Light the beacons of Gondor, there’s a new licensed Tolkien game on the horizon. The Lord Of The Rings – Gollum will be an action-adventure game featuring everyone’s favourite Ring-obsessed creature, and is being made by Daedalic Entertainment, the makers of the Deponia series and The Pillars Of The Earth. It's still in the extremely early stages of development, and is aiming for a 2021 release date. “Ask us anything," joked Carsten Fichtelmann, Daedalic CEO and founder, "but we’re not sure if we can answer any questions." Still, that didn't stop him from later telling me that they want to create a game as “timeless” as the books and the films.
Two years out from the planned release, the studio is still deciding how to approach fundamentals like mechanics and graphical style.
“It would be a good fit for a character like Gollum to do something with stealth,” Fichtelmann says. “This is so obvious that we can already reveal it... But all the other things are still something which we are discussing and we also then need to greenlight with the license [holders].”
The same goes for almost every aspect of the game, but Fichtelmann doesn't seem fazed. He tells me that their point-and-click adaptation of The Pillars Of The Earth is "definitely a game... which people will play in 50 years, like they will still read the novel in 50 years. And for Lord Of The Rings... hopefully we also find a timeless approach.”
I’m all for blue-sky “hopefully”s, but other licensed Tolkien games haven't always had the best success. For Daedalic, they seem to be pinning all their hopes on the character of Gollum himself.
“Gollum gives us a quite good advantage coming up with something that is definitely unique,” Fichtelmann tells me. “So there will be other games, and you also have other action adventures, but then people will say ‘yeah but in Gollum you have these two or three mechanics that work quite well together and the people got it right with the story.’”
Aside from stealth, these “two or three mechanics” might include something that reflects Gollum’s internal struggle.
“I definitely think we could come up with [something] based on that conflict, two personalities talking to him constantly. Feature-wise, we can bring that conflict to the controls, which means the game reacts to the player, and the player playing both characters at the same time, more or less.”
Of course, Fichtelmann followed up by saying “we can’t describe what that means today.”
As for the tale itself, Fichtelmann says the studio will be relying on its storytelling roots in order to explore this part of the Lord Of The Rings universe. In his several Deponia reviews, John did not find the studio's writing especially compelling (in particular, he wasn’t a fan of the sexism and racism, things for which Tolkien has also been criticised). I ask Fichtelmann what interests the studio about returning to the well of Tolkien when fantasy has often moved on (including to more inclusive places, as reflected in Daedalic’s other upcoming game A Year Of Rain), but he simply reiterates that they believe they can make something unique from the detailed world by focusing on Gollum.
The story “is not going to be the trademark moments you know from the movies,” according to project manager Jonas Hüsges. He also points out it breaks away from the traditional fantasy by giving it a different face.
“He’s not your typical hero that comes to a place and is cheered on, he’s always sort of treated with a mixture pity and disgust.”
On the other hand, Fichtelmann also mentions that the studio was struggling to make money off their previous story-focused games (citing the complicated issue of YouTubers and streamers who let people experience the story for free), which feels somehow like a more direct answer to the question "why Tolkien?"
It’s not an unsympathetic reason. Many developers would leap at the chance to make a game set in Middle-earth for both monetary and artistic reasons. It’s also fine that Daedalic doesn’t have all the answers yet, particularly when they have to work in such close collaboration with the licence-holders. But there is a very, very long way to go until release, let alone the creation of something "timeless".
Also, just a parting aside - revealing this news on Tolkien Reading Day seems nice at first, until you realise it’s chosen because it’s the date of the downfall of Sauron and the fall of the Barad-dûr and therefore the anniversary of the day that our new video game hero Gollum took a tumble into a volcano. Poor thing.