Since 2005, Traveller's Tales has built more than 20 Lego games, and for most of that time it's focus has been exclusively on turning those bricks into videogames. Back in 2008, however, the studio set its sights on a movie tie-in for the newly-announced Hobbit adaptations. And then it proceeded to spend a lot of money trying to make that happen.
Studio founder Jon Burton spilled the beans on his YouTube channel, GameHut, detailing the lengths Traveller's Tales went to in the hopes of making a game that matched the movie as closely as possible.
The developer was given six months to make a demo to show Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, who would later leave the movies. Without a script for The Hobbit, it instead adapted scenes from Lord of the Rings, which showcased the template they'd use to adapt the new movies. And then it looks like things got a bit out of control.
Traveller's Tales ended up designing four playable, polished levels and five tech demos, apparently costing it $1 million. These were all for Xbox 360, but they hold up surprisingly well. Burton says he might post a full playthrough—yes please— but he's already shown off quite a lot.
The first demo, which sees Frodo sneaking around a forest, is surprisingly evocative of Monolith's Mordor series. It was designed to show off the studio's take on free-roaming stealth, putting a dose of Assassin's Creed into Lord of the Rings.
Other demos turned big fights from the movies into boss battles, like Gandalf's fights with Saruman and the Balrog, which both look appropriately flashy. Another showed off some combat with Aragorn. The One Ring crops up, too, with Frodo using it on Weathertop, and wrestling with the temptation to use it when he's being hunted by the Black Riders.
There's mo-capped conversations, a recreation of the Battle of Dagorlad, a sequence where Sam and Frodo just wander around the shire... it's a lot.
"So we basically went way too far and spent way too much money making this demo," says Burton, "but I really wanted to show what we could do beyond just the Lego games."
Given all this, it's probably not that surprising that Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro liked what they saw. Burton was told they were happy for the developer to make a live-action Hobbit game, but Warner Bros. apparently had other ideas. It wanted a game that ran parallel with the movies, but with a different story. With Traveller's Tales pitch hewing so closely to the movies, it was never greenlit.
The rarity of a good movie tie-in makes this all the more tragic, but at least Traveller's Tales eventually got to make Lego The Hobbit, which ended up being considerably more fun than the Peter Jackson trilogy.