This May 25th we will play ‘the story not yet told’ – Lord of the Rings: Gollum
On a cold March morning I left my apartment in beautiful Jena. It was six o’clock, way too early for my liking, and I had a few hours’ train ride ahead of me. I was headed for Hamburg to have a first look at Lord of the Rings: Gollum with its developing studio, Daedalic Entertainment. Little did I know how much I would enjoy my travels – German Railways and its attempts to annoy the hell out of me notwithstanding – and I would like to share a few of my insights. Please note that I am not a gaming journalist so you won’t get the latest tech talk with me but my impressions as the Tolkienist.
Welcome to the hallowed halls
I will not bother you too much with my adventures that day – train-wise – but let me just say that both ICE speed trains I was supposed to take that day were cancelled. I somehow managed to arrive more or less in time to have a quarter of an hour to play through two short chapters in the Gollum Room where a number of computers were prepared for a large number of people present obviously interested to try their hands at it. I believe I heard Dutch, English, and French besides German but do not quote me on it!
It was incredibly exciting to get this behind the curtain look at the place where the project has been worked on for years now. It is quite the regular office building not far away from Hamburg’s airport, easily accessible with public transport, and a bit of green around it.
When I was ushered into the hallowed halls I was greeted with a wall of awards Daedalic Entertainment has won in recent years. Turning a corner I was welcome with a handshake or two, brought to the Gollum Room but because I was late could not play for that long.
Now, I am not much of a console player – if you do not count the Atari 2600 I started out on – but I have, quite generally speaking, been gaming as long as I can remember. Mostly PC, and I certainly wasted too many years on World of Warcraft. The look of the game, the feel of it made me curious, but I did not really know what the game is all about – what has Daedalic envisioned with Lord of the Rings: Gollum?
What immediately struck me as exciting and incredibly courageous is that Daedalic decided to go for their own style, independent of the media and franchise juggernaut that are the Peter Jackson film trilogies. The only character that simply needed to look like the film version is Gollum himself and that is understandable: to a whole generation of fans Andy Serkis is the embodiment of Gollum, as Ralph-Bakshi-wrong as it is, and the company could not have gone against that image.
But except for him we can see a new Gandalf, a different Thranduil, sights and sounds people will know to an extent from the films but look utterly different. With me that will give you a thousand Bombadil points and I can only hope gamers out there will appreciate the work that has been put into this world.
Tell me, friend, what is Gollum all about?
What happened next was way more interesting for me because I had to opportunity to chat with Damiri Knapheide. He and Tilman Schanen were the narrative designers for the game and wrote the story to LotR:Gollum.
Now, you may imagine that with more than thirty years of Tolkien fandom and at least twenty years of franchise under my belt I have become incredibly wary of any such major project. I love great games like anybody else but after something like the Shadows series – great games though they were – I was instinctively suspicious of the things I might be told. After all, it was a press junket where you get the lines and the content you are supposed to share.
Let me just say that there was a publicity and marketing side to things, true. But I am the Tolkienist and I can usually quite easily tell whether someone actually knows their stuff about Tolkien.
Like, really easily.
So I sat down with this narrative designer and we started to chat. Hit it off immediately as Tolkien nerds will do and have been doing for decades now because they share a passion for Tolkien’s stories.
The things he told me about himself in the gaming industry but also his academic background – there may be an interesting dissertation in the making, by the way – told me immediately this is someone who knows his way around Middle-earth.
During our almost hour-long talk he mentioned several times that Daedalic had the rights to the books and that they have tried to stay as close to the stories available as possible. Sure, they have added characters that are not from Tolkien’s pen and they will have fleshed out the gaps in some chapters of The Lord of the Rings but his claim is that he and Tilman as well as everyone else involved in this project made sure this is something they hope will please both die-hard fans as well as gamers not knowledgeable about Middle-earth.
On occasion someone popped in with a quick question on what to share with the French?, for example, and everytime my interviewee had to wink and nudge to make sure I did not listen in on any special details that may have been given away to some but not all – and certainly not to someone who would immediately be able to tell what it would be all about from the point of view of Tolkien’s writings.
This is going to be an adventure, telling the story of how Gollum finally left his cave in the Misty Mountains and set to retrieve his precious and quite a bit of time will be spent in places we have heard of but never really seen from the inside – Barad-dûr and the Halls of the Elvenking in Mirkwood come to mind. You will start about eight years before the War of the Ring and will see what Gollum lived through, will learn with him, talk to some of the most important characters in these stories.
I also happen to know when the game will end but not how and why… but that is for you to find out.
After most of the event had wound down Damiri and I took a stroll outside and talked a little more about the game.
And I am now really, really curious to finally get to play Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
Thanks very much to Daedalic Entertainment for having me, it was definitely worth travelling thirteen hours by train 😄
[According to German law I have to notify you that this is an unpaid ad.]