The Hobbit (2003 video game)
|Distributor(s)||Vivendi Universal Games|
|Writer(s)||Brandon Paul Salinas|
|Series||Middle-earth in video games|
Game Boy Advance
GC, PC, PS2, Xbox
The Hobbit is a 2003 platform/action-adventure video game developed by Inevitable Entertainment for the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, by The Fizz Factor for Microsoft Windows and by Saffire for the Game Boy Advance. It was published on all platforms by Sierra Entertainment, and distributed by Vivendi Universal Games. In North America, the game was released on all platforms in November 2003. In Europe, it was released for the Game Boy Advance in October and for all other systems in November.
The game is a licensed adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit, and has no relationship with the Peter Jackson-directed Lord of the Rings film trilogy. At the time, Vivendi, in partnership with Tolkien Enterprises, held the rights to the video game adaptations of Tolkien's literary works, whilst Electronic Arts held the rights to the video game adaptations of the New Line Cinema films. The game sticks very closely to the plot of the novel, although it does feature some minor characters not found in Tolkien's original.
The Hobbit received mixed reviews across all systems, with critics praising its fidelity to the source material, but finding the gameplay unoriginal and too easy.
The Hobbit is primarily a platform game, with elements of hack and slash combat and some rudimentary puzzle aspects, played from a third-person perspective (the Game Boy Advance version is played from an isometric three-quarter top-down view). The player controls Bilbo Baggins throughout the game, the majority of which is built around basic platforming; Bilbo can jump, climb ropes and ladders, hang onto ledges, swing on vines etc. Progression through the game is built around "Quests." Every level features multiples quests which must be completed in order to progress to the next level. Many of the levels also feature optional sidequests which do not have to be completed, but which can yield substantial rewards if they are.
Bilbo has three weapons available to him during combat. He begins the game with his walking stick, which can be used in melee combat, and stones, which he can throw. To use stones, he must switch to first-person view. Later in the game, he acquires a dagger, Sting. All three weapons can be powered up by finding magical scrolls scattered throughout the game. These scrolls grant such abilities as increased damage, jump attacks, double and treble combo attacks, and charged attacks. The game also features the use of the One Ring, which can temporarily turn Bilbo invisible, allowing him to avoid certain enemies.
Bilbo's health system is based upon "Courage Points". At the start of the game, he has three health points. For every 1000 Courage Points he collects, he acquires an extra health point. Courage points come in the form of diamonds, with different colors representing different numerical values. For example, a blue diamond equals one courage point, a green diamond equals ten etc. Bilbo's progress in gaining a new health point is shown in his courage meter, which is on screen at all times. For the most part, Courage Points are scattered throughout the levels and awarded for completing quests. Some of the higher value diamonds are hidden off the main path of a level, while the lowest level diamonds (blue) are often used to indicate to the player where they are supposed to be heading.
At the end of each chapter, the player is taken to a vendor, where they can spend the in-game currency, silver pennies. Items available for purchase include stones, healing potions, antidotes, skeleton keys, temporary invincibility potions, additional health points, and the ability to increase the maximum number of stones and health potions which Bilbo can carry.
Pennies, healing potions, antidotes and, often, quest items and weapon upgrades can be found in chests throughout the game. Often, chests will simply open when Bilbo touches them, but sometimes, the chests are locked, and Bilbo must pick the lock. This involves a timed minigame in which the player must align a pointer or select a specific target. Some chests will have only one minigame to complete, but chests containing more important items will have more, up to a maximum of eight. If Bilbo misses the pointer/target, the timer will jump forward; if he hits a red pointer or target, the minigame will end immediately. Penalties for failing to open a chest include losing health points or being poisoned. If the player has a skeleton key, they can bypass the minigames and open the chest immediately.
The game begins as Gandalf (voiced by Jim Ward) arrives in the Shire to invite Bilbo Baggins (Michael Beattie) on an adventure. Bilbo declines, but invites Gandalf to tea the next day. When Gandalf returns, he is accompanied by thirteen dwarves who are going on a quest to the Lonely Mountain to win back their kingdom. Led by Thorin Oakenshield (Clive Revill), they plan to reclaim their treasure from the dragon who stole it, Smaug. Gandalf tells them they will need a thief to complete their mission, and he volunteers Bilbo, who promptly faints. When he is unconscious, Bilbo dreams of the possibilities of heroism in such a quest, and upon waking, decides to join the dwarves.
