NewsWire: Middle-earth Online - A Westwood company is re-creating Middle-earth for a world of online players


Orome crossing Middle-earth on NaharOrome crossing Middle-earth on Nahar

WESTWOOD -- The hero plunges into a stream that flows and glows like liquid crystal. His muscular legs drive him through the gleaming water toward the lavish grass on the opposite shore. It's a lovely scene, idyllic and utterly unreal. The wading man creates no wake, no splashes, not even a ripple. Aatish Salvi notes the absence of water turbulence and apologizes for it. His team of software engineers hasn't yet added that feature to the scene.

After all, there are so many other things to think about -- orcs, elves, dwarves, and ents. A few of the horrible Balrogs, of course. And hobbits and men.

It took J.R.R. Tolkien decades to construct his fictional Middle-earth. Salvi's got just over a year to recreate it in binary form and then welcome guests from around the world for an extended visit. "It poses a huge challenge," Salvi says. "It's such a responsibility to

live up to the greatest fantasy of the 20th century." So he and his colleagues may be forgiven if they haven't quite gotten the water to look right. Salvi's the producer of Middle-Earth Online, a forthcoming computer game that's being assembled at Turbine Entertainment Software in Westwood. There have been plenty of other computer games based on "The Lord of the Rings" books. But Middle-Earth Online will be the first Tolkien-based game to take place in a permanent digital universe, located on computer servers scattered around the world.

Even when a player leaves to walk the dog or do homework, the game goes on, as thousands of other players continue the saga. When the absent player returns, he'll find that Middle-earth is a different place -- perhaps with his home burned to the ground, and more of those nasty Ringwraiths hanging about.

This kind of "massively multiplayer online game," or MMOG, has surged in popularity right along with the high-speed home Internet links that make the games practical. Software companies like them because, unlike traditional computer games, which are purchased only once, MMOGs charge players a monthly subscription fee, generating a steady revenue stream.

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