x.jpg While most of us know about The Lord Of The Rings Online - at least, the version that just launched - Joe Ludwig, who is nowadays Director of Development at Flying Lab Software on the upcoming MMO Pirates Of The Burning Sea, has been talking about Sierra's attempt to do Middle Earth Online back in 1998-2000 or so.

That aborted version was actually the one that Puzzle Pirates creator Daniel James worked on at Yosemite Entertainment - one of the reasons his company is called Three Rings, of course, but I'm getting off on a tangent here. Anyhoo, Ludwig's latest Tolkien Online-related post discusses an absolutely bizarre twist on the whole thing, which happened during GDC 2001 and a random dinner meeting at Denny's.

Ludwig explains: "We got to talking about about games we had worked on, and when I mentioned Middle-Earth Online, one of these guys got an excited look on his face. His name was David Michael, and he was a founder at Samu Games. Samu had a game out called Artifact, which is a 2D online strategy game. It seems that about a year earlier, in the spring of 2000, Sierra had approached Samu Games about doing a version of Artifact [which people are still playing, blimey] with the Middle-Earth license. They paid for Samu to add a few new features to their game and reskin it with hobbits and elves so they could show it off as Middle-Earth Online."

Wha? "It seems that the licensing agreement between the Tolkien people and Sierra specified certain milestones at which Sierra had to show forward progress on Middle-Earth Online. One of these milestones was in 2000 and they needed to show something to Tolkien’s estate or they would lose the license. They laid off the entire Middle-Earth team in the fall of 1999, so they obviously had nothing internal to show, but by throwing a few hundred thousand dollars at Samu Games, they could get their hands on an online game set in Middle-Earth." Don't know if that figure is accurate, of course, but it's still an interesting claim in a tortuous history for Tolkien's property in the MMO space.