We don’t need nasty ring, precious. Sméagol has better way,” the first voice answers.

“What? What does it say? What did it say my love?” Gollum asks with an air of disbelief.

“Once we have EA’s ‘The Battle for Middle-Earth’ PC game WE will control Sauron’s army. He will call US ‘Master’!” Sméagol cackles evilly.

Suddenly a flicker of light is seen as the tell-tale musical tones of a computer starting up is heard, followed by the frightening sound of cold laughter…

Clearing her throat, Ithillinde says, “Um, so sorry you had to hear that. You aren’t here to ask how on earth Smeagol is getting electricity, let alone Internet access in his gloomy old cave. Hmm, I wonder how much he has to pay… and if its wireless Internet. Oh, sorry… you aren’t here to listen to my ramblings either. You’re here because you want to hear about EA’s newest Lord of the Ring’s PC game, ‘The Battle for Middle-Earth’.”

Select members of the online community including myself were invited to Electronic Arts’ new campus in Los Angeles. There we were given a tour of their new facility, a fascinating lecture on how they actually made the game given by Mark Skaggs the Executive Producer, along with introductions to several others who are involved in the process of creating this extraordinary game. Then we got the rare chance to get our hands directly on this new and exciting game itself.

Fighting a Troll I can tell you that from what I’ve seen, it is utterly awesome and not only game fans will want this one – Tolkien fans will be lining up for it as well. It actually is just like you are controlling Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. YOU decide which side you wish to be on, the good side, (Gondor and Rohan) or the bad side, (Isengard and Mordor). YOU command the heroes and armies of Middle Earth, YOU decide the fate of all.

Living Map of Middle-Earth Let me start by saying the graphics and artwork are just incredible! The art director Richard Kriegler, who has worked on “Star Trek: Insurrection” and “Contact”, did an amazing job bringing the world of Middle-Earth to PC. The “Living Map” that was created for the game is just outstanding – it’s just like you are literally immersed into a living, breathing map of Middle-Earth.

Detail, detail, detail … is everywhere, from the people and creatures, to the landscaping and the buildings. You can see plainly all the hard work and effort the art team has put into this game. Visually stunning, there just is not enough words to describe it. The attention to detail and the color is just mind-blowing, not just on the living map but throughout the game as a whole, including the scenery, backgrounds, and units. The colors in the game are bold and vibrant, leaving everything in this game with a true feeling of three dimensions. Nothing looks flat or two-dimensional but really seems to be alive and moving.

EA also has recorded Christopher Lee’s (Saruman) voice for the game and they just wrapped up recording Ian McKellen’s (Gandalf) voice in London. Right now they are in the process of persuading Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) to lend her beautiful voice for the game.

Armies But enough about the aesthetics of the game, — you all want to know about how the thing plays. Well, I’ll be totally truthful: I don’t play RTS (Real Time Strategy) games very much because I’m not very good at them. I will say this, though: I would buy this game and I would put in some work learning how to play it, because it is just simply an excellent game. You really do feel like you are in the movie. Unlike a first-person point of view action game, you can control everything. After gaining experience points and accumulating resources, you can build up your armies to become a fierce fighting force.

If you don’t know what an RTS game is, basically put, everything moves in real time. You send a troop over to attack another troop, and they will march over to them in just the same way as if you were walking across the room. It’s not like you send the order to attack and they are instantly there—it takes time for them to move into position. Then the battle takes place and they fight it out, in real time; nothing is instantaneous. For examples of other RTS’s that are similar in gameplay, check out “Age of Empires”, “Starcraft” and “Command and Conquer”.

Mumakil For 20 minutes each, we all got a rare chance to get hands-on game experience—absolutely no one, outside of the production staff, has been able to play the game yet. We got the opportunity to complete one of the missions in the game. As the Orc army, our goal was to cross a bridge while fighting off Gondor’s army and the Rohirrim riders, while trying to take over their base camps. Needless to say yours truly didn’t get very far, but I had a good time trying.

How the game is played is really quite simple: through the use of the mouse, everything is interactive and at your fingertips. Clicking on selected people, creatures or buildings brings up their menu of available actions so there is no toolbar anywhere on the screen. In my opinion that was really nice, as I think toolbars are rather distracting and when you are in a hurry you don’t have to play hide and seek with the option that you want. Everything on the menu is displayed by a picture so that there is no second guessing what it is you are clicking on.

Battle SceneThe way the characters on both sides act is just amazing, as they are very life-like in terms of showing emotion and moving about in their world. The way they shout in fear at the approach of the trolls and the Balrog is so realistic. Yes, that’s right, you can summon the Balrog of Morgoth, and wipe out whole troops of units with a single swipe of your flaming sword or a blast of your fiery breath. Or you can call upon Treebeard and his Ent friends to wipe out Orcs with a volley of stones that they rip from buildings or pick up from the ground.

We were also given a brief glimpse into the Mines of Moria sequence, which no one has even laid eyes on outside of the production team. This also looks incredible, as much attention is paid to every detail, from the carvings on the walls, the designs inlaid on the floor and how every chamber is lit. In the tomb of Balin, the single beam of light coming from the ceiling looks exactly how it is in the movie. It really whetted my appetite to see the completed game and find out how the rest of it looks.

Battle SceneIt really is a fun game, and I cannot wait for it to be released later this Fall. This game will truly be one of the greats that people will remember for many years to come.

You can learn more about Battle for Middle-Earth at the EA website, as well as view more screenshots, read interviews, and watch demo movies of the game.

This is the first in a four-part series, detailing Ithillinde’s experiences at EA. Look for her next article on the overall Community Day at Electronic Arts, Los Angeles, coming soon!

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