Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Hobbit by Vivendi Universal


   In 2003, when the Lord of the Rings film franchise was at the peak of popularity,Vivendi Universal published a game based off of the prequel to Tolkien’s infamous epic, The Hobbit. The game received mixed reviews and modest sales, and has since been forgotten by many.
   I remember seeing a trailer for this game back in 2003. I knew that I had to have it, and sure enough come Christmas of that year I found my winter break entirely occupied with flipping this game. I have played it countless times since—so many times in fact that the disc is scratched and the case is battered. Before writing this review I decided to spend the weekend replaying this title( a great challenge I assure you. Who wants to spend a weekend playing games?). While I still find it as charming as I did back in 2003, I have noticed several quirks and flaws that should be addressed. However, before I descend into the realm of nitpickery, here is a quick overview of the many perks and treats that this game has to offer.

This game was created at a very unique time. Its entire existence was put into play solely because of the success of the Lord of the Rings film franchise, and yet it was not based off of a film adaptation. Because of this fact, the writers of the game had the opportunity to go by the book instead of by a script, which in turn produced a story very faithful to the original. There are very few deviations from the original plot, save for the usual deviations expected in a video game. Naturally, Bilbo was not running around Middle Earth collecting floating gems and random bags of silver. Plotwise however, the story of the game is almost a mirror image of the book save for a few exceptions. One notable difference is the fact that Beorn enters the game at a different point in time compared to the book. Whereas Thorin and Company come across him shortly after being rescued by the Eagles, Beorn does not appear in this game until the Battle of Five Armies. This fact has always irritated me. I understand why meeting Beorn would not merit and active level in the game. However, this game does make a point to mention important events like the company’s stop at Rivendale and Bilbo’s first encounter with the dwarves through a storybook narrative. Why they did not do the same for Beorn has always confused me. This alteration does not really effect the quality of the game, but it is none the less noticeable to any Tolkien fan. Other deviations include added storylines, such as a mystery in Laketown and made-up characters such as a female wood-elf named Liana and a Dalesman named Corbin. However, these characters do not play a particularly important role and instead serve as the impetus for side quests. Aside from the aforementioned changes, there plot of the game is incredibly faithful to the original text. Dialogue is taken directly from the book, characters are wearing the proper attire(hooray for Gandalf’s blue hat!), and easter eggs can be found all throughout the game for any attentive fan to find. Overall, this game is much more faithful than even the 1977 film, which in turn makes it a classic in this nerd’s book.

Character Design

(Forget handkerchiefs Bilbo. PACK A COMB)
   It would be wrong of me not to point out how ridiculous Bilbo looks. The clown hair and smurf blue shirt is both distracting and hysterical. His hair is especially comical when drawn in the story book narratives of the game, and it leads me to wonder if the game developers had gotten into Farmer Maggot’s "special" crop when they penned this design. Still, it’s better than the 1977 film. Aside from Biblo, the rest of the cast are well designed, though some of the dwarves look nearly identical (for instance, Gloin and Oin. Yes, I know that they are brothers. I have four sisters, but we don't all look alike). Gandalf by far has my favorite character design. While I love the way that Ian McKellen appears as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films, I have always been very attached to the idea that Gandalf has a silver scarf and a blue hat. The Gandalf that is featured in this game is almost exactly how I pictured him to look when I first read the book as a child.

Voice Acting/Music

                            (James Horan as Smaug the Defiler and Michael Beattie as Bilbo)
    Video games are not always known for great voice acting. In fact, up until recent years the vast majority of games featured both horrendously written and horrendously acted dialogue. For what was obviously not a very expensive title, The Hobbit boasts some very fine voice acting. Jim Ward(Gandalf) and Michael Beattie(Bilbo) in particular do fine jobs, and additional voices by the famous Dee Bradley Baker can be heard throughout. While the overall appearance of this game is cartoony, I am pleased to report that the voices are very professional.
   Unlike the voice acting, the game’s music isn’t owed any extra praise or considerations. It isn’t bad per say, however it can be very repetitive. During my first play through of this game I actually found myself turning the music off during gameplay. In some of the longer levels the looping background noise can become a major irritant. I’ve also found that most of the game’s glitches stem from the music. While the PC version of this game does not appear to have this problem, the PS2 version is known for succumbing to random bouts of skipping music or out of synch voices. I can’t seem to trace what exactly triggers these glitches aside from music, as I’ve played through the game at different points in time with completely different experiences. Sometimes the sound will be annoyingly glitchy( especially in the "Riddles in the Dark" section of the game) while other times I can get through the entire game without encountering any major kerfuffles. It is possible that this title was developed for the PC first before being converted to a major gaming console, which may account for the glitch discrepancies between the two versions.


