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Developer Diary #1


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#1 dathui

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Posted 01 March 2006 - 03:18 PM

Greetings, we have a new treat for you folks, Developer Diaries. First one out is Bernd so i'll just let him get started.
Enjoy.

Mae govannen, worthy readers!

This is the first instalment of TLA's forthcoming Developer Diaries - where members of our team will have the opportunity to talk about their work within the project. These diaries are aimed at those within the WFG's community wanting to have a peek at TLA's ongoing production cycle. The honour of writing this first Developer Diary is now mine - in my role as Project Co-Leader and Head of the Game Design Department.

It has been some time since our initial announcement of 'Nern Ennorath' (Tales of Middle-earth) and I believe there are still many misconceptions of what this is all about.

One of the first Story Campaigns we are currently working on is called 'The Return of the Noldor' (production title). This campaign is focused on the events taking place during the very first days of the First Age of the Sun, as the hosts of the Noldor set foot again on Middle-earth in pursuit of Morgoth Bauglir, in their attempt to retrieve the stolen Silmarils.

We will portray this and other parts of Tolkien's myth as a series of animated cut-scenes, using the game's engine, and individual missions. Also, according to the devised game's internal structure, the outcome of previous missions will influence future ones - be it the amount of surviving units, accomplished goals or other game play-relevant objectives.

I will now go into details about 'The Return of the Noldor'. The instalment opens with an in-game cinematics where we witness the landing of the Noldor at the Firth of Drengist, followed by the Burning of Ships at Losgar and the demise of Ambarto (aka Amrod), FŽanor's son.

The first mission will then pick up the story right after the Hosts of FŽanor begin their inland march towards Hithlum. The noise from the landing and the flames' blaze has attracted the attention of Morgoth's scouts - and so you, the player, will have to march your columns further inland and evade, or quietly dispatch, any opposition.

In your second mission, you will reach the shores of Lake Mithrim and have to make camp at a secure location, while still evading or destroying any roving forces of Morgoth before they can raise the alarm.

The second cinematics now shows Orc armies crossing the passes of Ered Wethrin and marching towards the not yet fully made camp of the Noldor by the northern bank of Lake Mithrim.

Mission #3 will then feature the first part of the Dagor-nuin-Giliath (The Battle under the Stars - this being the second Battle of Beleriand). Here, your mission will be to defend the camp, fighting back the Orcs within a set time-limit, and pursuing the fleeing attackers.

Your fourth mission will feature the ambush set by Celegorm for the southern Orc forces at Eithel Sirion. The Orcs return from their successful siege to the Falathrim havens of Eglarest and Brithombar. You will take command of Celegorm and his troops as you set the ambush.

The fifth, and final mission, will feature FŽanor's ill-fated pursuit of the remnants of the Orc armies - as they flee across Ard-galen towards Angband itself - when he suddenly finds himself surrounded by fresh forces pouring off Angband and led by Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs.

The final cinematics will portray Gothmog striking down FŽanor and his last-minute rescue by his sons. As they carry their mortally wounded father on a litter back to their camp, FŽanor beckons them to stop at the pass of Ered Withrin and there, looking back upon Angband and Thangorodrim, he lays the burden of reclaiming the Silmaril on his sons and dies. His body is consumed with flames, turns to ashes and vanishes.

This is a rough overview on how we are going to depict Tolkien's tales and translate them into the electronic media. We will provide players with certain liberties, but in the end, the outcome will be the same as in the books.

Some key features that are currently planned:
  • Units will carry over their accumulated experience into their following missions, meaning if a unit falls, it will not be available in future ones. This also holds true for hero-characters e.g. the Sons of FŽanor.
  • Pre-deployed units - this means players need not (or cannot) build up their forces; they will be able to send their units into action straight away. This also increases the immersion of players in the Story Campaign, since an early failure may cost them dearly in a later mission.
  • Scripted events will drive the plot forwards. Short in-game cinematics will portray important developments as being told in Professor Tolkien's works.
  • Dynamic mission objectives will pop up from time to time, giving players an additional motivation boost or turning their original objectives upside down. Fulfilling bonus objectives will earn them prestige points that will unlock additional features.

Edited by Enarwaen, 03 March 2006 - 08:30 AM.

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#2 CrazyThumbs

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Posted 03 March 2006 - 12:49 AM

Woohoo, new info!

