> Read our preview of LEGO Lord of the Rings
You've worked on a number of movie trilogies with LEGO, but Lord of the Rings - from the films to the books - are really long. What did you first think in terms of how to approach this? What was going through your mind?
"Well, that was one of the reasons why we are doing Lord of the Rings at the point we are doing it. It was a case of we knew we wanted to do the idea of this journey and a big scale of adventure. And that's reflected in, like you mentioned, the length of the films. They're absolutely massive and they are crammed full of bits that make great gameplay from a level point of view.
"From our perspective we knew we could do something cool with it, and it just came to a point where we were sat looking at it from a tech perspective going, 'OK, we can actually do this now, we can make this game'.
"We can follow it right the way from the beginning of Fellowship right the way through to the end of The Return of the King, do all the cool levels that we want to do, but also have this much bigger world.
"That was it; it was one of these cases where we usually sit there going, 'What can we do to make this condensed to be a game?', whereas this one was what do we include to make this as big as it feels it should be.
"So it's kind of been a slightly different perspective for us. In reality we have all this content. We went, 'Let's try and fit all of it in, let's try and do as much as possible and really make something that feels a bit different'."
With the open world in particular, what sort of technical demands did that have?
"That was one of our biggest challenges, actually. We've always been pushing the engines to do more and more, and we'd managed to do bits and pieces to give what we had as Gotham City [in LEGO Batman 2] and we thought, 'That's one thing, but this is entirely different'.
"Once again we wanted to be able to walk away from the Shire and Mordor, which means we've got harder technical challenges to be able to get that streaming open-world environment working within the LEGO engine.
"So that was one of our biggest challenges, and it's kind of funny from the idea of Lord of the Rings being this journey. It's the easiest thing to say on paper, 'Well, if it's going to be this then let people go on that journey and do that'. But that was probably one of our hardest technical challenges to get everything working.
"All the different areas, especially from all the different art styles - so the way you're stood at the foot of Mount Doom - it feels different to when you're stood in The Shire. The Shire is all bubbly and light, and just to think this is all kind of weaving in together and wanting to weave and link this world together, that was kind of one of the biggest problems that we had."
Did you look at other open-world games, such as RPGs in particular, where you can go anywhere you want?
"Yeah. Our office is full of massive gamers anyway, so everyone was kind of looking at what they like at the moment and seeing how other people do things.
"The other flipside of it was when we realised we are going down this path to make this open world, it instantly then started to feel like an RPG-style game, so with side-quests, they had to feel like they were important or we'd have this open world with nothing to do.
"So it was a natural progression for us, to look at this bigger world with different characters and they are sending you off to do little side missions and we knew we were going down this path.
"We were subconsciously influenced by the games we played, saying 'I love doing this, I love doing that', and then making our own version of that within the LEGO games."
Did you look at those games and also think what should we really avoid, because they are obviously quite different to what LEGO games are in themselves and their audience?
"Very much so. We always think the way that we make our games is we make them for our audience. We have our target audience of kids of this age range and then we say, 'that's our core target audience for the games', and find out other people like to play them as well.
"So we knew if we were going to make a game it had to be accessible for the younger gamers and yet still be appealing to older gamers. So we know we get requests for this game from all ages, but we didn't want to go right down the route of being a hardcore RPG with stats and all of that side of things, because that wouldn't feel right from a LEGO game perspective.
"We still wanted to have the depth, though, so if you're an RPG gamer you have some reasons to make changes - there are reasons to change your character up and use the different items you collect."
Did you look at stats and RPG-style elements?
"It was one of the things we were looking at for the weapons in particular when different weapons have different abilities. So, Gandalf has a sword which is particularly good against Orcs. Do we say this is Gandalf's '+5 Orc damage' and you're hitting at this damage? Then we said no. Once again, this isn't right for a LEGO game.
"[With] LEGO games you know what you're doing if you hit someone and it does a heart's worth of damage. So we decided Gandalf's sword can do two hearts worth of damage.
"Some of it works if you're observing what's going on. You'll realise Gandalf can instantly pile through loads of Orcs. If you don't care about any of that at all it doesn't matter, you can still defeat them with other characters, but you'd just have an easier time doing it with Gandalf.
"Once again there's that balancing act of having some depth there, but it's not going to be a barrier for people who aren't interested in that side of things. Younger gamers who want to plough through and do what they do in a LEGO game still can, but the more adult gamers and advanced gamers will start to notice the way the mechanics work with each other."
When you're making this world, you're sticking to a map in a world that's already been established. How did you balance what has been established and what works well for the game and feels fun to explore?
"That was our starting point when we were looking at this game. So we are making this open-world map that lets use the map that exists in Tolkien's books. We have a map of Middle-earth, so that was our first objective, to make this world but to make it for a LEGO audience.
"In the stories, the journey is over many years rather than over a few days or a few hours, so we wanted to make sure the scale of the world felt like it was a big open, epic scale. But you didn't literally have to roam for six months because that defeats the object of the game!
