The Lord of the Rings has had a few celebrated games, but The Hobbit hasn’t been quite so lucky. Developer Traveller’s Tales was trying to fix that, according to some recent pitch footage of the team’s ill-fated Xbox 360 Hobbit game that recently hit YouTube. But instead of being leaked, Jon Burton, founder of Traveller’s Tales (who left in 2019), put the footage up himself, detailing the pitch process and why the footage was of scenes from The Lord of the Rings instead of the prequel it was to be based on.
Burton put this footage up on his YouTube channel GameHut that shares other behind-the-scenes looks at past games and other industry secrets. He reminisced about flying to New Zealand from the U.K. to pitch the game to film directors Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, the latter of which was set to direct the film. The team had created four levels and five tech demos that cost over $1 million to create.
He wanted to make a movie tie-in game to release with the films that shared a similar story to “give players the experience of living the movie.” And since the Hobbit movies were obviously not done at this stage, they decided to use the Lord of the Rings films as a template. Using this template, they created sections where you could explore The Shire, avoid the Black Rider as Frodo, fight the Balrog as Gandalf, sneak around some Uruks near a river, battle Saruman, and more all with varying levels of playability. There were even tech demos of vast battlefields to demonstrate how many soldiers it could render and an undisclosed amount of cutscenes to show how Traveller’s Tales could utilize motion capture.
If this seems like a lot, it was, according to Burton.
“We basically went way too far and spent way too much money making this demo,” he admitted. “But I really wanted to show what we could do beyond just the Lego games.”
He noted that his February 2009 demo went well as the demo didn’t crash and del Toro was quite impressed. So what went wrong? Burton said that Warner Bros. wanted a game that wasn’t directly based on the films, but coincided with the events of it. Whether it was politics, the differing visions, or both, the game was not greenlit, but Burton noted that he was happy with the decision since the film was pushed a year and del Toro ended up not directing it because of the “mounting pressures of conflicting schedules.” And, of course, he cited that the films were not nearly as remarkable as the original trilogy.
Even though he gave more than a few minutes of footage, he ended the video asking if players wanted to see full playthroughs of the “completed” sections.