We are game developers for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Ask us anything.
Hello, Reddit! This is Mike de Plater (Director of Design) and Mike Forgey (Executive Producer), part of the team at Monolith behind Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Ask us anything! We'll be answering as many questions as possible - avoiding spoilers of course - from 2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. PT.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a new story set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and begins on the night of Sauron's return to Mordor, as his Black Captains brutally execute the Rangers of the Black Gate. You'll take on the role of Talion, a Ranger who loses his family and everything he holds dear, only to be returned from death by a mysterious Spirit of Vengeance. Through the game's innovative Nemesis System, every enemy encountered is procedurally generated and distinctly unique to each player, from appearance, to personality type, to strengths and weaknesses. For more information on Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor or to pre-order the game, visit www.shadowofmordor.com.
Middle-earth Shadow of Mordor comes out in the Americas on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC/Steam Sept. 30, and PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on November 18.
EDIT: Hey guys, gotta run, but thank you all for the great questions! See you on September 30th! http://i.imgur.com/UNRr9us.jpg
Hi Walkinthefire. Thanks for the detailed lore questions. I would love to be able to discuss these in even more detail, but high level here we go... - Is Talion Dead: Yes he is. So in that sense he does have more in common with the Nazgul or the Barrow Wights. The Nazgul are very interesting in terms of whether they have "flesh" or not - for example Merry is able to stab the Witch King in the heel. Also it's ambiguous whether they are wearing the Rings of Power (holding them) or they are held by Sauron to enable him to exert his domination over them. - Celebrimbor is also a somewhat special case in that he worked directly with Sauron (the Necromancer) and he also died under some very special circumstances. So his presence as a vengeful Wraith is somewhat unique. Also what makes Elves unique after death is that they are bound within this world. They can never leave the circles of the world, whether they go to the Blessed Realm or not. - Regarding Magic and the level of power, we are perhaps more at the epic end of the spectrum, but we felt this was legitimate because we are within Mordor and Celebrimbor is not constrained in his use of power in the same way that Gandalf was. He has no hesitation about interfering or facing Sauron directly. We get a bit of a taste of what this could look like when we see Dark Galadriel - You are right about the timeline and we have compressed some of the events, in the same way as the films, and we have associated the return of Sauron to Dol Guldor with the restoration of the Nazgul. - In regard to the style and tone we are very focused on the themes of power and the consequences of power and ruthlessness. Our characters are indeed taking a path more like Boromir, Saruman or Galadriel and Gandalf's temptation to take the Ring.
Thanks for your response. I realize that you have other questions to get to, so don't feel the need to respond to what's below. However, I do have some thoughts on this:
Is Talion Dead: Yes he is. So in that sense he does have more in common with the Nazgul or the Barrow Wights.
My understanding is that his spirit returns to his own body. Given how Tolkien consistently uses 'life' and 'death,' that would make Talion once dead and returned to life. The Ringwraiths aren't a very good comparison here, as they never died prior to the War of the Ring. The Barrow Wights are a bit of a mystery -- we don't know exactly what they are save 'fell spirits' reanimating corpses. The men who's bodies they were have long since passed beyond the Circles of the World, so it is some other sort of being that's inhabiting them.
The Nazgul are very interesting in terms of whether they have "flesh" or not - for example Merry is able to stab the Witch King in the heel.
The Ringwraiths do have bodies (and thus flesh). When a being 'fades' in Tolkien's universe, it retains its physical form, though it's made invisible to those who inhabit the 'seen' realm. The flesh of the Ringwraiths does seem to be in a significant state of decay, as it takes some sort of sorcery to hold it together. Nonetheless, the bond between spirit and body remains and remained unbroken prior to their deaths.
Also it's ambiguous whether they are wearing the Rings of Power (holding them) or they are held by Sauron to enable him to exert his domination over them
You're correct on this point, though the stronger argument is that they did not possess their Rings. However, once they had faded, they did not need the Rings to remain invisible, alive, and under Sauron's utter dominion.
Celebrimbor is also a somewhat special case
Well, in your game that does seem to be the case. Celebrimbor was one of the elves tutored by Sauron, but anything after his death remains unknown. It's very likely he simply heeded the summons of Mandos. Also, again I will note that 'wraith' isn't really a term that should be applied to Celebrimbor. 'Houseless elf' is the term that Tolkien uses for an elf who has died and remained in the world.
