At the start of March, Den of Geek traveled to Hamburg to visit the offices of Daedalic Entertainment. As well as learning about the German studio’s upcoming RTS game A Year of Rain and a handful of other intriguing titles in their pipeline, we were also lucky enough to witness Daedalic’s very first announcement of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is an action-adventure video game for PC and consoles that will launch in 2021. The title will retell the events of J. R. R. Tolkien’s beloved book series from the perspective of Gollum, splicing never-before-seen segments of the iconic character’s journey into the narrative that Tolkien fans already know and love.
After watching an announcement presentation from Daedalic, which revealed those basics, we were lucky enough to sit down with Carsten Fichtelmann (CEO and founder of Daedalic) and Jonas Hüsges (Project Manager and Head of Business Development) to chat about the in-house development of this exciting Gollum game. Here are seven things that we learned…
This has been a lengthy process already
“We started in 2014, talking to Middle Earth [Enterprises] about licensing Lord of the Rings,” Fichtelmann explained. “As we said in the presentation, this [story] is still fresh and now Amazon is coming up with a TV series, so there is quite a buzz about that universe. And from a storytelling perspective, also, Gollum was quite an obvious choice because the conflict is already in the character and so the storytelling is also there.
“Maybe the decision was already made three or four years ago”, Fichtelmann mused later in the interview. “But then all of the lawyers come in to make it really happening, signing the contracts, so we have to wait for quite a long time until the final day where we signed that license.”
The game is still in very early stages
“We are still in pre-production,” Fichtelmann explained. The contracts are signed, Daedalic’s project is pressing ahead, and now comes the process of making the game and getting it approved by the executives from the license-owning Middle-earth Enterprises.
Fichtelmann and Hüsges “saw a presentation [from the developers] yesterday,” which would have been March 5, 2019 by our calculations. This presentation included “six or seven quite different mechanics” for gameplay, which will now be presented to the team at Middle-earth Enterprises.
“I don’t know even if we will see all these mechanics in the final game,” Fichtelmann stressed. “We are definitely prototyping these mechanics, and we will have this discussion with the license, and then we will see what stays and what maybe is not in the final game. I’m quite optimistic that we’re coming up with quite a fresh approach for the genre [of] action-adventure and also for the license and for Gollum.”
This is Daedalic’s “own interpretation of the world of the character”
When asked if the film would take inspiration from the visual style of Peter Jackson’s films and Andy Serkis’ performance as Gollum, the team at Daedalic were quick to stress that what they have is the licence to make a game based on Tolkien’s books (rather than a licence to make a game based on the Warner Bros. film trilogies).
Fichtelmann said this on the topic: “I think when you see [the video game version of] Gollum for the first time, I think you will say ‘yep, that’s Gollum.’ Maybe you also could say, ‘this is not the Gollum we know from the Warner movies.'”
There is also a “quite detailed description [of Gollum] in the book” to go from, which Fichtelmann believes “is not too far off from the movie. There are some elements where they took creative liberties, but overall, I think… while we’re doing our own interpretation of the world of the character, it’s not that we’re completely different just for the sake of it.”
They’re not going for photorealistic graphics
As for what the visual world will look like, don’t expect to see a photorealistic rendition of Middle-earth or New Zealand. Fichtelmann has noticed that some games that go after super-HD graphics “look fresh for only a couple of years, and then they are coming up with better graphics. This is definitely not the way we are going to.”
“We are not going deep into the uncanny valley,” Fichtelmann explained, “so we definitely will find a look. We’ll have a look that has clear characters and clear shapes, but hopefully, we then come up with something where people also in thirty years think, ‘This is still a good looking game.'”
Fichtelmann mentioned the previous Daedalic title Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth as an example of a game in their catalog that has a similarly timeless quality.
“I think this game is still going to be playable in 60 years,” Fichtelmann said. He was talking about Pillars Of The Earth, but the statement has interesting connotations for The Lord of the Rings: Gollum.
You’ll see Gollum’s origin story
“Everybody asks, what made him what he is? We will make him what he is.” Those words, again spoken by Fichtelmann, make it pretty clear that we’ll be seeing the origins of Gollum in this upcoming game.
Of course, both the books and the films jump back in time briefly to the fateful day that the Stoor Hobbit Smeagol and his relative Deagol happened upon the One Ring. Deagol, of course, wasn’t long for this world after that. But Smeagol became obsessed with the ring and went on to lead a very long life as he descended into Gollum-ness.
“We are in the timeframe of the book,” Fichtelmann stressed, “but we definitely fill up the gaps, where nobody knows at the moment what happens with Gollum before he first appears in the book.”
The gameplay could feature stealth
The team at Daedalic kept pretty quiet about the multiple mechanical ideas they’re going to show to Middle-earth Enterprises, but they did give us one or two clues about what to expect.
“When you play Gollum, there may be something will stealth going on,” Fichtelmann said, leaving us hoping for some fun invisibility-based segments that tap into the powers of the On Ring.
And Hüsges added this: “The gameplay is informed by the character, so whatever makes sense for him, you can expect that we at least thought about putting that into the game.” For some reason, we’re now imagining Gollum smashing someone up with a rock.
Another Lord of the Rings game could follow
“I think we already know what happens after Gollum,” Fichtelmann revealed towards the end of our chat. “Because we have the license for not only one game. So maybe we need to start a simultaneous production for a second Lord of the Rings game in the near future, I don’t know.”
As for how many people will work on Gollum, Fichtelmann said that he expects the 20-strong in-house team that is working on it currently to grow to around 35 members. There will also be “quite a lot of different service providers, especially for environment, animation, localization, testing. These, let’s say, classic departments. Which means, finally, we define what the graphic is and we produce maybe 20% of the graphic internally, and 80% of the graphic will then be made by other people.”
So, it sounds like it’ll take a fair amount of people and companies to bring Daedalic’s vision for The Lord of the Rings: Gollum to life. It certainly sounds like an ambitious title, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated as we sneak closer to its 2021 release window…