This really clears up my skepticism about the Tales of Middle Earth, I had a different impression (thought it was going to be more like you can control one unit, rpg kinda thing) But now I realize its just the campaign, thats released before so we dont have to wait for the whole game before we play :P

Will these be a monthly thing, kinda like 0ad has going with their achievments of the month and such?
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#3 Enarwaen

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Posted 03 March 2006 - 08:58 AM

(thought it was going to be more like you can control one unit, rpg kinda thing)

well sometimes it can even boil down to this - just think of Tuor's quest down from Hithlum to Nevrast. but the framework is still a RTS - just sometimes with a much closer scope on the characters.
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#4 Beren IV

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Posted 04 March 2006 - 05:39 PM

Cool. Again, I think there are other means for doing the heroic aspect (that involve more magic) than what I expect given the unit concepts I have seen thusfar, but this is definitely TLA coolness. The Noldor have heroes, but they are really doing this as a migrating population rather than as an adventuring group. What works for them won't work as well for the Quest of the Silmaril, I fear. But anyhow, this is good, and I want to see it! When is the release data? :P
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#5 Lord Typaer

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Posted 05 March 2006 - 04:14 PM

Sounds great!

My only concern is this:

Pre-deployed units - this means players need not (or cannot) build up their forces; they will be able to send their units into action straight away. This also increases the immersion of players in the Story Campaign, since an early failure may cost them dearly in a later mission.


This seems like an excellent feature, but you should still be able to complete the later missions even though you made a failure on the previous mission(s). Say you're at the final mission, but cannot complete it because you don't have enough units. It would be very frustrating to have to play the whole campaign again, just because of some failure you made, lets say, in the first mission :P
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#6 Mithrandil

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Posted 05 March 2006 - 04:36 PM

I like the idea. The Total War titles work with that system more or less. I think it's wonderfull that you HAVE to perform good all of the time to have any result. That way, your actions really do have consequences, and errors are punished.
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#7 rohirwine

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Posted 05 March 2006 - 04:41 PM

This is very true, but rest assured that early failure will mean more hardships to overcome in later game parts not inability of finishing the game... :P

[EDIT]Quick self-bashing note: Off course (see Enarwaen's post below) there will be situatuions where fulfilling a mission objectives will be required to go on playing.

Edited by rohirwine, 06 March 2006 - 10:03 AM.

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#8 Enarwaen

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Posted 06 March 2006 - 07:49 AM

When is the release date?

you know ... i guess ... umm ... when it's done. :P (standard dev answer) :S

Say you're at the final mission, but cannot complete it because you don't have enough units. It would be very frustrating to have to play the whole campaign again, just because of some failure you made, lets say, in the first mission

rest assured that there will be definitive mission goals that you need to fulfill before advancing to the next mission - e.g. in Mission #3 you'll need to accomplish something like 'Celegorm must survive' before being able to advance to Mission #4.
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#9 Beren IV

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Posted 06 March 2006 - 08:31 PM

This reminds me of the Myth series (The Fallen Lords and Soulblighter). Cool - I have to say that releasing this game in chunks like this is a good move. :P Certainly, since warfare is integral to economics (war being the primary mode of direct competition), we will need the combat system before the economic system.

Question: we're playing a branch of the Noldor, who are a kindred, a people. The Noldor are going to have noncombatant units (even if we assume that the females fight like the males, we've still got children to worry about). What are we going to do about them?

Also, if we do assume that the females fight like the males, do we assume that they are evenly distributed among the units? If not, then losing all of one sex or the other should mean losing the game!
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#10 NaurwenT

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Posted 06 March 2006 - 10:15 PM

IIRC we discussed the role of the nissi in another thread, right? :P

Tolkien wrote about the role of elven women in warfare. We know elven women would fight in dire strait or desperate defence, so I would have them adding up to the units as the situation worsens.
Let's say the number of fallen Noldorin units increases, the enemy closes in, the number of female fighters goes up - while we still have a great number of them looking after children and those wounded.
Regarding their distribution, I would say unevenly is more realistic. Unless we find ourselves in a last-stand scenario, women would not be found in the front line but in the rearguard, and preferably among archers.
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#11 Beren IV

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 05:16 AM

We did discuss women, that's true. But what about children? If the Noldor are migrating, then they will be coming, too.

Edited by Beren IV, 08 March 2006 - 05:17 AM.

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#12 NaurwenT

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 12:57 PM

Needless to say that if the Noldor, as a people, are migrating, their children must go along.
However, having the Noldor risking the lives of their offspring taking them into unknown territories (leaving aside the adventure of their return to Beleriand) is, imho, something that does not fit in the family scenario devised by Tolkien. After all, according to the Professor, Elves care that much for their children that they are not likely to beget them in times of war, or when couples are to be sundered during the bearing of children or the first years of their childhoods.
So, once the Noldor find themselves - and their offspring - in a war scenario, I would expect adults to take all the necessary steps in order to protect the children.