On the first night of the quest, the entire company is captured by three trolls, who plan to eat them. However, Gandalf arrives, imitating the trolls' voices and causing them to fight amongst themselves until the sun rises, which turns them to stone. As Bilbo searches for supplies in their cave, he meets an injured elf, Lianna (Jennifer Hale), who he assists by finding her healing potion. He also finds a dagger, which he calls Sting. The party then move on to the Elven city of Rivendell, where Elrond tells them of a secret entrance into the Lonely Mountain. They then head to the Misty Mountains. During the night, they are attacked by goblins, and Bilbo is knocked unconscious. He awakens alone and lost. As he wanders through the underground passages, he finds a ring, and encounters a creature named Gollum (Daran Norris). Gollum makes a deal with Bilbo; they will play a game of riddles. If Gollum wins, he will eat Bilbo, but if Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out. Bilbo wins the game, and Gollum says he must get something before he can lead Bilbo out. He then realizes his ring is gone. Bilbo puts the ring on and discovers it makes its wearer invisible. An infuriated Gollum runs to the exit to try to stop Bilbo leaving, unwittingly leading the invisible Bilbo out. He reunites with the dwarves and Gandalf, but the party are then attacked by a groups of goblins and wargs. They climb to the tops of the trees, and are rescued by a band of eagles, who drop them off near Mirkwood Forest.
Gandalf leaves after showing the group the path through the forest and warning them never to leave it. After several days, however, the dwarves are running low on supplies, and see a group of Wood Elves enjoying a feast. They run into the forest towards the elves, but become lost and separated. Bilbo encounters Corwin (Michael Ensign), a man from Lake-town, whose party has been killed by the Great Spiders living in the forest, and who have also taken the dwarves. Bilbo is able to rescue them, but as soon as he does so, the dwarves are captured by Wood Elves and placed in the dungeons of Thranduil, who wants to know why they are in the forest. Thorin, however, refuses to say anything, enraging Thranduil. Using the ring, Bilbo enters Thranduil's hall, where he meets Lianna. With her assistance, he is able to free the dwarves by sealing them into barrels which are sent down the river to Lake-town.
There, Bilbo becomes friends with Bard (André Sogliuzzo), captain of the town guard, and performs several tasks for him, including finding his Black Arrow, which is said to have special powers. The party then head towards the nearby Lonely Mountain. They find the secret entrance, but Bilbo is dismayed to learn the dwarves have no idea how to kill Smaug. As such, he sneaks into Smaug's lair to try to find a weak spot. Bilbo tricks Smaug (James Horan) into showing him his stomach, which is coated in diamonds, except for one small spot, where his skin is exposed. Bilbo leaves, telling the dwarves of Smaug's vulnerability, and is overheard by a nearby thrush, who heads towards Lake-town. Furious that he has been outwitted by Bilbo, Smaug bursts from the mountain and attacks Lake-town. However, the thrush tells Bard of the exposed skin, and Bard fires the Black Arrow into Smaug's chest, killing him.
Several days later, Thorin learns that with the demise of Smaug, an army of men and wood-elves are heading towards the Lonely Mountain to claim back their own lost treasures. Determined to keep everything for the dwarves, he sends a raven to his cousin Dáin, asking for support. Meanwhile, he tasks Bilbo with finding the Arkenstone, a treasure of great importance. Bilbo does so, but sneaks out of the mountain with it, and, in an effort to prevent the upcoming battle, gives it to Bard and Thranduil, who are leading the army of men and elves. They offer to return the Arkenstone to Thorin if he gives them their treasures, but he refuses, denouncing Bilbo as a traitor. The next day, Dáin's army arrives, and a battle seems unavoidable. However, before the conflict begins, Gandalf appears, revealing the imminent arrival of an army of goblins and wargs, led by Bolg. Thorin agrees to join with Bard and Thranduil as the Battle of the Five Armies begins.
After Gandalf sends Bilbo to Bard's unit, Bilbo meets Lianna, who tells him he must find Beorn (Michael Gough), a "skin changer" currently in the form of a bear, as Beorn is the only one who can defeat Bolg. Bilbo does so, and Beorn kills Bolg. The stunned goblin army rally, but as they do an army of eagles appears on the horizon. At this point, Bilbo is knocked unconscious by a rock. He awakens to find the battle over, with the goblins defeated, whilst men, elves and dwarves have united to face any future dangers. However, Thorin has been mortally wounded. On his deathbed, he apologizes to Bilbo, saying he wishes he had lived his own life more like the Hobbit. As Lake-town begins to rebuild from Smaug's attack, Bilbo takes two small chests of gold and heads back to the Shire, accompanied by Gandalf.
The game was first announced on February 25, 2002, when Sierra Entertainment revealed it was being developed as a GameCube exclusive by Inevitable Entertainment. Although not scheduled for release until late 2003, a non-playable demo was made available at the 2002 E3 event in May. Originally, Sierra's holding company, Vivendi Universal Games, had tapped Sierra to publish a game based on the first book in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. As Vivendi owned the rights to video game adaptations of Tolkien's literature, but Electronic Arts owned the rights to video game adaptations of the New Line Cinema film series, the game would have no connection to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Ultimately, however, Vivendi released The Fellowship game under their "Black Label Games" banner, and instead, had Sierra begin work on an adaptation of Tolkien's earlier novel, The Hobbit.
