Image courtesy of Daedalic Entertainment

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum reimagines Tolkien’s Middle-Earth 

Mike Williams
It’s a great honor to breathe new life into one corner of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. The author’s works, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, have inspired the entire fantasy genre and countless adaptations worldwide. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is the latest one, a stealth action-adventure game focused on the infamous Hobbit twisted by the One Ring. 

The team behind the game, Daedalic Entertainment, feel the full weight of sending Gollum on a new journey and reimagining parts of Middle-Earth. “Working on one of these gigantic IPs like The Lord of the Rings is crazy challenging, but also super exciting,” says Daedalic Entertainment Lead Artist Mathias Fischer.

Gollum is a key character in The Lord of the Rings, but there’s a great deal of his story shrouded in mystery. The studio wants to fill in the blanks and dive deeper into who Gollum truly is. “For us, it's very important to follow the story of Gollum,” says Daedalic Entertainment Project Manager Saide Haberstroh. “It's a character that everyone knows somehow. Everyone has an image of him in their mind. There are a lot of areas of his life and of his journey that no one really knows much about. With that, we have the chance to show more about Gollum’s motivations, about his intentions.”
Image courtesy of Daedalic Entertainment
Daedalic Entertainment has the freedom to reimagine the world and characters of Middle-Earth, since its license starts with the original novels, not the famous film adaptations. For the team, this means going back to Tolkien’s detailed original descriptions.
Image courtesy of Daedalic Entertainment
“Tolkien is really good at describing how he imagined his characters,” says Fischer. “And we tried to translate this into [Unreal Engine] as much as possible. One example would be the Elven king Thranduil, the father of Legolas. He's described in insane detail. Lots and lots of flowing fabric, stars all over his robe. He has a crown that changes with the seasons, full of pearls. We try to get this in there. If one person gets what we're doing there, that's worth it.”

Gollum is different from your standard game protagonist, as the squat Hobbit tends to walk on all fours. The camera in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is also pulled further back to emphasize Gollum’s smaller stature. Haberstroh says that this created a number of challenges for various teams within Daedalic Entertainment, like ensuring Gollum’s animations worked with the Character Controller or Inverse Kinematics working on all kinds of surfaces.
For the objects and surfaces closer to Gollum, the team utilized Quixel Megascans. “Quixel was an insane help,” says Fischer.

Unreal Engine also allowed the team to streamline the development of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. “One of the coolest things we did is streamlining the whole development in a component-based way,” explains Daedalic Entertainment Lead Programmer Maic Hanse. “So, if you want an asset to be tracked, then you give it a Tag and then it's marked. You go to the Game Logic Graph: it's just a linear graph, a bit like Blueprints, just one level above.”
“You can create Nodes, create a game flow for a level,” he adds. “And in those nodes, you can create logic and Blueprints. So it's very easy for us to just build one graph per day and just play it. Then trigger that graph, which contains all the logic and all the dependencies. It's just a very easy model to learn and that's pretty awesome.”

Daedalic Entertainment is excited for people to experience their version of Middle-Earth in The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. Habersroh adds, “You just want people to enjoy the story, to see what Gollum is up to, and to have a good time while experiencing the game. With the help of this team, and of course Unreal Engine, we were able to do that.”

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