Lord of the Rings


Interplay’s Lord of the Rings, volume 1 was a top down, orthographic view, single player game where the player controlled a party of adventurers. The heroes moved around a scrolling map in real time. Combat and other encounters were turn-based. The major plotline had to conform to the licensed content of the book. Game action was based around exploration, puzzle solving, and a limited amount of combat.

My involvement in the project began long before Interplay acquired the LotR license. Working as a freelance designer, I started roughing out “Secrets of the Magi: The Final Spell.” I began developing game rules (combat interactions) and game background material. But that development ended when Interplay surprised me with the Lord of the Rings license.

As designer, my assignment was to begin with a game flow that duplicated the plot of the book. Because it’s not a game if the player can’t make meaningful choices, I wove a structure of small side quests and encounters across Tolkien’s framework of necessary events. These quests picked up on themes or background information not fully fleshed out in the books. Most were set in places mentioned in Tolkien’s text and featured characters that could have lived there and been a part of events taking place at the time in Middle Earth’s history. Some areas, like the Gorthad map detailed here, can be found only in the game. While it is found early in the game, the foes here cannot be overcome until the player has gained more powerful allies later in the game (at Rivendell). Because it was a game, it was likely that there would be different outcomes for some scenes from the story, but ultimately, it followed the same path of events set forth by Professor Tolkien.

Each major section of the outdoor world was laid out on graph paper, with terrain and building locations roughed in. Large or complicated buildings (like Frodo’s home at bag End), or caves and dungeons, would sit on another map and be part of separate map load.

Interplay staff artists interpreted these map diagrams and the accompanying map descriptions into towns, forests, mountain passes, canyons, dungeons and caverns. Staff programmers turned my brief encounter descriptions into game scripts. For the most part, all the encounters I created are in the game and the maps are laid out close to the way I intended.

Along the way I wrote a lot of text message copy. Most ended up in the book that accompanied the game. The longer text information blocks were created with the intent that they would not be in the computer … a way to both save on memory (this game was released in 1991) and to provide a bit of copy protection (content in the book was occasionally required in order to complete encounters).

Copyright ©2002 Paul Jaquays
Images Copyright ©1991 Interplay Productions, Inc.

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Copyright 2002 Paul Jaquays