     While definitely not one of the more advanced games from the beginning of the century, The Hobbit’s graphics have a whimsical charm. The environments and textures are rather nice—if not a tad limited. The characters a bit blocky, and the movement of faces are choppy and far from seamless. While you’re running around the different levels and kicking goblin but the character graphics aren’t all that bad. They main area in which they struggle is in cutscenes—though there are a few high dimension cut scenes scattered throughout the game in important areas. In some ways, it can be bit jarring to go from limited, blocky animation to something of a higher quality. The developers most likely did not have an abundance of funds to work with and could not afford to make every cutscene of the same caliber. It’s somewhat reminiscent of some of the later Final Fantasy games in this sense, as they too alternate between moderately animated scenes to freakishly realistic ones(though the ‘realistic’ cutscenes in The Hobbit are not nearly as advanced). Overall, the graphics are cartoonish and charming. I especially love the way that Hobbiton is handled.




   This is a simple platform game suitable for even the clumsiest of gamers. The controls are very straight forward and easy to grasp. The most difficult areas of the game tend to be ones that require accurate, timed jumps. The majority of difficult involved does not come from the controls, but rather some awkward camera angles. For most sections of the game, players can move the angles of the screen about to accommodate their assigned tasks or preferences. However, oftentimes when Bilbo will have to make a very awkward jump the camera goes a little nutty. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen to my death because of a wonky camera angle. Once you get used to it and learn a few tricks to negotiate around the angle problem, jumps and aerial maneuvers are pretty simple. The problem is that some gamers may become so frustrated at the wandering camera that they may decide to chuck their controls out of a window and find something else to do. Aside from the camera glitch, this game is very simple. It would be a great choice for someone who isn’t very coordinated and does not want a big challenge. Additionally, a more experienced gamer will find this game to be a good title to unwind with. There is very little fuss involved, unless you’re going for 100% completion of every level, in which case the game can be a bit more challenging. One final thing of note is the time between levels. Depending on what levels you’re heading into, the wait can be ridiculously long. The longest loading screen that I’ve ever timed went well over five minutes, though on overage they take a little under two. Once again, I’m not sure if other versions of the game suffer the same problem, but it is definitely an issue with the PS2 edition.

Easter eggs

   Finally, one of my favorite traits of this game is the abundance of easter eggs to be found by any clever Tolkien fan. I’ve tried my best to compile all of them in the below list, though it is quite possible that I’ve missed a few. If I have, feel free to comment and tell me what they are!

-when you look around Bilbo’s house, you can learn some facts about his family history. There is a picture of his parents, Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took, as well as a picture of his aunt Linda Baggins, his uncle Bingo Baggins, his aunt Belba Baggins, and his gammer Laura Grubb.
-several hobbits out and about in hobbiton are named, including: Sandyman the Miller, Hamfast Gamgee, Bell Goodchild, Sadoc Brandybuck, Hilda Bracegirdle, Holman Greenhand, and Malva Headstrong.
-all of the dwarves were given the appropriate color of hood as described in the book. The colors are: blue w/tassel(Thorin), scarlet(Balin), white(Gloin), green(Bombur), blue(Fili and Kili), brown(Oin), gray(Ori), and purple (Dori and Nori).

Roast Mutton
-The game references the fact that one of their ponies—who was laden with supplies—bolted.
-The Witch-king of Angmar is mentioned periodically throughout the game, especially when the company is in his former territory.

-Arnor is referenced, tying into previous references to the Witch-king of Angmar as Angmar and Arnor were very closely situated.

Over Hill Under Hill
-once again, the game references the Witch-king of Angmar—which is appropriate as the more they travel into the northern Misty Mountains the more of the remnants of the Witch-king they will find. This is also a really clever way to explain why Bilbo finds as many traps and contraptions as he does throughout this chapter.
-it is mentioned that there are old dwarf mines in the Misty Mountains, which are presumably the mines that Bilbo stumbles upon. The most famous mine of the Misty Mountains is Moria, though it’s unclear if the game meant this particular in-game mine to be Moria. Some may argue that Moria lies a bit too far south to have been apart of Thorin and Company’s journey, though in the book the actual pass that is taken through the Misty Mountains is never named, and we know of at least one pass that goes by Moria, which is the Redhorn pass.

