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EA plans life after Rings

Publisher decides what to do with the time that is given to it.

December has become a joyous month for Rings fans. However as we reach the third phase in the journey of Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf, etc, it's also tinged with sadness. When the King finishes returning this month, all we'll have left is the DVD release of the final film in Peter Jackson's epic trilogy - that, a few aeroplanes with Frodo's face on them and a few Rings marathons running in that sweaty armpit of a cinema nobody ever visits.

Whether anybody in Chertsey is sad about it is anyone's guess, but obviously this presents a business issue for Electronic Arts, because Rings has been a massive earner for them recently. The Two Towers sold very well and joined the PS2 Platinum label earlier this year, while the Return of the King tie-in is still in the All Formats Top 5 thanks to a considerable marketing push and the film's opening this week.

The question, then, is how does the world's biggest publisher respond? We already know about their PC real-time strategy title The Battles of Middle-Earth, which is in development by the Los Angeles studio responsible for Command & Conquer: Generals, but in terms of big multi-platform popcorn fodder their schedule looks a bit light.

Ah, but then there's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, due out by the end of next year on the PC and console formats, which isn't on their schedule yet. Speaking in a recent interview with EGM, Neal Young, executive producer on the Return of the King title, spilt some of the beans on EA's next big Rings title and how it's going to work.

"It's going to be the next evolution in action-adventure titles," said Young, "and so it's sort of an extrapolation of what we've been building so far, but it starts to introduce some interesting shifts."

"The idea isn't just to take you back through the fiction again," he explained, "but to give you some other characters who you might not expect to be able to play, and really extend the multiplayer features, develop the online feature, and do some other things."

More than another accompaniment title - like the flashy glorified extras discs that were The Two Towers and Return of the King - the LOTR Trilogy title sounds like a game all of its own. We're just left hoping that it doesn't pick up on bit parts for the sake of it, and wondering whether it'll dare to give us a Balrog-sized chunk of Hobbit-fuelled gameplay in the tiny shoes of Bilbo Baggins. Vivendi, whose Hobbit title is out now but not selling that impressively, might very well have something to say about that as they run around waving their book licence at anyone who'll listen.

Beyond the LOTR Trilogy? Who knows? However given the recent release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone on next-generation hardware, EA might well look back and consider the lack of a Fellowship title on their books. Skipping the first film to do the second one justice was a good move, but in retrospect there's plenty of room to go back and fill out the catalogue, just as they did with Potter. We shall see.

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