It was a two and a half year project, and over the course of a long project, people can lose track of the central vision. How did you keep people focused?
AM: From a development standpoint, it was just about constantly communicating what the goals were, constantly communicating the pillars of the game, making sure that everything was cool between the development team and marketing, making sure that we were always reviewing it and seeing the progress.
I think as far as the challenges go, it was tricky to get a deep combat system integrated nicely with an RPG system in a co-op setting.
The tendency is to be competitive with your allies, but we really wanted to team to feel like they were constantly working together, so incentivizing that through the XP system, and making sure that as you’re upgrading your character, it’s complimentary with what’s going on with the other characters. That took a lot of time to get right, and we were iterating it on it right up to the end -- trying to get that.
Talking about making co-op the focus, from your perspective, is that how the game is primarily intended to be played?
AM: Yes. Everything that we built is about teamwork. It’s about working together as a team, and by doing that, you really get the best experience. If you were playing single player, we certainly support that, and that’s cool.
We have AI bots that simulate the behavior of the other allies really well. They’ll use those skills, they’ll upgrade their gear. You can direct them to attack your targets, or defend, or whatever you want, but you’ll miss out on a lot of the loot, you’ll miss out on the side areas. It’s likely that you won’t get the most complete experience in single player.
Do you think the era of single player is over?
AM: Well, I’m always surprised, actually, when I see games that have been around for a while, and they don’t evolve into multiplayer territory. I don’t think it’s over, but I think it’s certainly becoming more compelling for consumers, and for gamers. I certainly think it's cooler. But it’s just a different thing.
I think as people get more bandwidth with their internet connections, and it’s just more available, and it integrates more seamlessly into the family room, and the mobiles and all that, it’s going to be more prevalent.
It can be hard to find the time for a lot of the audience to go through a whole campaign in co-op. Is that a consideration?
AM: Definitely. We see that all the time -- and there’s certainly a lot of data about how far players get through games, and what the trends are there. But I think that’s why you see a lot of games, and certainly War in the North is no exception, where there’s an incentive to playing online with your friends. It’s easy to connect up online; it’s not a big thing. Making it accessible and making it worthwhile for players, I think that’s the key, and if you can tie that in with your core pillars, then that’s great. I’d say it’s a challenge, but it’s worth it.
As the story evolved throughout development, from a design perspective, how did that work in terms of approvals, and working with Middle Earth Enterprises? Are they set up to work closely as with an evolving game, or was that new for them?
AM: Yeah, totally. We developed a really personal relationship with those guys, where we’d fire off emails to them, and they’d respond. Or they’d come in and check it out, and we’d present to them, and walk them through the entire game, and they saw everything, and were really receptive towards it. And I remember there was some kind of company event which they came to, and that was cool to see them there, and they were really cool.
A lot of people I’ve talked to have spoke of the difficulties of working on licensed properties.
AM: Yeah, all the time.
License holders not getting it. Not getting it and not being used to this creative process of iteration. It’s very different from other media.
AM: Right, yeah. No, it’s common, right? There were challenging times, but it didn’t feel like that to me, on this project. I think that it was easier. We were more synced up from the beginning; there was insight into each other’s process, and all that kind of stuff. It wasn’t weird.
It sounds like there’s passion from your side, particularly from the narrative space.
AM: Yeah, totally. It was really important that we didn’t go off the rails, because you’re just going to have to fix that anyway. But also you don’t really need to. There’s enough content there. There are enough lines in the actual books, where you can refer to, and actually expand on those notes, and make a compelling experience.
Definitely everybody on the team knows Lord of the Rings, and is into it, and saw the movies and all that kind of stuff, and so we’re able to draw on that passion as a team. A good example of that is our art director Phil Straub, an amazing painter. And it's really inspiring to look at the imagery from Weta, and all that kind of stuff, and it’s not hard to find things to be passionate about in a Tolkien universe.