Regarding Magic and the level of power, we are perhaps more at the epic end of the spectrum, but we felt this was legitimate because we are within Mordor and Celebrimbor is not constrained in his use of power in the same way that Gandalf was. He has no hesitation about interfering or facing Sauron directly
Even at the 'epic' end of the spectrum, your use of magic is inconsistent with what we see elsewhere. For example, The Silmarillion is full of war and battle between elves (many of whom are more powerful than Celebrimbor) and the forces of evil, yet magic remains hardly used in comparison to what is depicted in your game.
We get a bit of a taste of what this could look like when we see Dark Galadriel
This would be a case of drawing from the films, rather than the books, so there isn't really anything for me to comment on here.
You are right about the timeline and we have compressed some of the events, in the same way as the films, and we have associated the return of Sauron to Dol Guldor with the restoration of the Nazgul.
Thanks for the acknowledge on the timeline. I'm confused by the latter part -- are you referring to the events depicted in Peter Jackson's Hobbit films regarding his deaths & resurrection of the Ringwraiths?
In regard to the style and tone we are very focused on the themes of power and the consequences of power and ruthlessness. Our characters are indeed taking a path more like Boromir, Saruman or Galadriel and Gandalf's temptation to take the Ring.
I see that, but The Lord of the Rings is very clearly a work about not taking that path. It's at the thematic heart of the work, and that's something that attracts a great many people to the story. Usually when people wish to explore derivative works, they do so to get some further exploration and enjoyment of what they liked about the source material. In this case, someone looking for Tolkien's themes would find your interpretation of it unfaithful and even distasteful. It seems to be set to appeal to those interested more in the action and warfare, which isn't really what The Lord of the Rings is about.
Head over to our Wikia and continue the conversation there. It's great.
Open world like Skyrim or is it open world zones? Also, how many areas can we expect other than what you have shown us so far?
It's open world zones, and you can freely move anywhere and explore each of those. We've shown our two main zones, which are the Sea of Nurn and Udun. There's another Zone we haven't shown yet. And there's lots of exploration within each of our Zones. Each of them has multiple Strongholds in them as well.
Hey guys! Before I ask my questions- I just want to say that I'm super exited for SoM, as it looks freakin amazing! Anyway, my questions:
Please don't view this condescendingly, but me and my friends are curious about what other features (ex. the recruitment system) will make this more than a "reworked Assassins Creed".
(most importantly) Will I be able to ride a Mûmakil/use it to kill a vast amount of orcs like a bad ass? The mere thought of using those beasts at any time in an open world sandbox game gives me a destruction boner.
Hi Efreererun. 1 - One of the best things about all our recent events like Pax and Gamescom where people get hands on with the game is that when people get their hands on it they constantly tell us that it's not like anything else they've played. If you've played Arkham you will certainly be able to pick and play with the controls, but the enemies and the mix of melee, stealth and ranged are quite unique. 2 - Sorry to deflate your destruction boner, but we don't have a Mûmakil.
Buut, buut, DLC?
Well the first DLC is the "Lord of Beasts". It doesn't have a Mumakil, but it does have some pretty epic new monsters that you are going to be able to ride around and kill vast amounts of orcs like a badass.
How much of the existing lore will the more involved Middle Earth players understand over someone who's just seen the movies?
Is that lore explained for new players in the game?
Hi Cheatshaman. We tried to put in some deep lore for players who are very familiar with Middle-earth, but we also tried to ensure that the story makes sense on it's own for players who have never read the books or seen the movies. And we have many artifacts and lore entries that reveal a lot of the lore and how it connects to our story.
Mike, first off, you have been doing an amazing job with all these demos and interviews. You (and everyone working on this project) seem to have a lot of respect for the material and come across as genuinely knowledgeable.
How many NPCs can be in combat at once? In the demos, I've seen ~60, but I am really hoping for some large scale battles in the main story.
Thank Celebrimbors Revenge! We spent a lot of time playtesting and found that at above 60 it gets a bit too chaotic from a gameplay point of view, so we really focused on matching the AI and Gameplay to those sort of numbers.
So, Shadow of Mordor has been my #1 most anticipated game pretty much ever since you posted that first gameplay video on YouTube. Even beating out Destiny. Most of the question I would have had, you've already answered in other interviews, but I have two that still really stick out.
1) Are we supposed to view the story of Shadow of Mordor as canon, or just as an amazing "What If?" spin-off?
2) Did you always intend for Ratbag to be a full character in the game, or did you make him a full character after he got such a positive reaction in the original, pre-Alpha demo video?
Hi LifeInShadows 1 - It takes place within the canon and the back story of Sauron and Celebrimbor is drawn directly from canon. But we have also created some elements like Talion and his story.