Perhaps one thing to do would be having the Elf-children moving from secure settlement to secure settlement. And so they would remain at the main camp with Noldorin troops and the bulk of the population, while scouting units march inwards. Once a location for another settlement is found and made secure, the bulk of the Noldorin population would move to this new settlement, taking the children with them.
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#13 Beren IV

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 04:40 PM

What I was wondering was if for the campaign the player will have to tote around noncombatant units that need to be protected and cannot fight. Obviously their methods for doing this would be like what you describe.
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#14 NaurwenT

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 06:23 PM

Apologies for having misunderstood your question.
I don't think this topic has been discussed - and if it has, I am not aware of it - when it comes to the way NE is going to deal with this.
If defending your camp is part of mission #3, and in the name of realism, protecting non-combatants should definitely be part of it.
Anyway, how do other RTS games deal with this issue?
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#15 Beren IV

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 10:01 PM

Most RTS games handle it woefully inadequately. I have yet to see an RTS with a population model that seems to work; most RTS games divide a civilization's membership into units and buildings, of which buildings produce units, and all of the resource-gathering, construction, and virtually everything else of interest that isnt' fighting is handled by a single unit. Age of Mythology begins to break this mode with Norse buildings constructed by infantry units, and Rise of Nations has several civilian units apart from the basic citizen, but still the citizen does most of both the gathering and the building. Citizen civilian units are usually alternatively male or female, but the difference is entirely cosmetic. I have never seen children in an RTS (although I have in some city-builders).

0 A. D. is deviating very strongly from this rule, having male citizen-soldiers that can hunt, fight, etc. and female units that can farm, gather, etc. All of the units are combat-capable, although some of them are better than others (and female citizens depend very widely on the culture; Roman women are not even useful for fodder, while Celtic women are actually pretty tough). This still isn't a super-believable population model as it still has buildings, which are of course genderless, producing most of the units, and the male and female units don't really matter but for their roles. Certainly you don't automatically lose the game if all your men die, and you certainly don't if all of your women die.

True non-combatant units are usually very basic infantry-like units except that they cannot attack. They are ususally used only in scenarios in which they were placed there by the designer; usually the production units have some combat capability, but they suck at it (Rise of Nations is one notable exception, as citizen-formed militia are actually quite strong).


If all Noldorin males are dead, then the Noldor are extinct. The same goes for Noldorin females. Of course, males and females do not need to be adults; the can be children (indeed the males can be fetuses inside their pregnant mothers), but they need to survive. In a game in which the people of a society can migrate around, I think it would be cool to consider population dynamics like these as part of the game. Despite that Tolkien himself, in his writing, rarely deals with the noncombatant folk of a nation in his epic depictions, it is clear that the peoples care about them. :P
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#16 NaurwenT

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 11:33 PM

Thanks for the information on RTS games and population :P
TLA team's main goal is to portray Tolkien's ME in a unique, accurate and realistic way. Assuming the game's engine allows it, I guess all of us would like to have children being part of the game as well.
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#17 Enarwaen

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Posted 20 March 2006 - 08:44 AM

0 A. D. is deviating very strongly from this rule, having male citizen-soldiers that can hunt, fight, etc. and female units that can farm, gather, etc. All of the units are combat-capable, although some of them are better than others (and female citizens depend very widely on the culture; Roman women are not even useful for fodder, while Celtic women are actually pretty tough). This still isn't a super-believable population model as it still has buildings, which are of course genderless, producing most of the units, and the male and female units don't really matter but for their roles. Certainly you don't automatically lose the game if all your men die, and you certainly don't if all of your women die.


keep in mind that the layout of 'Nern Ennorath' is quite different than that of typical RTS games - that means we will not feature the economic side (-> no resource gathering) and the base building doctrine (-> pre deployed units) that many current RTS games use.

as for the inclusion of civilian units - yes of course - the Noldor will have civilian units that need to be protected and we'll feature assorted victory conditions that concern those (e.g. x% of your civilian units must survive).

regarding 'children units' - no decision has been made yet. the problem as i see it is, that Tolkien mostly concentrates on the heroic deeds of his characters, whereas he sort of neglects most of the aspects of the more 'mundane' population.
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#18 Beren IV

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Posted 26 March 2006 - 05:19 AM

keep in mind that the layout of 'Nern Ennorath' is quite different than that of typical RTS games - that means we will not feature the economic side (-> no resource gathering) and the base building doctrine (-> pre deployed units) that many current RTS games use.


True, but am I incorrect in assuming that TLA will eventually have an economic system with resource gathering and settlement-building? I'm just thinking about the fact that Starcraft has an absolutely useless human civilian unit, plus its military construction unit which is the real civilian unit in the game.
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#19 Enarwaen

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Posted 26 March 2006 - 05:45 PM

True, but am I incorrect in assuming that TLA will eventually have an economic system with resource gathering and settlement-building?


as for Nern Ennorath - there will be no resource gathering or settlement building.

this might be altogether different for later development stages - but it's too early to tell ...

Edited by Enarwaen, 26 March 2006 - 05:49 PM.

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#20 barbiemoore

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Posted 20 November 2009 - 10:22 AM

This sound so great. This really clears up my skepticism about the Tales of Middle Earth.

regards,
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