Developer Q&A: Scott Crawford, Lead Designer for Story and Quests


The War in the North development team is hard at work, but they’re also excited to take a minute to introduce themselves to the community. This week we’re talking with Scott Crawford, the Lead Designer for Story and Quests on WITN, about how he ensures that every element of the game is grounded in the rich lore that Tolkien created. 

 What is your role on The Lord of the Rings: War in the North?

In a nutshell, I am Snowblind’s head Tolkien nerd.

As the Lead Designer for Story and Quests, I am responsible for devising the game’s overall storyline and setting. I choose which characters players interact with, including a mix of new faces and ones that are well established in the lore. In addition, I write a good deal of the dialogue for those characters and for the player characters. The onus is on me to ensure that our storyline meshes well with the existing story Tolkien told in The Lord of the Rings.

Aside from that, I act as a consultant whenever there are questions regarding Middle-earth lore. This role involves almost every aspect of the game’s development, especially art and design. I don’t make decisions for the artists and designers, but I am there to point out anything that might inadvertently violate the lore or to offer suggestions about how things can better fit within the universe. For example, our character artists might ask me something like “What kind of emblems would such-and-such characters wear?” or an environmental artist might ask “If we want something carved on the wall in this location, what should it look like and what should it say?” This sort of thing means I have to attend a lot of meetings and answer a lot of e-mail.

Another aspect of my job involves consulting with our partners at Middle-earth Enterprises and New Line Cinema—the parties that hold the rights to the properties with which we are working. They want to be certain their properties are being well represented, so we submit our materials to both parties for a careful examination. We’ve got a lot of dedicated Tolkien fans on the team, but having additional experts available to us during development is a huge benefit.

What do you think makes WITN stand out from other games that have been set in Middle-earth?

I feel one of the major advantages for us on this project is that we have both the film and literary rights. This unique position allows us to maintain the look and feel that people love from the films while at the same time having access to the tremendous depth of locations, characters, and events that have previously existed solely in the books.

This balance is great from my perspective because I believe it is very important that the lore be preserved. My mission is to make War in the North a truly authentic Middle-earth experience where every event the player participates in is something that could have realistically occurred in the world Tolkien created. In short, nothing in our story stands to contradict the established lore—the very thing that makes The Lord of the Rings such a beloved work.

Just so the fans know the project is in good hands, do you mind giving us a quick synopsis of your history with Tolkien’s fiction?

When I was in high school I was a huge fan of fantasy fiction. My favorites tended to be treatments of the Arthurian legends like Mary Stewart’s Merlin novels and Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset. I was also wild about old films that featured the creature effects of Ray Harryhausen, such as Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. In spite of all this, I was only vaguely aware of Tolkien and had not bothered to pick up The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. But then, quite by chance, I happened to see the Rankin/Bass animated version of The Hobbit. Somewhat surprisingly, it did the trick—I picked up a copy of The Hobbit and never looked back.

In a small way I guess you could say that Tolkien changed my life. Not a day went by when I didn’t spend a significant amount of time thinking about Middle-earth. I was fortunate to have two good friends who were drawn in right along with me. We were so wrapped up in Tolkien’s fiction that for entertainment we would sit around in my friend’s backyard shed and quiz each other on Middle-earth trivia. This of course led to constant reading in order to stay sharp.

Above the door to that shed we had written “Speak Friend and Enter”—that’s just how deep in we were. Well, actually it said “Speak Freend and Enter” due to an unfortunate typographical error, but these things happen when you spend more time researching Tolkien’s books than your school books.
For many years I made a point of reading The Lord of the Rings every year. I can’t say for sure but I believe that I am on my fifteenth reading, with the same number for The Hobbit. In contrast, I have only read The Silmarillion a paltry five times.

We’ve got some die-hard Tolkien fans following our every move. Do you mind dropping an obscure bit of LOTR trivia to let them know you’re the real deal?

Heh, I think I could probably do that all day, but let’s see…

How about this:
Did you know that King Theoden was not born in Rohan and that the language of Rohan was not his native tongue? Theoden’s father Thengel became estranged from his own father and left Rohan upon reaching adulthood. He served Turgon the Steward of Gondor and married Morwen, a noblewoman of Gondor, becoming immersed in the language and culture of his adopted land. Morwen bore him three children in Gondor, the second of which was Theoden. Upon the death of his father, Thengel reluctantly returned to Rohan to take up the mantle of King. Even though he was living in Rohan once again, he and his household continued to speak the language of Gondor, which some among the Rohirrim did not approve of.

Is that obscure enough for you? I could delve into the details of Hobbit family trees but that might not really be very interesting (unless perhaps you are a Hobbit).

What has you most excited about the opportunity to work on War in the North?

Well, for me it is obviously like returning to a lost love. In the game business you spend more than 40 hours each week—for months on end—fully immersed in one bit of fiction or one genre. Life is a whole lot more interesting if that fiction is something you love. I live and breathe Tolkien every day now. And for me that’s just like old times. I never get tired of it.