The death bells have rung for MERP, an ambitious Middle Earth Roleplaying Project (geddit?) designed as a mod for Skyrim. The mod’s developers have received a cease-and-desist letter, but not from Bethesda, owners of The Elder Scrolls. Instead, the notification came from Warner Bros., who owns the rights to various works by J.R.R. Tolkien – including, of course, names and events used in MERP.
Our goal as a team is to realize the world of J.R.R. Tolkien as closely as possible to his vision. We hold the lore to a very high standard and will try not compromise to it. We use the films for inspiration, but base our visual design mainly on the descriptions in the books and the works of Ted Nasmith and John Howe. We work very hard to bring a quality greater than that in vanilla Skyrim. We want our work to be looked at on the same level as that of a professional game.
The independent development team had been working on MERP for more than eight years, but following the C&D request, has decided to completely stop development on the mod.
We simply don’t have the resources to go against this, and hiding in anonymity wouldn’t work because due to the great ambitions MERP needs publicity to sustain the life force of the team.
In a post to the Bethesda forums, developer Maegfaer explains that the team is currently exploring its legal options.
Fellow dev Aoikani has crossed fingers:
Our work is transformative (with a purpose), hopefully we will convince WB to see this. We are not not blatantly infringing IP. Why would we, when we knew that in order to develop a mod for the community to enjoy and then risk not completing it and placing our own personal lives in legal endangerment?
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The devs explain that they have a “complete heightmap” of Middle-Earth, which is more than 9 times the size of Skyrim. The mod had been originally developed for Oblivion, but was ported to Skyrim just a month ago.
Recently, the developers had been focussing on the region of Rohan, which also happens to be the setting for the next Lord of the Rings Online expansion.
…the team had hoped that – like Third Age – Total War before them, the game would be considered “different enough” to escape lawyer attention. However, as Maegfaer observes, “apparently an RPG is a bigger threat to Warner Bros than an RTS”.