You mentioned the company had a programmer culture. I’m curious about tools, because sometimes in a programmer culture company, there is not as much concern with the design tools.
AM: Yeah, right. Well, there was a lot of work that we had to do once the project was kicked off, and we knew the direction, as far as being able to script encounters and being able to set up the combat, so that it was something that we could deal with. A lot of times, it can get completely out of hand, as far as how much data you’re managing. So there were a lot of tools, while we were in production, that we had to still develop.
But ironically, it wasn’t so much of a programmer focus in the early days, it was actually more of an art focus. It was really more about we had the code -- like we had the networking code, we had a lot of ability to do good art, and to import good scenes, but the design stuff was where we had to do a lot of work.
And you talked about implementation in the design. From your perspective as a lead, are you a "people have to get their hands dirty" with scripting kind of designer?
AM: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Everybody was hands-on with the game. It wasn’t sort of ivory tower, throw things over the fence, and then the guys implement it.
Everybody who was involved was doing implementation, and that is important to me particularly, with management. I think it’s important that if you’re managing a group, or even within production, that you have a sense of how people build the things that you’re telling them to build.
When it came to iterating on the things you were building, you said sometimes, for example, combat encounters could get out of hand. How did you work that out?
AM: Well, it was really on an as-needed basis. When we found that a particular scripting situation was just too complex, it was unmanageable, then we would look at it from the standpoint of whether or not we needed to add new tools to be able to make that better. We knew going in the basic sorts of things, and what we would need, and so we worked on those right away, but there were still discoveries that we had to adapt in, as we went.
Did you ever use playtesting to keep yourselves on track?
AM: Definitely. Yeah, definitely. That was a big deal for us. And actually, through WB, we had a great ability to do really honest multiplayer testing, multiple times. We were able to see the trends from month to month, as far as how things are tracking. And everything from straight balancing feedback, to "How is this game making me feel?" feedback, to targeted stuff like the UI. Can people get in and connect up online quickly, and understand what the UI is telling them?
How was working with marketing on the game?
AM: It was very collaborative between marketing -- like positioning of the game -- and what we wanted to do with it. It, and I wouldn’t say it was really that out of sync. It was a Lord of the Rings game, co-op focused. It was a mature title with a unique story, and those things synced up really well, so when it came to making sure that we were doing something that was working with marketing, it was kind of easy, really.
I mean, there are always little things along the way, but that didn’t so much bother me. And also working with Middle Earth Enterprises and getting information from Weta, and all that kind of stuff, was really great. Middle Earth Enterprises, those guys were awesome. You were kind of a little bit worried going in to it, but it was great.
The game has an original story, correct?
AM: It’s on the same timeline as Lord of the Rings. So we’re intersecting with that story along the way. We’re talking to Aragorn in Bree, we’re talking to Elrond in Rivendell. You’re hitting familiar points along the way, to keep it rooted and in sync with that timeline.
But it takes you to whole new areas in Middle Earth that people had never done before in games, and it’s a story that’s alluded to, but we were able to expand on that, on those notes in the books, and invent some of the locations -- how they look -- and some of the enemies, in terms of what they do, exactly.
But again, working with Middle Earth Enterprises, everything was very tightly synced with that group, so that there was no lore breaking, or weird stuff going on.