"So it was making sure we had balance of this massive world that we have created from the map, but also making sure there were enough things to do along the way to make it fun and interesting, and that's where the gameplay comes in, to flesh out the world itself."
Is that how you balanced it - by having lots of things to do in these areas rather than a wide world like you just run around for ages?
"Exactly. We wanted to make sure that there's always something around the next corner. So you'll be heading off towards somewhere and you'll get distracted by this. You smash that up and you find something. Then around the corner you'll find something else and you'll say, 'I've found a new thing', and you then all of a sudden realise you've found yourself in the place you needed to get to anyway.
"So you've gone off on a side path, smashed all these different items, found all these different collections, done all these different puzzles and then you realise you've taken the journey you needed to take, but you were doing things along the way. You're daisy-chaining different puzzles and things like that.
"You can have that balanced experience so you're not just running for ages and seeing nothing while you're trying to get to the next story event."
Will players will get a significant advantage if they decide to do side-quests? How will that player's game experience change against someone who doesn't do any at all?
"The way the things like Mithril items come about when you're in free-play world. If you were just to go through the storyline, you play the characters in the story, but when you come back and start playing free-play in Middle-earth, that's when you realise all these items you've got, [and you can] now use these characters to do this thing that I couldn't do before.
"If I needed a character with a bow and arrow but you don't have Legolas at that point you can say, 'I don't have Legolas but I have got this other guy', and I'll just give him the bow and arrow so it speeds that person's game up and they can then shoot the targets they need to.
"Whereas someone else [won't have] a bow and arrow, I'll need to find a character that does have one, so that'll dictate where they want to go next. People start to do things in different ways based on the items they use."
The Fellowship is the biggest cast you've had in a LEGO game - it's nine characters - how does having that many characters at once influence how your design levels?
"That was one of the key things that we were looking at; you got these nine characters and they're all in the same area, so they all have to have their own mechanics and abilities and they have to work well together.
"So for example, you may have to use one of the Hobbits to use a small hash to knock something down which allows Legolas to jump up to get to a new area. It's all about having the characters being able to use their abilities to help each other out.
"So there'll be specific points when you've got all the characters together that you know that that's Legolas's job and that's Gandalf's job, that's what Frodo does, Merry and Pippin can help here, and Sam is a free-play collectable so I'll use him to get that person. So you're really able to play these characters' abilities together."
Are there any elements you could create for yourself - a character for a specific side-quest - or do you have to stick to a set rulebook and lore that's already been established?
"We've got these characters that we introduced, who might not have appeared in the films or the books but we knew we wanted to have a character who wanted a specific item. But we were very much making sure these characters were still a part of this world.
"If we wanted to have a dwarf character he would be a dwarf that would fit in this Middle-earth experience. We couldn't have a character that felt completely out of place.
"So either from a different type of property or a time scale, you want to make sure everything fits and gels.
"We wanted to sure this was a Lord of the Rings game, so everything that was there had to be a legitimate item you would expect to see [in that] world."
When it came to speech and using lines from the film, was that in any way restrictive? Because you couldn't add any new lines of dialogue since it was recorded a while ago.
"It was something that, when we were looking at it, we were going, 'Does it give us enough scope to do what we need to do?'
"But then when we realised the amount of dialogue that's actually recorded for the films and used in the movies is a massive amount anyway, so for those main characters we instantly said, 'We got what we need, we can do what we want to do, we can chop and change the dialogue and remove things that aren't appropriate for a LEGO game'.
"If there is any reference to them drinking alcohol, we removed that line and got to put in our own gag as a replacement where they were eating a chicken legs instead. We use the lines but we can shuffle the order to make it fit and work for a LEGO game.
"For the things we knew we needed, there were things we instantly said we needed new lines recorded - for example, for fetch quests, especially if anyone's ever talking about LEGO because unfortunately they don't mention that in the movies!
"When we were sat there talking about LEGO Mithril and LEGO bricks, we knew we needed new lines recording so we had that as our preference straight away.
"We knew the movie lines would do one thing but we would need some additional recording to do what we wanted to do. We didn't have a lot of restrictions from that side of things.
"But I think that really goes down to us being lucky having the team members that we've got. They've been doing LEGO games for so many years now. They get the humour straight away and have the ability to do it from a technical perspective from both the audio sampling through to the animation."
Do you think all LEGO games will have speech?
"It feels that way. I mean, it was a big jump for us to put speech into LEGO Batman 2. It was the first time we'd done it and we didn't know how people were going to take it.
"We'd done some tests and we thought that this is actually really cool. It's something different that people wouldn't expect and people seemed to like it for LEGO Batman 2. And we seemed to think that people like what we've done with the movie dialogue for Lord of the Rings. It feels like this is something that's working for us at the moment.
"Of course things change all the time. If you'd asked me two years ago if we were ever going to add speech, the answer would have probably been no, because at that point we were looking at what we were doing.
"But who knows. I would say for the short term at least we definitely will be looking at having speech in our titles, but something might come up that makes us want to go back to the old way and change things up again. It's always what we can do to keep it fresh and different for people."
LEGO Lord of the Rings is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii, 3DS and Wii this holiday.