So far we've mostly seen gameplay from the section of the game in which you have to defeat the 5 warchiefs and install replacements under your control to form your own army. It's a great showcase of the Nemesis system, but I'm curious how the mechanics apply to the other sections of the game. Once you're ready to lead your army, do these systems continue to play a role in identifying, targeting, and manipulating Orcs in later legs of the game?
Yes, once you've dominated a set of Warchiefs, levelled them up, given them Bodyguards you can take this force into the final missions of the game against the Black Captains. You can then continue to play in the Sandbox after the Story has finished. And you can play the Challenge Modes.
Approximately how long will this take (branding all the warchiefs) in many of the demos you have shown you are able to brand one or two in about an hour.
It varies quite a lot depending on how you approach it. The Demos we've shown are quite a bit faster than average because we tend to lock the difficulty to easy to make sure we can get through the game and show as much as possible in a short time. But one or two an hour is a good average.
So, we've seen 4 warchiefs shown in a demo, so does that mean we have 4-6 hours of game play contained within the nemesis system? Sorry to keep grilling you on this, but you can imagine a single player only game, game time is important :p thanks for your replies!
That's just one mission! Early game you are hunting and assassinating one group of Warchiefs to draw out the Black Captain (one of the villains). Later you are trying to dominate them and build your army. So there's a couple of Nemesis System major missions. But there's a lot of other interactions with it as you go through and make your own personal arch-enemies.
How about side quests? If so, what kind are there?
There's quite a few. There's saving the Outcast Humans being enslaved by Sauron's forces, there's Weapon Quests which unlock upgrades for the Bow, Sword and Dagger, there's numerous collectibles that unlock Lore and Upgrades, there's hunting and survivalist challenges. And there's also Power Struggles - these are dynamically created Side Quests which are generated by the Nemesis System, so you can really mess with Orc Society.
Based on the game play footage I have seen, the protagonist seems extremely powerful and can easily plow through several once with ease. What sort of difficulty options are being offered to players that want a more challenging experience?
As you gain upgrades he can become very powerful, and we have tended to show demos where we have a bunch of our upgrades unlocked and the difficulty turned down - but of course one does not simply walk into Mordor. One thing we've tried to do is let you control the difficulty by how you play - not just the options in the front end. You can go straight after bosses without learning their weaknesses, you can even send them Death Threats which make them tougher and give you better Runes.
I've seen a fair amount of gameplay from the videos floating around. It looks like the Nemesis system is pretty cool and could be fun to play around with it. My question comes from the gameplay supporting Nemesis and the surrounding world. How much variety would you say there is in the game? My concern is that the combat and the process of taking down the bosses will get repetitive, like Assassin's Creed 1 got repetitive.
One of the biggest goals for us with the Nemesis System is to make sure that combat doesn't get repetitive - there's no cannon fodder as any enemy can get promoted, the bosses have a huge variety of skills that make you change up your strategy, you can fight a bunch of them at once, then there's a huge amount of chaos in the sandbox with beasts, flame and destruction. And of course combat is just one part of the game. There's also a whole bunch of other side content, missions and exploration.
What other types of skins can we expect to be released (and included in the Season Pass)? Are these all strictly Talion, or other characters like Celebrimbor? Any fun surprises like an Aragorn skin?
We haven't announced all the skins yet, but there's definitely some more cool ones to come.
Aww, c'mon! Not even a hint?
OK, you were on the money with that Celebrimbor guess.
2 parter here:
What is an aspect of the game you guys are most excited about besides the nemesis system?
And are there going to be bigger creatures to dominate than Graugs? Or maybe other creatures besides Graugs and Caragors?
Probably the Story. The epic visions of the Second Age, seeing more of Sauron and his back-story, meeting Gollum, new characters like Ratbag. And the great performances by Troy Baker and the rest of the cast.
Were you fans of LOTR prior to making the game?
Very much so. The Hobbit was the first book I ever read and LOTR was the next, and I've read it many times since.
What was the hardest character to create for Shadow of Mordor?
The main character. Especially as there's two of them - Talion and Celebrimbor. And they both have to work together, from a gameplay, story, visual and authentic to the lore. It was tough.
How much blood, sweat, and tits were put into your newest game?
All of them.
Can you give me one reason I should buy the game? I'm on the fence about it and I just need vindication of my choice.
Can I give you 3: - The core gameplay is really solid. - You'll be able to keep generating memorable and unique boss fights... forever - The story.
Hello! Firstly, I just want to say I'm a huge fan, so much so that I'm a mod of the subreddit (hope you like it) and I can't wait till the 30th to finally get my hands on Shadow of Mordor. I have a couple of questions. Firstly, how big is the sandbox? Can we ride flying creatures? Thanks again for making this game, so hyped for it!
