The Third Age: The Discussion
EA decided to fly us up a day before the event to get a feel for the EA offices. Located in Redwood City, California, the EARS studio gives a very impressive first image. The foyer is tall and dark, with demos of EA's recent games and a single security guy at the desk. Our hosts, Mike Murphy and David Silverman ushered us inside and straight into EA's game room. With two Gamecubes, Xboxes, and PS2s, four PCs, Arcade Cabinets, Pool, Air Hockey, and three wide-screen TVs, it's safe to say that EA employees have a nice little breakroom. David Silverman brought out a copy of the yet-to-be-released Madden 2005, and I became the first non-EA employee to play the final pressing of the game. Despite being "All About the D", David squeaked out a 75-74 victory, with the last play being a 60 yard interception return. After being given a generous gift bag with magazines and EA Games and having dinner of Pizza and Beer, all those attending returned to the Sofitel San Francisco Bay to await EA's introduction to the game.
After returning to EARS in the morning, we were introduced to Steve Gray, the Director of the game. He began to discuss the art and characters of the game. Although taking place in the Lord of the Rings movie world, EA has taken very minor characters and given them their own story. The game features six characters, Berethor the Knight, Idrial the elf, and Hadhod the dwarf being the first three. Art direction is very similar to Peter Jackson's views, as they are not able to use anything outside of New Line Cinema's vision.
On the technical side, the Xbox version of the game has yet to be confirmed for 480p progressive scan, but as Return of the King supported this option, there is no reason for this game not to. The GameCube version of the game is currently running super-smooth at sixty frames per second. GBA/GCN support has yet to be announced if it will be included. The controller interface was unintuitive, but as every visitor for the Community Day commented on this, EA has promised to clean up both the GUI and the controller interface before release.
EA has also announced a GBA version of The Third Age. Unlike the console versions of these games, the GBA version is a large-scale strategy game. Although we were not able to have any hands-on time with the GBA version (I blame Madden time, myself), EA did mention that the strategy is on a very large scale. Both teams have 20-30 party members per level, with some levels featuring more. We also had a chance to speak with Steve Gray one-on-one, but EA covered pretty much everything that they needed to, but Mr. Gray was able to provide us with knowledge about his previous work on Final Fantasy VII and Parasite Eve, as well as technical information on the game. After this, we were able to get our grubby little hands on the playable version of the Third Age, which you can see here.