The Chamber of Records Middle-earth Modding Interview #1
Wlesmana: Creator of ‘The Lord of the Rings: Total War’
This interview was first posted on the 23rd of September, 2006.
COR: This is the first instalment in what will be a series of interviews dealing with Middle-earth related modifications. We have been extremely fortunate to have Wlesmana, creator of Lord of the Rings: Total War, as our first interviewee. Wles, thank you for accepting our invitation to talk with us.
Thank you for having me. It is an honor.
COR: Tell us a little about the man Wlesmana: where you’re from, how old you are and what you do when you’re not busy with LOTR:TW.
I’m 29 years old and when I’m not busy with modding, I try to spend time with my wife. Usually by watching movies or playing video games. I’m born and raised in Bali, Indonesia, went to university in University of Michigan then worked in US for a while. I’m back in Bali now.
COR: Could you tell us about the premise for LOTR:TW? When it is set, which factions are, or will be, included, if there is a storyline behind it, etc.?
The premise of LOTR:TW is to control the massive armies as seen in the movie trilogy and create epic battles. The storyline is set during the War of the Ring, which will be the title of the campaign.
COR: LOTR:TW is based on the film trilogy and the vision of Peter Jackson, and perhaps especially WETA, but to what extent have you used the works of J.R.R. Tolkien as a source of inspiration?
Well, anything that is left out or not explained in the films would use the books as a source of reference. Of course, to create a sense of continuity, if something is contradicting the films and the book, I’ll have to go with the films’ version.
COR: How have you gone about doing research? Have you primarily been researching the films? Or have the books played an important role, perhaps even an increasing one as you venture further from what was shown in the films?
The farthest research with the films I’ve done is purchasing the official companion book “The Lord of the Rings: Weapons & Warfare” by Chris Smith. It explained various reasoning on the design decisions made for the films. But even that is not enough to fill in the gaps so in the end, I have to rely on the books for information. I also use the online Encyclopedia of Arda and Wikipedia extensively.
COR: Could you give us an estimate on how much the mod is based on the films vs. the book vs. your own imagination? (For example: 60% films, 20% books, 20% imagination.)
Hmmm, that’s a bit tough since the division is not as simple as that. Most are based on the films or at least based on the design and style of the films. There are some based solely on the books such as the Variag and the many fiefdom of Gondor. Then there are completely new ones which I made up to fill a function in a faction’s composition. An example would be the Kingsguard, the general bodyguard for the Noldor elves, and the various Dwarven units.
COR: Which of the three films is your favourite? And which of the three major parts of the book do you like the most? Do they coincide?
The Two Towers is my favourite in regards to theatrical release versions. But with the Extended Version DVDs, my favourite is Fellowship.
COR: What made you want to embark on the journey that is modding, and did you have any idea of exactly what you were getting yourself into?
Oh, I have absolutely no idea. No idea at all. The sole reason that started this whole fiasco *laugh* is my desire to see Gondorian soldiers in the game, appearing just like in the movies. I found the idea to be very exciting and, most importantly, quite achievable. But instead I kept making more and more models and before long it’s enough for a decent sized mod.
COR: I remember seeing your first small steps into the world of modding RTW at SCC, with a unit of film-inspired Gondorians. Was that your first try at modding, and did you ever think that you would go on to do a Total Conversion?
Yes, that was my first model, done by altering a Roman model. A lot of it was trial and error since I have no previous 3D modelling experience. I never thought I’d start The Lord of the Rings: Total War. I was planning to make only a mini-mod, with a faction of Gondorians in RTW. In fact, I was going to call it “Rome of the Rings” just to be silly. My modding folder in my PC is still called RomeoftheRings until this day.
COR: Which unit was the one you liked creating the most? And which gave you the most problems?
I have to say the Easterlings are my private pride and joy. It’s still not as good as I wanted and I am planning to fix them but that was my first model that I planned out on how to build and came out decent right away. The ones that gave me the most problems are without a doubt the orcs and trolls. It wouldn’t be this complex if we’re able to edit the skeleton but since we couldn’t, I have to rely on visual tricks to make them appear unnatural while still using a standard skeleton. I still cringe whenever I see the bad distortions though.
COR: Congratulations on winning the Best Modder Award for Summer 2006 at the Total War Center. Modding, of course, includes many diverse aspects – many of which you seem to have skill in. In what areas of modding do you feel you are most proficient?
To tell you the truth, I didn’t know until you told me *laugh* I blame mac89, my PR guy, for not telling me news from the modding community. It’s an honor to get the votes (and tied with Caius Britannicus) and I thank everyone who supported me and the project. As for modding proficiency, I’ll have to say character modelling is my strongest suit, with animation second.
COR: In which areas of modding do you feel you would rather rely on another’s skill?
Scripting. Anything dealing with a lot of text and especially coding.
COR: LOTR:TW is perceived to be a “one-man Mod”. Is this true and just how much time do you spend per week on modding?
It’s true for version 1.1c but it won’t be for the next one. I’m getting tremendous help from the community and my team this time.
COR: Do you now have a Development Team or is it a case of public submissions and working with Outsourced support? Has this changed over time and how do you hope to see it develop?
Well, the most important part is that we have a scripter now, Bardo, who will be dealing with campaign script. He’s the most integral to the atmosphere of the campaign since with his scripts, many aspects of the game will be altered that it would feel like a different game. I’m not actively looking for team members since I think we got all the modding factors covered, but if anyone with experience willing to lend a helping hand, I’m always grateful.