Riddles in the Dark
-in this level, there is a fictional dwarf character named Balfor who is of the Iron-hills. Dwarves of the Iron-hills, who are also descended from Durin, play a very important role in the final installment of The Hobbit, as it is the dwarves of the Iron-hills that Thorin asks for aide in the Battle of the Five Armies.

Flies and Spiders
-The Necromancer is mentioned in this chapter, as sections of Mirkwood used to be under his rule. Similar to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings novels, Bilbo’s ring does not protect him against wraiths or creatures of evil.
-The three spider sisters in Mirkwood are said to be either the offspring or close relations to Shelob—the spider that attacks Frodo during the Lord of the Rings.

Barrels out of Bond
while you’re sneaking around the Elvish palace(which is set in a cave, just as it is described in the book), you can hear conversations amongst the elves. They speak of their captive dwarves, the stirrings of the Necromancer, and the White Council.

Inside Information
this is not necessarily an easter egg, but unlike the 1977 film the writers did not fall into the same trap of pronouncing Smaug as "smog".


Gathering of Clouds
-the raven Roac of Ravenhill is seen during the narrative. The ravens of Ravenhill were allies of the dwarves before they were driven from Erebor.


  Most reviewers give this game a rating of 6/10 or 7/10, and I think this is fair. While it may have it charms and cannot be faulted for accuracy, minor glitches can cascade into full game errors, and repetitious music can be thoroughly annoying. If you’re a fan of The Hobbit and happen to fancy a video game every now and then, I do suggest that you give this title a go. If you’re wary of some of the glitches that come with the PS2 version, you can invest in the PC or GBA editions instead. Furthermore, emulators for this game can be found online for those who look hard enough. At the very least this game will be entertaining, and isn’t that point?


Friday, January 4, 2013

Hobbit door necklace by HModine

In a slight detour from reviewing adaptations of the The Hobbit, I’m going to take a moment and review a piece of hobbit inspired jewelry I purchased from Etsy less than a fortnight ago (while any true Tolkien fan will recognize that the door knob in this piece is in the wrong place, it’s still recognizable as being inspired by The Hobbit). This piece, designed to look like a door to a hobbit’s house, arrived in my post box yesterday afternoon and was a pleasant surprise after a long day of work. I was not expecting it to arrive for at least another week, though I’ve often found it to be true that mail is seldom really late, and seldom early—it arrives precisely when it has the means to.



This necklace, sold by HModine, is not as outrageous a piece as I usually buy
; generally speaking I prefer statement pieces or something whimsically colored. However, it is nice to own a few simple pieces for times when your wardrobe is already outrageous enough. Approximately the size of a penny, this darling little pendant is the perfect way to add a touch of nerdiness to an alarmingly un-nerdy wardrobe ensemble. In addition to the necklace, I received a free little pony charm to add at my own discretion! This addition was a complete surprise, and it made me even more satisfied with my purchase. (GET IT? IT'S MYRTLE THE PONY!)


I won’t lie—I am a bird who flies on a very tight budget. Like most college students, I often cannot afford to buy all of the fantastically nerdy things that I would like to. Fortunately, gift cards allow you to buy many things—both practical and impractical. Even had I not had a gift card, I believe that I still would have bought this item eventually, as the price is very reasonable. For $5.50 USD, plus $3-4 for shipping, this piece manages to stay comfortably in the $10 range, which as any poor nerd knows is the ideal range to stay in when making purchases.


As stated earlier, the shipping for this item was both reasonably priced and very timely. Even though I ordered it a few days after Christmas was over, I knew that there was still a good chance that it would be caught up in the post-Christmas rush. Much to my surprise however, it only took me a week to receive my item! I should note that I do live in the U.S., as does the seller, which means that my order arrived more swiftly than an international one. Not only did my order arrive with haste, the seller was also very communicative. They informed me the moment that they had finished shipping my piece and they uploaded a tracking number. I have ordered another item from Etsy from a different seller who has not been nearly as active and professional, so I can say with confidence that HModine is a very safe vendor to do business with.

Final Thoughts

This necklace is cute, wonderfully nerdy, and a lovely addition to any Tolkien fan’s wardrobe.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, Tolkien!

Continuing our Fortnight of Tolkien, allow me to invite you to join us in celebrating that august person's birthday. (Or what would have been his birthday had Tolkien lived to be 121 this year.) 