After E3, Sierra explained that because the novel is quite short, parts of the story had to be expanded in the game to ensure the narrative was of sufficient length (for example, Bilbo's rescue of the dwarves from the spiders in Mirkwood is much longer and more detailed in the game than in the book), and considerably more combat was added to the story. However, the developers were under strict instructions not to deviate from the basic plot of the novel. Sierra was in constant communication with Tolkien Enterprises, and had also employed several Tolkien scholars to work with the game developers. Tolkien Enterprises had veto rights on any aspects of the game which they felt strayed too far from the tone of Tolkien's novel and his overall legendarium. In the early stages of development, there were plans for players to control Gandalf during the Battle of the Five Armies, but this idea was ultimately abandoned. Also included in early builds for the game were interactive minigames depicting the eagle escape from the Misty Mountains and the barrel escape from Mirkwood. Both of these aspects of the game were dropped due to time constraints, and the minigames were instead replaced with cutscenes.
On July 19, 2002, Sierra announced the game was also being released for Game Boy Advance, developed by Saffire. Sierra also revealed the GBA version would feature more stealth and less combat than the GameCube version, and would follow the plot of the novel a little more closely. On February 24, 2003, they announced the game would also be released for PlayStation 2, Xbox and Windows, with Inevitable Entertainment handling the PlayStation and Xbox versions, and The Fizz Factor developing the Windows version. Ken Embery, Sierra's executive producer on the game, stated "the plan all along was to be multiplatform. But we were starting out with GameCube as the lead and were just holding our cards close to our chest before announcing all of our other titles. The PS2 is, of course, the most problematic of all the platforms for developers to deal with and we wanted to make sure that we had solid prototypes and running proof of concept versions before we made it public. Embery explained the art style of the game was influenced by the Super Mario and Legend of Zelda games, and in that sense, was aimed at a slightly younger audience than the Lord of the Rings films. Tory Skinner, of Vivendi Universal Games, further stated "The Hobbit was written for a younger audience, so it made sense to create a game that would be enjoyable for younger kids, as well as adults. We looked at the different types of game we could do, and an action-adventure game with a heavy emphasis on the action seemed like the best way to go. We didn't want to make the game inaccessible by loading down gamers with hard-core RPG gameplay."
Lead designer Chuck Lupher said the gameplay was also influenced by The Legend of Zelda games;
when we first sat down we took a look at a lot of different game styles that we thought would do the title justice, and essentially we wanted a real-time action-adventure game similar to [The Legend of Zelda]. We looked at a lot of different games. We were all big platform games fans, too, and one of the things we wanted to do was break free from being locked to the ground. We wanted to have a lot of exploration, environment navigation and combat challenges because the story really lends itself to that. So it's really an action-adventure.
At the 2003 Game Developers Conference in March, a playable demo was made available on GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, featuring the opening level in Hobbiton and a later level in the caves of the Misty Mountains. In June, Inevitable revealed the three console versions would all run off their own multiplatform in-house game engine. The GBA version used its own engine developed by Saffire, but the gameplay and storyline were derived from Inevitable's build. At the 2003 E3 event in June, a three level playable demo was made available for all systems, featuring the opening level, the spider level in Mirkwood and the level were Bilbo sneaks into Smaug's layer. It was also announced that the release date for the game had been pushed back from September to November to allow for some final tweaking.
The game's score was composed by Rod Abernethy, Dave Adams and Jason Graves, and recorded live with the Northwest Sinfonia in Seattle. The acoustic music was recorded with individual Celtic musicians from Raleigh, North Carolina. According to lead programmer Andy Thyssen, the game has
a pretty complex music logic that blends together the level themes. So we have some very different locales, each with its own melody and theme, and we blend in as you approach certain characters, or as you move in and out of combat or hazardous situations. It really adds a lot to the game to push the emotions of the player around like that.
According to Abernathy,
We began The Hobbit with research: reading Tolkien's literature and immersing ourselves in the world of Bilbo, Gandalf and Gollum. Bilbo's enchanting world needed a music score that was simple, melodic and organic for his adventures through Middle Earth, switching to bold and dramatic for the combat scenes. Reading the literature, one can hear fiddles, wood flutes, bagpipes, guitar, mandolins and bodhráns. And when a fight or battle occurs, one can imagine the pulse of low chugging strings, dramatic percussion and moving brass lines and stabs.