COR: How much of a conversion do you intend? Will trees, vegetation, battle-map models, music, portraits, event images, animations, interface and ancillary/trait/diplomacy coding all undergo significant modding? Do you see this all being present in the next major release?
Trees may get a facelift, using the technique developed by DukeJohn. I’m also experimenting with using higher poly trees. It’s a bit tough to juggle since with nice trees, it may look good on paper but if the average player can’t play because of the extra load and had to resort to lower his setting, then he wouldn’t be able to see the trees anyway. For battle-map models, I’m planning to have new buildings but not custom settlement just yet. Music, portraits and event images would be modded, so will interface and new traits and ancillaries. I’m already altering a lot of the base animations. Yes, I foresee all of these would be in the next major release.
COR: Have modding communities at sites such as TotalWarCenter.Net and TotalWar.Org been useful to you and, if so, in what ways?
Oh, absolutely. They have been invaluable, especially when I just started and didn’t know my EDU from DMB. I find the Org to have the most active modders while TWC having the bigger community. So when I have a technical question, I go to the Org. When I have an open question, I asked the members of TWC.
COR: Mods, especially those which stray far from the Roman era, can take a lot of effort and time to complete. What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a new Mod for Total War?
Baby steps are important. If your first thought is “Full conversion!! New everything!! Hey, what’s a DMB?” then it’s probably a failure from the start. Start small, mod small, get to know the waters, then plan out the next step. Also, be prepared to do everything yourself. This is common knowledge to anyone who ever lead a team on a project.
COR: You have very active forums, and there are always plenty of gasps when new screenshots of LOTR:TW are put up in public forums. What do you feel is the secret to the success and popularity of your Mod?
Peter Jackson? *laugh* But that’s the truth though. The mod is popular because the films were good. The visual style is very appealing and my persistence on getting the models to look “right” appears to have paid off.
COR: What has been the vision behind the Mod? What is it you want people to get from LOTR:TW when they play it?
The vision is simple: to have a LOTR (films version) game that I’d want to play. I want to feel like I’m truly controlling this vast army and empire and have a real war scenario, not just a short skirmish with a couple dozen soldiers. I want to see what-if scenarios, things that the film didn’t show, such as battles between the Easterlings and Gondorians, or what if the Elves raised a proper army and attacked Isengard.
COR: You recently announced that your Mod will be porting over to Alexander: Total War. Can you explain why you are leaving BI behind for CA’s latest RTW Expansion?
One reason really: the unique generals. After testing, we’ve found that Alexander supports a lot of unique generals to appear on the battle-map AND campaign map. It would add a lot of atmosphere, especially since the films made the characters very visually memorable. Even though the features of Barbarian Invasion are nice, the premise of actually having both Theoden and Eomer on the battlefield looking like they are in the films, Alexander’s feature won by a landslide.
COR: Will the format for the final release of LOTR:TW be a -mod folder release sitting under Alexander: Total War? Will there be variations for multi-player, custom battles etc?
Yes, I will be using the mod switcher. I will also include different mod folders for the multiplayer, since with the campaign included the factions are no longer balanced per army (like in 1.1c). They will be balanced with the timeline of the campaign as the main concern. So we’ll need a different game for a balanced multiplayer to avoid confusion.
COR: What do you think of the ‘competition’? I’m thinking about the host of LotR games that have been released in recent years, and perhaps especially EA’s efforts.
I don’t think of them as competition at all since the gameplay is very different. The two Battle for Middle-earth games are faster paced and more Hero oriented, so it would appeal to the classic RTS crowd. The RTW engine is more geared towards the military campaigns and empire management.
COR: If you could recommend one other game, or mod, to your fans, which would it be?
City of Villains *laugh* I know, I know, it’s completely random, but I’m playing it right now and having a blast. What can I say, I love comic books and superheroes.
COR: May we know what the future will bring for LOTR:TW? Can you give us an estimate for a release date? Will we see a LOTR2:TW for ME2:TW?
I can’t say for certain for a public release, but I’m planning to start closed beta in October, assuming the scripts are working properly. This would be barebones, with much of the visuals still need work so a closed beta doesn’t mean it’s close to completion. I’m just giving the testers more time to test since testing the campaign would take quite some time.
I doubt I would mod M2:TW, but I’m waiting until the game is released and the modding capabilities made more apparent.
COR: And what about yourself? Do you think you will be busy modding into the foreseeable future?
Maybe. I know I like 3D modelling now so I might focus on that for a while.
COR: Is there anything you would like to tell the folks who are anxiously awaiting the next release of LOTR:TW – anything that has not been touched upon above?
Check out our forum. There are more juicy information on the features there *laugh*
COR: And at the very end we have something we call ‘quick-questions’ for you (this of course relates to the LotR films, book and mod):
Which is your favourite film?
Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition).
Who is your favourite character in the films?
What is your favourite moment in the films?
The Rohirrim charge at Pelennor Field.
Which is your favourite part of the book?
Siege of Gondor.
Who is your favourite character in the book?
What is your favourite moment in the book?
Climax of Siege of Gondor.
What is your favourite LOTR:TW unit?
Noldor Swordsmen (Bladeweavers)
What is your favourite LOTR:TW faction?
COR: We thank you for taking the time to do this, Wles – it has been a pleasure.
COR: For more information on Wlesmana and ‘The Lord of the Rings: Total War’, check out his website and forum at: lotrtw.com