Thanks to the Lord of the Rings films and the long-awaited resuscitation of The Hobbit and its much anticipated sequels, Tolkien's works have re-entered the public spotlight and captured the attention of people worldwide. And while many people would be able to quote Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit at you with no issue in the slightest....

....Not many are as familiar with the actual author. Many people have no idea, in fact, that Tolkien was an expert on Old and Middle English, and for many years was a professor of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) at the venerated University of Oxford. The man was so brainy, in fact, that he actually invented the entire language of Elvish. If you're interested in learning it, feel free to take the course at the University of Wisconsin. (It's taught by the primary linguistic consultant hired by Peter Jackson for the LOTR films--David Salo.) And Tolkien actually picked out who he wanted to play Gandalf, should the novels be made into film; can you believe that he actually chose Christopher Lee (also known as Saruman the White and Count Dooku)? 

So, let's take a gander at Tolkien himself, shall we?  John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa to Arthur and Mabel in 1892 (yes, Arthur and Mabel! Isn't that cute?); when Arthur died from peritonitis (right after I noted how cute that couple was, how ironic, and just when you were all giddy about Arthur and Mabel), the family relocated to Birmingham, England. When Mabel died, J.R.R. and his brother were sent to live with a relative and numerous boarding homes, including a guardian Catholic priest. He received his degree in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic languages, along with classic literature, at Exeter University, and even served as a lieutenant in World War I. 

After marrying in 1916, during his service, Tolkien was relieved of duty thanks to illness and attained a teaching position at the University of Leeds before taking up that professorship at the University of Oxford. It was at Oxford that he formed a little writing group ("The Inklings") that included C.S. Lewis (!) and Owen Barfield. It was also during his time at Oxford that he wrote a bit about "a hobbit," and the idea was conceived.

J.R.R. is top left; C.S. Lewis is top right, bottom right is Charles Williams, and bottom left is Owen Barfield.

The Hobbit was published in 1937 as children's literature, although Tolkien stressed that it was not, in fact, children's literature; he produced about 100 drawings for the novel himself. He continued to work on the LOTR trilogy, basing much of it and Middle-Earth on European mythology. Upon the publication of the trilogy in 1954 and 1955, Tolkien gained a vast throng of followers around the world and his works lodged themselves into history as some of the best-selling works in the world. Here's a fun fact: Thanks to his environmental positions, the author actually became a sort of symbol for the counter-culture in the 1960s.

After Tolkien passed away in 1973, following his wife (1971), his son Christopher took up the mantle of Middle-Earth and finished several of Tolkien's incomplete works for publication, such as The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin, ensuring that J.R.R.'s unpublished projects did not pass away into obscurity. 

So thank you, Tolkien; without you, we wouldn't have the amazing epics that chronicle the events of Middle-Earth. We wouldn't have humorous "One does not simply [X] into Mordor" memes. We would not be privy to the human intelligence you brought forth with your immense creativity and creation of new languages. And we certainly wouldn't have this great giveaway for you to enter! What are you waiting for! Go now! Your fellowship awaits you! 


Doughan, D.  (2002).  J.R.R. Tolkien: A biographical sketch.  The Tolkien Society.  Retrieved from http://www.tolkiensociety.org/tolkien/biography.html

John Ronald Ruel Tolkien. (2013). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/jrr-tolkien-9508428

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien


     In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. This sentence alone is one of the most memorable and cherished pieces of childhood. There are very few stories that do not begin with stereotypical phrases such as, "Once upon a time" or "A long time ago", that can manage to embed themselves in a child’s mind. For, as many people undoubtedly know, most children are possessed of notoriously short attention spans. While my mind definitely wandered then—and, I daresay, still wanders now—something about The Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien has stayed with me well into adulthood. This book has been a constant companion and comfort to me. It has been a commandant in my darkest hours as well as a pleasant diversion from some of the more mundane aspects of ordinary life. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to review this classic with the unique perspective that comes with early adult life. I should preface this review by admitting that I am biased, and surely blinded by childhood nostalgia. Therefore, I shall not even attempt to rate this book, but rather I shall highlight its triumphs and its flaws to the best of my abilities and let you—my wonderful readers—decide its worth for yourselves.

