Over $1 million was spent on the demo put to Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro
You can go back as far as the 1980s and discover games set on J. R. R. Tolkien's formidable The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit tales - but it wasn't until the blockbuster films were released after the Millennium that we truly started to see awe-inspiring games replicating what was being shown on the big screen.
Those who were lucky to grow up with the LOTR movies will no doubt remember the awesome video game counterparts that arrived alongside them, including EA's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). These days, the modern generation have embarked on adventures away from the main storyline of the trilogy through Tolkien's dark fantasy world with the likes of Warner Bros' The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, as well as the more recent Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Middle-earth: Shadow of War.
One of the other developers to bring LOTR to gamers was TT Games, well known for their whimsical action-adventure games in virtual LEGO. The studio was behind LEGO The Hobbit back in 2014, but very few knew of another project that the team had planned - one that would be much grander than anything they'd done before.
TT Games co-founder Jon Burton, who has since left the studio, has revealed secret gameplay footage of a cancelled project which would have brought us a new game set around The Hobbit films, which were released in cinemas worldwide between 2012 and 2014. As reported by the likes of GameSpot, Burton and the team knew back in 2008 that Warner Bros was looking to make at least two Hobbit movies with Guillermo del Toro, currently on board at the time, along with returning LOTR director Peter Jackson.
The plan was to pitch a Xbox 360 and/or PlayStation 3 video game tie-in with the movies, but not in the traditional LEGO which TT Games has become so famous for.
In the 'We spent over $1,000,000 pitching a videogame we never made' video on the GameHut YouTube channel, which Burton owns, he spoke in detail on the 'Million Dollar Hobbit' pitch for the proposed games, as well as sharing some gameplay footage built around using scenes from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to show what the team could do.
"I was a firm believer that film tie-ins should recreate the movie as closely as possible to give the player the experience of living the movie," says Burton. "So I decided our playable demo should demonstrate this using Lord of the Rings as a template. We set out to turn key moments from Lord of the Rings into the best playable demos that we could achieve on the then-current-gen Xbox 360, then we could show this as an example to Peter Jackson of what we could do with his new movies."
Burton and the TT Games team embarked on making a number of fully fledged 'polished and playable' levels including a battle between Gandalf and Saruman at Orthanc in Isengard, a stealth missions where Frodo had to sneak past the Uruk-hai and a Black Rider, and Gandalf's battle with a free-falling Balrog at Khazad-dûm - as well as a pretty awesome demo of Aragorn fighting the Uruk-hai at Amon Hem. To this day, the graphics and gameplay shown, as Burton himself puts it, "Holds up pretty well" compared to most games.
All this seemed very impressive, but the team's efforts (and financial backing of the project) would ultimately end as well as Gollum's last trip to Mount Doom.
"We basically went way too far and spent way too much money but I really wanted to show what we could do beyond just the Lego games," says Burton.
After flying from the UK to New Zealand, Burton came face to face with Jackson and del Toro.
"The demo went fine and the demo didn't crash or anything," says Burton. "Guillermo in particular was super positive and very excited by it. The feedback we received was that they were happy for us to make a live-action Hobbit game... so why didn't it see the light of day?
"In the end, Warner Bros decided that they wanted a game that wasn't based directly on the movie, but happened in the same world at the same time [the Middle-earth games essentially]. I disagreed with that approach as I felt you could release a movie based game with the movie and then do a game set in the same world as a sequel down the line."
Despite the game not receiving the green light of approval, Burton insists that he was happy that things played out the way they did such as the first Hobbit movie being delayed - meaning more time would be have to be spent on the game - and del Toro's departing the project. TT Games still made LEGO games set on both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, so their passion and efforts towards the franchise was not all in vain.