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Bucking the fantasy hero trend with The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

Daedalic's Nika Dvoravic talks us through the challenges building a game around a physically weaker character

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Gollum is not the sort of character who typically headlines a video game. Most games protagonists are heroic figures, power fantasies for the players that can take on great numbers of evil foes and triumph with barely a dent in their health bar.

The works of JRR Tolkien are not short of such figures, from wizards and kings to elven archers and dwarven warriors. And yet Daedalic Entertainment sought to centre its Lord of the Rings game – one of the most ambitious projects in the company's history, as we were told last year – around a gaunt and wretched creature.

"There's this preconception at the beginning, 'Who would want to play Gollum? It's not interesting'," Daedalic's level designer Nika Dvoravic tells when we catch up with her at Reboot Develop Blue to have a chat about the prospect of building a game world for a seemingly underpowered character.

"There's this preconception at the beginning, 'Who would want to play Gollum? It's not interesting'"

"But he's so versatile, so agile. It's realistic that he can actually get from this point up to that balcony. After you solve the first level, you instantly get that feeling. He is like a little piece of rubber, and he can get thrown around. I think the player will start feeling empathy towards him, because this game gives you the humanity of Gollum as well, because he's a complex character."

While there are some combat abilities in Daedalic's The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, the titular character is unable to take on hordes of orcs by himself, so the focus is more on stealth and traversal – there's even some parkour.

Many fantasy games have shifted towards an open-world format over the past decade, but while the setting of Middle-earth certainly lends itself to that structure, Daedalic opted for something more focused. For one thing, Dvoravic notes that developers of some open-world fantasy games "usually fail to fill it with anything meaningful."

"Some of our levels are really massive, and they feel massive, but they're actually quite linear when you play them, because you have a clear indication [of] where you need to go," she says. "Sometimes you can choose your way, but you come to the same ending of the level. We have some of the levels that have a hub where you appear or where you wake up, and you wake up in a cell, and then you go out. You get this feeling that you are just a small guy in this big world."

Since Gollum is not a combat-centric character, the game instead focuses on stealth and traversal

Since Gollum is physically weaker than most video game protagonists, many of the levels concentrate on stealth and enabling him to sneak past his enemies. Stealth games can be an acquired taste, so Dvoravic and the team wanted to give players the tools to tackle scenarios in a variety of ways. Like so many stealth fans, Dvoravic expresses frustration over carefully choreographed sequences where you must hide in a certain place at a certain time to get past a guard.

"If I had a level that was heavily focused on stealth, I was giving players a lot of hiding opportunities, sneaking opportunities, playing with dark and light and shadows," she says.

"I would like to see more fantasy characters have the same complex story [as] Gollum"

"I think I created some situations that were really, really difficult and complicated, and we had to reduce the challenge a bit, because sometimes you don't want to frustrate the player too much. I think the game went through some stages of difficulty, so now it's more like a normal game and friendly. It's not Dark Souls. The first stealth level that I designed, I think only two people could solve it. I don't think that would be very popular in this game."

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum launches today. While it's received a fairly poor reception so far, it remains a notable release for taking one of the most underpowered characters from a popular franchise and trying to build a game around them.

Dvoravic is also keen to see more games built around physically weaker characters, to see what sort of gameplay possibilities this unlocks. She notes that while most player-created characters start off weak, by the end of the game they have levelled up into something nigh-on unstoppable.

"I would like to see more fantasy characters have the same complex story [as] Gollum," she concludes.

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James Batchelor avatar
James Batchelor: James is Editor-in-Chief at, and has been a B2B journalist since 2006. He is author of The Best Non-Violent Video Games
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The Lord of the Rings: Gollum

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