EDIT: Apparently there is fast travel!
You can't ride flying creatures. The Fell Beasts haven't been bred to be big enough yet.
The two main Sandboxes have multiple Strongholds, Caves a lot of verticality and exploration. So many hours of gameplay. They also differ a lot between day and night - with Ghuls crawling out and swarming in the evening.
We really tried to optimize the scale of the world to the gameplay and the density of the number of enemies and encounters. It's generally pretty intense, but if you want to get to a "safe area" you can use the Towers.
How many total sections of the world are there if Sea of Nurn is a single one, and does each area have its own set of warbosses?
There's two main zones, as well as some other story locations, and yes each one has it's own Nemesis System Heirarchy. Plus every time you play they get a fresh new set of Bosses.
While the game has more in common with Arkham than assassins creed, the only reason I cant get into assassins creed is how easy the game is
Can I expect Shadow of mordor to be decently challenging, or at least provide ways I can artificially make the game harder, such as maybe not eating herbs to regain health?.
Yes, absolutely you can get a challenge from our combat - and you can make it harder. We've talked a bit about our Nemesis System and how you can build up grudges and hatred against your enemies - that only works if they can kick your ass. We have to make them powerful enough so that you need to think twice about how to take them down, find their weaknesses, go after their bodyguards etc. As well you can control your difficulty by turning off some of the more helpful options (like the prompts). Plus we have the Challenge Modes, which are seriously hard if you want to go for the Gold Medals.
What was the biggest technical difficulty you encountered while developing the game?
I'm not the best guy to answer that, but we've got lots of very smart engineers who could give more details. But high level it was the complexity of all the systems that had to come together for the Nemesis System - AI, Character Art, Animation, huge amounts of facial animation. It's pretty complex and the team did an amazing job of coordinating between all the disciplines.
Yes. We thought of many many things.
I have never been more excited for a game and SoM is looking extremely amazing. The one question I had, if you can answer it, would be how deep does the nemesis system go? In the very first gameplay we saw(our first introduction to Ratbag) there was one Captain up top with weaker orcs under him, but I also understand this was in alpha. Now anything recent has shown there are 5 War Chiefs with a plethora of captains under them. Now will this get more expansive over the course of the game or is what we've been seeing the extent of our control in the nemesis system/sauron's army?
Thank you for taking the time to do this as well
Hi KKWAKE. It's a tricky question to answer precisely. It goes deep enough that after hundreds of hours playing we still discover new combinations and characters every time we'll play. I will say that the more times you play the deeper it gets.
Hello Mr de Plater and Mr Forgey,
You and members of your team have expressed in interviews with the press your love for Tolkien's story and world. You have stated that you have gone at lengths to make sure that your game is "authentic" and "faithful" to Tolkien's works. I also have a love of that story and world, and I enjoy seeing others interpret it for their own works. However, when words like 'authentic' and 'faithful' are thrown around, my expectations are set quite high. Unfortunately, I do have some concerns about what you have included in your game lore-wise, and I know that I am far from the only person to have these concerns. With that in mind, I would like to know your thoughts on these: (I realize the post below is quite long, I have included a much briefer summary at the bottom which you can feel free to skip to so that you can reach as many questions as possible)
Your main character, Talion, is quite clearly a dead man who has been resurrected. However, Tolkien explicitly notes that "No fëa [an Elvish word for 'spirit'] of a dead Man ever returned to life in Middle-earth" (from 'Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth' in The History of Middle-earth Volume X: Morgoth's Ring. Tolkien does, of course, note that there exists the exception of Beren. Beren was able to return to life because Eru had his return in his design for the 'drama' of the world, and intervened in a minor way to allow it. Beren's return enriched mankind, due later becoming a father, but he also was forbidden from seeing other mortals ever again. Talion returning to life, especially without such unique circumstances, is quite against this prinicple of Tolkien's world that dead men do not return to life. Of course, men can linger long past their normal lives. The Ringwraiths, for instance, had their lives extended. The Dead Men of Dunharrow died and stayed in the world, but never returned to life. Without going into too much into spoiler territory, could you say if Talion is really dead or not?
