The next few years promise to be exciting ones for fans of Middle-earth. Ever since The Return of the King debuted in theaters in 2003, audiences have clamored for more of Tolkien on the big screen -- specifically, The Hobbit. After nearly a decade of back-and-forth negotiating and legal entanglements, it appears that this The Hobbit movies are finally going to happen, with Sir Peter Jackson once again in the director's chair and Martin Freeman taking on the lead role as Bilbo.
That's smashing news for movie buffs, but what does this have to do with Lord of the Rings Online -- y'know, that MMO we sometimes talk about in this column? It could be "very little," with Turbine proceeding on its merry way and perhaps enjoying the free boost to playership as movie buffs hunt around for a game to extend the experience. However, if the company were smart, it would be laying out the groundwork right now to synergize the heck out of the movie with a similar in-game experience.
For a while now, I've been chewing on the notion that Turbine could incorporate the events, locations and characters of The Hobbit into LotRO-- in fact, several of the key pieces are already in place. Could our journey in LotRO eventually take us back to the era of Bilbo's grand adventure? How would such a thing even work?
Hit the jump and I will smack your brain so hard with ideas that you'll forget all of your piano lessons. It's OK -- you didn't really need them.
Rights in the dark
There are three reasons why the notion of exploring The Hobbit makes sense and could even work in the game. The first has to do with the issue of legal permission. As of right now, it appears as though Turbine has the rights to The Hobbit as well as Lord of the Rings for use in the game, as spelled out in a 2008 announcement:
"Turbine, Inc. announced today that it has reached an agreement with Tolkien Enterprises to extend its license to develop Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPG) based on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien to 2014 with additional options to extend the rights until 2017."
Now, I know press announcements can involve precise-yet-tricky interpretations, so I could be wrong in how I'm reading it. It could be that Turbine merely has permission to set the game in the same world as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings but is restricted in its use of The Hobbit as full source material (similar to how The Silmarillion is off limits to the developer). I'm no lawyer, folks, just a country writer using a TRS-80 as I plow the fields. However, if you want to swing the interpretation the other way, then everything between the covers of The Hobbit is fair game for use in LotRO, and that at least cracks the possibilities door open a tad.
I did contact Turbine to ask whether it had the rights to The Hobbit as source material -- as well as any thoughts on the subject of this article -- and received a "no comment" in response.
The loneliest mountain of them all
Of course, The Hobbit has already made quite a few cameos in LotRO to date. Characters reference the events of Bilbo's adventure, players can see the stone trolls that Bilbo encountered, the Dwarves Gloin and Dwalin are still putzing around the world, Goblin-town is a Hobbit landmark, and Bilbo himself has a small part to play from his new home in Rivendell.
Perhaps what set off more than one imagination on the subject is the world map itself, which shows the areas of Rhovanion and Rhûn off to the east. In fact, players can undertake part of Bilbo's journey already, from Bag End through the Trollshaws, the Misty Mountains and deep into Mirkwood. Some players previously hoped that Siege of Mirkwoodsignaled a progression to Lake-town and the Lonely Mountain, a hope that was (at least partially) crushed as the devs announced that we would be heading south into Enedwaith instead.
Still, there's no reason that Turbine can't add these regions at a later point, particularly as it continues to flesh out the unexplored territories of Middle-earth in the game. And what would be a better time for this than when The Hobbit hits the silver screen? Again, I'm just speculating here, but isn't that part of the fun?
Hobbit play: Better than rangers, trolls and chickens
The third reason that The Hobbit could work in LotRO is something the game already has: session play. This unique -- and quite interesting -- feature has been one of LotRO's unsung heroes. Basically, session play is a technique Turbine devised for putting you in the shoes of another character, usually to show the events of the past (sometimes the recent past, sometimes the far distant).
The Hobbit may take place several years before the events of Lord of the Rings, but session play has taken us further back in the timeline than that already. Sure, the devs could put us in Bilbo's shoes (or in the shoes of any of the other characters from the book) for a one-shot session, but why not take the concept even further?
While this is stepping out on a limb, I'd like to suggest the ability to create an "ancestor" of your current character who, like you, set out on adventure and happened to cross paths with the characters, places and events of the books. Your ancestor could encounter the same world, only one set in an earlier age (again, remember that LotRO is quite good with progressing through and jumping us around the timeline of the world). What might be extra-cool is that your ancestor's actions could have an impact on your character's current world, perhaps attaining special items to hand down to you or changing events so that the world is slightly different (think Back to the Future or Chrono Trigger).
Think, McFly, think!
This is fanciful daydreaming, I'll admit. If we want to be more realistic, chances are that whenever these areas are unlocked, we'll be encountering them in LotRO's current timeline. That still, in a way, is pretty nifty -- it's always fun to see what happens next, particularly after major events like the death of Smaug and the Battle of the Five Armies. This is an area that didn't get a lot of face-time in Lord of the Rings, but there's enough starter material to get a running start.
I guarantee you that this topic will come up more frequently as the movies draw closer. So how would you like to see The Hobbit incorporated into LotRO? Or would Turbine be wasting its time going back to the past instead of forward in the storyline?