     As I said earlier, in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. This hobbit was named Bilbo Baggins, and he was considered very respectable. However, his life and respectable reputation were put on the line when the infamous wizard Gandalf the Grey came calling and ferried poor Baggins off on a glorious, and dangerous, adventure. The premise of The Hobbit is very simple. For the rare few who have read Tolkien’s infamous Lord of the Rings trilogy and not its prequel, the simplicity of this tale may come as shock. It is important to remember when reading this story that it was written for a considerably younger audience. Whereas the Lord of the Rings trilogy is filled with enough history and details to make even the most well read of adults dizzy, The Hobbit was always intended as a story for young children. Because of this fact, I know of many Ringers who find The Hobbit dreadfully dull by comparison. I, on the other hand, am glad for its simple plot and straightforward narrative. I was first introduced to this wonderful story when I was seven years old through the 1977 animated feature, and I first read the book when I was nine. If I had not already had the love of Tolkien given to me from The Hobbit, I may never have thought to give the detail-laden Lord of the Rings books a chance. But I digress.

     Chiefly, The Hobbit is about two things: the awakening of something Tookish inside Bilbo Baggins and the quest of Thorin and Company to reclaim their stolen treasure. To be frank, I wasn’t that emotionally involved with the dwarves' plight when I was child. The fact of the matter is, we don’t get to know too much about the dwarves as individuals throughout the story, save for Thorin and Balin. Naturally, I can understand why this is. In a story aimed at children it would be tedious to attempt to individualize and explore all thirteen dwarves of the company. However, I was really struck by just how little attention is given to the rest of the party during this thirteenth re-read of the story. Aside from making a point of assigning them specific colours of cloaks, Tolkien hardly spends any time at all on the personalities of the dwarves. Additionally, I feel as though the dwarves' plight wasn’t as sympathetic as it could have been. The entire focus of the dwarves seems to be the treasure they’ve lost and not the home that was stolen from them. In fact, Tolkien himself writes, "Dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money." While he does go onto write that Thorin and company are more decent in this regard than your average dwarf, I feel that it’s unfortunate that the entire dwarf race was reduced to a love for money. It’s especially unfortunate when you think of epic characters like Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the many deeds and heroic tasks of dwarves cited in the appendices. Though, to be fair Tolkien had not created such a rich dwarvish history yet. So, while the very one dimensional depiction of dwarves(and all of the races, including hobbits and elves) does not change my love of this story, it is noticeable none the less.
      Shifting gears to the tale of Bilbo Baggins, I always appreciate how well Tolkien develops his character. For a children’s story, Bilbo’s personal journey has many dimensions. In the beginning, he complains often and his thoughts are almost always turned towards home. As the story progresses and he faces increasingly difficult tasks such as meeting ravenous trolls and battling sinister spiders, Bilbo’s outlook gradually begins to change. He complains less frequently and seems to become much more invested in the adventure. I specifically love one of the final lines from the famous chapter, "Riddles in the Dark", in which Bilbo has a deciding moment that comes to effect all of Middle Earth many years later:
"He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him, or tried it yet. And he was miserable, alone, lost. A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo's heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All of these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped."
     What’s so effective about this scene is not only the character development on Bilbo’s part—not to mention how well it sets up the Lord of the Rings trilogy—it's how effective Tolkien is at making readers feel for Gollum’s plight. Before this moment, we had known Gollum only as a menacing figure in the dark who sought to eat the story’s protagonist without care or any sort of difficulty of conscious. The fact that Tolkien makes us pity Gollum just as Bilbo comes to pity him is an example of very fine writing. It is important to note that there are two very different version of this chapter, one of which was published in the first edition of The Hobbit and the other, more common version which was revised to fit the events in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There’s a lovely side-by-side comparison of the two versions can be found here. Essentially, Gollum was not originally as menacing and did make good on his promise to help Biblo out of the cave. One can easily see how greatly the earlier accounting would alter the depictions of Gollum in the trilogy, and why Tolkien thought it best to revise this chapter.    

    While Thorin and company encounter many difficulties on their journey, the story culminates in the slaying of Smaug and the Battle of Five Armies. While I do not want to give away the ending for anyone reading this review who has yet to read the book, I will say that It’s both sad and quaint. I’ve always found the particular note that the story ends on to be a bit sudden, but at the same time it’s almost suiting of the brisk pace of the narrative. Ultimately, I can find things to nitpick in almost everything and childhood favorites like The Hobbit are no exceptions. In the end, all I can really say about The Hobbit is this: if you haven’t read it, do so. It’s a wonderful way to ease into the world of Tolkien, especially for those who are intimidated by The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Favorite quote:

"As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shinning in dark caverns. Suddenly, in the wood beyond the water a flame leapt up—probably somebody lighting a wood-fire—and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr.Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again."