You call Celebrimbor a 'wraith.' However, this term is misapplied. Unlike in many other stories or in folklore, a 'wraith' for Tolkien was not a spirit. Consistently, he uses the term to mean a corporeal being who has 'faded' into the Unseen Realm. Celebrimbor is an elf who has died, and so remains in the world (in your story) as a spirit. The term for him would then be a 'houseless elf.' Careful readers might observe that there actually is one exception to that usage: in the published Silmarillion, the spirit of Gorlim is referred to as a 'wraith.' However, that was a term actually introduced by Christopher or Guy Kay during the editing process, and JRR (being dead) was not involved in that word choice. This is more of a semantics point, but semantics did have some importance to Tolkien and his stories.
Houseless elves clearly were a thing in Tolkien's mythology. They could even inhabit things in the physical world, going as far as the bodies of other people. As the barrow-wights should spirits could reanimate corpses (and possibly even inhabit them), but they could not actually return a corpse to life, which would require bringing back its native spirit. Magic powers also could not be awarded to 'pure' men, and spirits themselves were physically impotent (though a powerful enough spirit could use 'magic' to impact the world around them in somewhat-subtle ways). A houseless elf inhabiting the body of another also would not cause his or her eyes to glow blue.
Regarding magic, your game is clearly abundant with it. The great deal of magia and powers I surmise are goetic effects are plainly inconsistent with Tolkien's more reserved and subtle use of those things. Magic, of course, exists in Tolkien's mythos. Sometimes it exists in big and flashy ways, but it never approaches having things like 'battle mages,' which is a term that could be applied to Talion+Celebrimbor given just how much magic they use.
All of the above have the unfortunate result that your protagonist and central premise of the game is quite at odds with Tolkien's lore and world. Simply put, the presence of such a character alone makes it difficult for me to see the world you have designed and built as a well-conceived interpretation of Tolkien's Middle-earth. It doesn't feel authentic at all, I'm afraid... However, there is more:
The game is set with Sauron's return to Mordor, which happened in 2942. However, your story also features Talion being part of Gondor's watch on the Black Gate. That was abandoned some 1300 years earlier. That is not the only historical inconsistency between your game and Tolkien's lore. For instance, you depict northwest Mordor as a rather thriving and green realm many, many centuries after it had become a desolate and barren landscape. You've also included Gollum in your game, who did not appear in Mordor until sometime between 3009 and 3017 -- there would need to be quite a length of years for his presence to make chronological sense.
In imagery, tone, and themes, your work seems very much unlike Tolkien's. Simply put, the art direction of your game seems more inspired by Peter Jackson's film trilogy and modern fantasy games than it does Tolkien's (quite extensive and elaborate) descriptions. As I've stated, when in northwest Mordor, there should hardly be any green plants. Costume and weapon designs should be heavily based on the European early medieval era (rather than high or late). Orcs should be shorter than humans, yet have a somewhat more human look to them than what is seen in your game. Their behavior and speech also seems to be more inspired by more recent takes on 'orcs,' rather than the dialogue and mannerisms we witness in The Lord of the Rings. Most importantly, your game seems quite focused on brutal action and dominating other living things. For someone wanting a work influenced by The Lord of the Rings that's quite a leap. While it is by no means a work for pacifists, it does stress that warfare and killing should be seen as nothing more than a necessity. We see this especially with Faramir and Frodo. The Lord of the Rings is also a book all about getting rid of power! The whole point of the quest from a broad view is to 'throw away' a significant source of power, not gain it! You or members of your team in interviews have also commented on the association of 'domination' and 'power' in Tolkien's works. However, domination is more closely linked with evil, and its use actually leads to a decrease in power. Melkor and Sauron are both significantly weakened by their attempts to unjustly control others. Your game features quite the reverse, and that's disturbing to me as someone who appreciates Tolkien's stories in great part due to their thematic importance.
In summary: your game features protagonists which are incompatible with this mythology due to one's resurrection and the other's abilities, the history you depict has numerous inconsistencies with Tolkien's, and your game has rather significant issues regarding its imagery, its tone, and its themes if the aim is to be authentic and faithful to Tolkien's stories. This would all seem to be rather at odds with your statements on maintaining authenticity and faithfulness to the source material.
You have stated in interviews that you are fans of Tolkien's stories, and I believe you. I'm sure that, as fans like me, you care about these stories and wish to see them live up to their potential as hallmarks of popular culture. I'm also sure you can see why I, and others, have concerns about what impact this game could have on the conception of those stories in that culture, and I would like to see what you could do to alleviate those concerns.
Lastly, I will say that all this stuff is concerned with your game's story and its depiction of Tolkien's world and lore. Apart from all that, your game does look to be quite excellent, and it looks to include several innovative ideas. From what I've read of the experiences of those who've played it, it seems that those ideas have been well implemented, and I hope the game lives up to that promise.
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