Strategy Informer: First off, would you like to introduce yourself, your team and The Battle for Middle Earth II for Xbox 360?
Louis Castle: Sure. I’m Louis Castle, Executive Producer on The Battle for Middle earth II for the Xbox 360. This game give you control of the armies of Middle earth in the pivotal battles from the Lord of the Rings books and films. It’s the first Lord of the Rings game for the Xbox 360, the first full featured real time strategy game for a next generation console and the first game to combine the richness of Tolkein’s books with the artistic vision of Peter Jackson’s films. My team is a collection of seasoned developers half of whom have been working on strategy games for years while the others have been dedicating their time to first person shooter games on consoles.
Plenty of gamers have already played and enjoyed the PC version of Battle for Middle Earth II. Why should these gamers also pick up the game for 360?
Louis Castle: The experience of playing the game in the entertainment center of your living room is wholly different than in your office or den. This product takes advantage of the space you are most likely to have dedicated as the best audio video experience you have in your home. The Battle for Middle Earth II for the Xbox 360 has been designed with a controller in mind so that the nature of how you play the game will also change. You will find yourself much closer to the battle in most cases and the sense of emergence is fantastic. We have also added 4 new multi player modes, King of the Hill, Capture and Hold, Hero vs. Hero and Resource Race, each of which expands your online experience. Voice over IP is standard for every Xbox 360 and is fully supported so that you can have a much easier time finding someone to trash talk. Finally, everyone is using the same hardware so the game experience is far more predictable than on the variety of PC systems that are in the market. The people at the top of the ladders are simply the best and haven’t bought their way up the ladders with high end hardware. The campaign modes and skirmish modes are virtually identical to the PC product so the game offers an extraordinary amount of detail and depth.
What are the fundamental differences between the PC and Xbox 360 versions of the game? Are there major differences besides the controls and interface?
Louis Castle: The major differences are the interface, game navigation (menu screens, set up screens etc.), and of course the new multiplayer modes in the Xbox 360 live community and how they tie into gamer scores and achievements.
Do you think the modifications made to Battle for Middle Earth II could also be made to other RTS games in order for them to successfully appear on console?
Louis Castle: I think every product has to take a very careful and target specific approach to how best to adapt their desired experience to the console platforms. The common error in the past, in my opinion, was to try and simply map PC controls to the controller’s sticks and buttons. I’m sure some of the ideas we have innovated would greatly assist in developing new interfaces for other products and would serve as the base from which others could build product specific features. I would hope other companies spend as much time and effort as we have to make it a great experience.
If you could bring any other RTS to a console, what would it be? Were there any of these games that you borrowed concepts from in order to make a successful console RTS?
Louis Castle: I would love to go back to my favorite RTS titles and upgrade them for the living room entertainment experience we have achieved but that would be a ton of work. Virtually every title from the past would require all new graphics, 5.1 sound and lots of other enhancements before we even began to create an ideal game interface. We certainly were inspired by many games but I can not point to a specific game that we borrowed from for this design. It was really a unique research and development effort born more from First Person Shooters than previous attempts at console strategy.
What about the Xbox 360 made bringing an RTS to console possible? Were there technological limitations that kept you from doing it before?
Louis Castle: The user interface design could have been done before but it really took the raw power of the Xbox 360 and the incredible amount of work Microsoft has done on Live to make this product, with all its depth and detail, possible. The visual quality of the Xbox 360 version rivals that of the best PCs and the 360 still has processing power left over to do all the battlefield simulation required for these types of games.
Obviously this is a quality game and you have a lot to be proud about. However, do you feel it fully lives up to the PC experience? Have you achieved your goal, or simply taken a great leap?
Louis Castle: LOL I don’t think anyone who makes games is ever 100% satisfied. I’m very proud of this effort and I feel it faithfully translates the PC game to the Xbox 360 in a way that takes full advantage of the Xbox 360’s strengths. I also feel that with this first step into a new genre for the Xbox 360 we have learned a great deal and I look forward to the opportunity to use that learning to create an even better experience in the future.
People who are exclusively console gamers probably haven’t played The Battle for Middle Earth or The Battle for Middle Earth II on PC yet. Do you feel these gamers will have a hard time getting into the game? Will they find the game play difficult or the storyline confusing?
Louis Castle: I seriously don’t think so. Every test group and fan base we have talked to continues to be amazed at how easily they take to the controls. PC gamers who have not played a strategy game for a few years and console players who have never played one have remarked on how quickly they were doing exactly what they wanted to do. The goal of any interface is for it to disappear so that the player can express themselves in the game’s world. I feel we have really accomplished that goal. The concept of commanding entire armies is very exciting and will certainly be a new experience for some players but I’m quite confident they are up for the challenge and reward.
Personally, I love RTS games. What do you think it is about RTS games that gamers find so appealing?
Louis Castle: I think it is the fact that, when properly executed, these types of games challenge both the intellectual part of your brain along with the need to make decisions rapidly. You have to divide your attention between collecting, building and waging war which really keeps you engaged. It is like reading a book where the author’s style is to keep switching from one crisis to another, or watching a film that keep the intensity up from the beginning to the end. Simply put, these types of games engage you at many levels at once and just don’t let go.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Do you have any closing comments you’d like to make to the readers here at Strategy Informer?
Louis Castle: I would just like to encourage each and every person reading this to take a look at this effort and let us know what you liked or disliked about it. We are dedicated to working with the community to make games they want to play so make sure to let us know!