The team was given a budget to create seventy-five minutes of original music, which was to be divided into two categories; "acoustic instrumental for Bilbo's exploration and live orchestral for the action/combat scenes." Abernathy explains
Most music cues in a scene are normally 20 to 30 seconds long and are rated in levels of intensity. As the scene is played, these cues must fit together in any given order but still sound cohesive. To finish out the scene, there is a "Win-Stinger" and a "Lose-Stinger" to match each level of intensity, depending on where the player stops game play during the scene. This process was carried to produce music for more than 210 music cues spanning over six chapters and 40 scenes.
The team would record demos for every scene in the game, and send them to Chance Thomas, director of music at Tolkien Enterprises, who would send them back advice.
In his review of the game, IGN's Matt Casamassina wrote "the music soundtrack is fantastic. It's orchestrated, wholly atmospheric, and varied. The scores provide a mixture of soft, delicate backgrounds that enrich the mood of the locales and big, banging music that successfully drives home accomplishments. If more developers took the time to implement soundtracks like this the world would be a better place." At the 2004 Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G.) Awards, the soundtrack won the "Best Original Soundtrack."
The Hobbit received mixed reviews across all platforms. The Game Boy Advance version holds aggregate scores of 63% on GameRankings, based on four reviews, and 67 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on six reviews. The GameCube version holds scores of 65% based on twenty-nine reviews, and 61 out of 100 based on seventeen reviews. The PC version holds scores of 62% based on fourteen reviews, and 62 out of 100 based on twelve reviews. The PlayStation 2 version holds scores of 64% based on twenty-six reviews, and 59 out of 100 based on seventeen reviews. The Xbox version holds a score of 66% based on twenty-four reviews on GameRankings.
IGN's Adam Tierney scored the Game Boy Advance version 6.5 out of 10, calling it "a pretty all-around solid actioner." He was impressed with the graphics and the isometric three-quarter top down view, but felt the game lacked a sense of grandeur. He concluded "The game has all the elements of a great quest -- what keeps it a bit lacking though is that nothing you do in the game really feels all that important. It's an enjoyable time, but most of the battles and quests feel rather trivial." Matt Casamassina scored all other versions of the game 7.5 out of 10, feeling the gameplay was too similar to, and not as good as, Zelda games; "try as this game may to copy Zelda, it lacks the intuitiveness and polish of the franchise, and this drawback is noticeable." However, he praised the combat and the graphics. He concluded "it's a well-made adventure game that will absolutely provide a good amount of entertainment and satisfaction for those seeking it. But at the same time the title falls a little short thanks to a general lack of polish and overall difficulty [...] Recommended to hardcore Tolkien fans or to younger players after a fun adventure. That said, the game has a long way to go to take on Link in battle."
GameSpot's Ryan Davis scored the PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions 6.5 out of 10, writing "Tolkien fans may enjoy the game's presentation of Middle-earth lore, but The Hobbit tends to rely too heavily on derivative, uninspired gameplay for it to stand up on its own." He praised the game's closeness to the novel, but felt the gameplay featured nothing original. He concluded "with the current glut of Tolkien-inspired games focusing directly on the brutal, tragic stories of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit offers up a story that's less dire and more of an enjoyable romp. The story still stands up, but the game that has been wrapped around it simply cannot keep up its end of the bargain."
GameSpy's Matthew Freeman scored the GameCube version 3 out of 5, writing "Sierra has produced an adventure that allows for enough puzzling, sidetracking, and combat for both gamers that love the book, and gamers who only love a fun game. The younger crowds and Tolkien fanatics will find a lot to like here, but veteran gamers may feel as if they're in all too familiar territory." Dan Bennett was less impressed with the PC version, scoring it 2 out of 5. He wrote "The Hobbit is just as likely to disappoint big-time Tolkien fans as its troubled gameplay is likely to disappoint the average gamer." He felt the game failed to appeal specifically to younger gamers, adults or Tolkien fans; "The Hobbit is a game that doesn't know what audience it's going for. Its look and feel is too juvenile for adults, and some of its challenges are too difficult and frustrating for kids. Even rabid Tolkien fans won't care for the game, thanks to its translation of the classic novel into a lightweight, cartoonish platformer. It has a few redeeming qualities, but it's a sad waste of great source material."
Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell scored the Xbox version 5 out of 10, calling the game "one of the most painfully average platform/slasher games in recent history." He criticized the game for "some hideously ropey graphics, repetitive level design, dodgy pacing and far too many find-the-key routines." He concluded "The Hobbit is a common-or-garden 3D platform/slasher in the same form as Maximo, wrapped up in a five year-old's bedtime story version of one of the most popular fantasy books ever written. It's ten hours of a fairly easy going platform slashing with well-spaced save points, and young gamers might get something out of it, but for the majority it just is not good enough."
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